Bethlehem is located about 5 miles / 8 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem, 2,550 feet / 777 meters (the same as Jerusalem) above sea level, in the hill country of Judea near the main route between Jerusalem and Hebron. The population today is approximately 16,000.
Early Christians were of the belief that a cave just east of the village was the actual place where He was born. A field southeast of the town has been identified as the place where the shepherds had the vision of the angels (Luke 2:8-14).
In Hebrew, Bethlehem means house of bread. The events of the book of Ruth took place there, which later resulted in King David being born in Bethlehem, from which it has been called the "City of David."
Many conquerers, including Greeks, Romans and Muslims ruled it at various times through history (see Bible History). The Crusaders captured it during the First Crusade (1096-1099), but later lost it to the Ottomans (Turks) in the 1500's. During The First World War, British forces under General Edmund Allenby took the town. It became part of Jordan in 1950, as part of the West Bank. Israel captured much of the area, including Bethlehem, during the Six-Day War of 1967 (a war that Israel did not start, and did not lose). In 1995, Israel withdrew from Bethlehem and gave control of the city to the Palestinians.
Fact Finder: How is it that Joseph and Mary happened to be in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ?