Bethlehem, known as the birthplace of Jesus and King David, is a predominately Christian Palestinian city just south of Jerusalem. It is important to all three major religions of Israel; Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

History of Bethlehem

The first historical recording of Bethlehem was in the cuneiform tablets of the Armana Letters* of 1400 B.C.E. The Jerusalem leader requested aid from Egypt to retake Bethlehem. Its name “lehem” may indicate that the initial settlement was Canaanite. The city was captured during the Bar Kochba Revolt by the Romans. The Jewish residents were driven out of the city. Helena, the mother of Constantine visited Bethlehem in 326 during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In 637, the city was captured by Umar ibn al-Khattab. The Church of the Nativity remained open to Christians. It was controlled by the Ummayads in the 8th century and the Abbasids in the 9th century. In 1099, Bethlehem was captured by the Crusaders and control over the Church of the Nativity was transferred from the Greek Orthodox Church to the Latin Church.. The Frankish King Baldwin I was crowned in Bethlehem on Christmas day of 1100. In 1187, Saladin captured Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity was returned to the control of the Greek Orthodox Church. During the Ottoman period, the Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches struggled for control of the city. From 1517 until 1919, Bethlehem remained under the Ottomans, except for the decade from 1831 until 1841 when it was controlled by Egypt. During the early 1900s, the population dwindled due to unemployment, heavy taxes and compulsory military service.

The religious significance of Bethlehem

According to the Torah (Old Testament), Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob, was buried in Bethlehem. King David was born and raised there. According to the New Testament, Jesus was also born there and Christian tradition linked locations around the city to Jesus as early as the 2nd century C.E. The city as a whole is connected to the family of David.

What is in Bethlehem today?

Today, Bethlehem is a bustling city and is a major area of culture and tourism. It is governed by the Palestinian National Authority. * Known alternately as the Amrana Letters

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