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Arabic: bayt lahm
Hebrew: bet lehem

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Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine.
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Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine. Photo: See The Holy Land.

Bethlehem, Palestine.
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

Photo: Lyn Gateley.

Bethlehem, Palestine.
Bethlehem, Palestine.

Bethlehem, Palestine.
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

Photo: See The Holy Land.

City in Palestine, located on the West Bank with 30,000 inhabitants (2003 estimate). Bethlehem is under direct Palestinian internal rule, but is still the subject of possible Israeli military control.
The name of the city means in Arabic "house of meat", while in Hewbrew it can be translated either as "house of bread" or "house of Lahmu" (a goddess).

Religious importance
Bethlehem is important to Christianity and Judaism, but plays no role in Islam.
Bethlehem is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 35, but owes its position in Judaism to the anointing of King David which was staged here (I Samuel 16). It is also believed that Bethlehem is David's birthplace (as interpreted from the Book of Ruth 4). In Micah 5, it is stated that the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem.
According to 2 of the Gospels, Luke and Matthew, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, while ta passage in the Gospel according to John raises some question about this. However, Bethlehem has been venerated by Christians for nearly 2,000 years as the birthplace of Jesus.

Book of Ruth, Chapter 4
(At this point, Ruth has already installed herself in Bethlehem)
13So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son.
14And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the LORD, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.
15And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him.
16And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it.
17And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

1st Book of Samuel, Chapter 16
4And Samuel did that which the LORD spake, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, Comest thou peaceably? 5And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the LORD: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.
6And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD's anointed is before him.
7But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this.
9Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this.
10Again, Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, The LORD hath not chosen these.
11And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.
12And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.
13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.

Micah, Chapter 5
2But 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.

Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 2
4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 2
1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

Gospel according to John, Chapter 7
41Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? 42Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? 43So there was a division among the people because of him.

The most visited part of Bethlehem today is the Church of the Nativity, which Christians believe to be built on the site where Jesus was born. The church was first erected in 330 CE, later destroyed, and rebuilt in the middle of the 6th century.
Its current ownership is shared by 3 churches: Armenian Orthodox, which controls the Grotto of the Nativity, containing the presumed manger of Jesus; Roman Catholic Church, which controls the site of the birth; Greek Orthodox, which controls the altar above the Grotto of the Nativity.
Bethlehem also has a number of monasteries where important events occurred. St. Jerome built one monastery here in the 5th century, and here he also translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin. His translation is still the standard for the Latin Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church.

Modern Bethlehem
Bethlehem is an agricultural market and trade town, but it relies heavily on its proximity to Al Quds/Jerusalem. Bethlehem thrives as a pilgrim and tourist centre, and many of the city's inhabitants are employed in producing religious articles. In producing these articles, techniques like cutting mother of pearl from oyster shells and carving of olive wood are used.
There are numerous churches, convents, schools and hospitals that are financed by Christians around the world.
Almost all of the city's inhabitants are Palestinians, 60% of whom have a refugee background since the establishment of the state of Israel. Bethlehem used to be a predominantly Christian town, and although half the 60,000 people of the region are Christians, there are represent only 10.000 now living in Bethlehem, which is about 35%. Some estimates put it as low as 9%, all a result of Christian emigration in modern times.

Around 1000 BCE: King David is anointed in Bethlehem.
516 BCE: After the Babylonian Captivity, many Jews settle in Bethlehem.
637 CE: Is conquered by Muslim Arabs, who leave all of the religious monuments untouched.
1923: Comes under British control, as part of the Palestinian mandate.
1950: As with the rest of the West Bank, Bethlehem is annexed by Jordan.
1967: With the Six-Day War, Bethlehem and the West Bank are occupied by Israel.
1973: A university is established in Bethlehem.
1988: Bethlehem becomes a part of Palestine, as Jordan hands over its rights of the West Bank. Bethlehem remains under Israeli occupation.
1995: Bethlehem becomes part of Palestinian self-rule on the West Bank.

By Tore Kjeilen