Bethlehem (Arabic: Beit Lahm Hebrew: Beit Lechem is a small city located some 10 km (6 miles) south of the Old City of Jerusalem within the West Bank, in an "Area A" zone administered by the Palestinian Authority. The "little town" of Bethlehem, mentioned in any number of Christmas carols, attracts pilgrims worldwide on account of its description in the New Testament (and particularly the Gospels) as the birthplace of Jesus, whom Christians believe to be Messiah and Son of God. The Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest churches in the world, is the focus of Christian veneration within the city. Bethlehem is revered by Jews as the birthplace and home town of David, King of Israel, as well as the traditional site of Rachel's Tomb (on the outskirts of the town). Although also home to many Muslims, Bethlehem remains home to one of the largest Arab Christian communities in the Middle East (despite significant emigration in recent years due to Muslim aggressions and antagonism against the Christian community resulting in a growing Muslim majority) and one of the chief cultural and tourism drawcards for the community. The Bethlehem agglomeration also includes the small towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, the latter also having biblical significance. Building up to the Millennium in the year 2000, Bethlehem underwent a massive largely foreign-funded project called Bethlehem 2000 in hopes of turning Bethlehem into a major tourist destination comparable to destinations such as Jerusalem or Tel Aviv in tourism infrastructure. Unfortunately a year later, the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occurred and the ensuing violence scuttled these tourism efforts. With the Palestinian uprising and violent clashes between both sides now have been over and done with for quite a few years, violence is now a thing of the past and many in Bethlehem hope to continue on where Bethlehem 2000 started them off.
Bethlehem (Arabic: بَيْتِ لَحْمٍ, Bayt Laḥm (help·info), lit "House of Meat"; Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶם, Beth Leḥem or Modern Hebrew Beyt Leḥem, lit "House
of Bread;" Greek: Βηθλεέμ Bethleém) is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank, approximately 8 kilometers (5 mi) south of Jerusalem,
with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a
hub of Palestinian culture and tourism. The Hebrew Bible identifies Beit Lehem as the city David was from and the location where he
was crowned as the king of Israel. The New Testament Gospels of Matthew and Luke identify Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth.
The town is inhabited by one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, though the size of the community has shrunk due to
The city was sacked by the Samaritans in 529 AD, during their revolt, but was rebuilt by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. Bethlehem was
conquered by the Arab Caliphate of 'Umar ibn al-Khattāb in 637, who guaranteed safety for the city's religious shrines. In 1099, Crusaders
captured and fortified Bethlehem and replaced its Greek Orthodox clergy with a Latin one. The Latin clergy were expelled after the city was
captured by Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria. With the coming of the Mamluks in 1250, the city's walls were demolished, and were
subsequently rebuilt during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
The British wrested control of the city from the Ottomans during World War I and it was to be included in an international zone under the
1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. Jordan annexed the city in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It was occupied by Israel in the
1967 Six-Day War. Since 1995, Bethlehem has been governed by the Palestinian National Authority.
Bethlehem has a Muslim majority, but is also home to one of the largest Palestinian Christian communities. The Bethlehem agglomeration
includes the towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, as well as the refugee camps of 'Aida and Azza. Bethlehem's chief economic sector is
tourism which peaks during the Christmas season when Christian pilgrims throng to the Church of the Nativity. Bethlehem has over thirty
hotels and three hundred handicraft work shops. Rachel's Tomb, an important Jewish holy site, is located at the northern entrance of
The first historical reference to the town appears in the Amarna Letters (c. 1400 BC) when the King of Jerusalem appeals to his overlord,
the King of Egypt, for help in retaking "Bit-Lahmi" in the wake of disturbances by the Apiru. Since the Jews and Arabs had not yet
arrived in the area it is thought that the similarity of this name to its modern forms indicates that this was a settlement of Canaanites
who shared a Semitic cultural and linguistic heritage with the later arrivals.
Biblical era -
Bethlehem, located in the "hill country" of Judah, may be the same as the Biblical Ephrath, which means "fertile", as there is a
reference to it in the Book of Micah as Bethlehem Ephratah. It is also known as Beth-Lehem Judah, and "a city of David". It is
first mentioned in the Tanakh and the Bible as the place where the Abrahamic matriarch Rachel died and was buried "by the wayside" (Gen.
48:7). Rachel's Tomb, the traditional grave site, stands at the entrance to Bethlehem. According to the Book of Ruth, the valley to the east
is where Ruth of Moab gleaned the fields and returned to town with Naomi. Bethlehem is the traditional birthplace of David, the second king
of Israel, and the place where he was anointed king by Samuel. It was from the well of Bethlehem that three of his warriors brought him
water when he was hiding in the cave of Adullam.
Roman and Byzantine periods -
View of Church of the Nativity in 1833, painting by M.N.Vorobiev
Between 132–135 the city was occupied by the Romans after its capture during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Its Jewish residents were expelled by
the military orders of Hadrian. While ruling Bethlehem, the Romans built a shrine to the mythical Greek cult figure Adonis on the site
of the Nativity. A church was erected in 326, when Helena, the mother of the first Byzantine emperor Constantine, visited Bethlehem.
During the Samaritan revolt of 529, Bethlehem was sacked and its walls and the Church of the Nativity destroyed, but they were soon rebuilt
on the orders of the Emperor Justinian I. In 614, the Persian Sassanid Empire invaded Palestine and captured Bethlehem. A story recounted in
later sources holds that they refrained from destroying the church on seeing the magi depicted in Persian clothing in a mosaic.
Birthplace of Jesus
Further information: Church of the Nativity and Nativity of Jesus
Silver star marking the place where Jesus was born according to Christian tradition
Two accounts in the New Testament describe Jesus as born in Bethlehem. According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus' parents lived in Nazareth
but traveled to Bethlehem for the census of AD 6, and Jesus was born there before the family returned to Nazareth.
The Gospel of Matthew account implies that the family already lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and later moved to Nazareth.
Matthew reports that Herod the Great, told that a 'King of the Jews' has been born in Bethlehem, ordered the killing of all the children
aged two and under in the town and surrounding areas. Jesus' earthly father Joseph is warned of this in a dream, and the family escapes this
fate by fleeing to Egypt and returning only after Herod has died. But being warned in another dream not to return to Judea, Joseph withdraws
the family to Galilee, and goes to live in Nazareth.
Early Christians interpreted a verse in the Book of Micah as a prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. Many modern
scholars question whether Jesus was really born in Bethlehem, and suggest that the different Gospel accounts were invented to present the
birth of Jesus as fulfillment of prophecy and imply a connection to the lineage of King David. The Gospel of Mark and the
Gospel of John do not include a nativity narrative or any hint that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and refer to him only as being from
Nazareth. In a 2005 article in Archaeology magazine, archaeologist Aviram Oshri pointed to the absence of evidence of settlement of the
area at the time when Jesus was born, and postulates that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Galilee. Opposing him, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
argues for the traditional position.
The antiquity of the tradition of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem is attested by the Christian apologist Justin Martyr, who stated in his Dialogue
with Trypho (c. 155–161) that the Holy Family had taken refuge in a cave outside of the town. Origen of Alexandria, writing around the
year 247, referred to a cave in the town of Bethlehem which local people believed was the birthplace of Jesus. This cave was possibly
one which had previously been a site of the cult of Tammuz...