Drawing of the ‘Bethlehem’ Bulla

There is a facsimile drawing of the so-called ‘Bethlehem’ bulla now available. It has been produced by Pnina Arad.

Facsimile drawing of the ‘Bethlehem’ bulla (Pnina Arad)

According to the drawing, the first register contains a triangular-shaped ʿayin (ע) and the lower fragment of a taw (ת), yielding the word בשבעת (bšbʿt), meaning ‘in the seventh (year)’. The second register has the leftmost portions of a yodh (י) as the first extant letter. The fourth visible letter has been drawn as a ḥeth (ח), though apparently the vertical stroke in the top left has been broken off. The proposed reading is ביתלחם (bytlḥm), referring to the toponym Bethlehem. The third register has only one extant letter, but on the basis of other fiscal bullae, has been reconstructed as למלך (lmlk), meaning ‘for the king’.

So it looks like the bulla probably does refer to Bethlehem after all. Nevertheless, a personal inspection by another epigrapher (in addition to Shmuel Ahituv) would still be good to double-check.

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7 thoughts on “Drawing of the ‘Bethlehem’ Bulla

    • I agree, Doug. However, I also know how distorting photographs can be, as I discovered working on the Tel Dan Inscription. A photo only provides one static image with a single light configuration, and that doesn’t give you a dynamic understanding of what’s there. Nothing trumps a personal inspection.

  1. Has anyone commented on the spelling of בית לחם with the י in what is now a monophthongized triphthong? I know we get he historic spelling in the Bible, but wouldn’t we expect בתלחם?

    • Not necessarily, Don. We do have ביתדוד on the Tel Dan Inscription. Although that’s Aramaic, the orthographic principle is still there. I’d say it attests to an enduring diphthong: bayt.

  2. George,
    I took a quick look at the bulla and i would say that it is hard to reconstruct the letters as Arad did. The Yod in line two at the beginning is possible for sure, but there is no indication of the bet at the beginning of the bulla. While reconstruction is good, at times it just does not work. The photo that you put online is very good and from looking at it, the reading could be possible, but I would reserve comments on it until looking at the inscription it in person.

    • Yes, we need someone else to give us a report of a personal inspection to corroborate (or challenge, as the case may be) Shmuel Ahituv’s comments. No images can trump a personal viewing.

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