The birthplace of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem, meaning house of bread, is one of the most famous Bible Places of Bible History. So famous in fact that it has eclipsed another town that existed in Israel by the same name. The Bethlehem where the Messiah was born is in the south, near Jerusalem, in the territory of Judah. The other Bethlehem is in the north, near Nazareth, in the territory of Zebulun (see Tribal Lands).
Bethlehem in Judah
The most famous Bethlehem is located in the hill country (approximately 2,500 feet above sea level) of Judah. Situated on the main highway to Egypt (which came in very useful just after the birth of Jesus Christ), it was known variously as Ephrath (Genesis 35:16), Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:2), Bethlehem-Judah (1 Samuel 17:12), and "the city of David" (Luke 2:4).
Bethlehem is first mentioned in The Bible as the place near where Rachel died:
"So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath, that is, Bethlehem, and Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel's tomb, which is there to this day." (Genesis 35:19-20 RSV)
Bethlehem was the scene of the story of Ruth, and hence the place where in later years David was born. It was at Bethlehem where David was anointed king by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:4-13).
It was because of Jesus' ancestry to King David that Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem when He was born, at the time of the census ("enrollment"):
"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." (Luke 2:1-7 RSV)
In an attempt to kill the newborn Christ, Bethlehem was the scene of the "slaughter of the innocents" by Herod:
"Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." (Matthew 2:16-18 RSV)
Bethlehem in Zebulun
The Bethlehem in Zebulun, now a ruin, was located about 6 miles north west of Nazareth. It's mentioned specifically only once in the Bible, among a listing of cities within the tribal allotment of Zebulun during the time of Joshua:
"The third lot came up for the tribe of Zebulun, according to its families ... Kattath, Nahalal, Shimron, Idalah, and Bethlehem" (Joshua 19:10,15 RSV)
Fact Finder: What was the name of the man in Bethlehem who married Ruth?
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