DID YOU KNOW?
Bethlehem is a city in the West Bank, an area that was once part of Israel, and is now part of the Palestinian Territories. Bethlehem is also well known by many to be the birth place of Jesus Christ. According to the New Testament, the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a stable, when Joseph and Mary couldn’t find any lodging for the night (Luke 2:8). A 14-pointed star on the floor of the Church of the Nativity marks the spot where Jesus was born. Still, many people don’t know much about the city itself.
In the 14th century BC, Bethlehem was a city-state named after the goddess Beit Lahmu. Later it was called Ephrata (Genesis 35:16) and was also referred to in the Hebrew Bible as Beit Lehem. In Hebrew, “Beit” means house or home and “Lechem” means bread, manna, or nourishment. Commonly, the name is understood to mean House of Bread. In Arabic, the name means House of Meat or Flesh.
Situated on a hill in green, fertile country, Bethlehem looks across to the Dead Sea and beyond. Its inhabitants, who are Muslim and Christian Arabs, depend largely on pilgrims and tourists for their livelihood. Handicraft fashioned from olive wood and mother-of-pearl, embroidered goods, and religious articles are made in the town. Bethlehem is also the trade center for surrounding farming villages, and for the pastoral nomads who inhabit the area.
In the Old Testament, Bethlehem was the scene of the book of Ruth and the home of David. The tomb of Rachel is also nearby, while Benjamin was born near Ephratah (or Ephrath), which was either an earlier name for Bethlehem or a nearby town.
Today Bethlehem’s population is over 30,000; the residents are predominantly Muslim Arabs with approximately 40% Christian Arabs. Residents of Bethlehem hold Palestinian citizenship. It attracts many tourists, and it’s also home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.