Updated: Nov 2, 2019
Bethlehem – a home town of King David and a birthplace of Jesus, a town with thousands years of history. At the Old Testament times Bethlehem was a Canaanite settlement connected with the Patriarchs life. Situated along an ancient caravan route, Bethlehem always was a melting pot of peoples, religions and cultures, since its very beginning.
In times past, Bethlehem was also called Ephrathah or Bethlehem-Judah to distinguish it from a second Bethlehem located in the Zebulunite territory. It was first mentioned in Genesis 35:19, as the burial site of Rachel, Jacob' favored wife: "So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)…"
"Bethlehem" or "Beit Lehem" in Arabic and Hebrew means "House of Bread" in Hebrew and "House of Meet" in Arabic, both names symbolize the most basic and essential elements to support human life.
The great story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz from the book of Ruth is set primarily around the town of Bethlehem. King David, the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz was born and raised in Bethlehem And it was David's hometown that the Prophet Samuel anointed him to be king over Israel (1 Samuel 16:13): "So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David…."
In Micah 5, the Prophet foretold that Messiah would come from the small and seemingly insignificant town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2–5): "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past ... And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace..."
By the time of Jesus' birth, Bethlehem was a small and modest town close to the great Jerusalem. Three gospel accounts (Matthew 2:1–12, Luke 2:4–20, and John 7:42) report that Jesus was born "in the humble town of Bethlehem".
The Gospels tell us that by the time when Mary was due to give birth, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus decreed a population census. Every person in the Roman world had to go to his own home town to get register. Joseph, being a descender of David, was required to go to Bethlehem together with Mary. Obviously due to the census, all local inns were too crowded, and as a result, Mary had to give birth in a basement stable owned by Joseph relatives…
…Bethlehem, a city under the full control of the Palestinian Authority, lies than 5 miles away from Jerusalem and is separated from it by the border crossing. This crossing takes just minutes, and in most cases people even do not realize that they have moved between the countries, if not being said so. Today, approximately 30,000 people live in Bethlehem.
Local population is generally divided between 80% Muslims and 20% Christians. Bethlehem, like the rest of Palestine, experiences a fast growth of tourism. In the last years the number of visitors has grown by over 10 times, from only 55 thousand in 2002, to over 550 thousand in 2018.
Bethlehem is a home to one of the most sacred Christian sites in the world – the Nativity Church. Built by Emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Empress Helen in early IV CAD, the Church of the Nativity still stands over a grotto believed to be the very spot where Jesus was born. The place is marked by a 14-pointed Silver Star, called the Star of Bethlehem. Next to this Nativity Grotto, is the Manger Grotto – a traditional place where Mary breast-fed Jesus for the first time, and where the Wise Kings presented newborn Jesus their presents, representing the Kingdoms of the Haven, the Living and the Dead – Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh.
The original Church of the Nativity structure was further rebuilt and expanded by the great Byzantine emperor Justinian, in late VI Century. It is one of the oldest surviving Christian churches in World. Beautifully decorated with the mosaics dated IV and VI Centuries, covered by the wooden ceiling donated by the English King Edward IV in the XV Century and decorated with the silver candelabras donated by the Russian Tsars' in the XIX Century, this great church is a real microcosm of the whole Christian World.
Since 2012, the Church of Nativity is a World Heritage Site, and it has been the first to be listed by UNESCO in Palestine.