بيت لحم

It's a five mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem - yet another reminder of Palestine's small scale. In the nineteenth or early twentieth century, the traveler would walk southwest, cross the Hinnom Valley, pass Rachel's Tomb, and turning off the road which goes on to Hebron, reach Bethlehem in something over an hour.1

Known throughout the world as the scene of the birth of Jesus, Bethlehem is about half a mile above sea level, and a hundred years ago, was situated on two hills - one east, and one west.2

View of Bethlehem from the East
From the Matson Collection

In the late nineteenth century, Bethlehem was situated on two adjacent hills. The view shown here is from the east.

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.

The Bible, King James Version, Luke 2:6-7

View of Bethlehem from the East
From the Matson Collection

The stone walls in this photo were used as corrals for animals, and the stone platform in the middle distance, was a place for the shepard to watch over his flock.

The story of the birth of Jesus is also told in the Quran:

فَحَمَلَتْهُ فَانتَبَذَتْ بِهِ مَكَانًا قَصِيًّا

فَأَجَاءَهَا الْمَخَاضُ إِلَى جِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ قَالَتْ يَا لَيْتَنِي مِتُّ قَبْلَ هَذَا وَكُنتُ نَسْيًا مَّنسِيًّا

فَنَادَاهَا مِن تَحْتِهَا أَلاَّ تَحْزَنِي قَدْ جَعَلَ رَبُّكِ تَحْتَكِ سَرِيًّا

وَهُزِّي إِلَيْكِ بِجِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ تُسَاقِطْ عَلَيْكِ رُطَبًا جَنِيًّا

22 And she conceived him, and went with him to a distant place.
23 The pains of childbirth brought her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, "Oh, I wish that I had died before this, and been forgotten."
24 A voice cried from below to her: "Don't grieve. Your Lord has placed a stream beneath you,"
25 "And if you pull the trunk of the date palm toward you, it will drop fresh, ripe dates."

The Holy Quran, Maryam 22-25

In the late nineteenth century, the population of Bethlehem was about 5,000, including 2,500 Catholic Palestinians, 600 Moslem Palestinians, 500 Greek-Palestinians, 400 Armenian-Palestinians.3

Bethlehem Marketplace
From the Matson Collection

The Bethlehem Marketplace.

A room in a Palestinian home gouged out of the hillside
From the Matson Collection

A Bethlehem Palestinian family shares a meal in a room that appears to have been partially gouged out of the hillside.

Bethlehem was a Caananite town, possibly as early as 2000 B.C., and known as Beit Lahama, possibly after the Caananite fertility god Lahamothe.4

1 Victor Guérin, La Terre Sainte, Son Histoire, Ses Souvenirs, Ses Sites, Ses Monuments , (Paris, E. Plon, Nourrit, et Cie, 1884), 155-158
2 Guérin, 158
3 Guérin, 158
4 Mariam Shahin, Palestine, A Guide, (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2007), 351-352