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BETHLEHEM Jordan/Israel.

A city 9.6 km S-SW of Jerusalem, on a narrow ridge set in a fertile area. The setting of the story of Ruth and the birthplace of David and Jesus, it is mentioned frequently in the Bible, especially with reference to the Nativity (Matt. 2, Luke 2), as well as in various texts (i.e., Joseph. AJ 5, 7, 8; Justin Martyr Dialogue 78; Procop. Aed. 5.9).

Some ancient cisterns and several catacombs exist, and there was once a shrine, of Hadrianic date, to Tammuz (Adonis), in a grove of trees hard by the traditional site of the Nativity. The chief remaining monument is the Church of the Nativity, built first in Constantine's time (by A.D. 333). A five-aisled basilica, it was entered through an atrium and was continuous, on the opposite (E) end, with an octagonal structure placed over the grotto of the Nativity. In the 6th c. (perhaps ca. 560), the church was much rebuilt, particularly at the E, where the octagon was replaced by an expanded construction of trefoil plan; it is substantially this later work that can be seen today. In the church there are remnants of mediaeval mosaics depicting early church councils.


R. W. Hamilton, A Guide to Bethlehem (1939)MP; A. M. Schneider, “Bethlehem,” RAC (1952) 224-28P; M. Restle, “Bethlehem,” Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst 1 (1966) 599-612P.


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