Understanding the locations, people, and culture in the Bible are vital to fully understanding the concepts and ideas put forth. To that end, I will slowly be building on the "Places" page on this website. Today we'll be looking at the town of Bethlehem.
Physically, it is situated five miles south/southwest of Jerusalem along the main ridge route (to Hebron and Egypt), in the area of Judah. It was also called Ephrath ("fruitful") and/or Ephrathah during ancient times. The region was known for its fertile hills and valleys. Bluntly, it was an insignificant town-though ancient- during OT times, its major notices being: Ruth dying near there; King David's birthplace; and finally Micah prophesied that the Messiah would come from there.
Bethlehem is first noted as the burial place of Rachel (wife of Jacob), though scholars debate over the precise location of burial and whether she had a different place for burial and another for her tomb. It is clear, though, that Matthew references her in 2:18 as part of the fulfillment of the scripture, "Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, for they are no more." This is in reference, of course, to the slaughter of innocents at Bethlehem.
The next major event(s) around Bethlehem occur when we enter the time of King David. David was originally a shepherd of sheep in Bethlehem. Much of the book of Ruth takes place there, as the is the great-grandmother of King David. The parallels between the great king David and Jesus need no illumination.
When Jesus was born, Bethlehem was still a small town. The leaders knew of Micah's prophecy (see Micah, chapter 5), which in part led Herod to there. Both Matthew and Luke note Bethlehem in the infancy narratives.
The Church of the Nativity was founded by Justin Martyr in the 2nd century; he identified a cave near the village as the place of Jesus' birth (the cave was supposed to have served as a stable for the inn). Constantine funded the constructed the first basilica there at his mother Helena's request/prompting in approx. 330 A.D. Church Father Jerome is said to have spent thirty years here, starting in 386, translating the Bible into the Latin Vulgate.
It was rebuilt more grandly in the sixth century by Justinian. The Christian population in the region severely declined after the Muslim conquest, although some revival took place during the Crusades. Finally, repairs were started again in 1670. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in existence, and continues to be an area of tension.
Archeological knowledge: It was first settled in the Paleolithic era, but is first mentioned in the Amarna letters (14th century B.C., Egypt's governor for pharaoh wrote to him about "Bit-Lahmi").
The Israel Antiquities Authority recently released information about "The first ancient artifact constituting tangible evidence of the existence of the city of Bethlehem" seemingly from the 7th or 8th century B.C.
Jennifer Becker Landsberger
Who am I? Freelance writer (magazines, websites, & copywriting), Catholic, military wife, and Mensan. Double Bachelor's in History & Psychology.
Witnessing by charity and love are above all. Studying the Bible and beyond helps me on this quest. Feel free to join my walk into the Bible.
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~~~Prayer before Writing-
Oh creator of the universe, who has set the stars in the heavens and causes the sun to rise and set, shed the light of your wisdom into the darkness of my mind. Fill my thoughts with a loving knowledge of you, that I may bring you like to others. Just as you can make even babies speak your truth, instruct my tongue and guide my pen to convey the wonderful glory of the Gospel. Make my intellect sharp, my memory clear, and my words eloquent, so that I may faithfully interpret the mysteries what you have revealed.
To my readers & fellow writers,
1. I will pray that God's grace helps illuminate all of our interactions- both those of simple reading and more active conversations.
2. I will communicate with you respectfully and civilly. These are (rightly) issues which we feel passionate about. But even in disagreements, I will respect you fellow "seekers of truth."
3. I will not fall into negative behavior or words, such as insinuations, exaggerations, blames, or personal attacks. I respectfully ask you to do the same.
4. I will pray we will all find the truth and strive to fulfill the two greatest commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)
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Sites I Recommend
Biblical Evidence for Catholicism by Dave Armstrong