With Christmas just around the corner, I wanted to learn more about Jesus’ birthplace. What kind of city has it been over the centuries and where it is now. Below are some interesting facts you may not know about this city rich is Biblical history.
• Bethlehem was an early Canaanite settlement (A Canaanite is “a member of any of the tribes who inhabited Canaan at the time of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.” -National Geographic)
• Also known or referred to as the City of David, named for King David, as it was his hometown.
• Bethlehem is first mentioned the Bible in the story of Rachel who was buried there. (Gen. 35:19)
• Today, Bethlehem is a Palestinian town situated approximately five miles south of Jerusalem.
• It was sometimes called Bethlehem Ephrathah as there was another Bethlehem in the area.
• The city has a Mediterranean climate and is approximately 2,600° above sea level (above the Mediterranean Sea). Summers average 73°F and winter is a mild 57°F.
• Ag: mainly fields, vineyards, figs, and olive orchards. Religious handcrafts are also in demand here such as, crosses carved from olive wood.
• In Hebrew, Bethlehem (or Beit Lechem) means “House of Bread.” Jesus calls himself the “bread of life.” God often uses food as a way to show He always provides for us. Jesus said, “Take this bread, it is my body.”
• In Arabic, Bethlehem means “house of meat”.
• This is the birthplace of Jesus Christ but not his hometown; that was Nazareth in Northern Israel.
• At the time of Jesus’ birth Bethlehem was a small town.
• Today, the population of Bethlehem is around 25,266 (2007, Google) comprising of Muslims and Christians.
• Herod ordered all the male children who were born here to be killed (2 years and under). He was tricked by the Magi and he feared the King of Kings, Jesus. (Matt. 2:16)
• The Church of the Nativity was orchestrated by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great (the first Christian Roman emperor). Constantine commissioned the building after his mother visited Bethlehem. It is located over a cave believed to be the very spot Jesus was born. It was almost destroyed by the Samaritans in 549 AD but was rebuilt by the Byzantine Roman Emperor Justinian. It is the oldest Christian church still standing today. (Read more about St. Helena here.)
• The Old Testament was translated from the original Hebrew to Latin in a monastery around 5th century CE in Bethlehem.
• Over the years, Bethlehem has been conquered and controlled by many including Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Egypt, Ottomans, the British, Jordan, Israel, and now the Palestinians.
• Bethlehem is in the West Bank as it is on the west bank of the Jordan River.
• Bethlehem is the setting of much of the Book of Ruth.
Bethlehem is rich in history. It has been fought over because of its religious significance. Many have fled to Bethlehem from persecution including the holocaust and Palestinians from the Israeli state. It is a town that has traditionally welcomed pilgrims and refugees. We read about this in the book of Ruth and how refugees were cared for. Bethlehem has been taken hostage in the current Palestinian-Israeli fight for control of the city. It’s a sad fact we cannot overlook. Bethlehem is the birthplace of our Messiah, but it is so much more!
Further reading: Bethlehem, a Biography of a Town by Nicholas Blincoe