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 HaGelilit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
The small map below shows the location of Galilean Bethlehem.
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.
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 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.