Is Jerusalem Bulla Really the Oldest Evidence of Bethlehem?

A vaguely contemporaneous bullaArchaeologists discovered a clay “bulla” in an excavation around the walls of Jerusalem. ICR News called this “the oldest indication of Bethlehem among archaeological artifacts.” But clear evidence shows that other artefacts hold the real record.

Researchers have gleaned a wealth of information from the small fragment of clay. For example, they have determined that the bulla had an administrative purpose, being used to mark goods being sent to Jerusalem as tax payment. They have also pinned down the date that it was used – the seventh year of a King, either Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah. This dates it to the seventh or eighth century BCE.

But mentions of a town called Bethlehem from even earlier have been discovered by archaeologists. The Armarna letters, from the 1300s BCE, refer to a rebellion in “Bit-Lahmi.” …


I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist poking fun at the latest DpSU – Artifact Confirms Ancient Bethlehem – by parodying Are Iceman Blood Cells Really the Oldest? from the other day. Alas, this seems to be as far as I can take it.

Archeologists really have found one of these little things, and are claiming this as the Earliest evidence of Bethlehem in First Temple period. That “first temple period” caveat is interesting – they, at least, may be conceding that this isn’t the earliest earliest evidence of the place. The Armana letters are indeed a thing, and it is claimed that they mention the city. So what’s the point?

Brian Thomas, the author of the ICR’s article (of course), claims conspiracy:

In order to propagate disbelief in factually fulfilled prophecies—an attitude that follows disbelief in miracles, the supernatural, and the God of the Bible—scholars suggest that prophetic Scriptures were written after the fulfilled events occurred. But this ignores real history and ignores the problem of how any writer could possibly have convinced his contemporaries that something he had just written was actually ancient.

I’ve been looking for people claiming that Bethlehem didn’t exist at this time, but I’ve been having difficulty. I do remember having heard of somebody disputing whether Nazareth was inhabited in Jesus’ day, but even if that extended to Bethlehem as well knowing that there was a place with that name worth taxing around seven hundred years previously doesn’t actually help there. It is thus a bit of a mystery why he concludes by jumping to Jesus as if that were at all relevant:

Bethlehem was truly the birthplace of the Lord Jesus. And given the great difficulty in choosing the place of one’s birth, only the great “I am” could have precisely fulfilled the prophecy of His own birthplace. Those who would deny that Christ was born in Bethlehem, or that Bethlehem existed when Micah prophesied His birthplace, now need greater faith than those who acknowledge the historicity of Christ, Bethlehem, and Micah.

And as for his “problem of how any writer could possibly have convinced his contemporaries that something he had just written was actually ancient,” that just shows how Thomas shouldn’t be trusted when he reports stories of Dragons like they must have been real things of some kind. Stories can be made up… but that’s not relevant here either.

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3 thoughts on “Is Jerusalem Bulla Really the Oldest Evidence of Bethlehem?

  1. If my memory serves me (I discussed this with another Christian claiming this refuted “secular” claims about the historicity of Bethlehem) there were already archaeological finds indicating Bethlehem was inhabited around the same time as this bulla dates too. As such, whilst it is interesting, it ultimately is not telling us anything new about when Bethlehem was inhabited. Thus it does not refute any of the existing “secular” objections that Bethlehem wasn’t inhabited during the time of Jesus

    • Some people do seem to go over the top when it comes to the historicity of Jesus, but I have a feeling that this is not actually part of that.

      Thomas is implying that there is/was a claim that, in effect, Bethlehem was not founded until sometime in the AD. And that, of course, would be a truly absurd thing to say – so I do doubt that anyone actually is.

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