The Historical Framework

2014-11-12 06:02:22

The origins of man's presence in Bethlehem go back into the mists of time. Archeological findings attest this presence since the Bronze Age. The city of Bethlehem was probably first established as an assembly of nomads around the water source located 200 meters from the Nativity Grotto. Ephrata, the fruitful, a village of Cannanite farmers and cattle-breeders, formed the nucleus of Bethlehem. The town's name originated from "the house of Lahma', in Aramaic meaning "the house of bread" resounding the name "Lahama", the Akkadian deity of fertility.


Bethlehem was first mentioned in the Book of Genesis; this is where Rachel, Jacob's wife, died in childbirth. Her tomb is located at the entrance of the city. Centuries later, this was also where Ruth married Boaz, and whose grandson became known as King David. Bethlehem developed international fame as the birthplace of Jesus Christ the Saviour. Jesus is also venerated by Moslems as the divinely inspired prophet Issa, making the city holy to Christians as well as to Moslems. Emperor Constantine's mother, Saint Helena, built a basilica above the Grotto in. 325 A.D. which stands until today and forms the natural center of the town and district. Since the second century, the city received many notable pilgrims among which is Saint Jerome who, in the fourth century, dwelled in a cave adjacent to that of the Nativity and carried out the first translation of the Bible into Latin.

In 529, the church was partly destroyed by the Persians and rebuilt by Emperor Justinian in 531. In the seventh century, when Palestine was included within the Islamic Empire, the Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab entered Bethlehem in 638 and signed a treaty with the Christians of the town safeguarding their lives, their lay and religious property and their freedom of worship.

With the arrival of the Crusaders, Godfrey de Bouillon sent Tancrede to occupy the Basilica and town before he entered Jerusalem in 1099. Kings Baldwin 1 and Baldwin 11 were crowned in Bethlehem. After the reconquest of the Holy Land by Saladin (Salah El-din) in the twelfth century, Bethlehem lost importance and shrank to become a small town during the rule of the Fatimids, the Mamluks and the Ottomans. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the town experienced a wave of Western Christian missionaries who came to establish convents, schools and hospitals in the Holy Land with significant contributions in new construction, education and health care organizations and improved trade.

The British Mandate was established over the whole of Palestine after the First World War until 1948 and the creation of Israel. As of 1952, Bethlehem was placed under Jordanian jurisdiction together with the rest of the West Bank until the Israeli occupation of 1967. By Christmas 1995, and after almost 30 years of occupation, the town celebrated Palestinian autonomy in the presence of President Arafat.


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