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Bethlehem (See also wiki article Bethlehem.)

BETHLEHEM - The name of two places in Palestine.

1. Bethlehem of Judah, now represented by the town of Beit Lahm, 5 miles S. of Jerusalem. On the way thither Rachel was buried according to post-exilic Jewish belief, as expressed in the glosses in Gn.35.19, 48.7. However the Ephrath referred to there originally meant a place N. of Jerusalem. But Ephrath(ah) was also the name of the district in which Bethlehem lay. From Bethlehem came the Levite whose adventures are related in Jg.17. It was the home of Elimelech, the father-in-law of Ruth (Ru.1.1), and here Ruth settled and became the ancestress of the family of David, whose connexion with Bethlehem is emphasized throughout his history (1 S 16.1-18, 17.12, 20.6 etc). The Philistines had here a garrison during David's outlawry (2 S 23.14, 1 Ch 11.16). Here Asahel was buried (2 S 2.32), and hence came Elhanan, one of the mighty men (2 S 23.24, cf 21.19). Rehoboam fortified it (2 Ch 11.6), and here (Jer.41.17) the Egypt-bound fugitives who took Jeremiah along with them tarried. Its area (Ephrath) was potentially one where the Ark might have been kept (Ps 132.6). The birth of the Messiah there is prophesied in Mic.5.2 (quoted Mt.2.6, Jn.7.42), a prophecy fulfilled by the birth of Christ (Mt.2.1, 5, Lk.2.4, 15). Here Herod sent to seek the new-born Christ, and not finding Him ordered the massacre of the infants of the city (Mt.2.8, 16). The modern town, containing about 20,000 inhabitants, is Christian and comparatively prosperous. Within it stands the basilica of the Nativity, founded by Constantine (about 330), and restored by Justinian (about 550) and many later emperors. Within it is shown the grotto of the Nativity. The antiquity of the tradition makes this a venerable place, though there is no way of knowing what information led Constantine's advisers to seek the birth-place of Jesus there.

2. Bethlehem of Zebulun, a place named but once (Jos.19.15), in enumerating the towns of that tribe. It is identified with Beit Lahm, 7 miles NW. of Nazareth. It was the home of Ibzan, the judge (Jg.12.8-10).

[Article: Dictionary of the Bible, J.Hastings, 2nd Ed., T&T.Clark, 1963. - R.A.S.M. - E.G.K.]