Tag Archives: Bethlehem

The Other Bethlehem – Part 2

The unique buildings we now see in the little village of Beit Lehem HaGlilit (Galilean Bethlehem) were erected in the 1930s by a group of German nationals. A 2008 article by Lydia Aisenberg in the Jerusalem Post explains the origin and dispersion of the group. Aisenberg says that Beit Lehem HaGlilit and the nearby town of Waldheim (now Alonei Abba)…

…were built by the Templars [or Templers], a German-Christian sect and Nazi sympathizers who were rounded up by the British in 1939 and deported out of Mandate Palestine. Some chose to return to Germany, but the majority of the Templar community’s members emigrated to Melbourne, Australia.

The sect originated in southern Germany and carried a holy mission known as the Tempel Gemeinde, or Tempelgesellschaft. The sect’s name was later shortened to just “Templars,” often confused with another group, the Crusader-era Templer Knights.

The Templars arrived in the Ottoman controlled Holy Land in mid-l880 and began to build communities in different parts of the country: Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Sarona (Tel Aviv), as well as the two communities Beit Lehem HaGlilit and Waldheim in the Jezreel Valley.

After World War I, the British sent the Templars packing, but members of the sect were later allowed to return. They were banished for a second and final time when their Nazi connections were discovered in the late 1930s.

Templar youth from Palestine had been sent to attend “educational” youth activities and family visits in Germany, where they met with top Nazi officials. Photographs on display at the Beit Lehem HaGlilit home of the Fleischman family depict Templar sect members wearing swastika armbands and congregating in one of the large courtyards between the two-story buildings and outhouses.

The Templars of Beit Lehem HaGlilit (Galilean Bethlehem) and neighboring Waldheim (meaning “Forest Home” in German) were eventually rounded up by the British and sent to detention camps until their deportation, after which British Mandate soldiers and police were billeted in the Templars’ former homes.

When Jewish refugee families later moved into the Templar houses in Beit Lehem HaGlilit and Alonei Abba, they discovered hidden Templar belongings that attested the sect’s support of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Items discovered in the community’s homes included Nazi party pennants, badges, banners, pamphlets and flags, in addition to photographs.

The stone house below, built by the Templars, served as a community house for the German nationals who lived in Galilean Bethlehem in the 1930s.

The Community House at Beit Lehem HaGilit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Community House at Beit Lehem HaGilit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo is of the Holocaust memorial erected by the residents of the town in 2007. Aisenberg explains the significance of the monument.

Its six large marble slabs lean forward, as if struggling to keep their pride and stay erect under the heaviest of loads.

Engraved on the memorial are the names of Jews snatched from their homes, transported and murdered by the Nazis. The names of the European towns and villages in which they had lived for generations are also etched deep in the stones, which seem to strain under the weight of memorializing so many thousands of murdered Jews and their annihilated communities.

The victims whose memories are honored on the six marble blocks, unveiled last year, are extended family members of today’s residents of the pleasant, upscale community of Beit Lehem HaGlilit.

A smaller block of marble at the side of the memorial boasts an inscription reading: “Erected by the community of Beit Lehem HaGlilit, second generation since the Holocaust, in recognition of our parents who survived the Holocaust, made aliya to Eretz Israel, participated in the founding of the state and amongst the founders of Beit Lehem HaGlilit, our home and in memory of our family members who were murdered by the Nazis in Europe during the years of 1939-1945.”

Monument to Holocaust Victims at Beit Lehem HaGelit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Monument to Holocaust Victims at Beit Lehem HaGelit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The complete article by Lydia Aisenberg may be read here.

After Part 1 was posted, Erik Wold left a comment and link that is pertinent at this point. The Dec. 26, 2014 issue of the London Mirror carried an article entitled “Is this secret Nazi enclave the REAL Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born?” here.

The authors of the article claim that the settlement in Galilean Bethlehem was an effort by Hitler and Himmler “to show that Jesus was born an Aryan, not a Jew.”

This is home to a secret Nazi sect waiting for the Second Coming in the heart of the Holy Land.

And behind it all is an anti-Semetic [Semitic] fantasy dreamed up by Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler to show that Jesus was born an Aryan, not a Jew.

It may seem stranger than fiction but it all really happened in Bethlehem of Galilee, nine miles west of Nazareth.

The article also advances the theory of Dr Aviram Oshri that Jesus was born in Galilean Bethlehem, while acknowledging that the Israel Antiquities Authority “dismiss his claim as ‘worse than a joke.'”

As a result of something I read in the Mirror article I was led to Heidemarie Wawrzyn’s Nazis in the Holy Land 1933-1948. She says that the German colonies were used to aid Arab rebels. All of this came to a head about 1938 and resulted in the expulsion of the settlers.

I do not claim much knowledge about the Templars or the German settlement at Bethlehem, but I do find all of this intriguing as a prelude to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Added Note: See the comment below by Tom Powers. Here is a copy of the photo he mentions. Use Tom’s link for the original at the Library of Congress.

Photo taken on Coronation Day of King George VI in 1937. The Fast Hotel, on lower Jaffa Road, was owned by a Templer family.

Photo taken on the Coronation Day of King George VI in 1937. The Fast Hotel, on lower Jaffa Road, was owned by a Templer family. Notice both Nazi Flags and the Union Jack.

The Other Bethlehem – Part 1

Everyone who has studied the earthly ministry of Christ knows that He was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, about six miles south of the ancient city of Jerusalem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-8; Luke 2:4,15). This village is designated as Bethlehem of Judea or Bethlehem Ephrath.

So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), (Genesis 35:19 ESV)

The only reference to Bethlehem in the New Testament apart from the birth account in Matthew and Luke calls Bethlehem a village (kome; John 7:42) and ties it with the prophecy of Micah 5:2.

The other Bethlehem is located in the tribal territory of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15), about 7 miles northwest of Nazareth. For a list of the twelve cities of Zebulun see Joshua 19:10-15.

After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (A.D. 70) Bethlehem of Zebulun,

was known under the name of Bethlehem Zoriah — Bethlehem of Tyre — and was the seat of the priestly order of the family of Malchiah. Identified with Beit Lahm in Lower Galilee. (Avraham Negev, ed. The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, rev. ed., p. 58.

Galilean Bethlehem is now a small Jewish moshav, a cooperative agricultural settlement. The photo below shows the entrance to the moshav.

Entrance to the moshav of Beit Lehem HaGelit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Entrance to the moshav of Beit Lehem HaGelilit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The small map below shows the location of Galilean Bethlehem.

Map showing Galilean Bethlehem. BibleAtlas.org

Map showing Galilean Bethlehem. New Testament Nazareth would be located at the far right of the map under the “h” in Japh. Credit: Biblos.com.

Could Jesus have been born here? Primarily because of the proximity of Galilean Bethlehem to Nazareth, some scholars have suggested that this was the birthplace of Jesus. National Geographic writer Marisa Larson raises this question in a Feb. 11, 2008, followup to the Dec., 2007, feature “Bethlehem 2007 A.D.”

Larson cites Aviram Oshri, a senior archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, as someone who thinks that it was more likely that the historical Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Galilee rather than the Bethlehem of Judea.

“If the historical Jesus were truly born in Bethlehem,” Oshri adds, “it was most likely the Bethlehem of Galilee, not that in Judaea. The archaeological evidence certainly seems to favor the former, a busy center [of Jewish life] a few miles from the home of Joseph and Mary, as opposed to an unpopulated spot almost a hundred miles from home.” In this Bethlehem, Oshri and his team have uncovered the remains of a later monastery and the largest Byzantine church in Israel, which raises the question of why such a huge house of Christian worship was built in the heart of a Jewish area. The Israeli archaeologist believes that it’s because early Christians revered Bethlehem of Galilee as the birthplace of Jesus. “There is no doubt in my mind that these are impressive and important evidence of a strong Christian community established in Bethlehem [of Galilee] a short time after Jesus’ death,” he says. (copied from here, 12/27/14).

Oshri also expressed his views in Archaeology 58:6 (Nov.-Dec. 2005). He says that there is evidence of “a strong Christian community established in Bethlehem [of Galilee] a short time after Jesus’ death.” In fact, the first archaeological evidence is of a sixth century church [building].

Even if Christians of Galilee “revered Bethlehem of Galilee as the birthplace of Jesus” it does not negate the clear historical records of Matthew and Luke regarding the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea and the reason for the couple from Nazareth returning to the ancestral home in Judea.

If the Bible were written by men unaided by the Holy Spirit I think it would be reasonable to place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Galilee and his upbringing in nearby Nazareth. There is an amazing undesigned coincidence here.

  • The Messiah was to be from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and of the family of David (2 Samuel 7:11).
  • The birth of the Messiah was prophesied to be in Bethlehem Ephrath (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6). This was the Bethlehem of Judea.
  • The couple living in Nazareth were both of the family of David (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:27,32,69). The legal line is traced through Joseph, and the blood line is traced through Mary in Luke’s account.
  • Joseph and Mary responded to the decree of the emperor Augustus that they return to their ancestral home for registration (Luke 2:1-5).

If Jesus had been born in Galilean Bethlehem, and if the Gospels had been written much later, as most critics claim, then they would have recorded a different story.

The ease with which writers could mix up the two Bethlehems, but did not, provides an  illustration of the amazing accuracy of the Bible.

Beit Lehem HaGelilit is situated on the north side of the western end of the Jezreel Valley.

Valley from Beit Lehem HaGelit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View SE to the Jezreel Valley from Beit Lehem HaGelilit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On the hills of lower Galilee, to the east and north of Galilean Bethlehem, there are Olive orchards, and cows grazing among the oaks.

Cows graze among the Allon Oak trees at Galilean Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cows graze among the Oaks at Galilean Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bethlehem of Galilee may be mentioned one other time in the Bible as the home and burial place of Ibzan the judge (Judges 12:8). The context in which he is mentioned is dealing with various judges of the tribes of Zebulun and Ephraim.

In  a post to follow I plan to share some of the recent history of Galilean Bethlehem.

The Herodium becomes more complex

The information below comes from a news release today from the Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Herodium, built by Herod the Great, is located near Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. See our recent Index of articles on Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus for numerous links about the Herodium.

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Archaeologists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology have discovered a monumental entryway to the Herodian Hilltop Palace at the Herodium National Park. The unique complex was uncovered during excavations by The Herodium Expedition in Memory of Ehud Netzer over the past year, as part of a project to develop the site for tourism. Photo of unique palace entry complex discovered at Herodian Hilltop Palace by Hebrew University archaeologists.

Photo of unique palace entry complex discovered at Herodian Hilltop Palace by Hebrew University archaeologists. (Credit: The Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Photo of unique palace entry complex discovered at Herodian Hilltop Palace by Hebrew University archaeologists. (Credit: The Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

The main feature of the entryway is an impressive corridor with a complex system of arches spanning its width on three separate levels. These arches buttressed the corridor’s massive side-walls, allowing the King and his entourage direct passage into the Palace Courtyard. Thanks to the supporting arches, the 20-meter long and 6-meter wide corridor has been preserved to a height of 20 meters.   The Hebrew University archaeologists — Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman and Rachel Chachy — suggest that the corridor was built as part of Herod’s plan to turn Herodium into a massive artificial volcano-shaped hill, a vast and impressive monument designed to commemorate the architect-King.   Surprisingly, during the course of the excavations, it became evident that the arched corridor was never actually in use, as prior to its completion it became redundant. This appears to have happened when Herod, aware of his impending death, decided to convert the whole hilltop complex into a massive memorial mound, a royal burial monument on an epic scale.   Whatever the case, the corridor was back-filled during the construction of the massive artificial hill at the end of Herod’s reign. The upper section of a new monumental stairway stretching from the hill’s base to its peak, constructed during the course of this building phase, appears to have been built over it.   The excavators point out that not only was the arched corridor covered over in the course of the construction of the hill-monument, but also all the structures earlier built by Herod on the hill’s slopes, including the Royal Theater uncovered by the expedition in 2008, while still led by Prof. Ehud Netzer, since deceased.   The only edifice not covered over was the splendid mausoleum-style structure, identified by Netzer and the expedition as Herod’s burial-place. Together with the monumental cone-shaped hill, this constituted the unique Herodian Royal burial-complex.

Photo of unique palace entry complex discovered at Herodian Hilltop Palace by Hebrew University archaeologists. Credit: The Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Photo of unique palace entry complex discovered at Herodian Hilltop Palace by Hebrew University archaeologists. Credit: The Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

During the course of the current excavations, the original impressive Palace vestibule, blocked when the corridor became redundant, was also exposed. This entry-room, decorated with splendid painted frescoes, had a magnificent entryway leading into it, and offered evidence of the rebel occupation during the Great Revolt (66-71 CE), including Jewish Revolt coinage and crude temporary structures.   In addition, the excavations in the arched corridor also turned up impressive evidence from the Bar Kokhba Revolt period (132-135/6 CE): hidden tunnels dug on the site by the rebels as part of the guerilla warfare they waged against the Romans. Supported in part by wooden beams, these tunnels exited from the hilltop fortress by way of the corridor’s walls, through openings hidden in the corridor. One of the tunnels revealed a well-preserved construction of 20 or so cypress-wood branches, arranged in a cross-weave pattern to support the tunnel’s roof.   In the future, according to Mr. Shaul Goldstein, Director of Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, the excavation of the arched corridor will allow visitors direct access to the Herodium hilltop palace-fortress, in the same way that Herod entered it two thousand years ago. There are also plans to provide tourists direct access from the structures on the slope, the Royal Theater and the Mausoleum, via the earlier monumental stairway, to the hilltop Palace.

Aerial view of the Herodium. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of the Herodium. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Heritage and Commemoration Department of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the Etzion Bloc Regional Council and Civilian Administration are all co-partners in the development of the Herodium.   Ehud Netzer was a world-renowned professor at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology. Following several decades of excavations at the Herodium, Netzer discovered the tomb of Herod the Great in 2007. He died in 2010 at age 76 after being injured in a fall at the Heroudium archaeological site.

HT: Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos’ Blog; I see that Bible Places Blog has already posted information about this discovery.

Index of articles on Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus

Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus.  Our total number of posts has now grown to more than 1700 and this makes it difficult to locate a post you may need. This index is prepared to assist you in your study of the birth of Jesus in ancient Bethlehem. Most, if not all, of the posts include at least one photo illustrating the lesson.

Other places near Bethlehem. Most of the links below are related to Herod the Great and the fortress he built near Bethlehem. I see that I have normally used the spelling Herodium, but sometime Herodion.

Historical Connections to Modern Christmas Celebrations. These post are post-biblical, historical references to customs associated with Christmas.

When other posts on this subject are written I will try to remember to update the list.

Visiting the shepherd’s fields near Bethlehem

After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Luke records that an announcement of His birth was made to shepherds in the field at night.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11 ESV)

There was enough distance that the shepherds said, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15 ESV)

We do not know the exact time of the birth of Jesus. We have a reasonable degree of certitude about the place of His birth, but places such as the field of the shepherds are not certain. As a result, traditions have risen about the place. Here I will mention three places that one can visit a short distance east of Bethlehem, near the wilderness of Judea. This area is known as Beit Sahour.

The first place is the Shepherd’s Field of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (a Roman Catholic site). The photo shows the modern church built over a cave.

The Shepherd's Field of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Shepherd’s Field of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. Photo: F. Jenkins,

Under the church there is a large cave. These caves are not uncommon in the central mountain range. A display illustrating the birth of Jesus can be seen in the cave. One little note of interest. It is often pointed out that the manger of Luke 2:7 might be a feeding trough cut from stone. In this display the baby is placed in an ossuary! Notice the lid to the right.

Display in cave at Shepherd's Field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Display in cave at Shepherd’s Field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Outside one sees fields and olive groves.

Shepherd's fields at Beit Sahour. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

Shepherd’s fields at Beit Sahour. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Not far away is the Shepherd’s Field of the YMCA. Some call it the Protestant Shepherd’s Field. There is a large cave on the property overlooking the fields of the region.

Caves at YMCA Shepherd's Field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Caves at YMCA Shepherd’s Field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Greek Orthodox site features ruins of a Byzantine church dating from the 5-7th centuries.

Byzantine church ruins at the Greek Orthodox site of the Shepherd's field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Byzantine church ruins at the Greek Orthodox site. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Carl Rasmussen wrote about the “3 Christmases in Bethlehem” here, and Mark Ziese wrote about the Milk Grotto here. We have written about the Church of the Nativity several times, including here.

Jerome in Bethlehem

Recently I was reading a manuscript written by a friend on the general subject of how we got the Bible. Of course, he mentioned Jerome and his work of translating the ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into what would be called the Latin Vulgate.

The earliest English versions of the Bible were translated from the Latin Vulgate. Even though the translations of today rely mostly on the Hebrew and Greek texts, we are still indebted to the work of Jerome.

Jerome lived in Bethlehem from about 384 A.D. to 420 A.D. In the front of the Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem there is a modern statue of Jerome showing him in the act of writing. Everyone always asks about the skull at the foot of the statue. Some have suggested that Jerome kept a skull on his desk to remind him of his mortality. That would do it for me!

Statue of Jerome in front of St. Catherine's Church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Statue of Jerome in front of the church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Underneath the Church of the Nativity there are a series of grottoes or caves. One of these is said to have been the place where Jerome did his work of translation and writing. This sign presently marks the place where he once lived.

The place where Jerome once lived. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The place where Jerome once lived. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus

The media is giving its usual Christmas Eve attention to Bethlehem today. The New Testament teaches that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king (Matthew 2:1). The month, day, and year of the birth of Jesus is not stated in the New Testament. We do have some historical information that helps with the date, but not precise information is available (Luke 2).
Do we know the place of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem? About A.D. 160 Justin Martyr said, “when the child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village” (Dialogue With Trypho, 78). Near the middle of the third century Origen said that the cave where Jesus was born was being shown and that even the enemies of the faith were talking of it. Jerome was a resident of Bethlehem from A.D. 386 until his death in A.D. 420. He tells how the birthplace of Jesus, the place of the crucifixion and the tomb where Jesus had lain were defiled from the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine. The Church of the Nativity now stands at this spot. Of this location, Dalman says:

No one could discern in this former rocky chamber the place of the Nativity. The altar at the east end was perhaps not erected originally to designate the exact spot, although the background of the grotto would make it probable. Here also is the only remarkable feature in it, namely a small adjoining room which contains in the right wall a low niche resembling a manger (Sacred Sites and Ways, 38).

Typical of so many, this site has enjoyed its share of fanciful speculations. Tradition locates the spot where the adoration of the Magi took place and a projection in the background is taken to be the table at which the Virgin ate with the Magi. Like so much speculation, these overlook the fact that the gospel account represents the Magi as arriving at some time after the birth of Jesus and that they found the child with Mary in a “house.” The Wise Men may have had a fast means of transportation, but one should not forget that they traveled by plain, not plane; they came not from the east side of town, but from the East.
This photo shows the exterior of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem - The Church of Nativity

The Church of the Nativity has a long history. It is now a Greek Orthodox church. Underneath the altar is the Grotto of the Nativity where it is said that Jesus was born. Maybe, maybe not. A silver star was set in the marble pavement in 1717. The Latin inscription, “HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST.” The translation: “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.”

Bethlehem - The Church of Nativity - Star in the Grotto of the Nativity

Among the confusion of the date of the birth of Jesus, and the lack of New Testament authority for a church celebration on a certain day, let us not forget that the eternal Word became flesh, and dwelt among men in order to bring salvation to those who obey Him through his death upon the cross (John 1:1, 14; Luke 19:10).

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” – Hebrews 5:8-9, ESV