From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

BETHLEHEM. —Two towns of this name are mentioned in the Old Testament. 1. Bethlehem (בֵּיתלֶחָם ‘house of bread’) of Zebulun,  Joshua 19:15. The site is now occupied by a miserable village, 6 miles south-west of Sepphoris and about the same distance north-west of Nazareth, in a well-wooded district of country, planted with oaks (Robinson, Researches, iii. 113). That this Bethlehem cannot have been the scene of the Nativity, near as it is to Nazareth, is clear from the fact that both St. Matthew and St. Luke expressly place the birth of Christ at Bethlehem of Judaea. These narratives being independent of each other and derived from different sources, we have for the southern Bethlehem the convergence of two distinct traditions. These two Evangelists are joined in their testimony by the author of the Fourth Gospel, who assumes acquaintance on the part of his readers with the story of the birth of Christ at Bethlehem, the Bethlehem associated with David and his royal line. ‘Some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the Scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem where David was?’ ( John 7:41-42). It is noteworthy that Bethlehem is never mentioned as having been visited by our Lord or in any way associated with His ministry. But all Christian history and tradition maintain that the southern Bethlehem was the scene of the Nativity.

2. Bethlehem of Judah (בּ״יְהוּדָה  Judges 17:7;  Judges 17:9,  Ruth 1:1-2 etc.) or Judaea ( Matthew 2:1,  Luke 2:4). This town (the modern Lahm) is situated about 6 miles S.S.W. of Jerusalem, lying high up on a grey limestone ridge running from east to west, and occupying the projecting summits at each end, with a sort of saddle between. The ridge rises to a height of 2550 ft. above sea-level, and falls away in terraced slopes on all sides, the descent to the north and east being specially steep. The terraces, as they sweep in graceful curves round the ridge from top to bottom, give to the little town the appearance of an amphitheatre, and serve to make to the approaching traveller a picture which closer acquaintance does not wholly disappoint. The names by which it has been known for millenniums, and is still known, are expressive of the fertility of the place—-lehcm, ‘house of bread,’ and -Lahm, ‘house of flesh.’ The hillsides around, merging into the hill country of Judaea, though they look bare to the eye at a distance, afford pastures for flocks of sheep and goats. The valleys below and the fields lying to the east produce crops of wheat and barley, as in the days when Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz; and the terraced slopes, under diligent cultivation, bear olives, almonds, pomegranates, figs, and vines. Wine and honey are named among the most notable of its natural products, and the wine of Bethlehem is said to be preferable to that of Jerusalem.

The modern town is highly picturesque. There is just one main street or thoroughfare, extending about half a mile, and largely occupied by workshops, which are little better than arches open to the street. The population is differently given as from 4000 to 8000 souls. Palmer (‘Das jetzige Bethlehem’ in ZDP V [Note: DPV Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins.] xvii. 90), writing in 1893, and founding upon personally ascertained figures, gives 8035 as the population, which he classifies in respect of religion as follows: Latins, 3827; Greeks, 3662; Moslems, 260; Armenians, 185; Protestants, 54; Copts and Syrians, 47. The small number of Moslems is said to be due to the severity of Ibrahim Pasha, who drove out the Moslem inhabitants and demolished their houses in the insurrection of 1834. It will be observed from the above enumeration that Bethlehem does not contain a single Jew. As in Nazareth so in Bethlehem, the associations with Jesus make residence repugnant to the Jews, and they have accordingly no desire to settle in the Christian Holy Places. They are, in fact, tolerated only as temporary visitors, but not as residents. ‘In the cradle of his royal race,’ says Canon Tristram ( Bible Places , p. 72), ‘the Jew is even more a stranger than in any other spot of his own land; and during the Middle Ages neither Crusader nor Saracen suffered him to settle there.’ The inhabitants of Bethlehem are of superior physique and comeliness. The men have a character for energy and even turbulence; the women are noticeable for their graceful carriage and becoming attire. In the crowds which throng the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem at the Easter services, the women of Bethlehem, wearing a light veil descending on each side of the face, and closed across the bosom, with a low but handsome headdress composed of strings of silver coins plaited in among the hair and hanging down below the chin as a sort of necklace,—are easily recognizable, and make a favourable impression. The industries of Bethlehem, apart from the cultivation of the soil, are intimately associated with the Nativity, consisting of memorial relics and souvenirs manufactured for sale to the thousands of pilgrims and tourists who visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem every year. Models of the cave of the Nativity, figures of Christ and the Virgin, apostles and saints, are in great demand. Olive wood, and mother-of-pearl obtained from the Red Sea, with basaltic stone from the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea, are carved and wrought into useful and ornamental articles with no small degree of skill and taste. Palmer mentions ( l.c. p. 91) that an increasing number of the inhabitants go abroad with their products,—their mother-of-pearl carvings and other wares,—and, especially in America, find a good return for their enterprise.

Bethlehem, notwithstanding its royal associations and its renown as the birthplace of the world’s Redeemer, has never been, and is never likely to be, more in the eye of the world than ‘little among the thousands of Judah’ ( Micah 5:2). ‘In spite,’ says Palmer, ‘of the numerous visits of strangers and pilgrims, which are year by year on the increase, and in spite of the market-place which Bethlehem affords for the whole neighbourhood, and especially for the Bedawîn, who come from long distances from the southern end of the Dead Sea to make their purchases of clothing, tools, and weapons, and to leave the produce of their harvest and their pastures, Bethlehem appears likely to remain, unencumbered by trade and progress, what it has been for many years bygone—a shrunken, untidy village.’ Even so, it can never be deprived of its associations with the Messianic King of Israel, ‘whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting’ ( Micah 5:2), associations which exalt it to the loftiest eminence, and surround it with a glory that cannot fade. These associations in their salient features are now to be set forth.

It is in the early patriarchal history that we meet first with Bethlehem, under its ancient name of Ephrath.* [Note: But see Driver, Genesis (in ‘Westminster Commentaries’), p. 311, and in Hastings’ DB iv. 193a.] ‘When I came from Padan,’ said Jacob on his deathbed, recounting to Joseph in Egypt his chequered history, ‘Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem’ ( Genesis 48:7; cf.  Genesis 35:9 ff.). The sacred historian records that Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: ‘that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day’ ( Genesis 35:20). Rachel’s grave is marked now by a Mohammedan wely, or monumental mosque, at the point where the Bethlehem road breaks off the road leading from Jerusalem to Hebron; and though the monument has been repaired and renewed from generation to generation, it serves still to recall a real event, and to distinguish the spot where Rachel’s ‘strength failed her, and she sank, as did all the ancient saints, on the way to the birthplace of hope’ (Dr. John Ker, Sermons , 8th ed. p. 153). Bethlehem becomes more definitely associated with the Messianic hope when it becomes the home of Ruth the Moabitess, the ancestress of David and of David’s greater Son. From the heights near Bethlehem a glimpse is obtained of the Dead Sea—the sea of Lot—shimmering at the foot of the long blue wall of the mountains of Moab; and the land of Moab seems to have had close relations with Bethlehem and its people in patriarchal as well as later times. With Ruth the Moabitess, through her marriage with Boaz, the ‘mighty man of wealth’ of Bethlehem-judah ( Ruth 2:1), there entered a strain of Gentile blood,—although we remember that Lot, the ancestor of Moab, was the nephew of the great ancestor of Israel—into the pedigree of Christ according to the flesh ( Matthew 1:5), as if in token that, in a day still far off, Jew and Gentile should be one in Him. With David, the great-grandson of Ruth, there entered the royal element into the genealogy of Jesus; and Bethlehem has no associations more sacred and tender than its associations with the shepherd king of Israel, unless it be those that link it for ever with God manifest in the flesh. The stream of Messianic hope, as it flows onwards and broadens from age to age, is not unlike that river of Spain which for a considerable part of its course flows underground, and only at intervals miles apart throws up pools to the surface, which the inhabitants call ‘the eyes’ of the Guadiana. The pools trace the onward progress of the river, till at length it bursts forth in a broad stream seeking the distant sea. So the hope of a great Deliverer from spiritual misery and death flows onward in the story of God’s ancient people, throwing up its pools in the days of Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah and the prophets; and Micah indicates the direction of its flow with more explicitness than any who went before when he says: ‘But 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; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting’ ( Micah 5:2). When the fulness of the time had come, the Messianic hope became the place of broad rivers and streams which we so happily know and enjoy, and the glad tidings was heard on the plains of Bethlehem, addressed to the watchful shepherds: ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord’ ( Luke 2:10-11).

The story of the Nativity is told by St. Matthew and St. Luke with a simplicity and delicacy and beauty which are of themselves an evidence of its historical truth. Both narratives, as has been indicated, assign to Bethlehem the high honour of being the place of the Nativity and the scene of the stupendous fact of the Incarnation. The details are too familiar to require rehearsal here.

There is one particular handed down by early Christian tradition which may be regarded not as a variation from, but an addition to, the Evangelic narrative,—the statement made by Justin Martyr (a.d. 140–150), and repeated in the Apocryphal Gospels, that the birth of Jesus took place in a cave. Justin ( Dialogue with Trypho , ch. 78) relates that, since Joseph had in that village no place where to lodge, he lodged in a cave near by. Justin relates other particulars which may have come to him—he was a native of Nablûs, not 40 miles from Bethlehem—by oral tradition or from apocryphal narratives: such as that the Magi came from Arabia , and that Herod slew all the children of Bethlehem. That the stable where the Infant Saviour was born may have been a cava is quite in keeping with the practice of utilizing the limestone caves of the hill country of Judaea as places of shelter for cattle and other beasts. Those Apocryphal Gospels which deal with the infancy, notably the Protevangelium Jacobi and the pseudo-Matthaeus , make mention of the cave. Pseudo-Matthaeus (ch. 13) says, ‘The angel commanded the beast to stop, for her time to bear had come; and he directed the Blessed Mary to come down from the animal and to enter a cave below a cavern in which there was never any light, but always darkness, because it could not receive the light of day. And when the Blessed Mary had entered it, it began to become light with all lightness, as if it had been the sixth hour of the day.… And then she brought forth a male child, whom angels instantly surrounded at His birth, and whom, when born and standing at once upon His feet, they adored, saying, Glory to God on high, and on earth peace to men of good will.’ The Protevangelium relates the story with curious imagery (ch. 18). ‘And he [Joseph] found a cave there and took her in, and set his sons by her, and he went out and sought a midwife in the country of Bethlehem. And I Joseph walked and I walked not; and I looked up into the sky and saw the sky violently agitated; and I looked up at the pole of heaven, and I saw it standing still and the birds of the air still; and I directed my gaze on the earth, and I saw a vessel lying and workmen reclining by it and their hands in the vessel, and those who handled did not handle it, and those who presented it to the mouth did not present it, but the faces of all were looking up; and I saw the sheep scattered and the sheep stood, and the shepherd lifted up his hand to strike them and his hand remained up; and I looked at the stream of the river, and I saw that the mouths of the kids were down and not drinking; and everything which was being impelled forward was intercepted in its course.’

The Protevangelium Jacobi is generally recognized as belonging to the 2nd cent., and its testimony is a valuable confirmation of the early Christian tradition. Few scholars, if any, will agree in assigning it the place of importance attributed to it recently by the fantastic theory of Conrady ( Die Quelle der kanonischen Kindheitsgeschichten Jesu , Göttingen, 1900), who regarda the Protevangelium as the source of the Gospel narrative a of the Infancy. The author of it, according to him, in an Egyptian, most likely of Alexandria, who introduces Bethlehem into the narrative not because of its place in Hebrew prophecy, but because it was formerly a seat of the worship of Isis, and he wishes to incorporate this worship with Christianity. In concert with the priests of Isis and Serapis, he aided with his inventive pen the appropriation of this sacred site by the Church, and it was from the Protevangelium that the writers of the First and Third Gospels drew their separate narratives of the Infancy. Conrady returns to the subject with an article full of equally curious and perverted learning in S K [Note: K Studien und Kritiken.] , 1904, Heft 2, ‘Die Flucht nach aegypten.’

It is in the 4th century that Bethlehem begins to receive that veneration as a Christian Holy Place in which it is now equalled only by Jerusalem and Nazareth. As early as Justin Martyr attention is specially directed to Bethlehem as the birthplace of the world’s Redeemer. In addition to the reference, already mentioned, to the cave, we find Justin quoting the well-known prophecy of Isaiah (33:16ff.), ‘He shall dwell in a lofty cave of a strong rock,’ in the same connexion ( Dialogue with Trypho , ch. 70). Even earlier than Justin’s day it would appear that this particular cave was venerated by the followers of Christ; for, as Jerome tells in one of his letters to Paulinus, the emperor Hadrian (a.d. 117–138), in his zeal to extirpate the very remembrance of Christ, caused a grove sacred to Adonis to be planted over the grotto of the Nativity, as he caused a temple to Venus to be erected over the site of the sepulchre of our Lord. Origen ( circa (about) Celsum , i. 51) says: ‘If any one desires certainty as to the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem apart from the Gospels and Micah’s prophecy, let him know that in conformity with the narrative in the Gospel regarding His birth there is shown at Bethlehem the cave where He was born and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And this sign is greatly talked of in surrounding places, even among the enemies of the faith, it being said that in this cave was born that Jesus who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians.’ The site is now marked by the oldest church in Christendom, the Church of St. Mary of the Nativity, built by order of the Emperor Constantine. It is a massive pile of buildings extending along the ridge from west to east, and comprising the church proper with the three convents, Latin, Greek, and Armenian, abutting respectively upon its north-eastern, south-eastern, and south-western extremities. The proportions of the church and its related structures are more commanding from its elevation and from the shabbiness of the town in comparison. The nave of the church is common to all the sects, and is shared by them together—Latins, Greeks, Armenians. From the double line of Corinthian pillars sustaining the basilica sixteen centuries look down upon the visitor, and the footsteps of nearly fifty generations of Christians have trodden the ground upon which he treads. Says Dean Stanley: ‘The long double lines of Corinthian pillars, the faded mosaics, the rough ceiling of beams of cedar from Lebanon still preserve the outlines of the church, once blazing with gold and marble, in which Baldwin was crowned, and which received its latest repairs from our own English Edward iv.’ ( Sinai and Palestine , p. 433). It is the subterranean vault that continues to be of perennial interest. Descending the steps from the raised floor of the eastern end of the nave, and turning sharply to the left, the visitor finds a half-sunk arched doorway which leads down by thirteen steps to the Chapel of the Nativity—the rude cave now paved: and walled with marble and lighted up by numerous lamps. This chamber is about 40 feet from east to west, 16 feet wide, and 10 feet high. The roof is covered with what had once been striped cloth of gold. At the east end there is a shrine where fifteen silver lamps burn night and day, and in the floor, let into the pavement, a silver star of Greek pattern marks the very spot of the Nativity with the inscription: ‘ Hic de Virgine Mariâ Jesus Christus natus est. ’ To the Christian the associations of the place make it full of impressiveness, and the visitor has no more sacred or tender recollections of holy ground than those which cluster round the Church and the Grotto of the Nativity. Not far off is a cave, cut out of the same limestone ridge, which was the abode of St. Jerome for over thirty years. Here, with the noble ladies whom he had won to the religious life, Paula and her daughter Eustochium, he laboured totus in lectione, totus in libris , preparing the Vulgate translation of the Holy Scriptures, which for more than a thousand years was the Bible of Western Christendom, and is a powerful tribute to his piety and learning. ‘It is the touch of Christ that has made Bethlehem’ (Kelman and Fnlleylove, The Holy Land , p. 234). And the touch of Christ is making itself felt still in the works of Christian philanthropy and missionary zeal that are being performed there. There are schools and other missionary agencies maintained by Protestants and Roman Catholics to instruct in His truth and to enrich with His grace the community who occupy the place of His birth. Bethlehem appears among the stations of the Church Missionary Society, and the work done there among women and girls has borne good fruit. The Germans have built an Evangelical Church, which was dedicated in 1893. There is much superstition and error among the nominally Christian inhabitants of the place, but the efforts of the Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries have stirred up the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Christians to activity for the moral and spiritual welfare of their people.

Literature.—Andrews, Life of our Lord 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 82; Cunningham Geikie, The Holy Land and the Bible  ; Stanley, Sinai and Palestine  ; Kelman, The Holy Land  ; Sanday, Sacred Sites of the Gospels  ; G. A. Smith, Histor. Geog. of Holy Land  ; The Survey of Western Palestine , vol. iii.; Ramsay, Was Christ born at Bethlehem  ?; Palmer, ‘Das jetzige Bethlehem’ in ZDP V [Note: DPV Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins.] xvii.; articles in Kitto’s Cyclop. , PR E [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , Vigonroux’s) Dictionnaire de la Bible , Smith’s D B [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, and Encyclopaedia Biblica .

T. Nicol.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

a city in the tribe of Judah,  Judges 17:7; and likewise called Ephrath,  Genesis 48:7; or Ephratah,  Micah 5:2; and the inhabitants of it, Ephrathites,  Ruth 1:2;  1 Samuel 17:12 . Here David was born, and spent his early years as a shepherd. And here also the scene of the beautiful narrative of Ruth is supposed to be laid. But its highest honour is, that here our divine Lord condescended to be born of woman:—"And 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, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting." Travellers describe the first view of Bethlehem as imposing. The town appears covering the ridge of a hill on the southern side of a deep and extensive valley, and reaching from east to west. The most conspicuous object is the monastery erected over the supposed "Cave of the Nativity;" its walls and battlements have the air of a large fortress. From this same point, the Dead Sea is seen below on the left, seemingly very near, "but," says Sandys, "not so found by the traveller; for these high, declining mountains are not to be directly descended." The road winds round the top of a valley which tradition has fixed on as the scene of the angelic vision which announced the birth of our Lord to the shepherds; but different spots have been selected, the Romish authorities not being agreed on this head. Bethlehem (called in the New Testament Bethlehem Ephrata and Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from Bethlehem of Zabulon) is situated on a rising ground, about two hours' distance, or not quite six miles from Jerusalem. Here the traveller meets with a repetition of the same puerilities and disgusting mummery which he has witnessed at the church of the sepulchre. "The stable," to use the words of Pococke, "in which our Lord was born, is a grotto cut out of the rock, according to the eastern custom." It is astonishing to find so intelligent a writer as Dr. E. D. Clarke gravely citing St. Jerom, who wrote in the fifth century, as an authority for the truth of the absurd legend by which the cave of the nativity is supposed to be identified. The ancient tombs and excavations are occasionally used by the Arabs as places of shelter; but the Gospel narrative affords no countenance to the notion that the Virgin took refuge in any cave of this description. On the contrary, it was evidently a manger belonging to the inn or khan: in other words, the upper rooms being wholly occupied, the holy family were compelled to take up their abode in the court allotted to the mules and horses, or other animals. But the New Testament was not the guide which was followed by the mother of Constantine, to whom the original church owed its foundation. The present edifice is represented by Chateaubriand as of undoubtedly high antiquity; yet Doubdan, an old traveller, says that the monastery was destroyed in the year 1263 by the Moslems; and in its present state, at all events, it cannot lay claim to a higher date. The convent is divided among the Greek, Roman, and Armenian Christians, to each of whom separate parts are assigned as places of worship and habitations for the monks, but, on certain days, all may perform their devotions at the altars erected over the consecrated spots. The church is built in the form of a cross; the nave being adorned with forty-eight Corinthian columns in four rows, each column being two feet six inches in diameter, and eighteen feet high, including the base and the capital. The nave, which is in possession of the Armenians, is separated from the three other branches of the cross by a wall, so that the unity of the edifice is destroyed. The top of the cross is occupied by the choir, which belongs to the Greeks. Here is an altar dedicated to the wise men of the east, at the foot of which is a marble star, corresponding, as the monks say, to the point of the heavens where the miraculous meteor became stationary, and directly over the spot where the Saviour was born in the subterranean church below! A flight of fifteen steps, and a long narrow passage, conduct to the sacred crypt or grotto of the nativity, which is thirty-seven feet six inches long, by eleven feet three inches in breadth, and nine feet high. It is lined and floored with marble, and provided on each side with five oratories, "answering precisely to the ten cribs or stalls for horses that the stable in which our Saviour was born contained!" The precise spot of the birth is marked by a glory in the floor, composed of marble and jasper encircled with silver, around which are inscribed the words, Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est [Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.] Over it is a marble table or altar, which rests against the side of the rock, here cut into an arcade. The manager is at the distance of seven paces from the altar; it is in a low recess hewn out of the rock, to which you descend by two steps, and consists of a block of marble, raised about a foot and a half above the floor, and hollowed out in the form of a manger. Before it is the altar of the Magi. The chapel is illuminated by thirty-two lamps, presented by different princes of Christendom. Chateaubriand has described the scene in his usual florid and imaginative style: "Nothing can be more pleasing, or better calculated to excite devotional sentiments, than this subterraneous church. It is adorned with pictures of the Italian and Spanish schools, which represent the mysteries of the place. The usual ornaments of the manger are of blue satin, embroidered with silver. Incense is continually burning before the cradle of our Saviour. I have heard an organ, touched by no ordinary hand, play, during mass, the sweetest and most tender tunes of the best Italian composers. These concerts charm the Christian Arab, who, leaving his camels to feed, repairs, like the shepherds of old, to Bethlehem, to adore the King of kings in the manger. I have seen this inhabitant of the desert communicate at the altar of the Magi, with a fervour, a piety, a devotion, unknown among the Christians of the west. The continual arrival of caravans from all the nations of Christendom; the public prayers; the prostrations; nay, even the richness of the presents sent here by the Christian princes, altogether produce feelings in the soul, which it is much easier to conceive than to describe."

Such are the illusions which the Roman superstition casts over this extraordinary scene! In another subterraneous chapel, tradition places the sepulchre of the Innocents. From this, the pilgrim is conducted to the grotto of St. Jerom, where they show the tomb of that father, who passed great part of his life in this place; and who, in the grotto shown as his oratory, is said to have translated that version of the Bible which has been adopted by the church of Rome, and is called the Vulgate. He died at the advanced age of ninety-one, A.D. 422. The village of Bethlehem contains about three hundred inhabitants, the greater part of whom gain their livelihood by making beads, carving mother-of-pearl shells with sacred subjects, and manufacturing small tables and crucifixes, all which are eagerly purchased by the pilgrims.

Bethlehem has been visited by many modern travellers. The following notice of it by Dr. E. D. Clarke will be read with interest: "After travelling for about an hour from the time of our leaving Jerusalem, we came in view of Bethlehem, and halted to enjoy the interesting sight. The town appeared covering the ridge of a hill on the southern side of a deep and extensive valley, and reaching from east to west; the most conspicuous object being the monastery, erected over the cave of the nativity, in the suburbs, and upon the eastern side. The battlements and walls of this building seemed like those of a vast fortress. The Dead Sea below, upon our left, appeared so near to us that we thought we could have rode thither in a very short space of time. Still nearer stood a mountain upon its western shore, resembling in its form the cone of Vesuvius near Naples, and having also a crater upon its top which was plainly discernible. The distance, however, is much greater than it appears to be; the magnitude of the objects beheld in this fine prospect causing them to appear less remote than they really are. The atmosphere was remarkably clear and serene; but we saw none of those clouds of smoke, which, by some writers, are said to exhale from the surface of the lake, nor from any neighbouring mountain. Every thing about it was in the highest degree grand and awful. Bethlehem is six miles from Jerusalem. Josephus describes the interval between the two cities as equal only to twenty stadia; and in the passage referred to, he makes an allusion to a celebrated well, which, both from the account given by him of its situation, and more especially from the text of the sacred Scriptures,  2 Samuel 23:15 , seems to have contained the identical fountain, of whose pure and delicious water we were now drinking. Considered merely in point of interest, the narrative is not likely to be surpassed by any circumstance of Pagan history. David, being a native of Bethlehem, calls to mind, during the sultry days of harvest,  2 Samuel 23:13 , a well near the gate of the town, the delicious waters of which he had often tasted; and expresses an earnest desire to assuage his thirst by drinking of that limpid spring. ‘And David longed, and said, O that one would give me to drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!' The exclamation is overheard by ‘three of the mighty men whom David had,' namely, Adino, Eleazar, and Shamnah,  2 Samuel 23:8-9;  2 Samuel 23:11 . These men sallied forth, and having fought their way through the garrison of the Philistines at Bethlehem,  2 Samuel 23:14 , ‘drew water from the well that was by the gate,' on the other side of the town, and brought it to David. Coming into his presence, they present to him the surprising testimony of their valour and affection. The aged monarch receives from their hands a pledge they had so dearly earned, but refuses to drink of water every drop of which had been purchased with blood,  2 Samuel 23:17 . He returns thanks to the Almighty, who had vouchsafed the deliverance of his warriors from the jeopardy they had encountered; and pouring out the water as a libation on the ground, makes an offering of it to the Lord. The well still retains its pristine renown; and many an expatriated Bethlehemite has made it the theme of his longing and regret."

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

("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 Palestine; originally called Ephrath or Ephrath, i.e. fruitful ( Genesis 35:16;  Genesis 35:19;  Genesis 48:7;  Psalms 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 "Ηie De Virgine Μaria 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).

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [4]

BETHLEHEM (‘house of bread’ or, according to some, ‘of the god Lakhmu’). The name of two places in Palestine.

1 . Bethlehem of Judah, otherwise Ephrath or Ephrathah , now represented by the town of Beit Lahm , 5 miles S. of Jerusalem. On the way thither Rachel was buried (  Genesis 35:19;   Genesis 48:7 ). Hence came the two Levites whose adventures are related in   Judges 17:1-13;   Judges 19:1-30 . It was the home of Elimelech, the father-in-law of Ruth (  Ruth 1:1 ), and here Ruth settled with her second husband Boaz, and became the ancestress of the family of David, whose connexion with Bethlehem is emphasized throughout his history (  1 Samuel 16:1-18;   1 Samuel 17:12;   1 Samuel 20:6 etc.). The Philistines had here a garrison during David’s outlawry (  2 Samuel 23:14 ,   1 Chronicles 11:16 ). Here Asahel was huried (  2 Samuel 2:32 ), and hence came Elhanan, one of the mighty men (  2 Samuel 23:24; cf.   2 Samuel 21:19 ). Rehoboam fortified it (  2 Chronicles 11:6 ), and here the murderers of Gedaliah took refuge (  Jeremiah 41:17 ). Whether the Salma referred to in   1 Chronicles 2:51;   1 Chronicles 2:54 as ‘father of Bethlehem’ (whatever that expression may exactly mean) be the same as the Salmon who was father of Boaz (  Ruth 4:20 ) a theory the Greek version seems to justify is doubtful. The town had some sanctity, and is indicated (  Psalms 132:6 ) as a suitable place for the Tabernacle. The birth of the Messiah there is prophesied in   Micah 5:2 (quoted   Matthew 2:6 ,   John 7:42 ), a prophecy fulfilled by the birth of Christ (  Matthew 2:1;   Matthew 2:5 ,   Luke 2:4;   Luke 2:15 ). Here Herod sent to seek the new-born Christ, and not finding Him ordered the massacre of the infants of the city (  Matthew 2:8;   Matthew 2:16 ). The modern town, containing about 8000 inhabitants, is Christian and comparatively prosperous. Within it stands the basilica of the Nativity, founded by Constantine (about 330), and restored by Justinian (about 550) and many later emperors. Within it are shown grottoes in which the various events of the Nativity are localized with the usual unreasoning definiteness.

2 . Bethlehem of Zebulun, a place named but once (  Joshua 19:15 ), in enumerating the towns of that tribe. It is identified with Beit Lahm , 7 miles N.W. of Nazareth. It is probable that this was the home of Ibzan, the judge (  Judges 12:8-10 ), as almost all the judges belonged to the northern tribes.

R. A. S. Macalister.

Holman Bible Dictionary [5]


In the Old Testament the parenthetical reference to Bethlehem in  Genesis 35:19 is perhaps derived from a traditional burial site for Rachel near the village. Bethlehem appears in   Judges 17:7-13 as the home of the Levite who became priest to Micah. The concubine of the Levite of Ephraim was from the village of Bethlehem (  Judges 19:1 ). The Book of Ruth takes place in the region of Bethlehem ( Ruth 1:1-2 ,Ruth 1:1-2, 1:19 ,Ruth 1:19, 1:22;  Ruth 2:4;  Ruth 4:11 ). This story leads to the events that gave major importance to the village as the home and place of anointing of David ( 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 1Samuel 17:12, 1 Samuel 17:15 ).

Other Old Testament references to the village include the mention of a Philistine garrison being there during David's early kingship ( 2 Samuel 23:14 ), Elhanan's home ( 2 Samuel 23:24 ), the burial place of Asahel ( 2 Samuel 2:32 ), and a fort of Rehoboam ( 2 Chronicles 11:6 ). Bethlehem is also mentioned with reference to the Babylonian Exile ( Jeremiah 41:17;  Ezra 2:21 ).

It is the relationship of Bethlehem to Christ that has insured its place in Christian history.  Micah 5:2 was understood to indicate that the Messiah, like David, would be born in Bethlehem not Jerusalem. Matthew (  Matthew 2:1-12 ), Luke ( Luke 2:4-20 ), and John ( John 7:42 ) report that Jesus was born in that humble village. It appears that early Christians believed that some caves east of the village were the holy site of the birth. After the Bar-Kochba revolution during Hadrian's reign, Jews were expelled from Bethlehem. Tertullian indicated that no Jews lived there even at the end of the second century A.D. During the reign of the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine, the Church of the Nativity was constructed (ca. 326 A.D.), supposedly by his mother Helena. It was destroyed during the Samaritan revolt (ca. 529 A.D.) and rebuilt by Justinian I (527-565). That structure forms the basic unit that is still in use today although many modifications have occurred, especially during the Middle Ages. (According to “Christian legend” during the Persian Conquest, 614 A.D., the church was preserved when the invaders saw the three magi in a mosaic of the birth of Jesus and recognized their clothing as Persian.)

A field southeast of town has been identified as the place where the shepherds had the vision of the angels. 2. A town in the territory of Zebulun, about seven miles northwest of Nazareth ( Joshua 19:15 ), which was the burial site of Ibzan ( Judges 12:10 ), in modern beit Lahm. 3. A personal name as in  1 Chronicles 2:51 ,  1 Chronicles 2:54 .

George W. Knight

Morrish Bible Dictionary [6]

1. City of Judah, also called Beth-Lehem-Judah ( Judges 17:7-9 ). It is first mentioned in connection with the death and burial of Rachel.  Genesis 35:19 . The history of Ruth is also connected with Beth-lehem.  Ruth 1:1-22;  Ruth 2:4 . David was anointed in the house of Jesse the Bethlehemite, so that apparently it was the place of David's birth,  1 Samuel 16:4;  1 Samuel 17:12,15; and this accounts for its being called in  Luke 2:11 the 'city of David.' It was also the birth-place of Jesus: though it was "little among the thousands of Judah," it the better agreed with His humiliation. Beth-lehem, signifying 'house of bread,' is a very appropriate name for a place whence the Saviour should proceed as a man — He who was the living bread that came down from heaven.

Apparently it was originally called EPHRATH,  Genesis 35:16,19;  Genesis 48:7; and was afterwards called Ephratah  Ruth 4:11;  Psalm 132:6 . It is once called Beth-Lehem Ephratah that is, the fruitful, for the ruler of Israel was to come from thence.  Micah 5:2;  Luke 2:4,15;  John 7:42 . This led to the massacre of the infants by Herod.  Matthew 2:16-18 .

In  1 Chronicles 2:51,54;  1 Chronicles 4:4 , 'father of Beth-lehem' may signify 'prince of Beth-lehem.' It is identified with Beit Lahm, 35 12' E 31 42' N , situated 6 miles south of Jerusalem, on a narrow ridge which runs from the central range of hills. The ridge is cut into terraces, which are covered with olives and vines. There are now about 5,000 inhabitants, almost all called Christian, with convents for the Latins, Greeks, and Armenians. An enormous pile of buildings called the 'Church of the Nativity' is connected with the convents.

2. Town in Zebulun, mentioned only in  Joshua 19:15 , also called Beit Lahm, 35 10' E 32 44' N , described as a most miserable village. (It is not known which of the above places is referred to in  Judges 12:8,10 .)

Smith's Bible Dictionary [7]

Beth'lehem. (House Of Bread). One of the oldest towns in Palestine, already in existence, at the time of Jacob's return to the country. Its earliest name was Ephratah , Ephrath or Ephratah . See  Genesis 35:16;  Genesis 35:19;  Genesis 48:7.

After the conquest, Bethlehem appears under its own name, Bethlehem-Judah .  Judges 17:7;  1 Samuel 17:12;  Ruth 1:1-2. The book of Ruth is a page from the domestic history of Bethlehem. It was the home of Ruth,  Ruth 1:19, and of David.  1 Samuel 17:12. It was fortified by Rehoboam.  2 Chronicles 11:6.

It was here that our Lord was born,  Matthew 2:1, and here, that he was visited by the shepherds,  Luke 2:15-17, and the Magi. Matthew 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. A town in the portion of Zebulun, named nowhere, but in  Joshua 19:15. Now known as Beit-Lahm.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [8]

House of bread,

1. A celebrated city, the birthplace of David and of Christ. It was in the tribe of Judah, six miles south by west of Jerusalem, and probably received its appellation from the fertility of the circumjacent country. This also gave it its ancient name Ephrath, fruitful,  Genesis 48:7   Micah 5:2 . It was beautifully situated on an oblong ridge, twenty-seven hundred feet above the level of the sea, and affording a fine view in every direction. The hills around it were terraced, and clothed with vines, fig trees, and almonds; and the valleys around it bore rich crops of grain. It was fortified by Rehoboam,  2 Chronicles 11:6 , but was comparatively an unimportant place,  Micah 5:1 , and is not mentioned by Joshua or Nehemiah among the cities of Judah. Its memory is delightfully associated with the names of Boaz and Ruth; it is celebrated as the birthplace and city of David,  1 Samuel 17:12,15   20:6   2 Samuel 23:14-17 but above all, it is hallowed as the place where the Redeemer was born. Over that lovely spot the guiding star hovered; there the eastern sages worshipped the King of kings, and there where David watched his flock and praised God, were heard the songs of the angelic host at the Savior's birth,   Luke 2:8 . Bethlehem is now called Beit-lahm, and contains about three thousand inhabitants, almost exclusively nominal Christians. Half a mile north is the spot pointed out by traditional as Rachel's tomb,  Genesis 35:16-20; and about two miles south-west are the great reservoirs described under Solomon's Pools.

2. An unknown place in Zebulun,  Joshua 19:15   Judges 12:10 , in distinction from which the city of David was often called Bethlehem-Judah.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [9]

This was a city in Judah. ( Joshua 17:7) The name means, house of bread; from Beth, house; and lechem, or lehem bread. It was beautifully significant of Christ, who was from everlasting appointed to be born there, ( Micah 5:2) and was, and is, and ever will be, the bread of life, and the living bread to his people; of which whosoever eateth shall live for ever! Lord! I would say with the disciples, evermore give me this bread. There was another Bethlehem in Zebulun, though it is but rarely spoken of in Scripture. ( Joshua 19:15) But this Bethlehem must be ever dear to every follower of Jesus. It was connected with and formed part of Ephratah. Here Jacob buried his beloved Rachel. ( Genesis 35:19-20) I would have the reader compare what Micah saith concerning this Bethlehem, with an eye to Christ, and look at what Matthew hath observed also on the subject. ( Micah 5:2;  Matthew 2:1-6) The Holy Ghost evidently had Jesus in view in that sweet history of Ruth, when the certain man, Eli-melech, representing our whole nature, left Bethlehem the land of bread, for the Moab of the world; and when with his children Mahlon and Chillon, sickness and disease overtook him and all his posterity. ( Ruth 1:1) David's cry for the waters of Bethlehem, (see  2 Samuel 23:15-17) hath always been considered as typical of the soul's thirst for Jesus, the bread of life.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [10]

Bethlehem ( Bĕth'Le-Hem ), House Of Bread. 1. A town in the "hill-country," about six 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. Nearby was Rachel's burial-place (still marked by a white mosque near the town), and called Ephrath,  Genesis 35:19; the home of Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth,  Ruth 1:19; birthplace of David,  1 Samuel 17:12; burial-place of Joab's family,  2 Samuel 2:32; taken by the Philistines, and had a noted well,  2 Samuel 23:14-15; fortified by Rehoboam,  2 Chronicles 11:6; foretold as the birthplace of Christ,  Micah 5:2; the birthplace of Jesus,  Matthew 2:1; was visited by the shepherds,  Luke 2:15-17, and by the Magi,  Matthew 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 wall rebuilt by Justinian; now has about 5000 inhabitants, nearly all nominally Christians, mostly of the Greek church. It Is now called Beit-lahm. It 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.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [11]

Known originally as Ephrath, Bethlehem was a small town a few kilometres south of Jerusalem. It was already an established settlement in the time of Jacob. Not far from the town was the place where Jacob buried his wife Rachel ( Genesis 35:19-20).

Bethlehem was situated in the tribal territory of Judah, in country that was hilly but suitable for growing grain and raising sheep ( Ruth 1:1;  Ruth 2:1-4;  1 Samuel 17:15;  Luke 2:8-15). It was the home of Israel’s greatest king, David ( 1 Samuel 17:12;  1 Samuel 20:6;  2 Samuel 23:14-16; cf.  Ruth 4:11-17), and the birthplace of the great ‘son of David’, the promised Messiah, Jesus ( Micah 5:2;  Matthew 2:1-6;  Luke 2:4;  Luke 2:11;  Luke 2:15;  John 7:42).

Easton's Bible Dictionary [12]

  • A city of Zebulun, mentioned only in   Joshua 19:15 . Now Beit-Lahm, a ruined village about 6 miles west-north-west of Nazareth.

    Copyright Statement These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., DD Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.

    Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Bethlehem'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. 1897.

  • Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [13]

     Ruth 1:1 (c) From Bethlehem to Moab represents the backsliding of a child of GOD who leaves the "House of Bread" (which is the meaning of the word), the place where GOD blesses, and travels back into the world to enjoy the things that strangers have to offer. He forgets that there are tears and graves in Moab.

    King James Dictionary [14]

    BETH'LEHEM, n. Heb. the house of food or bread.

    1. A town or village in Judea, about six miles south-east of Jerusalem famous for its being the place of Christ's nativity. 2. A hospital for lunatics corrupted into bedlam.

    Webster's Dictionary [15]

    (1): (n.) In the Ethiopic church, a small building attached to a church edifice, in which the bread for the eucharist is made.

    (2): (n.) A hospital for lunatics; - corrupted into bedlam.

    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [16]

    beth´lē̇ - hem ( בּית־לחם , bēthleḥem  ; Βαιθλεέμ , Baithleém , or Βηθλεέμ , Bēthleém , "house of David," or possibly "the house of Lakhmu," an Assyrian deity):

    I. Bethlehem Judah

    Bethlehem Judah, or Ephrath or Ephrathah (which see) is now Beit Lahm (Arabic = "house of meat"), a town of upward of 10,000 inhabitants, 5 miles South of Jerusalem and 2,350 ft. above sea level. It occupies an outstanding position upon a spur running East from the watershed with deep valleys to the Northeast and South It is just off the main road to Hebron and the south, but upon the highroad to Tekoa and En-gedi. The position is one of natural strength; it was occupied by a garrison of the Philistines in the days of David ( 2 Samuel 23:14;  1 Chronicles 11:16 ) and was fortified by Rehoboam ( 2 Chronicles 11:6 ). The surrounding country is fertile, cornfields, fig and olive yards and vineyards abound. Bethlehem is not naturally well supplied with water, the nearest spring is 800 yds. to the Southeast, but for many centuries the "low level aqueduct" from "Solomon's Pools" in the Arṭās valley, which has here been tunneled through the hill, has been tapped by the inhabitants; there are also many rock-cut cisterns.

    1. Early History

    In  1 Chronicles 2:51 Salma, the son of Caleb, is described as the "father of Bethlehem." In   Genesis 35:19;  Genesis 48:7 it is recorded that Rachel "was buried in the way to Ephrath (the same is Beth-lehem)." Tradition points out the site of Rachel's tomb near where the road to Bethlehem leaves the main road. The Levites of the events of   Judges 17:1-13; 19 were Bethlehemites. In the list of the towns of Judah the name Bethlehem occurs, in the Septuagint version only in  Joshua 15:57 .

    2. David the Bethlehemite

    Ruth, famous chiefly as the ancestress of David, and of the Messiah, settled in Bethlehem with her second husband Boaz, and it is noticeable that from her new home she could view the mountains of Moab, her native land. David himself "was the son of that Ephrathite of Bethlehem-judah, whose name was Jesse" ( 1 Samuel 17:12 ). To Bethlehem came Samuel to anoint a successor to unworthy Saul ( 1 Samuel 16:4 ): "David went to and fro from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem" ( 1 Samuel 17:15 ). David's "Three mighty men" "brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Beth-lehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David" ( 2 Samuel 23:14 ,  2 Samuel 23:16 ). Tradition still points out the well. From this town came those famous "sons of Zeruiah," David's nephews, whose loyalty and whose ruthless cruelty became at once a protection and a menace to their royal relative: in  2 Samuel 2:32 it is mentioned that one of them, Asahel, was buried "in the sepulchre of his father, which was in Bethlehem."

    3. Later Bible History

    After the time of David, Bethlehem would appear to have sunk into insignificance. But its future fame is pointed at by Micah ( Micah 5:2 ): "But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting."

    In the return of the Jews captive Bethlehemites re-inhabited the place ( Ezra 2:21;  Nehemiah 7:26 "men"; 1 Esdras 5:17 "sons").

    4. The Christian Era

    In the New Testament Bethlehem is mentioned as the birthplace of the Messiah Jesus ( Matthew 2:1 ,  Matthew 2:5;  Luke 2:4 ,  Luke 2:25 ) in consequence of which event occurred Herod's "massacre of the innocents" ( Matthew 2:8 , 26). Inasmuch as Hadrian devastated Bethlehem and set up there a sacred grove to Adonis (Jerome, Ep. ad Paul , lviii.3) it is clear that veneration of this spot as the site of the Nativity must go back before 132 ad. Constantine (circa 330) founded a basilica over the cave-stable which tradition pointed out as the scene of the birth, and his church, unchanged in general structure though enlarged by Justinian and frequently adorned, repaired and damaged, remains today the chief attraction of the town. During the Crusades, Bethlehem became of great importance and prosperity; it remained in Christian hands after the overthrow of the Latin kingdom, and at the present day it is in material things one of the most prosperous Christian centers in the Holy Land.

    II. Bethlehem of Zebulun

    Bethlehem of Zebulun ( Joshua 19:15 ) was probably the home of Ibzan ( Judges 12:8 , 20) though Jewish tradition is in support of (1). See Josephus, Ant , V, vii, 13. This is now the small village of Beit Lahm , some 7 miles Northwest of Nazareth on the edge of the oak forest. Some antiquities have been found here recently, showing that in earlier days it was a place of some importance. It is now the site of a small German colony. See PEF , I, 270, Sh V.

    Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [17]

    Beth´lehem, (house or place of bread, i.q.. Bread-town)a city of Judah ( Judges 17:7), six miles southward from Jerusalem, on the road to Hebron. It was generally called Bethlehem-Judah, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Zebulun ( Joshua 19:15;  Judges 12:10). It is also called Ephratah (the fruitful), and its inhabitants Ephratites ( Genesis 48:7;  Micah 5:2). Bethlehem is chiefly celebrated as the birth place of David and of Christ, and as the scene of the Book of Ruth. It was fortified by Rehoboam ( 2 Chronicles 11:6); but it does not appear to have been a place of much importance; for Micah, extolling the moral pre-eminence of Bethlehem, says, 'Thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah,' etc. ( Micah 5:2). There never has been any dispute or doubt about the site of Bethlehem, which has always been an inhabited place, and, from its sacred associations, has been visited by an unbroken series of pilgrims and travelers. It is now a large straggling village, beautifully situated on the brow of a high hill, and consisting chiefly of one broad and principal street. The houses are built for the most part of clay and bricks; and every house is provided with an apiary, the beehives of which are constructed of a series of earthen pots, ranged on the housetops. The inhabitants are said to be 3000, and were all native Christians at the time of the most recent visits; for Ibrahim Pasha, finding that the Muslim and Christian inhabitants were always at strife, caused the former to withdraw, and left the village in quiet possession of the latter, whose numbers had always greatly predominated. The chief trade and manufacture of the inhabitants consist of beads, crosses, and other relics, which are sold at a great profit. Some of the articles, wrought in mother-of-pearl, are carved with more skill than one would expect to find in that remote quarter; and the workmanship in some instances would not discredit the artists of Britain. The people are said to be remarkable for their ferocity and rudeness, which is indeed the common character of the inhabitants of most of the places accounted holy in the East.

    At the farthest extremity of the town is the Latin convent, connected with which is the Church of the Nativity, said to have been built by the empress Helena. It has suffered much from time, but still bears manifest traces of its Grecian origin; and is alleged to be the most chaste architectural building now remaining in Palestine. Two spiral staircases lead to the cave called the 'Grotto of the Nativity,' which is about 20 feet below the level of the church. This cave is lined with Italian marbles, and lighted by numerous lamps. Here the pilgrim is conducted with due solemnity to a star inlaid in the marble, marking the exact spot where the Savior was born, and corresponding to that in the firmament occupied by the meteor which intimated that great event; he is then led to one of the sides, where, in a kind of recess, a little below the level of the rest of the floor, is a block of white marble, hollowed out in the form of a manger, and said to mark the place of the one in which the infant Jesus was laid. His attention is afterwards directed to the 'Sepulcher of the Innocents;' to the grotto in which St. Jerome passed the greater portion of his life; and to the chapels dedicated to Joseph and other saints. There has been much controversy respecting the claims of this grotto to be regarded as the place in which our Lord was born. Tradition is in its favor, but facts and probabilities are against it. It is useless to deny that there is much force in a tradition regarding a locality, which can be traced up to a period not remote from that of the event commemorated; and this event was so important as to make the scene of it a point of such unremitting attention, that the knowledge of the spot was not likely to be lost. This view would be greatly strengthened if it could be satisfactorily proved that Hadrian, to cast odium upon the mysteries of the Christian religion, not only erected statues of Jupiter and Venus over the holy Sepulcher and on Calvary, but placed one of Adonis over the spot of the Nativity at Bethlehem. This part of the evidence is examined under another head [GOLGOTHA]. Against tradition, whatever may be its value in the present case, we have to place the utter improbability that a subterranean cavern like this, with a steep descent, should ever have been used as a stable for cattle, and, what is more, for the stable of a khan or caravanserai, which doubtless the 'inn' of  Luke 2:7 was. Although therefore it is true that cattle are, and always have been, stabled in caverns in the East; yet certainly not in such caverns as this, which appears to have been originally a tomb. Old empty tombs often, it is argued, afford shelter to man and cattle; but such was not the case among the Jews, who held themselves ceremonially defiled by contact with sepulchers. Besides, the circumstance of Christ's having been born in a cave would not have been less remarkable than his being laid in a manger, and was more likely to have been noticed by the Evangelist, if it had occurred: and it is also to be observed that the present grotto is at some distance from the town, whereas Christ appears to have been born in the town, and whatever may be the case in the open country, it has never been usual in towns to employ caverns as stables for cattle.

    On the north-east side of the town is a deep valley, alleged to be that in which the angels appeared to the shepherds announcing the birth of the Savior ( Luke 2:8). In the same valley is a fountain of delicious water, said with reasonable probability to be that for which David longed, and which three of his mighty men procured for him at the hazard of their lives ( 2 Samuel 23:15-18).

    The Nuttall Encyclopedia [18]

    A village 6 m. S. of Jerusalem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ and King David, with a convent containing the Church of the Nativity; near it is the grotto where St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin.