Bible Archaeology

A Bit More on the Bethlehem Bulla

[Background here.]

From Joseph I. Lauer via e-mail:

1. Yesterday, Zachi Dvira (Zweig) forwarded some information about the bulla and the work of the Temple Mount Sifting Project members. Zachi and Dr. Gabriel Barkay (the “Gaby” below) direct the Project.

Zachi wrote: “This bulla was found a few months ago at the sifting site by Rachel Nahum, which the sifting site office manager. It was found during the time we were working on Gibeon LMLK bulla essay. Gaby saw this bulla and identified it immediately as a fiscal bulla mentioning the town Bethlehem. We’ve been giving sifting services to Eli’s Shukrun excavations for over a year, but recently we have significantly increased the number of staff members working this material and it will take place for some time. We expect many more unique finds from this material to show up in the future.”

The IAA release quotes Eli Shukron stating, in part, “The bulla we found belongs to the group of “fiscal” bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE.”

Those interested in fiscal bulla should see Dr. Barkay’s report, “A Fiscal Bulla from the Slopes of the Temple Mount – Evidence for the Taxation System of the Judean Kingdom,” at and his essay at [pp. 151-77 in Hebrew, and two English pages].

2. The expanded AP news report, at PhysOrg and other sites, states: “Shmuel Achituv, an expert in ancient scripts at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University who did not participate in the dig, said the discovery was the oldest reference to Bethlehem ever found outside of the Bible. Apart from the seal, the other mentions of Bethlehem, Achituv said, ‘are only in the Bible.'” In addition, the article stated, “Hebrew words often do not have vowels, which are understood from the context, making several interpretations of the same word plausible. Some of the letters are crumbled, or were wiped away. Three experts interviewed by the AP, one involved in the text and two independents, concurred the seal says Bethlehem. There are only some 40 other existing seals of this kind from the first Jewish Temple period, said Achituv, making this a significant find, both because such seals are rare, and because this is the first to mention Bethlehem.” See “Ancient Bethlehem seal unearthed in Jerusalem” at

There’s also a video of Eli Shukron speaking about the bulla in English, including at

And see four pictures at

3. In my earlier “Is Bethlehem on the bulla?” e-mail I mentioned that “Some scholars have already indicated that they take issue with Eli Shukron’s reading of the bulla’s text (Bishv’at Bat Lechem [Lemel]ekh = in the seventh / bet lehem / lm[lk]) but see, instead, a person’s name or other wording.”

Since then, one scholar has posted the details of his disagreement and another has withdrawn his reservations about the “bet lehem” reading but with important caveats.

A. Today, May 24, Dr. George Athas posted “A New Seal that DOES NOT refer to Bethlehem” at his site, at

In it, besides making a political judgment, he explains in detail how he would read the lines differently and states his belief that the letter in the second line read as a het is actually a heh, negating a reading of of “lh(.)m” (=  “lechem”). In a comment, Dr. Peter van der Veen agreed in part with Dr. Athas but took issue with the heh reading (“I do think that it is a het as the left vertical line can be detected but it is rather damaged.”). Dr. Athas explained why he was not convinced and concluded that, “In any case, this is why we need another pair of skilled eyes to inspect this bulla. I simply don’t trust photos enough to make definitive judgements.”

(Interestingly, on May 23, a reader (“Sarah”, not an epigrapher) of Duane Smith’s “A ‘Fiscal Bulla’ From Bethlehem” posting wrote, “looks like a he not a cheth in ‘Bethlehem’.” See

However (and more on that below based on Dr. Ahituv’s observations), when you look closely at a greatly enlarged photo of the bulla, such as the IAA’s high-resolution picture at ZIP file, do you see what could be an almost completely effaced left stroke of a het?

(Unless my eyes are playing tricks on me, and subject to stereoscopic microscope analysis, it seems to be there when observed at very great enlargement.)

Or do you see a heh? (The shading at the left between the horizontal lines and to the left above the top line would disqualify the heh.)

Ha’aretz also has a not-quite-as-large picture (that is further enlargeable when clicked upon with the mouse cursor) at!/image/121356148.jpg

B. Dr. Victor Avigdor Hurowitz of Ben-Gurion University initially expressed reservations about the reading of the bulla in the IAA’s press release.

However, in an e-mail and a posting at his Facebook page he wrote the following about an hour ago: “Retraction about Beytlehem bulla. Friends, I must retract the statements I made a few days ago about the newly found bulla mentioning [b]yt lh(.)m בית לחם. Why? It turns out that my objections were based on a mistaken press release of the bulla issued by the IAA. They offered a transcription and transliteration which were erroneous. My colleague Shmuel Ahituv, an epigrapher, saw the bulla itself and he informs me that the signs on the right which the IAA transcribed as ב are in fact on close examination of the object remnants of a yod. Also, the letter transcribed as ח is indeed such. On the photo it looks like a ה because the down stroke on the left seems to be absent. Ahituv tells me that traces are still visible. In other words, the text reads [ב]ית לחם This is obviously Bethlehem and I have no objections to the identification. In summary, if Ahituv’s transcription and decipherment are correct this bulla is an attestation of this place in an extra-Biblical, Iron Age source. But if the IAA has correctly transcribed the text, my objections stand. So I retract my objection but will not accept blame.”



Archbishop Vincent Nichols Hostile to the Ordinariate?

That’s the inference made in the Catholic Herald:

At Westminster Cathedral this Saturday, another milestone for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham will be reached, with the ordination of another 17 former Anglican priests as deacons on their way to the Catholic priesthood. The ordination Mass will be celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Alan Hopes of Westminster. “I have been informed”, says the author of the excellent A Reluctant Sinner blog, “that it has been quite some time since Westminster Cathedral will have witnessed the ordination of so many men at the one Mass.”

As I have already written in this column, I am beginning to wonder if the warm welcome with which even formerly hostile members of our hierarchy greeted the establishment of the ordinariate was genuine. Was their conversion authentic? Or were they being devious? Is the truth that their warm words were what they knew the Pope wanted them to utter, but that their true intention, hidden this time, in contrast to their open hostility to the original “Roman Option”, was to allow the whole thing to get under way and then quietly and over time to strangle it? I think that is the real truth.

If it is not, why, unlike the new American ordinariate and the even newer Australian ordinariate (who were both assigned a church building on their erection), has the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham still not been given a principal church? In the words of Damian Thompson: “The failure to address the matter is so morale-sapping that I really can’t blame those Anglicans who are hesitating to take the plunge…”

This is not the first time I have voiced these anxieties…

This certainly looks like a convincing answer to Damian Thompson’s question: “where is the London church that will serve as the ordinariate’s headquarters?” The answer is that it exists in the imagination and the aspirations of the Ordinary and his entourage: but that it has no existence in reality and never will without the firm intervention of the Pope. The following is the answer that Archbishop Nichols gave at a press conference, to a question about the provision of an ordinariate “cathedral”:  “I think that is something probably beyond their resources at the present time, and I don’t think the ordinariate would thank us, actually, to simply give it responsibility for a church that it would have to then maintain and upkeep.

The fact is, however, that those who have crossed the Tiber to the ordinariate do regard a main church as a priority. The fact is also that those 17 new deacons (so many more than are usually ordained at Westminster Cathedral) weren’t being ordained for the Archdiocese of Westminster but for the ordinariate: they ought to have been ordained at the ordinariate’s principal church. The reason that they haven’t got one is simple: it is that Archbishop Nichols has decided that he will not make one available — not because he hasn’t got one but because he is hostile to the ordinariate . To say he won’t give them one because of the costs of maintenance is utterly ridiculous: the archbishop could easily help with that problem for a year or two out of petty cash: it would make up just a little for the extreme meanness of the financial help given by the mainstream English Church thus far. I would not be at all surprised if the very unusual recent gift by the Holy Father of £150,000 wasn’t at least partly intended by him as a rebuke to the English church for its parsimony, and also a way of reminding them of his own very strong support for this brave venture.

There is something else going on. I have a suspicion that there is a hidden ecumenical agenda here, behind the policy of keeping the ordinariate homeless. And behind that lies another intention. At the same time as the Anglican Bishop of London was making it plain that he would sooner demolish an unused Anglican building or turn it into a carpet warehouse than allow an ordinariate parish to use it, Archbishop Nichols was saying that the natural place for ordinariate Catholics to worship would be their local Catholic parish church. Well, it would certainly be the best place if you just want to absorb them within the local parish, while hijacking their clergy – at first to “help out”, and then, who knows? – rather than give them the independent ecclesial existence envisaged in Anglicanorum coetibus.

I really do hope that the nuncio Archbishop Mennini is keeping his eye on this one. For, if he isn’t, and if Rome simply assumes that Archbishop Nichols is doing everything that is necessary for the Pope’s vision to be realised, I fear that the whole enterprise may run into the sands. Everything depends on its maintaining its momentum. But it cannot do that entirely alone in the early stages. In the US and in Australia, the local hierarchy is getting behind the ordinariate. Not here. Why is that?

Read it all here.

The hostility aimed at the Ordinariate is palpable in parts – both from within (certain Catholic quarters) and from Anglican sources. This is my personal opinion.  In fact I would go as far as to suggest that pretence is a common response which frequently gives way to veiled persecution. It is exacting and regrettably now a notable aspect of the history of the Ordinariate.

As this great work of ecumenical unity continues to unfold, pray that all opposition and resentment will soon come to pass…



Men Charged In Bible Snatching

Huffington Post:

Police say two western Pennsylvania men mistook a woman’s Bible carrying case for a purse when they tried to snatch it from her, knocking her to the ground.

Police charged Ludwig earlier this month before he told police that it was Stephenson who physically grabbed the Bible, knocking the elderly woman to the ground. Stephenson was arrested Tuesday.

Online court records don’t list an attorney for Stephenson, and Ludwig’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call Thursday.

Police say the incident happened about 7 p.m. outside the rural Robin-dale Union Church in East Wheatfield Township, about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh.

How wicked.



Woman Priest Compares Church of England Bishops to Wife Beaters

A woman priest tipped as a future bishop has compared senior Church of England figures to wife beaters.

What a mess! A total mess.

In an article on her blog titled “The Battered Bride of Christ”, The Rev Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, questioned why women should stay in an “abusive institution”.

Her comments follow moves by bishops to alter proposals to allow the ordination of women bishops.

The Church’s House of Bishops met behind closed doors in York to finalise long – awaited legislation designed to clear the way for a vote at the General Synod in July enabling the ordination of women as bishops.

But the bishops added an amendment that would allow traditionalist parishes that refused to accept the authority of a woman not only to opt out but also to have an alternative bishop chosen to be “consistent with the theological convictions”.

Following the move, Dr Threlfall-Holmes, acting principal of Ustinov College at Durham University, wrote: “The question for women priests today is: do we stay with this abusive institution?

So why do you?

And see, this is exactly why women should not be priests. Liberated, out of control and without authority. Moreover, if this is the PC drivel that is actually believed and taught… Wife beaters?!