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Bethlehem-03-Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem (Hebrew for "House of Bread") in Judea is the city where Jesus Christ was born, according to Matthew and Luke, fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would be born there Micah 5:2. Bethlehem was known as the city of David. Some scholars have theorized that there was another Bethlehem in Galilee.

INTRODUCTIONEdit

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans [ Or rulers] of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." [Micah 5:2]

Located in the "hill country" of Judah, it is believed to be the same as the biblical "Ephrath".[1]. Biblical support for this determination is found in 1 Samuel 17:12 which reads, "Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah."

An obscure, insignificant town, small in comparison to the others, Bethlehem was destined to became the most significant town in Israel due to the important biblical events that transpired there, namely, the birth of the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ as had been prophesied in the Scriptures [See Micah 5:2]. [2] [1][2]. It is also the birthplace of the Israelite King, David and the city where he was anointed King [1 Samuel 16:1]. [3] [3][4] [4] Furthermore, it was from the well of Bethlehem that three of David's warriors brought him water when he was hiding in the cave of Adullam. [5]

King David reigned from Hebron for over seven years. [6] [5] Initially, he ruled as a vassal of the Philistines and was anointed by the men of Judah, while he gradually extended his authority over a wider area until he was able to incorporate the remnants of Saul’s kingdom with the capture of Jerusalem, and where he was subsequently anointed king of the Kingdom of Israel.

As noted in the book of Genesis, Abraham purchased the cave and the field surrounding it from Ephron the Hittite in order to bury his wife Sarah. Later, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah were also buried in the cave. (The remaining Matriarch, Rachel, is buried outside Bethlehem, "by the way side" (Genesis 48:7). For this reason, Hebron/Bethlehem is also referred to as "the City of the Patriarchs" in Judaism, and regarded as one of its Four Holy Cities. Rachel's Tomb, by the way, stands at the entrance to Bethlehem.

Bethlehem is situated on the southern portion in the Judean Mountains. [7] and stands at an elevation of about 775 meters (2,543 ft) above sea level, 30 meters (98 ft) higher than nearby Jerusalem. It stands a little less than seven miles southwest of Sapphoris (Saffurieh) and seven miles northwest of Nazareth, the later home of Our Lord.

It is worth noting that Bethlehem, in spite of its small size, had great strategic importance for early settlers such as the Canaanites, and the ancient Israelites had found it to be an important local economic centre as well due to its strategic position along trading routes. [8]

EARLY SETTLEMENTEdit

Bethlehem was first settled by the Canaanite tribes, naming the city Beit Lahama. They built a temple to the God Lahama on the present mount of the Nativity. In the Bible, God gives warning to the Israelites in regards to the sexual idolatry of the Canaanites and their fertility cult (Leviticus 18:27). The verse reads, "27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled." [6] Sources reveal that around 1200 BCE, the Philistines had a garrison stationed in Bethlehem because of its strategic location. [9]

BEGINNING ISRAELITE SETTLEMENTEdit

Israelite settlement in the land of Canaan began with a series of military campaigns. The 12 tribes had been in bondage in Egypt for abut 400 years, and were delivered from this condition by the hand of God working through His servant, Moses. This event occurred around 1450 according to some scholars, and 1250 BC according to others.

Once they had remained in the wilderness for 40 years as commanded by God, the time came for them to take possession of the land that God had promised to their forefather Abraham years ago [See Abrahamic Covenant].

Joshua, son of Nun, succeeded Moses as their leader. He was sent on by Moses to explore the land and lead the conquest of it. His conquest according to sources, was around 1410 BC. After crossing the Jordan River, where the waters parted just as they had for Moses at the Red Sea, Joshua set out on his first conquest. This major battle was in Jericho, a heavily fortified city just five miles west of the Jordan River, northwest of the Dead Sea. With God's help he succeeded. Following divine instruction, he ordered the Israelite soldiers to march around the city for seven days, whereupon the city walls fell, just as God said they would. The Israelites were victorious. Another major victory by Joshua was the city of Ai. He went on to conquest other cities with the help of God.

Joshua divided the conquered lands among the tribes of Israel as God had told him to (For further information on how the lands were divided, see Joshua 12:1-6, 13:1-14, 13:21b-22, 13:32-14:3, 15:63, 16:10-17:6, 17:12-18:10, 19:51, and 22:1-9).

After dividing the land amongst the major tribes, Joshua assembled the Israelites at Shiloh, and sent out a survey team. When the survey was complete, the remaining land was divided amongst the lesser tribes, Zebulun included.

Zebulun, whose descendants had settled in Bethlehem, was the sixth son of Jacob and Leah, and founder of the Israelite Tribe of Zebulun. The men (50,000) of Zebulun were among those that followed David to Hebron to make him king (I Chronicles 12:33). His men also assisted in destroying the idols that were found in Jerusalem during Hezekiah's referms , and kept the feast of the unleavened bread (2 Chronicles 30:10-23).

At the division of the land of Israel between the remaining seven tribes, the lot of Zebulun was third. The tribe's territory started with Sarid (Joshua 19:10), which is supposed to have been Tel Shadud, some five miles southwest of Nazareth. Zebulun's boundaries have not been made out. Of the nineteen proper names that the book of Joshua gives to guide us, only Bethlehem can be identified with certainty, although the archaeological site Tel Hanaton is associated with the city Hanaton listed as the boundary with Asher. The historian Josephus assigns to Zebulun the land near to Carmel and the sea, as far as the Lake of Genesareth. To its northwest lay Asher, to the southeast, Issachar. It included a part of the Jezreel Valley, and the great highway from the sea to the lake.

Christ, as will be discussed later, was born and brought up in the territory of Zebulun. He would often speak of His Galilean ministry as noted in the synoptic gospels. [As part of the Kingdom of Israel, the territory of Zebulun was conquered by the Assyrians, and the tribe exiled [10]

SECOND TEMPLE PERIODEdit

TIME OF CHRIST & EARLY CHRISTIAN PERIODEdit

Birth of Jesus ChristEdit
Two accounts in the New Testament describe Jesus as having been born in Bethlehem. According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus' parents lived in Nazareth but traveled to Bethlehem for the census of 6CE, and Jesus was born there before the family returned to Nazareth.
Nativity Grotto Star

Grotto in Church of the Nativity

In Luke's gospel, the Birth of Jesus was foretold by God's angel Gabriel. God sent his angel to Nazareth which is a town in Galilee, when Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, a descendant of King David. The angel said, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." The angel reassured her that all will be allright and this will be the result of the Holy Spirit and the "holy one the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. [11]

The Gospel of Matthew account implies that the family already lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and later moved to Nazareth. [12]

The book of Matthew also explains how King Herod, after learning from the three wise men who came to see the one born "King of the Jews," questioned the Jerusalem priests concerning this event. The priests, quoting the verse from Micah, explained that it was prophesied that a child would be born in Bethlehem and this one would govern the nation. Infuriated by this news,Herod sought to learn,from the wise men, the actual location of the child, so that he could "go in and do obeisance" to him. The wise men, being warned by God's angels, took another route home and did not go back to Herod. Angered to the point of madness, Herod then ordered the killing of all the children of Bethlehem and the surrounding areas aged two and under.

Earlier, Jesus' father Joseph had also been warned in a dream to flee Bethlehem and go into Egypt for Herod was seeking to kill the child. The family did as told and returned only after Herod has died. But being warned in another dream not to return to Judea, Joseph took his family to Galilee where they settled in the city of Nazareth.

Early Christians interpreted a verse in the Book of Micah as a prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.

Roman OccupationEdit

BYZANTINE TO MODERN TIMESEdit

Notes and References:

  1. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans (Or rulers) of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Micah 5:2; Also see Matthew 2:1].
  2. "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi (Traditionally wise men) from the East came to Jerusalem."
  3. "The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king."
  4. "The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king."
  5. An ostracon, excavated in a building near the city gate, bears five lines of text totaling 50 letters. The inscription also dates to the early tenth century and is written in proto-Canaanite script—the longest inscription of its kind—but the language is Hebrew. According to Garfinkel, the words “don’t do,” “king,” “judge” and “servant” are all legible. Although a full translation has yet to be completed, it is already the earliest Hebrew inscription ever found, predating the rest by 100 years or more.
  6. In warning the Israelites against the Canaanites' practices, God says, : 1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the LORD your God. 3 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you.
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