Monday, January 27, 2020

The Antiquity of Bethlehem

Alice C. Linsley

Archaeologists have made discoveries in the area of Bethlehem that indicate that humans have lived there for at least 100,000 years. Evidence of human habitation in the area of Bethlehem is well-attested along the north side of Wadi Khareitun where there are three rock shelters: Iraq al-Ahmar, Umm Qal’a, and Umm Qatafa. These caves were homes in a wooded landscape overlooking a river. At Umm Qatafa archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of the domestic use of fire in Palestine.

An unscathed 4,000-year-old tomb was accidently discovered in the city of Bethlehem during renovation being carried out on a local house. Construction workers were led to the tomb, which dates between 1,900 B.C. and 2,200 B.C., through a hole found near the Church of the Nativity.

The tomb and its contents were located about a meter below the surface. Burial items such as pottery, plates, and beads were retrieved from the tomb, along with the remains of two individuals.

Bethlehem and the Horite Hebrew  

The book of Ruth identifies the royal House of David with the Horite Hebrew settlement of Bethlehem. The name has two meanings. The Hebrew Beth Lehem means “House of Bread” and the Arabic Bēt Lahm means “House of Meat.” Both are accurate descriptions of the ancient Hebrew settlement of Bethlehem. The priests of Bethlehem offered grain offerings daily, and less often, they sacrificed lambs. The meat was distributed to the needy. The place of Jesus’ birth speaks of his identity as the "Lamb of God" and the "Bread of Life."

Bethlehem was a Horite Hebrew (Abru/Habiru) settlement according to I Chronicles 2:54 and I Chronicles 4:4. The Horite Hebrew were a caste of priests who believed in and served God Father and God Son. They are the oldest known caste of priests with a history that extends back long before the emergence of Judaism. The oldest known site of Horite Hebrew worship is at Nekhen on the Nile and dates to 3800 BC.

The Horite Hebrew priests served rulers at royal temples and shrines, circumcised, performed purification rituals, and were responsible for oversight of royal burials. They made grain and oil offerings to God and sometimes sacrificed calves and lambs. By David’s time they had dispersed throughout the ancient world. They carried their religious beliefs and practices wherever they went.

Horite Hebrew priests were found among the Arameans of Mesopotamia, the Edomites of the hill country south of Judah, among the Moabites (Ruth’s people), among the Nilotic peoples, the Afro-Arabian clans known as Dedanites and Midianites, and among the people of Judah.

They married within their clans (endogamy) and the priestly office was hereditary. This explains why 2 Samuel 8:18 states that David’s sons were priests.

I Chronicles 4:4 gives the name Hur (HR) as the founding patriarch of Bethlehem. Hur is a Horus name. Rahab of Jericho was the wife of Salmon, the son of Hur. Salmon (or Salma) is a Horite Hebrew name associated with Bethlehem in 1 Chronicles 2. In 1 Chronicles 2:54, Salmon is called the "father” of Bethlehem. Rahab was the grandmother of Boaz who married Ruth. Ruth was the great grandmother of King David of Bethlehem.

After David became king, he brought the Ark "from the house of Abinadab, that was in Gibeah” (Saul’s hometown) to Jerusalem (II Sam. 6:1-12). However, for three months the ark rested in David’s hometown of Bethlehem in the house of Obed-Edom. This indicates a direct connection between the priest of Bethlehem and the Horite Hebrew ruler-priests of Edom listed in Genesis 36.

The Obed-Edom connection also testifies to the great antiquity of David’s royal lineage. Genesis 36:31 lists the descendants of Seir the Horite Hebrew, and notes: “These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned.”

The book of Micah also refers to the long-held expectation of Messiah’s coming from Bethlehem. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)

This verse designates Bethlehem of Judah as the setting for the story of Ruth. Bethlehem of Judah is an agricultural zone in the West Bank fed by rain and water runoff from the Judean Hills. This identification is important because there is another Bethlehem in Galilee, near Nazareth. Both were agricultural areas with Hebrew settlements. The Israeli archaeologist, Aviram Oshri, spent nearly eleven years excavating artifacts in Bethlehem of the Galilee. He has suggested that Jesus was born in that Bethlehem, not in Bethlehem of Judea.

Israel has many micro-climates and the Book of Ruth says that Elimelech and Naomi left Bethlehem because of a famine. The main cause of famines was drought. The Bethlehem of Judah is much more prone to drought than the Bethlehem of Galilee because of its hilly terrain and climate. The crops in Judah’s hill country were planted in the valleys and were entirely dependent on rainfall and runoff from the hills.

This 2700-year royal seal (bulla) was found during archaeological excavations in Jerusalem. The coin-size seal bears the name “Bethlehem” in ancient Hebrew. The seal indicates that a shipment was sent from Bethlehem to Jerusalem in the seventh year of a king's reign. The king was either Hezekiah or Josiah.

Three lines of ancient Hebrew script appear on the bulla:

בשבעת Bishivʽat
בת לים Bat Lechem
למלך [Lemel]ekh

The bulla makes it clear that a town called Bethlehem was inhabited by Hebrews in the time of the Temple built by Solomon. Eli Shukron, of the Israel Antiquities Authority explained, "This is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple period (1006-586 B.C.), which proves that Bethlehem was indeed a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly also in earlier periods."

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