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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Shepherds’ Field

West Bank

Shepherds' Field

Shepherd and sheep near Bethlehem (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Caves where shepherds “kept watch over their flock” still abound in the area east of Bethlehem. Here, the Gospel of Luke tells us, an angel announced the birth of Jesus.

The angel’s good news was not given to the noble or pious, but to workers with a low reputation. Jewish literature ranked “shepherd” as among the most despised occupations of the time — but Christ was to identify himself with this occupation when he called himself “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11).

The traditional place of the angel’s visit is the town of Beit Sahur. Originally known as the Village of the Shepherds, it is now an eastern suburb of Bethlehem.

The tradition connected with the Shepherds’ Field is complicated by the fact that archaeologists have identified more than one possible site.

 

Three possible locations

• In the eastern part of Beit Sahur is a red-domed Greek Orthodox church at a site known as Kaniset el-Ruat (Church of the Shepherds). This site is identified with the biblical Tower of Edar (Tower of the Flock) where Jacob settled after his wife Rachel died. Eusebius (AD 265-340) says the tower, 1000 paces from Bethlehem, marked the place where the shepherds received the angel’s message.

Excavations here have uncovered a series of remains dating back to a mosaic-floored 4th-century subterranean church, said to have been built by St Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine.

Shepherds' Field

Catholic chapel at Shepherds’ Field (Seetheholyland.net)

• On the north ridge of Beit Sahur, about 400 metres north of the Orthodox site, a Catholic site is located in an area called Siyar el-Ghanam (Place for Keeping Sheep).

A tent-shaped Chapel of the Angels, designed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, adjoins the remains of a 4th-century church and a later agricultural monastery. Paintings in the chapel depict the angel’s announcement to the shepherds, the shepherds paying homage to Jesus and the shepherds celebrating the birth of the Messiah.

Beyond the chapel is a cave for small group worship. The area is administered by the Franciscans.

Eastwards from the Greek and Catholic churches is the Protestant Shepherd’s Field, a meadow filled with pine trees. Here a YMCA rehabilitation centre contains large caves with pottery remains.

 

Field of Boaz is nearby

Beyond Shepherd’s Field to the east is the plain known as the Field of Boaz (or Field of Ruth).

Ruth, a Moabite woman from east of the Dead Sea, is one of the few women to have a book of the Old Testament named after her. She is celebrated especially for her statement of devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who came from Bethlehem: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God . . . .”

The “Field of Ruth” was really the field of Boaz, a wealthy landowner. She met him while gathering up the barley left behind by the harvesters. They married and she became the great-grandmother of King David.

Other sites in the Bethlehem area:

Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity

Grotto of the Nativity

St Jerome’s Cave

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria

Milk Grotto

Field of Boaz

Tomb of Rachel

Herodium

 

In Scripture:

An angel appears to the shepherds: Luke 2:8-20

The story of Ruth: Ruth 1-4

 

Administration:

Greek Orthodox church (972-2-2773135): Open 8-11.30am, 2-6pm (5pm Oct-Mar); telephone first

Franciscan chapel (972-2-2772413): 8am-5pm (Sunday closed noon-2pm)

YMCA, Shepherds’ Field (972-2-2772713)

 

 

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)
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)

 

External links

Shepherds’ Fields, Bethlehem (Sacred Destinations)

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)
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