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Bethlehem

September 1, 2016

Bethlehem is located about 10 Kilometers (6 miles) southwest of Jerusalem by the hill country of Judea on the way to Hebron. It is first mentioned in the Armana letters fourteen centuries BCE.

 

Christian tradition, perhaps as early as the second century CE, identified a cave as the site of Jesus' birth. About 338 CE Constantine, the Roman emperor and his mother, Helena, built a church over the grotto and In 527 Justinian the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire resettled in Bethlehem, his reign was one of great prosperity and expansion of churches. The site of the Nativity is a central pilgrimage destination for Christians from all over the world.

 

The Population of Bethlehem today is made up of Christians and Moslems. Among the Christians: Catholics of Latin, Syrian, Malachite, Armenian and Maronite rites and Orthodox of Greek, Syrian and Armenian denominations. Protestants are present in the Judean town.

Nowadays it is very different from Jerusalem, which is a polarised, edgy and intense city. Bethlehem is homely, friendly and welcoming, a motherly kind of place. It's one of the more liberal and cosmopolitan of Palestine's towns. It goes back thousands of years. It is located high up, around 2,700ft (800m), on a plateau surrounded by impressive landscape.

Its most famous site is the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus' birth, where there is a significant pilgrimage each Christmas. Western (Protestant and Catholic) Christians, Greek and Russian Orthodox and Armenian Christians have different dates for Christmas. Three Christmases!

Though traditionally Christian-majority, Bethlehem is now 90% Muslim, by dint of the enormous immigration of refugees around 1948 and the emigration of Palestinian Christians since then, mainly to the West. Christians and Muslims get on notably well, even though they are visibly different ethnic groups with different histories. Palestine and Bethlehem also have a considerable secular population who, in the religious fervour of recent decades, have tended to get upstaged and overlooked.

 

Tags: Jerusalem, Bethlehem

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