Bethlehem is one of the most well known biblical sites in Israel. It is located about 9 kilometers south of Jerusalem, in the West Bank, on the edge of the Judean desert. The name “Bethlehem” literally means “house of bread” in Hebrew, suggesting a fertile land. Multiple important biblical events happened at Bethlehem, including the birth of Yeshua and the anointing of King David. Today, this biblical site is a bustling city controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Bethlehem in the Bible
God chose the small and insignificant town of Bethlehem to be the setting of important events in His redemptive plan. First, Bethlehem is where the story of Ruth and Boaz (the great-great-grandparents of King David) took place (Ruth 1:19). Second, was it the hometown of King David and the location where Samuel anointed him to be king (1 Samuel 16). Third, God revealed through the prophet Micah that the Messiah (from the Davidic line) would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). And last, Yeshua was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1).
Birthplace of Yeshua
The traditional birthplace of Yeshua is commemorated by the Church of the Nativity. Tradition holds that Mary gave birth to Yeshua in a cave; the specific spot is marked today by a silver star. During the time of Yeshua, caves were often used for storage or as animal shelters. It is possible that Mary gave birth in a cave used for animal shelter—she laid Yeshua in a manger—even though scripture doesn’t specifically record that she gave birth in a cave.
The Church of the Nativity is the oldest church still standing in Israel. It was built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD as a replacement for the original church built by Constantine’s mother in the 4th century AD. Pilgrims can enter the church through a small doorway, ascend the stairs to the venerated cave, and see the star that marks where Christ was traditionally born.
Bethlehem is within the West Bank territories and under Palestinian Authority. This makes Bethlehem a bit more complicated to get to than the average site within Israel, so make sure to bring your passport. Nevertheless, it is possible, and roughly two million people visit each year. The busy streets are an excellent location to find a meaningful souvenir from your trip to Bethlehem—the birthplace of Christ.