Middle East

Betlehem antiquity 'confirmed' by ancient seal find

Ancient seal on archaeologist's hand
Image caption Archaeologists say the seal is the first physical evidence that Bethlehem existed before the birth of Christ

Israeli archaeologists say they have discovered the first physical evidence of Bethlehem's ancient origins.

They say they found a small clay seal, dating from the 7th or 8th Century BC, with the word Bethlehem written in ancient Hebrew on it.

It would be the earliest mention of the town's existence outside the pages of the old Testament.

The town, south of Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank, features in the New Testament as the birthplace of Jesus.

The archaeological dig has been controversial, because it is financed by an organisation which advocates the creation of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas with ancient Hebrew links.

The tablet - which is the size of a small coin - was found near the walls of Jerusalem's Old City.

The archaeologists said its age appears to prove that the town already had an ancient history by the time of Jesus' birth.

Eli Shukron, from the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the tablet sealed a shipment of silver or agricultural produce sent from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.

"This is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible in an inscription from the First Temple period [1006 - 586 BC]", he said.

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