Ancient Sources

Mountain of Judah and Shephelah


72. Bethlehem - (Bayt Laham)

ORIGINAL TEXTS


Bethleem civitas David in sorte tribus Iudae, in qua dominus noster atque salvator natus est, in sexto ab Aelia miliario contra meridianam plagam iuxta viam quae ducit Chebron, ubi et sepulcrum Iesse et David ostenditur. Et mille circiter passibus procul turris Ader, quae interpretatur turris gregis, quodam vaticinio pastores nativitatis dominicae conscios ante significans. Sed et propter eandem Bethleem regis quondam Iudaeae Archelai tumulus ostenditur, qui semitae ad cellulas nostras e via publica divertentis principium est. Vocabatur autem Bethleem et filius Efrathae, id est Mariae, ut in Paralipomenon volumine plenius dicitur. Lege diligenter historiam.
(Jerome 43:18-45,5)


ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Eusebius, Onomasticon 42:10-14 (ca. 295 A.D.); Jerome 43:18-45,5 (ca. 390 A.D.)
Bethlehem (Gen 35:19), in the tribe of Judah, where our Lord and Saviour was born, at the sixth milestone from Jerusalem to the south, beside the road leading to Hebron, and where the tombs of Jesse and David are shown. And about a mile thence is the tower of Ader (Migdal Eder), which means "tower of the flock", which name by a sort of oracle gives a previous hint of the announcement of the Lord's birth to the shepherds. And near Bethlehem itself they show the tomb of Archelaus, once king of Judaea, which marks the beginning of the path leading off the main road to our cells. And also the son of Ephratha, that is, of Mary, was called Bethlehem, as is written in full in the Book of Chronicles. Read carefully the story.

BIBLICAL BACKGROUND

Gen 35:16-20 The death of Rachel
Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17 When she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, "Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son." 18 As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), 20 and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel's tomb, which is there to this day.

Jos 15:20-21.48.59 Cities of Judas
This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Judah according to their families. 21 The towns belonging to the tribe of the people of Judah in the extreme South, toward the boundary of Edom, were ...
... 48 in the highlands:... 59 Tekoa, Ephrathah, wich is now Bethlehem [LXX].

Judg 12:8-10 The judge Ibzan of Bethlehem
And after him [Jephthah] Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons. He gave his thirty daughters in marriage outside his clan and brought in thirty young women from outside for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died, and was buried at Bethlehem.

1Sam 16: 1-13 David son of Jesse is anointed king
The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." 2 Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And the Lord said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.' 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you." 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" 5 He said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice." And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed is now before the Lord." 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these." 11 Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here." 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Mic 5:2-5 From Bethlehem shall come forth a ruler in Israel
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

Matt 2:1-18 The visit of the Magi and the massacre of the Innocents
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

Luke 2:1-21 The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. .

MORE ANCIENT SOURCES

Iustinus, Dialogus cum Tryphone Iudaeo 78 (2nd cent. A.D.)
Concerning the birth of the child in Bethlehem: When Joseph could not find any lodging place in the village, he went to a nearby cave, and Mary gave birth to the child there and laid him in a manger, and there the Arabian magi found him.

Origenes, Contra Celsum I, 51 (3rd cent. A.D.)
If anyone wants further proof to convince him that Jesus was born in Bethlehem besides the prophecy of Micah and the story recorded in the gospels by Jesus' disciples, he may observe that, in agreement with the story in the gospel about his birth, the cave at Bethlehem is shown where he was wrapped in swaddling clothes. What is shown there is famous in these parts even among people alien to the faith, since it was in this cave that the Jesus who is worshipped and admired by Christians was born.

Itinerarium Burdigalense 598 (333 A.D.)
Four miles from Jerusalem, on the right of the highway to Bethlehem, is the tomb in which was laid Jacob's wife Rachel. Two miles further on, on the left, is Bethlehem, where the Lord Jesus Christ was born, and where a basilica was been built by command of Constantine.

Egeria, Itinerarium XXV, 11-12 (381-384 A.D.)
And on this day in this church, and at the Anastasis and the Cross and Bethlehem, the decorations really are too marvellous for words. All you can see is gold and jewels and silk; the hangings are entirely silk with gold stripes, the curtains the same, and everything they use for services at the festival is made of gold and jewels. You simply cannot imagine the number, and the sheer weight of the candles and the tapers and lamps and everything else they use for services.

Hieronymus, Ep.108 (Peregrinatio Paulae) 10,1 (385 A.D.)
Then she entered the Cave of the Saviour, and saw the holy Inn of the Virgin, and the Stable, where "the ox knew his master, and the ass his Lord's manger" (Isa: 1.3), to fulfil the words written by the same prophet, "blessed is he that casts his seed upon the waters, where the ox and the ass tread" (Isa: 32.20 LXX). Then she solemnly declared in my own hearing that, with the eye of faith, she saw a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, weeping in the lord's manger, the Magi worshipping, the star shining above, the Virgin Mother, the attentive fosterfather; and the shepherds coming by night to see this word which had come to pass, already, even then, able to speak the words which open John's gospel, "In the beginning was the Word" and "The Word was made flesh"; and the young children murdered, and Herod in a rage, and Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt.

Theodosius, De situ Terrae Sanctae 148 (ca. 530 A.D.)
Now there is a stone in a place three miles from the city of Jerusalem which my Lady Mary, the Mother of the Lord, blessed when she dismounted from the ass on her way to Bethlehem and sat down on it.

Anonimus Placentinus, Itinerarium 29 (ca. 570 A.D.)
From there [Rama] it is three miles to Bethlehem, which is a most renowed place. There are many servants of God there, there is the cave where the Lord was born, and, inside it, there is the manger decorated with gold and silver, at which lights are burning day and night. As you go in, the mouth of the cave is very narrow. The presbyter Jerome hewed out the rock at the very mouth of the cave, and made himself a tomb, where indeed he was buried.

Adamnanus, De locis sanctis 1,1-4 (ca. 670 A.D.)
At the opening of our second book we must describe something of the situation of Bethlehem, the city where our Saviour saw fit to be born of the Holy Virgin.
Arculf, who went there on pilgrimage, reports that it is remarkable not so much for the extent of its site as for the extent to which its fame has spread to churches throughout every nation. It lies on a narrow ridge completely surrounded by valleys. This ridge of land measures about a mile in length from west to east, and round the very edge of the flat top of this small hill runs a low wall without towers, rising above the surroundings valleys, and enclosing a longish space within which the houses of the inhabitants are distributed.

Sophronius, Anacreontica 19 (7th cent. A.D.)
And soon may I come, consumed
with the heat of a holy desire,
to the townlet of Bethlehem,
birthplace of the King of All.
And entering in
to the sacred Tetrastoon, the lovely Triconch's
that holy building,
I shall rejoice.
May Christ, who was revealed there, grant me
to see all the beauties of Holy Bethlehem.
And when I see all the glistening gold
the well-fashioned columns and fine workmanship,
let me be freed
from the gloom of sorrows.
I will also look up at the design above,
at the coffers studded with stars,
for they are a masterpiece,
brilliant with heavenly beauty.
Let me go down also to the cave
where the Virgin Queen of All
bore a Saviour for mankind,
true God and true Man.
The shining slab which received
the infant God,
I will touch,
with my eyes, my mouth, my forehead,
to gain its blessing.
Let me come and venerate
the glorious Manger
by which I, the mindless
have been nourished by God's Word.
Let me reach the cave
of the infants who together
were slain by the envious rage of Herod
when the Word came to human birth.


ICONOGRAPHIC PARALLELS

Tayyiba (Syria): Church of the Martyrs
(6th cent. A.D.)
Bethleem

see also: 71. Ephratha

Map Section 6 Place Discussion

logo logo

Created Saturday, December 16, 2000 at 13:13:00
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
Webmaster: John Abela ofm - Space by courtesy of Christus Rex
copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000