name of this place may originally have derived from Lachma, the Mesopotamian god
of vegetation and fertility known from the creation story Enuma Elish. Bethlehem
was known to all cultures as a place of fertility and growth. Even the Romans
established a cult of Adonis in a grove near the Grotto of the Nativity. In the
Old Testament, this was reflected in the name of the region Ephrata, which also
Bethlehem is a Hebrew word and is the name used in the Bible. Today's residents use the Arabic name Beit Lachem. Beth and Beit mean house. Lachem refers to meat. Lehem refers to bread. Hence the meaning House of Bread or House of Meat.
story begins some 50,000 years ago when this area served as a land bridge
between Africa, Asia, and Europe. At that time various species of animals
wandered back and forth between the continents.
itself is located at one of the highest points of the area, some 750 meters
above sea level on the edge of the watershed. Its early settlement seems to have
resulted from its position bordering the fertile areas of Beit Sahour and Beit
Jala, and the Judean desert to the south and east.
is mentioned in the Tell-El-Amarna letters, dating from the 14th century B.C.,
in which the Egyptian governor of Palestine informed the King of Egypt that a
town south of Jerusalem called Bit Ilu Lahama (house of the godders Lahama),
Bethlehem, had fallen in the hands of the "Kharibus" (Hebrews) and it
must be retaken.
to the Old Testament Book of Ruth, the first known residents were a couple named
Elimelech and Naomi. About 3,200 years ago, they lived in a simple farming
village struggling to survive in the midst of famine. This house of nourishment
had become barren, and so they sojourned for a time in Moab, east of the Dead
Sea. Their story is short, but their memory lives on and so does the family name
in the story of their Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth and her quest to establish
roots by gathering sheaves of barley in the fields of Boaz near Beit Sahour.
hillside village was also home to shepherds, including Ruth's grandson Jesse and
his eight sons from the tribe of Judah. The prophet Samuel graced the town of
Bethlehem with his presence in his search for a new king of Israel. The lot fell
to the youngest of those sons, David, who chose Jerusalem - only nine kilometers
away - as his capital to avoid the impression of favoritism, and there he
established a dynasty.
During this early period of
history, one of the
central characteristics of Bethlehem was its mixed population and mutual
tolerance among people of different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.
the end of the tenth century B.C., King Rehoboam fortified Bethlehem and made it
a store city for food, oil, and wine. Yet for 1,000 years Bethlehem remained a
quiet little town in the shadow of Jerusalem.
The Birth of Christ:
the Great who ruled Palestine (37 - 14B.C.) was a vassal of Roma Emperor
Augustus. A decree was issued ordering a census of the population. Everyone was
ordered to return to his or her place of origin for the census (Luke 2: 3-5).
Joseph and Mary, because of their lineage or place of origin had to leave
Nazareth for Bethlehem.
the birth of Jesus took place and the shepherds and wise men paid their visits.
hearing the news of the birth of the King of Judah and having been deceived by
the Wise Men who failed to inform him of the whereabout of the newly born Herod
ordered the killing of all boys of the Bethlehem area under the age of two
(Matthew 2: 1-18). But Joseph took the Child Christ and his mother by night and
fled to Egypt (Matthew 2: 1-18). Upon their return from Egypt, Joseph, afraid to
return to Bethlehem, withdrew to Galilee and Nazareth. Jesus did not return to
his birthplace Bethlehem in his lifetime.
the town remained small and insignificant. During the Bar-Cochba revolt Of
132-135 it was devastated by the Roman army under Hadrian, and its Jewish
residents were expelled from the area
313 A.D. Emperor Constantine officially recognized Christianity. His mother
Helen visited Bethlehem and Jerusalem in 325 A.D. Constantine ordered the
construction of a church on the site of the Grotto that began in 326 A.D.,
beside becoming a milestone in Christian life attracting many pilgrims,
Bethlehem became a center of monastic life as well.
386 A.D. St. Jerome, one of the four doctors of western church and the most
learned of the Latin Fathers, settled in Bethlehem with his companion Paula and
her daughter Eustochium. Paula was instrumental in building a monastery for men
under Jerome's direction, three cloisters for women under her own supervision
and a hostel for pilgrims. All of them spent the rest of their lives in
Bethlehem. And in Bethlehem St. Jerome revised the existing translation of the
Bible and produced the Vulgate, the official Latin version used by the Latin
Roman Catholic Church.
A.D. Samaritans from Nablus revolted against the Byzantines, invaded Bethlehem
and damaged the Church of the Nativity.
A.D. Persians invaded Palestine and burned the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher
but spared the Church of the Nativity. It was reported that when the Persians
saw the images of the Persian wise men on the exterior of the Basilica they
A.D. Arab Muslim armies under the leadership of Rightly-guided Caliph Umar ibn
al-Khattab entered Jerusalem ushering in Arabization and Islamization processes
which had left a permanent cultural Logacy on the present Arabic speaking people
of Palestine including the Christian and Muslim natives of Bethlehem.
Christmas Day in 1100, Baldwin I was crowned in Bethlehem as the first king of
the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Within several years Bethlehem was raised in
status to a bishopric.
Crusaders dominated a significant stage of the building activities. By the end
of the fifteenth century, it was a strong fortified city with walls and moats
punctuated by two massive towers - one on the western hill and the other near
fortifications were razed by the Ottoman conquerors, so that Bethlehem was once
again a tiny, insignificant village for nearly 400 years. Twentieth century
world politics continued to play havoc with the residents of Bethlehem as
occupation passed from the hands of the Ottomans to the British Mandate to the
West Bank of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to Israeli military administration.
On December 21,1995, when the green, red, black, and white Palestinian flag was officially raised in Manger Square, Bethlehem began a new era marked by the sincere longing for a long-lasting and comprehensive peace and for extensive regional coexistence and development.
An Old Paint of the City of Bethlehem