In 2012, archaeologists working with the Israel Antiquities Authority made a remarkable discovery in old Jerusalem. They found a bulla that mentioned the name of Bethlehem (House of Bread). This is the first mention of the famous town found outside the Biblical record.
Bullas worked much like our signatures do today and were used to verify documents. Governmental and wealthy people used bullas to seal documents to verify that it was coming from them. They typically wore signet rings that pressed their confirming insignia into wax or clay, sealing the document.
The Bulla in this instance was estimated to be 2,700 years old placing it from the first Temple period (1000 BC to 586 BC) referring to the first temple built by King Solomon. The Second Temple period refers to the temple rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah (upgraded by King Herod) and destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans.
In this instance, the bulla was used to verify the shipment of taxes collected in Bethlehem being sent to Jerusalem. Referred to as a fiscal bulla, the shipment probably contained either silver or agricultural produce and was sealed with a bulla classifying it as an official tax payment.
In this instance, the bulla also had a date verifying that this shipment was for the taxes paid in the seventh year of the King’s reign.
However, they are unsure of which King this was. According to the archaeologists, the bulla dated to either the reign of King Hezekiah (one of the better kings in Judah’s history), Manasseh (one of the most evil kings in Judah’s history) or Josiah (also one of the better kings).
Of course, Bethlehem is most famous as the birthplace of Jesus. Located five miles south of Jerusalem, the city is mentioned nearly 50 times in the Bible.
In the Old Testament, it was best known as the home town of Israel’s greatest king, David. After rejecting Saul as king, God sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next King of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1).
The prophet Micah continued this theme of Bethlehem being the birth place of kings, declaring that Israel’s eternal King will also come out of Bethlehem:
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2 NASV)
Notice how Micah describes this King having existed from the beginning of time. This is not to be understood as a human king as we know them.
And this is where Jesus was born after Caesar Augustus declared a national census requiring people to return to their home town to be registered. Luke states that Joseph was of the house and lineage of David (Luke 2:4) and since Joseph was living in Nazareth, he needed to return to Bethlehem with his very pregnant wife Mary.
Because of the census, Bethlehem was overwhelmed with visitors and the Bible tells us that there was no room in the inn and Jesus ended up being born in a manger or feeding trough. Though the Bible does not mention animals, the word manger suggests Mary gave birth in an area where animals were kept.
Though many envision this to be some type of stable or barn, it may not have been.
The Greek word translated Inn can also be translated “guest room” or our modern equivalent of a BNB. It was not unusual for homes in that day to have an area for animals included as part of the house. In a two-story dwelling, the barn area was typically located on the lower floor and in single story buildings, there was usually a separate room at the back of the home for animals.
However, in modern Bethlehem some believe that Jesus was born in an ancient watchtower located at the edge of the city.
So why would they believe Jesus was born there?
There are a couple of reasons for this. First this watchtower in Bethlehem was where ancient shepherds took their ewes to safely give birth. This would explain the feeding trough and also why the shepherds knew immediately where to look when the angels told them, “You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12).
With Jesus being God’s sacrificial lamb, it would also be in keeping that the Lord would be born where other lambs were birthed.
Then, of course, there is also a verse in Micah that hints of this:
And you, O tower of the flock,
The stronghold of the daughter of Zion,
To you shall it come,
Even the former dominion shall come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem. (Micah 4:8 NKJV)
The word tower in this verse is migdal, which is the Hebrew word for watchtower — literally the “watchtower of the flock.”
- History of Bethlehem Documented by First Temple Period Bulla from the City of David: Bible Archaeology
- Archaeologists Uncover Proof of Pre-Jesus Bethlehem: Christian Post