More on the so-called ‘Bethlehem’ Bulla

Since the original announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority, there has been a flurry of discussion about the new bulla which, it is claimed, refers to Bethlehem. In my previous blog article, I mentioned that the photograph accompanying the announcement didn’t seem to allow for a reference to Bethlehem. At the same time, however, I mentioned that photographs of inscriptions like these can distort critical features. Hence, I called for some extra eyes to take a look at the bulla and let us know what they see.

Today comes news (via an email from Joseph Lauer) that Shmuel Ahituv (Ben Gurion University) inspected the bulla and in the second register he reads the following letters:


According to Ahituv, the first fragmentary letter is not a ב (b), as originally reported by Eli Shukron, but a י (y). Furthermore, he claims that though they are slight there are traces of a left vertical stroke on the final extant letter, yielded a ח (ḥ) rather than ה (h). Accordingly, he concludes that the second register does indeed refer to Bethlehem (ביתלחם).

Ahituv is a trusty epigrapher. He’s the author of the Carta Handbook, Echoes from the Past: Hebrew and Cognate Inscriptions from the Biblical Period, and he knows his stuff. It’s good to see that we have an actual epigrapher looking at the bulla. One wonders why his opinion was not included prominently in the IAA’s original announcement. I’m more than happy to retract my preliminary conclusion on the bulla, but before doing so, I’d like to hear from one or two other epigraphers who can inspect the bulla itself. Chris Rollston, you’re up!

This raises the issue of the way epigraphic finds are announced. It would seem sound practice to employ two independent epigraphers and have their opinions accompany any such announcement. This is especially vital when the published photograph seems to speak against the announcement.

7 thoughts on “More on the so-called ‘Bethlehem’ Bulla

  1. Pingback: A New Seal that DOES NOT refer to Bethlehem « With Meagre Powers

  2. Note that Robert Deutsch posted the same observation about the Yod rather than a Bet on the BAS website this morning. That was also my unpublished opinion when I saw the initial photo, but I’m not a professional epigrapher. Based on the size of the missing “LML” in the bottom line, I believe there’s sufficient room for the Bet & Yod, especially if the bottom stroke of the Bet was drawn under the Yod. The oval shape allows for a wider city-line in the middle than for the top/date & bottom/royal lines.

  3. Pingback: Drawing of the ‘Bethlehem’ Bulla « With Meagre Powers

  4. Pingback: Descubren un sello antiguo con el nombre de la ciudad de Belén « Blog de Estudios Bíblicos

  5. Pingback: Selo de argila do século VII a.C. menciona Belém | Observatório Bíblico

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