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BETHLEHEM Summary and Overview

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BETHLEHEM in Easton's Bible Dictionary

house of bread. (1.) A city in the "hill country" of Judah. It was originally called Ephrath (Gen. 35:16, 19; 48:7; Ruth 4:11). It was also called Beth-lehem Ephratah (Micah 5:2), Beth-lehem-judah (1 Sam. 17:12), and "the city of David" (Luke 2:4). It is first noticed in Scripture as the place where Rachel died and was buried "by the wayside," directly to the north of the city (Gen. 48:7). The valley to the east was the scene of the story of Ruth the Moabitess. There are the fields in which she gleaned, and the path by which she and Naomi returned to the town. Here was David's birthplace, and here also, in after years, he was anointed as king by Samuel (1 Sam. 16:4-13); and it was from the well of Bethlehem that three of his heroes brought water for him at the risk of their lives when he was in the cave of Adullam (2 Sam. 23:13-17). But it was distinguished above every other city as the birthplace of "Him whose goings forth have been of old" (Matt. 2:6; compare Micah 5:2). Afterwards Herod, "when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men," sent and slew "all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under" (Matt. 2:16, 18; Jer. 31:15). Bethlehem bears the modern name of Beit-Lahm, i.e., "house of flesh." It is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem, standing at an elevation of about 2,550 feet above the sea, thus 100 feet higher than Jerusalem. There is a church still existing, built by Constantine the Great (A.D. 330), called the "Church of the Nativity," over a grotto or cave called the "holy crypt," and said to be the "stable" in which Jesus was born. This is perhaps the oldest existing Christian church in the world. Close to it is another grotto, where Jerome the Latin father is said to have spent thirty years of his life in translating the Scriptures into Latin. (See VERSION T0003768.) (2.) A city of Zebulun, mentioned only in Josh. 19:15. Now Beit-Lahm, a ruined village about 6 miles west-north-west of Nazareth.

BETHLEHEM in Smith's Bible Dictionary

(house of bread). 1. One of the oldest towns in Israel, already in existence at the time of Jacob's return to the country. Its earliest name was EPHRATH or EPHRATAH. See #Ge 35:16,19; 48:7| After the conquest Bethlehem appears under its own name, BETHLEHEM-JUDAH. #Jud 17:7; 1Sa 17:12; Ru 1:1,2| The book of Ruth is a page from the domestic history of Bethlehem. It was the home of Ruth, #Ru 1:19| and of David. #1Sa 17:12| It was fortified by Rehoboam. #2Ch 11:6| It was here that our Lord was born, #Mt 2:1| and here that he was visited by the shepherds, #Lu 2:15-17| and the Magi. Matt 2. The modern town of Beit-lahm lies to the east of the main road from Jerusalem to Hebron, six miles from the former. It covers the east and northeast parts of the ridge of a long gray hill of Jura limestone, which stands nearly due east and west, and is about a mile in length. The hill has a deep valley on the north and another on the south. On the top lies the village in a kind of irregular triangle. The population is about 3000 souls, entirely Christians. The Church of the Nativity, built by the empress Helena A.D. 330, is the oldest Christian church in existence. It is built over the grotto where Christ is supposed to have been born. 2. A town in the portion of Zebulun, named nowhere but in #Jos 19:15| Now known as Beit-lahm.

BETHLEHEM in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

BETH'LEHEM (house of bread). 1. A town in the "hill-country," about 6 miles south of Jerusalem, situated on a narrow ridge running eastward, which breaks down in abrupt terraced slopes to the deep valleys below. The town is 2527 feet above the sea. It is one of the oldest in Palestine. History. -- It was Rachel's burial-place (still marked by a white mosque near the town), and called Ephrath, Gen 35:19; the home of Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth, Ruth 1:19; birthplace of David, 1 Sam 17:12; burial-place of Joab's family, 2 Sam 2:32; taken by the Philistines, and had a noted well, 2 Sam 23:14-15; fortified by Rehoboam, 2 Chr 11:6; foretold as the birthplace of Christ, Mic 5:2; the birthplace of Jesus, Matt 2:1; was visited by the shepherds, Luke 2:15-17, and by the magi, Matt 2:1-23. It is noticed over 40 times in the Bible. It has existed as a town for over 4000 years. It was a small place until after the time of Christ; was improved and its walls rebuilt by Justinian; had a famous church in a.d. 600; was destroyed by the Arabs, rebuilt by the Franks, again twice destroyed, a.d. 1214 and in 1489; rebuilt within the last two centuries; now has about 5000 inhabitants, nearly all nominally Christians, mostly of the Greek Church. The women of Bethlehem, as also those of Nazareth (the two homes of Christ), are exceptionally beautiful, and demonstrate the superiority of Christian women over Moslem women. It is now called Beit-Lahm; is surrounded by nicely kept terraces covered with vine, olive, and fig trees. The church of the Nativity, the oldest in Christendom, built in a.d. 330 by the empress Helena, stands over the grotto reputed to be the place of our Lord's birth, and is the joint property of the Greeks, Latins, and Armenians, who have separate convents adjoining it. The "plain of the Shepherds" is about a mile from the town. The so-called David's well is pointed out near the city. A massive column Bethlehem, (from Original Photograph by Bonfils.) stands upon the reputed spot where monkish legends say 20,000 martyred innocents were buried. The claim of these places as the true localities where the biblical events occurred rests wholly upon traditions covered with the accumulated rubbish of superstition, which render the identifications of small value. The chapel beneath the church, however, was the study of St. Jerome, where he spent thirty years on his great work, the Latin version of the Bible, called the Vulgate, and which is still the standard version in the Roman Church. The "holy crypt," the reputed birthplace of our Lord, is a cave in the solid rock, twenty feet beneath the great choir of the church. At the entrance of a long winding passage cut out of the limestone rock is an irregular-shaped chapel, containing two small recesses. In the northernmost of these is a marble slab, on which a silver star marks the supposed spot of the Nativity. Hepworth Dixon (The Holy Land, 1865, ch. xiv.) not only accepts this cave as the birthplace of Jesus, but also tries to prove that it belonged to Boaz and was the home of David. The tradition that Jesus was born in this cave is very old, and is first mentioned by Justin Martyr (about a.d. 140), who was a native of Palestine. The precise place of our Saviour's birth, as that of his crucifixion, has been left in obscurity by a wise Providence. The greeting of Boaz to the reapers may still be heard in the fields of Bethlehem. The farmer now salutes his laborers with "The Lord be with you!" and they reply, as in the days of Ruth, "The Lord bless thee!" Ruth 2:4. 2. A town in Zebulon, Josh 19:15; now a poor village, Beit-Lahm, 6 miles west of Nazareth. BETH-MA'ACHAH 2 Sam 20:14-15 Same as Abel-beth-maachah, Abel-maim, and Abel; now Abel el-Kamh, a village north-west of Lake Merom. Grove supposes Maachah was a petty Syrian kingdom north of Palestine.

BETHLEHEM in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

("house of bread"), i.e. in a fertile region. Two hours journey, in a southward or rather southwesterly direction from Jerusalem, by the Jaffa gate. Existing at the time of Jacob's return to Israel; originally called Ephrath or Ephrath, i.e. fruitful (Genesis 35:16; Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7; Psalm 132:6). Hur and Salma, Hur's son, both have the title "father of Bethlehem" (1 Chronicles 2:51; 1 Chronicles 4:4). Hur is the father of Uri, father of Bezaleel (1 Chronicles 2:20; Exodus 31:2-11). Tradition made Jesse "a weaver of the veils of the sanctuary"; and as trades are hereditary in the E. he may have inherited the embroidering skill of his forefather whom Moses employed for the tabernacles being "filled with the spirit of God" (Exodus 25:35). Hence appears the appropriateness of the allusions to the "weaver's beam" in representing the spears of giants slain by David and his heroes. After the conquest of Canaan it bears the name Bethlehem Judah; distinguishing it from Bethlehem in Zebulun (Joshua 19:15-16; now Beit-lahm, six miles W. of Nazareth). It was occupied once by a Philistine garrison, when David desired a draught from the well by the gate, so familiar to his childhood (2 Samuel 23:14-15; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19). The Levite Jonathan, son of Gershom, who became the Danites' priest at their northern settlement, and the Levite's concubine whose cruel death at Gibeah caused the destruction of Benjamin, came from Bethlehem (Judges 17:7; Judges 18:30; Judges 19:9.) The connection of Bethlehem with Moab appears in the book of Ruth. Hence the undesigned propriety appears of David, Ruth's descendant, choosing the king of Moab's house at Mizpeh as the safest retreat for his parents, when he was outlawed by Saul (1 Samuel 22:3-4). Bethlehem was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:6). In Jeremiah's time (Jeremiah 41:17) the caravansary of Chimham near Bethlehem (see 2 Samuel 19:37-40) was the usual starting place for Egypt. The inn (kataluma) mentioned in Luke 2 was a similar one, and possibly the same. At the return from Babylon, 123 "children of Bethlehem" accompanied Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:21; Nehemiah 7:26). Bethlehem is called the "city of David" (Luke 2:4), but the "town (Greek village) where David was" in John 7:42. Now Beitlahm, "the house of flesh." Solomon's pools and "gardens" (Ecclesiastes 2:5) lay S. of Bethlehem. Thekoa, built (fortified)by Rehoboam, lay S.E., the place of Amos' (Amos 1:1) birth (Amos 7:10-15). S.W. is the valley of Sennacherib's overthrow. N.E. is the traditional scene of the angels' vision to the shepherds; but the hills were more likely to have been the scene of the flocks being kept than the grain abounding valley. Dr. Clarke identified a well of pure water here with that which David thirsted for; but the traditional site is a group of three cisterns half a mile away on the other side of the wady on the N., and Robinson denies the existence of any well of living water in or near the town (2 Samuel 23:15-18). Bethlehem is now a village with one chief street, and population (wholly Christian) of 3,000. The slopes outside abound in figs, vines, almonds and olives. The Church of the Nativity at the N. side was originally built by the empress Helena over the Lord's presumed birthplace; Justin Martyr in the 2nd century said that our Lord's birth took place in a cave close to the village. Justinian erected a more sumptuous church, with gray limestone columns and a lofty roof of cedar wood; but the present roof is of English oak, presented by Edward IV. The grotto of the nativity is beneath a crypt, 39 feet long, 11 broad, 9 high, hewn out of the rock and lined with marble. A rich altar is over the supposed site of the Savior's birth, and a star of silver inlaid in white marble, with the inscription "Hie de virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est." A manger too is there of white marble (Luke 2:12). Jerome's sepulchre is near; Bethlehem being where he lived for 30 years, and diligently studied the Hebrew Scriptures, to prepare the Vulgate translation. In Micah 5:2, "Thou Bethlehem Ephratah, (though) thou be little among the thousands of Judah, (yet) out of thee shall He come forth unto Me (that is) to be ruler in Israel" seems to contradict Matthew 2:6, "Thou art not the least among the princes of Juda." Really, Matthew by independent inspiration unfolds further Micah's prophecy. For "Ephratah," now become obsolete, he substitutes" in the land of Jude"; furthermore he implies, "though thou art little in a worldly point of view, thou art the reverse of least among Jude's princes, in the spiritual glory of being Messiah's birthplace" (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). The low state of David's line when Messiah was born is also implied in Micah (Isaiah 53:2).