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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Beth-Lehem-Judah

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The modern Bait Laḥm, situated about 5 miles south of Jerusalem, some 15 minutes' walk east of the road to Hebron, on a range of hills surrounded by fertile and beautiful valleys. The city was also called "Ephratah" (Joshua 15:60, LXX.; Micah 5:1 [A. V. 2]; Ruth 1:2, 4:11; but hardly Genesis 35:16,19; 48:7). In 1 Chronicles 2:50 et seq., 4:4, Ephratah is the wife of Caleb from whom Beth-lehem descended. Beth-lehem is mentioned among the cities of Judah in Joshua 15:60, in a passage which is missing in the Hebrew text, but which has been preserved in the Septuagint.

In the epic stories of the Book of Judges neither Beth-lehem nor any other city of Judah is mentioned. In the additions to this book it is named as the home of the Levite who migrated to Ephraim (Judges 17:7). Beth-lehem is also the scene of the idyl of Ruth. It was through David, whose family lived at Beth-lehem, that the little country town achieved an unexpected fame. The characteristic story told in 2 Samuel 23:13 et seq. shows how much David was attached to his native city. But he did not remain there. He chose a larger capital, and thus Beth-lehem could continue undisturbed in its quiet ways. According to 2 Chronicles 11:6, the town was fortified by Rehoboam. Micah (5:1) predicted that Beth-lehem, Ephratah or (omitting "lehem") Beth Ephratah would be the birthplace of a new Messianic David.

Nothing further is found in the Old Testament concerning this country town, that was probably nothing more than an insignificant village, except that a number of its citizens returned to Judah after the Exile (Ezra 2:21). It is not mentioned in the Book of Maccabees, nor in post-Biblical times by Josephus. But it became of world-historic importance as the traditional birthplace of Jesus, and as such is still the goal of pious pilgrimages. Hadrian built here a shrine to Adonis, in order to irritate the Christians; this shows how important the town had become to the Christian world. As early as the second century a stable in one of the grottos close by the town was pointed out as the birthplace of Jesus (Justin Martyr, "Dial. cum Tryph." pp. 70, 78). Constantine built a splendid basilica in Beth-lehem, substantially the same church which is still admired by modern travelers. Below the church is the grotto regarded as the birthplace of Jesus. Jerome occupied a grotto near by when translating the Bible. During the Crusades Beth-lehem suffered greatly from Mohammedan violence. To-day it is a flourishing town, inhabited only by Christians.

Bibliography:
  • J. A. Smith, Hist. Geography of Palestine, pp. 318 et seq.;
  • Buhl, Geographie des Alten Palästina, pp. 19, 155-156;
  • Tobler, Bethlehem;
  • Palmer, Das Jetzige Bethlehem, in Zeits. des Deutsch. Paläst. Vereins, 17:89 et seq.
J. Jr.
F. Bu.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Beth-Lehem-Judah'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/b/beth-lehem-judah.html. 1901.

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