BETH-LEHEM-JUDAH (I Sam. xvii. 12; Judges xvii. 7, xix. 1):
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" (Josh. xv. 60, LXX.; Micah v. 1 [A. V. 2]; Ruth i. 2, iv. 11; but hardly Gen. xxxv. 16, 19; xlviii. 7). In I Chron. ii. 50 et seq., iv. 4, Ephratah is the wife of Caleb from whom Beth-lehem descended. Beth-lehem is mentioned among the cities of Judah in Josh. xv. 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 xvii. 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 II Sam. xxiii. 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 II Chron. xi. 6, the town was fortified by Rehoboam. Micah (v. 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 ii. 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.
- 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, xvii. 89 et seq.