|« Bethel||Bethlehem||Bethlehem »|
A titular see of Palestine. The early name of the city was Ephrata; afterwards Bethlehem, "House of Bread"; today Beith-Lahm, "House of Flesh." There died Rachel, Jacob's wife (Gen., xxxv, 19); David was born there (I Kings, xvii, 12), and many other Biblical personages. There was enacted the gracious idyll of Ruth and Booz. There, above all, the Savior was born, a descendant of David, and from this fact the humble village has acquired unparalleled glory. It was at Bethlehem, also, that in the fourth century St. Jerome, St. Paula, and St. Eustochium fixed their residence. According to John Cassian, it was in a monastery of Bethlehem that the office of Prime was instituted. As early as the second century it was indicated by St. Justin Martyr, a native of Neapolis (Nablous), as the place of the Nativity. About A.D. 330 Constantine the Great built a basilica on this site. The present church appears to date from a later time -- either the fifth or the sixth century -- and has been repaired at still later periods. The Frankish kings were wont to come from Jerusalem to be crowned at Bethlehem, in memory of the coronation of David by Samuel. The greater part of the church is now shared by various communions, while the choir belongs to the Greeks alone, the Grotto of the Nativity is open to the Latins, the Greeks, and the Armenians, who hold services there each in turn.
The first Bishop of Bethlehem, Arnolfo (1099-1103), was appointed by the Crusaders. The see was not canonically erected until 1109, when the title was united with that of Ascalon, till then a Greek diocese (Revue de l'Orient latin, I, 141). The Diocese of Bethlehem-Ascalon existed from 1109-1378, but since the middle of the thirteenth century its bishops resided at Clamecy in France. The Diocese of Bethlehem-Clamecy was created in 1378, and suppressed by the Concordat between Napoleon and Pius VII, in 1801. The titular Bishoprics of Bethlehem and Ascalon, however, had existed separately from 1378 to 1603, when they were suppressed. From 1801 to 1840 both residential and titular sees, either of Bethlehem or Ascalon, were extinct. In 1840, Gregory XVI reunited the title of Bethlehem in perpetuum to the independent Abbey of St. Maurice d'Agaune in Switzerland. In 1867 the titular See of Ascalon was also re-established.
Bethlehem is today a little town with about 10,000 inhabitants, exclusive of foreigners (5,000 Latins, 100 Catholic, or Melchite, Greeks, 4,000 Greeks, a few Armenians and Mussulmans). The inhabitants are very active and industrious. Besides agriculture, they are engaged in the fabrication of wooden, mother-of-pearl, and bituminous limestone objects, such as beads, crosses, etc. The women are remarkably beautiful and wear a peculiar costume which is very rich and of ancient pattern The Franciscans govern the Latin parish, a scholasticate, a primary school, and an asylum; the Christian Brothers have a novitiate for native young men; the Fathers of the Sacred Heart, or Betharramites, have a scholasticate for their missions in South America; the Salesians conduct an industrial school with an orphanage and an elementary school; the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition have two convents, a school, an orphanage, and an infant school; the Sisters of Charity have a hospital and an orphanage; the Carmelite nuns, a monastery. The Greek Catholic parish lately established has not yet a church. There are also Greek and Armenian monasteries, and schools conducted by Greeks, Armenians, and Protestants.
LEQUIEN, Or. Christ., III, 1275-1386; GAMS 516; EUBEL, I 138; II, 118; RIANT, E tudes sur l'histoire de 1'évéché de Bethléem (Genoa, 1888), completed by pagers in Revue de l'Orient latin, I, 140-160, 381-412, 475-524; II, 35-72, with an exhaustive bibliography; MAS-LATRIE, T résor de chronologie (Paris, 1889), col. 1391-94; GUÉRIN, Judée, I, 120-207; CONDER, Tentwork in Palestine, I, 282.
|« Bethel||Bethlehem||Bethlehem »|
|« Bethlehem||Bethlehem||Bethlehem (In Architecture) »|
The old Hebrew name bêth lehem, meaning "house of bread", has survived till the present day. In its Arabic form, however, bêt lahm, it means "house of meat". Several scholars (Smith, Hist. Geog. of the Holy Land, 1906, 318. n. 2) hold that the name is connected with Lakhmu, one of the divinities in the Babylonian Creation myth and that Bethlehem was a sacred shrine of that god in ancient times. This is possible, but there is no actual evidence in favor of the conjecture. Two cities of the name are known from Sacred Scripture: Bethlehem and Bethlehem of Judea.
Bethlehem is mentioned in Jos., xix, 15, as one of the twelve cities belonging to the tribe of Zabulon. It is but a small town, poorly built, and of no great importance (Buhl, Geog. des alten Palästina, 1896, 215), a little less than seven miles southwest of Sapphoris (Saffurieh) and seven miles northwest of Nazareth, the home of Our Lord. Critics do not agree among themselves whether the Bethlehem described in Judges, xii, 8, 10, as the home of Abesan (Ibzan), one of the minor judges, is the same as that of Jos., xix, 15, or Bethlehem of Juda. A large number if not the majority of modern commentators are in favor of Bethlehem of Zabulon. But ancient tradition (Josephus, Antiq., V, vii, 13; cf. also Moore, Judges, Int. Crit. Com.) made Abesan spring from Bethlehem of Juda and the view is ably defended by Father Lagrange in his commentary (Smith, op cit.; Hogg, Encyc. Bib., IV, 5389). In any case the importance of that city was never great. But the efforts of some modern critics have made it more famous. Unable to accept as historical the narratives of Our Lord's birth in Bethlehem of Juda, these scholars would place the Nativity in Bethlehem of Zabulon, referred to in the Talmud (Megilla, 70, a) as Bethlehem seriyyah, which is regarded as equivalent to noseryyah, i. e. Bethlehem of Nazareth (of Galilee), a certainly remarkable combination of two names so well known from the Gospels (Réville, Jésus de Nazareth, 2nd ed., Paris, 1906, I, 360).
Bethlehem of Judea
"Bethlehem of Judea" [so the Greek text of Matt., ii, 1, erroneously corrected by St. Jerome to Bethlehem of Juda, thinking that the Evangelist had in his original text conformed to the Old Testament usage (Judges, xvii, 7, xix, 1; I Kings (Sam.), xvii, 12)], is much more celebrated than its northern namesake as the birthplace of David, and above all, of Our Lord. The city, which numbers now  about 10,000 inhabitants, almost exclusively Christians, is situated five miles south of Jerusalem at a very short distance from the highroad from Jerusalem to Hebron, in the midst of a most beautiful country (Buhl, op. cit., 19), which contrasts favorably with the neighborhood of Jerusalem. At an altitude of 2,350 feet it spreads out between Wadi el Hrobbe in the North and the Wadi er-Rahib in the south; the land of Moab is visible in the southeast, a detail to be remembered in reading the beautiful story of Ruth the Moabitess, the scene of which is Bethlehem (Smith, op. cit.). The main resources of Bethlehem are agriculture and the sale of religious articles; the city is also the market place of the peasants and Bedouins of the neighborhood.
According to Gen., xxxv, 16, 19; xlviii, 7, Bethlehem was associated with the patriarchal history. The sepulchre of Rachel, or Qubbet Ràhil (Rachel's dome) as it is called now, about one mile north of Bethlehem, still shown to the pilgrim and venerated by Christians, Mohammedans, and Jews, is referred to again in I Kings (Sam.), x, 2, and Matt., ii, 16-18; cf. Jer., xxxi, 15. As an examination of these passages shows, the tradition presents some obscurities, and critics question the correctness of the gloss (Gen., xxxv, 19) which identifies Ephrata with Bethlehem, supposing it the result of a confusion between Bethlehem-Ephrata [Ruth, iv, 11; Mich., v, 2 (1)], i. e. our Bethlehem, and another Ephrata in the north, otherwise unknown, or assume two different traditions regarding Rachel's sepulchre. (Cf. commentaries: Driver in Hast., "Dict. of the Bible", IV, 193, a; Buhl, op. cit., 156, 159; Bädeker-Benzinger, "Palästina und Syrien", 1904, 91.) Bethlehem is mentioned also in Judges as the home of the young Levite who went to Michas (xvii, 7f.) and of the young woman (xix, 1f.) whose death caused the expedition against the tribe of Benjamin. In the Old Testament, however, it is connected especially with the great King David (I Kings, xvi, 1 and passim), whose name is given to the three cisterns (Bi' Da'ud), found northwest of the town, not far from the tomb of Rachel. A tradition not older than the end of the fifteenth century, according to Bädeker-Benzinger (p. 91), sees therein the cistern referred to in II Kings, xxiii, 14f. and I Par. (Chron.), xi, 16f. Later the city was fortified by Roboam (II Par., xi, 6), and I Esd. (Ezrah), ii, 21f. [cf. II Esd. (Nehem.), vii, 26] informs us of the return of 123 Bethlehemites from the Captivity.
In the New Testament, we have, with the exception of John, vii, 42, references to Bethlehem only in Matt., ii, and Luke, ii, whose narratives of the birth of the Savior in the city of David have rendered it most dear to Christians. Many modern critics, however, are making Bethlehem again "little among the thousands of Judah" (Schmidt, The Prophet of Nazareth, 1905, 246) by attacking the historical value of the Gospel narratives. Some place Our Lord's birth at Nazareth, called His patrisin the Gospels (Mark, vi,1, and parall.; cf. i,9; i,24, etc.); this is done by almost all those who deny the historicity of the Infancy, endeavoring to explain our narratives as a legend arisen from the Jewish tradition that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem, occasioned by Micheas, v, 2 (1). (Cf. Targum; also John, vii, 42; Strauss, Life of Christ, tr. Eliot, from the 4th Germ. edit., 1840, sect. 32, end, sect. 39; Usener in "Encyc. Bib.", III 3346-47; Schmidt, op. cit., 243, 246; Weiss in "Die Schriften des N. T.", Göttingen, 1906, I, 1, pp. 46, 221-223, 393-395.) Others more seldom give the explanation already mentioned.
This question, which is part of the larger problems connected with cc. I-ii of Matt. and Luke, cannot be discussed here. [See besides the lives of Jesus and commentaries; Ramsay, "Was Christ born at Bethlehem?", 1898.] Suffice it to remark here that if the second explanation removes some difficulties, it requires us to go entirely behind the narratives of both Matthew and Luke, who most clearly mean only Bethlehem of Juda (see Knowling "Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels", New York, 1906, I, 204). Against the first explanation it may be noted with many critics that Matthew and Luke agree independently in placing the birth at Bethlehem without, in St. Luke's case, any sign of influence of Micheas' prophecy (Knowling, op. cit.; Nichol, "Dictionary of Christ", I, 195, a; Jacquier "Hist. des livres du N. T.", Paris, 1905, II, 209). We must not, however, exaggerate the value of that argument. (Cf. Revue d'histoire et de littérature religieuses, Jan.-Feb., 1906, 62f.) These difficulties were unknown to the ancient writers, who reproduce simply the Gospel narratives with additions, in some cases possibly historical. About 150 we find St. Justin Martyr referring (Dial., lxxviii) to the Savior's birth as having taken place in a cave near the village of Bethlehem; such cave stables are not rare in Palestine. (Cf. Massie in Hast., Dict. of the Bible, III, 234; Expository Times, May, 1903, 384; Bonaccorsi, "Il Natale", Rome, 1903, 16-20.) The tradition of the birth in a cave was widely accepted, as we see from Origen's words about a century later: "In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and the rumor is in those places and among foreigners of the Faith that indeed Jesus was born in this cave". (Contra Celsum, I, li.) It is reproduced also in the apocryphal gospels (Pseudo-Matt., xiii, ap. Bonaccorsi, op. cit., 159-163; Protevang. of James, xvii sqq., Bonaccorsi, 155-159; Gospel of the Infancy, II-IV, Bonaccorsi, 163-164). Over the traditional spot of the Nativity stands a church (St. Mary of the Nativity), surrounded on the northwest and southwest by the convents of the Latins (Franciscans), Greeks, and Armenians, respectively. The building is, apart from additions and modifications made by Justinian (527-565), substantially the work of Constantine (about 330). Underneath that most ancient and venerable monument of Christianity, a favorite resort of pilgrims throughout the centuries, is the grotto of the Nativity. The Nativity chapel, running in the same general direction as the church (east to west), is situated under the choir; at the eastern end is a silver star with the inscription: Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est and near the chapel of the Crib (see Bonaccorsi, op. cit., 77-113). Other grottoes to the north and north-west connected with that of the Nativity are associated, mostly by recent traditions (c. fifteenth century), with the narratives of Matt., ii, mainly, and with the memory of the great scholar St. Jerome and his company of pious and learned friends (Sanders, Etudes sur S. Jérome, Paris, 1903, 29f.).
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