Bethlehem

Bethlehem

Bethlehem (/ˈbɛθlɪhɛm/; Arabic: بيت لحم‎ About this soundBayta Laḥm, “House of Meat”; Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶם Bet Leḥem, Hebrew pronunciation: [bet ˈleχem], “House of Bread”; Ancient Greek: Βηθλεέμ Greek pronunciation: [bɛːtʰle.ém]; Latin: Bethleem; initially named after Canaanite fertility god Lehem[3]) is a city located in the central West Bank, Palestine, about 10 km (6.2 miles) south of Jerusalem. Its population is approximately 25,000 people.[4][5] It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate. The economy is primarily tourist-driven, peaking during the Christmas season, when Christians make pilgrimage to the Church of the Nativity.[6][7] Rachel’s Tomb, an important Jewish holy site, is located at the northern entrance of Bethlehem.

The earliest known mention of the city was in the Amarna correspondence of 1350–1330 BCE during its habitation by the Canaanites. The Hebrew Bible, which says that the city of Bethlehem was built up as a fortified city by Rehoboam,[8] identifies it as the city David was from and where he was crowned as the king of Israel. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke identify Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem was destroyed by the Emperor Hadrian during the second-century Bar Kokhba revolt; its rebuilding was promoted by Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who commissioned the building of its great Church of the Nativity in 327 CE. The church was badly damaged by the Samaritans, who sacked it during a revolt in 529, but was rebuilt a century later by Emperor Justinian I.

Bethlehem became part of Jund Filastin following the Muslim conquest in 637. Muslim rule continued in Bethlehem until its conquest in 1099 by a crusading army, who replaced the town’s Greek Orthodox clergy with a Latin one. In the mid-13th century, the Mamluks demolished the city’s walls, which were subsequently rebuilt under the Ottomans in the early 16th century.[9] Control of Bethlehem passed from the Ottomans to the British at the end of World War I. Bethlehem came under Jordanian rule during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and was later captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Since the 1995 Oslo Accords, Bethlehem has been administered by the Palestinian Authority.[9]

Following an influx of refugees as a result of Israeli advances in the 1967 war, Bethlehem has a Muslim majority, but is still home to a significant Palestinian Christian community. It is now encircled and encroached upon by dozens of Israeli settlements and the Israeli West Bank barrier, which separates both Muslim and Christian communities from their land and livelihoods, and sees a steady exodus of those from both communities being driven out.

History


Canaanite period
The earliest reference to Bethlehem appears in the Amarna correspondence (c. 1400 BCE). In one of his six letters to Pharaoh, Abdi-Heba, Egypt’s governor for Jerusalem, appeals for aid in retaking Bit-Laḫmi in the wake of disturbances by Apiru mercenaries: “Now even a town near Jerusalem, Bit-Lahmi by name, a village which once belonged to the king, has fallen to the enemy … Let the king hear the words of your servant Abdi-Heba, and send archers to restore the imperial lands of the king!”

It is thought that the similarity of this name to its modern forms indicates that this was a settlement of Canaanites who shared a Semitic cultural and linguistic heritage with the later arrivals. Laḫmu was the Akkadian god of fertility, worshipped by the Canaanites as Leḥem. Some time in the third millennium BCE, Canaanites erected a temple on the hill now known as the Hill of the Nativity, probably dedicated to Lehem. The temple, and subsequently the town that formed around it, would then have been known as Beyt Leḥem, “House (Temple) of Lehem”. The Philistines later established a garrison there.

Biblical scholar William F. Albright noted that the pronunciation of the name remained essentially the same for 3,500 years, but has meant different things: “‘Temple of the God Lakhmu’ in Canaanite, ‘House of Bread’ in Hebrew and Aramaic, ‘House of Meat’ in Arabic.”[full citation needed]

A burial ground discovered in spring 2013, and surveyed in 2015 by a joint Italian-Palestinian team found that the necropolis covered 3 hectares (more than 7 acres) and originally contained more than 100 tombs in use between roughly 2200 B.C. and 650 B.C. The archaeologists were able to identify at least 30 tombs.

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