Bethlehem – a city in the Palestinian Authority, on the territory of the West Bank, in the historical region of Judea, the capital of the province of Bethlehem. Bethlehem is the Center for Palestinian Culture, Pilgrimage, and Tourism.
Bethlehem is located about 8 km south of Jerusalem and is currently actually bordered by it. The city has one of the World’s oldest Christian communities, although its number has fallen as a result of emigration in recent years.
Bethlehem is referred to in the Holy Scriptures as the “House of David” or “Euphrates” (“Efrat,” Heb. “fruitful”). Near Bethlehem, during the birth of Benjamin, died Rachel, one of the two wives of the patriarch Jacob, her tomb is still revered here.
King David was born here, and here he was anointed to the kingdom by the prophet Samuel. In Bethlehem and its environs, the events described in the Book of Ruth (Ruth 1-4) occur. The name of the town is also mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.
Bethlehem is best known for the fact that in this city, according to the Gospels, the birth of Jesus Christ took place. The Magi saw a star above the city and came to bow to the future King, bringing gifts: gold as the King, frankincense as God, and meek as a Man.
However, after King Herod ordered the killing of all male infants, the Holy Family left Bethlehem and disappeared into Egypt.
History of the city
Bethlehem, a small village in Judea, generally experienced the same historical events as the entire Holy Land, so for a detailed acquaintance, one should turn to the history of Israel.
Bethlehem is one of the most ancient cities on Earth. It was founded around the XVII-XVI centuries BC in the land of Canaan. At first, the Canaanites lived in the town, later the Jews populated it.
In Bethlehem in the 2nd century after the second Roman-Jewish war, at the place of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Romans erected a sanctuary to Adonis, which stood before the visit of St. Helen, mother of the first Christian emperor Constantine, to Palestine.
In 326, the first Christian church, Church of the Nativity, was built on the site of the pagan sanctuary. During the Samaritan uprising, the Church of the Nativity was destroyed, but after its suppression by Justinian the Great in 529, the building was restored.
In 614, the city was captured by the Persians, but the temple resisted. In 637, Bethlehem was captured by the Muslim army. However, the second caliph of Islam, Umar ibn Khattab, left the temple in possession of Christians.
For several centuries, the Holy Land was influenced by Muslims, which caused discontent in Christian Europe.
The First Crusade was launched in 1095, at the behest of Pope Urban II. Its main goal was the liberation of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth.
In 1099, Jerusalem was taken by the crusaders, and the three holiest cities for Christians entered the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which existed until 1291, despite the fact that Jerusalem itself was captured by Salahuddin at the end of 1187.
Although Salahuddin himself and his descendants were tolerant of Christians, and even free Christian pilgrims were allowed free entry to the Holy Land, attempts to capture Jerusalem were made regularly by the crusaders.
Ottoman and Egyptian period
From 1517 until the end of the First World War, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Holy Land as a whole were part of the Ottoman Empire, except for a ten-year break from 1831 to 1841, when Palestine was owned by the Egyptian Khedive Muhammad Ali.
Except for a few periods, access to the city by Christian pilgrims was open. However, the journey itself was unsafe. Many died on the way to the Holy Land.
In 1867 the city had a population of 3-4 thousand people, Orthodox and Catholics prevailed, there were also 300 Muslims and 100 Protestants, not counting a few Armenians.
The refusal of the Ottoman Empire to provide Russia with the leadership of Christian churches in the Holy Land was the reason for the beginning of the Crimean War.
Since the end of the XIX century, the Ottoman Empire began to collapse, and its influence on life in Bethlehem, as well as on the whole world, began to decline gradually.
British mandate and later
In 1918, during the First World War, Bethlehem was occupied by British troops.
In 1922, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Bethlehem became part of British Palestine. In 1947, with the formation of the state of Israel, Bethlehem and Jerusalem became special enclaves under the jurisdiction of the United Nations (Greater Jerusalem).
In 1948, during the Arab-Israeli war, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem were captured by Jordan and came under its control.
In 1967, during the Six-Day War, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem were captured by Israel and came under its control.
In 1995, according to peace agreements, Bethlehem came under the control of the Palestinian Authority, becoming the center of one of the provinces, numbering about 130 thousand people.
In 2000, celebrations of the 2000th anniversary of Christianity were held in Bethlehem, when the city was visited by many leaders of states and various Christian denominations, including His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia.
Politics and Security
Bethlehem is located on the West Bank, in the territory of which Israel and the Palestinian Authority are contesting, seeking full independence. This fact often creates a turbulent atmosphere in the city.
Religion and Population
In the late 1940s, during the formation of the Jewish and Arab states, the inhabitants of Bethlehem were mostly Christian Arabs (85-90%), however, in the second half of the 20th century there was massive emigration of Christians from Palestine and from the Middle East in general to Western Europe and America.
In 2001, the proportion of Christians among the inhabitants of Bethlehem was, according to various sources, 15-20%. Currently, the population of the city is 25,266 people.
Science and education
Bethlehem is home to the Catholic University of Bethlehem, as well as regular schools. Bethlehem Catholic University was founded in 1973, and currently, the number of students exceeds 2,200.
Despite the name, a person of any faith can enter the university. From 1988 to 2008, Michel Asad Sabbah, President of the Bethlehem Catholic University, acted as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, becoming the first Arab – the head of the Latin Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land.