Years ago we would say that Bethlehem is located in the hill country of Judea about six miles south of Jerusalem. Today, Jerusalem stretches all the way to Bethlehem. It is no longer easy to get to Bethlehem. The massive wall built by Israel (Israelis call it the “fence”) separates Bethlehem from Israel.
During the Patriarchal period the town was called Ephrath (Genesis 48:7; 35:9-27). Later, as part of the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah, it was the home of Ruth and Boaz and became the birthplace and early home of David (1 Samuel 17:12, 15). The town was sometimes called the “city of David” (Luke 2:4, 11), but is most famous as the birthplace of Jesus (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4-15; Matthew 2:1-16).
When one visits the Bible lands today he must realize that 2,000 years of history, involving both repeated building and the destruction of what has been built, has left nothing to remind one of the original place where Jesus was born. Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 160) said Joseph “took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village.” Origen (mid-third century) said the cave where Jesus was born was being shown and even the enemies of the faith were talking of it. Jerome, a resident of Bethlehem (A.D. 386-420), tells how the birthplace of Jesus and other places associated with the ministry of Jesus were defiled from the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine. The Church of the Nativity now stands at this spot.
Today I have chosen to include a photograph of vineyards in the hill country immediately to the west of Bethlehem.
Gordon Franz has written a good article about Bethlehem which is posted on the ABR web site. Read it here.