Israeli archaeologists have discovered a 2,700-year-old seal that bears the inscription "Bethlehem," the Israel Antiquities Authority announced yesterday, in what experts believe to be the oldest artifact with the name of Jesus' traditional birthplace. The tiny clay seal's existence and age provide vivid evidence that Bethlehem was not just the name of a fabled biblical town, but also a bustling place of trade linked to the nearby city of Jerusalem, archaeologists said.
Eli Shukron, the authority's director of excavations, said the seal, which is .59 inches in diameter, dates back to the period of the first biblical Jewish Temple, between the eighth and seventh century BC, at a time when Jewish kings reigned over the ancient kingdom of Judah and 700 years before Jesus was born. The seal was written in ancient Hebrew script from the same time. Pottery found nearby also dated back to the same period, he said. The stamp, also known as "fiscal bulla," was likely used to seal an administrative tax document, sent from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, the seat of Jewish power at the time. (Read more Bethlehem stories.)