also known as: Bethlehemjudah, Bethlehem of Juda, Bethlehem of Judea, Bethlehem-Ephratah, Ephratah, Ephrath, City of David
Situated in the hill country, it was originally called Ephratah/Ephrath, meaning “fruitful” (Genesis 35:16, 19; 48:7; Ruth 4:11), and its citizens were called Ephrathites.
It was also called Bethlehem-Ephratah (Micah 5:2), Beth-lehem-judah (1 Samuel 17:12), and “the city of David” (Luke 2:4).
Shepherds’ fields outside modern Bethlehem
First mention in Scripture
This place is first mentioned in Scripture as the place where Jacob/Israel’s dear wife Rachel died and was buried “by the wayside,” directly to the north of the city (Genesis 48:7).
Ruth and Naomi
The valley to the east was the scene of the story of Ruth the Moabitess. In these fields, she gleaned with Naomi, and returned on a path to the town.
Birthplace of King David
This Bethlehem was David’s birthplace, and here he grew into a young man. David was anointed here as king by the Prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 16:4-13).
It was from a well in this Bethlehem that 3 of his heroes brought water for him at the risk of their lives when he took refuge in the cave of Adullam (2 Samuel 23:13-17).
Birthplace of Christ
Bethlehem is distinguished above every other city as the birthplace of “Him whose goings forth have been of old.”
“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.” —Matthew 2:6 NASB, Micah 5:2
In the time of our Lord, a census was made by the Roman government (Luke 2:1). For this reason, Mary and Joseph travelled from nearby Nazareth to Bethlehem of Judah where Jesus the Messiah—God incarnate—was born.
Answers to common questions…
- See: When did the Luke 2 census occur? Is there a biblical error? Answer
- Was Jesus born in a stable? a cave? a barn? Answer
- What are some of the most common misconceptions about Jesus Christ’s birth? Answer
- …also see our special site section on CHRISTMAS
Bethlehem’s children slaughtered
Afterward, “when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi,” he his men and slew “all the male children who were in Bethlehem, and all its vicinity, from two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16, 18; Jeremiah 31:15).
Modern Bethlehem’s Manger Square and Church of the Nativity
The Shrine of the Nativity which is claimed to mark the place of Jesus Christ’s birth in Bethlehem
Bethlehem still bears its name today. It is also known as Beit-Lahm, i.e., “house of flesh.” It is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem, standing at an elevation of about 2,550 feet above the sea, thus 100 feet higher than Jerusalem.
There is a church still existing, built by Constantine the Great (A.D. 330), called the “Church of the Nativity,” over a grotto or cave called the “holy crypt,” and said to be the “stable” in which Jesus was born. This is perhaps the oldest existing Christian church in the world.
Close to it is another grotto, where Jerome the Latin father is said to have spent 30 years of his life in translating the Scriptures into Latin. (See Versions of the Bible)
Rachel’s supposed tomb is also marked in the modern city of Bethlehem. It is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin.
The modern city has many hotels and small shops on narrow, winding streets. The city is built on a hill, and many houses are built in front of old caves.
Bethlehem, the city of David and birthplace of Christ, now a Palestinian town with a Muslim majority—satellite view • scroll north to see Jerusalem, 6.2 miles (10 km) away
Bethlehem of the Tribe of Zebulun
also known as: Bethlehem of Zebulun, Bethlehem of Galilee, the Galilean Bethlehem, and Beth Lehem Zoria
This Bethlehem is mentioned in Joshua 19:15…
Territory of Zebulun
Now the third lot came up for the sons of Zebulun according to their families. And the territory of their inheritance was as far as Sarid. Then their border went up to the west and to Maralah, it then touched Dabbesheth and reached to the brook that is before Jokneam. Then it turned from Sarid to the east toward the sunrise as far as the border of Chisloth-tabor, and it proceeded to Daberath and up to Japhia. From there it continued eastward toward the sunrise to Gath-hepher, to Eth-kazin, and it proceeded to Rimmon which stretches to Neah. The border circled around it on the north to Hannathon, and it ended at the valley of Iphtahel. Included also were Kattah and Nahalal and Shimron and Idalah and Bethlehem; twelve cities with their villages.
This was the inheritance of the sons of Zebulun according to their families, these cities with their villages. —Joshua 19:10-16 NASB
The 10th ruler/judge of Israel named Ibzan came from this Bethlehem and later died there with his large family.
It is also known as “Bethlehem of Zebulun,” “Bethlehem of Galilee,” “the Galilean Bethlehem,” and “Beth Lehem Zoria.” It eventually became a Christian community, and much later became a ruined village called Beit-Lahm. It is located about 6 miles (10 kilometers) northwest of Nazareth and is now an Israeli moshav, a community for cooperative agriculture.
Modern Bethlehem of Galilee, Israel—satellite view / Zoom out to view its proximity to Nazareth
—6 miles southeast