What is Bethlehem?
(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.
Bibliography Information Schaff, Philip, Dr. "Biblical Definition for 'bethlehem' in Schaffs Bible Dictionary". bible-history.com - Schaff's