Bethlehem (House of Bread - House of Lahmu) is located
about 10 Kilometers (6 miles) southwest of Jerusalem by the hill country of Judea on the
way to Hebron. It is first mentioned in the Armana letters fourteen centuries BCE.
is sacred to all three religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Bethlehem plays a significant part in the Old Testament, in the history of the
Israelites, both before they entered Egypt and slavery, and after the Exodus. It appears
in the Old Testament as Ephrat, where Rachel the beloved matriarch of the Jewish People,
the favorite wife of Jacob, died during childbirth. The Tomb of Rachel, is a pilgrimage
place for Jews and Muslims alike. Among other Biblical mentions and Holy Sites in
Bethlehem: Rachel's tomb, Naomi and Ruth, Samuel anoints King David and the well from
which David's warriors brought him waters. In the bible it is called "Bethlehem of
Judah" (belonging to the tribe of Judah), to distinguish it from the other Bethlehem,
which was in the North in the territory of the Zebulon.
David, the youngest son of a Bethlehem-farmer (a shepherd) is chosen and anointed by
the Prophet Samuel on behalf of the Lord as a king. (First Samuel 17:12).
According to Matthew 2 and Luke 2, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and Matthew interpreted
this as the fulfillment of Micah's prophecy. In effect it became a sort of official
rightful place of the family line of David. (See Family Tree of Jesus Christ - "From Adam and Eve to Jesus Christ").
Christian tradition, perhaps as early as the second century CE, identified a cave as
the site of Jesus' birth. About 338 CE Constantine, the Roman emperor and his mother,
Helena, built a church over the grotto and In 527 Justinian the Emperor of the Byzantine
Empire resettled in Bethlehem, his reign was one of great prosperity and expansion of
churches. The site of the Nativity is a central pilgrimage destination for Christians from
all over the world.
Bethlehem was a city of importance to the Crusaders, who conquered it in the year 1100.
Over years of wars between the Crusaders and the Muslims the city was destroyed, and then
subsequently rebuilt. The Turks destroyed the city in 1244, but the church somehow
escaped, Bethlehem was rebuilt once again.
When finally the Crusaders were driven from Palestine in 1291, the Moslem rulers used
the holy places for political and financial ends. Although Bethlehem was still nominally
endowed, collection of revenue from the land was impossible. In 1332 Pope John XXII wrote
to Edward III of England, to David II of Scotland and to Simon of Meopham, Archbishop of
Canterbury, asking them to help the bishop of Bethlehem to regain his interest and so
enable him to return to Bethlehem and carry out repairs. It seems little was done.
Decay and destruction proceeded over the years as a result of fighting between the
local Christian and Muslim residents.
The Population of Bethlehem today is made up of Christians and Moslems. Among the
Christians: Catholics of Latin, Syrian, Malachite, Armenian and Maronite rites and
Orthodox of Greek, Syrian and Armenian denominations. Protestants are present in the
As a result of the Six-Day War, Bethlehem came under Israeli rule.
In December 1995, the town of Bethlehem reverted to Palestinian control. Israelis still
have access to Rachel's tomb, on the northern outskirts of the city. Unfortunately,
occasional outbreaks of violence continue to occur between Palestinian demonstrators from
Bethlehem and Israeli troops stationed outside the city's limits.
"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into
Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the
house and lineage of David)"
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a
Saviour, which is Christ the lord."