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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Bethlehem

West Bank

Bethlehem

Church bell at Bethlehem (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The West Bank city of Bethlehem, about 9km south of Jerusalem, is celebrated by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Here Mary gave birth in a cave used for animals. Here the local shepherds came to worship the baby, and here the Three Wise Men from the east came to pay homage and present their gifts.

Here too, 1000 years before Christ, Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, Israel’s second king. Here David was anointed as king by the prophet Samuel after being brought in from tending his father’s sheep.

The city of Bethlehem (in Hebrew its name means “house of bread”) perches on a hill at the edge of the Judaean desert. Bedouin from the desert rub shoulders with pilgrims and tourists among a mix of cultures in its town market and its narrow, ancient streets.

 

Cave can be visited

The Gospel references to Christ’s birth are sparse. The physician Luke gives most information: “And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to David’s town of Bethlehem — because he was of the house and lineage of David — to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child . . . . She gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where travellers lodged.” (Luke 2:4,7)

Bethlehem

Star marking Jesus’ birthplace, in the Grotto of the Nativity (Seetheholyland.net)

The cave where the birth took place and the manger stood can now be visited underneath the huge Basilica of the Nativity. This is the oldest complete church in the Christian world.

During the 20th century, Bethlehem was controlled in turn by Turkey, Britain, Jordan and Israel. Hostilities led to thousands of displaced Palestinians living in official refugee camps nearby.

In 1995 Bethlehem came under the administration of the Palestinian Authority, though Israel retained control of entrances and exits. During times of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the city has seen many confrontations.

Israel’s construction of the separation wall has severely affected Bethlehem’s economy and the movements of its residents. The barrier runs along the city’s northern side, within metres of houses.

 

Most residents are Muslims

Because of Christian emigration, Bethlehem now has a Muslim majority. The Mosque of Osmar is a prominent landmark.

Bethlehem

Olive wood products in a Bethlehem souvenir shop (Seetheholyland.net)

The remaining Christians include Latin, Syrian, Melchite, Armenian and Maronite Catholics; Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox; and a variety of Protestant denominations. Many religious institutions are present, including Bethlehem University, founded under the direction of the Vatican.

Maintaining the Christmas spirit, Franciscan friars daily celebrate the Eucharist in the Grotto of the Manger and at noon perform a procession around the holy places.

Bethlehem’s residents, who depend largely on pilgrims and tourists for their livelihood, are known for their olive wood carvings, mother-of-pearl jewellery (a craft introduced by the Franciscans) and distinctive embroidery.

In the words of one pilgrim, Della Shenton, “Bethlehemites are cheerful, peaceful, gentle people, who have welcomed pilgrims for centuries: They now stand waiting for visitors. Jesus Christ was born here, their expressions appear to say; so where are all the Christians?”

Sites in the Bethlehem area:

Church of the Nativity

Grotto of the Nativity

St Jerome’s Cave

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria

Milk Grotto

Shepherds’ Field

Tomb of Rachel

Field of Boaz

Herodium

In Scripture:

Birth of Messiah prophesied: Micah 5:2-5

The birth of Jesus: Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 1:18-25

The visit of the Wise Men: Matthew 2:1-12

Massacre of the Holy Innocents: Matthew 2:16-18

 

 

References

 

Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007).
Joseph, Frederick: “Bethlehem”, Holy Land, winter 2002.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Petrozzi, Maria Teresa: “The Nativity Grotto”, Holy Land, winter 1997.
Shenton, Della: “Go now to Bethlehem”, The Tablet, London, December 16, 2006.
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

Bethlehem (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Bethlehem (Obethlehem.com)
Bethlehem (BiblePlaces)
Bethlehem (Christus Rex)
Bethlehem Municipality
Bethlehem University
Open Bethlehem civil society project
Facts about Bethlehem (Bethlehem and Jericho Tours)

Bethany

West Bank

The little village of Bethany, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives about 3km from Jerusalem, was a favourite place of rest and refuge for Jesus.

Bethany

Entrance to the Tomb of Lazarus (Seetheholyland.net)

Here he knew the intimacy and friendship of his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. And here, in the cemetery just below the village, he raised Lazarus from the dead.

When Lazarus was dying, as John’s Gospel (11:1-44) recounts, his sisters sent for Jesus. But Jesus delayed his arrival until four days after Lazarus had been buried, “so that the Son of God may be glorified”.

Arriving at the tomb, Jesus called: “Lazarus, come out!” To the amazement of mourners who had witnessed the burial, the dead man walked out. This miracle confirmed the determination of the religious leaders in Jerusalem to have Jesus put to death.

Bethany (not to be confused with Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where Christ was baptised) is also associated with two other events:

• While Christ was visiting his friends’ home, Martha complained that her sister Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to him, had left all the work to her. Christ replied: “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her”. (Luke 10:38-42)

• At dinner in the house of Simon the Leper, a week before the crucifixion, Mary took a jar of expensive ointment and poured it over Christ’s feet — an act he saw as the anointing of his body for burial. (John 12:1-8).

 

Pilgrims since early centuries

Bethany

View of Bethany, with, from left, the Catholic Church of St Lazarus, the Al-Ozir Mosque and the Greek Orthodox church (© Welcometohosanna.com)

The present Arab village, on the south-eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, is called Al-Azariyeh, an Arabic version of Lazarus. The original village was probably higher up the hill to the west of the tomb of Lazarus.

The Franciscan Albert Storme says the reason why pilgrims have been drawn to this place is not based on “some ‘casual’ wonder. In their eyes, Lazarus’ resurrection prefigured that of Christ, and heralded their own return from the grave.”

Christian churches have been built here since the early centuries. In AD 333, the Anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux reported seeing “the crypt where Lazarus had been laid to rest”.

By the 14th century the churches were in ruins and the original entrance to the tomb had been turned into a mosque. In the 16th century the Franciscans cut through the soft rock to create the present entrance.

 

27 steps to burial chamber

Bethany

Inside the Tomb of Lazarus, with the burial chamber at lower right (© Welcometohosanna.com)

Today’s pilgrims enter from the street down a flight of 24 well-worn and uneven steps to a vestibule. Three more steps lead to the burial chamber, little more than 2 metres long. Tradition says Jesus stood in the vestibule to call Lazarus from the grave.

The present Catholic church, with mosaics depicting the events that occurred here, was built in 1954. Architect Antonio Barluzzi contrasted the sadness of death with the joy of resurrection by designing a crypt-like, windowless church, into which light floods from the large oculus in its dome.

A Greek Orthodox church, dedicated to Simon the Leper, is to the west of the tomb.

Since 2005 Bethany, in the West Bank, has been cut off from Jerusalem by Israel’s separation wall. The wall actually cuts across the main street, making a serious impact on the live of residents and on the town’s economy.

What used to be a 10-minute drive from the Mount of Olives to Bethany now requires a lengthy detour, so the Tomb of Lazarus has become isolated from the normal pilgrim and tourist route.

In Scripture:

Jesus raises Lazarus to life: John 11:1-44

Jesus visits Martha and Mary: Luke 10:38-42

The anointing at Bethany: John 12:1-8

 

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-2799291

Open: Apr-Sep 8-11.25am, 2-6pm, Oct-Mar 8-11.25am, 2-5pm

 

References

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)
Storme, Albert: “Bethany”, Holy Land, Winter 2000 and Summer 2003

 

External links

Bethany (Franciscan Cyberspot)
Bethany (Christus Rex)
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