December 28, 2012

Which Little Town Of Bethlehem Really Owns The Claim To Christ’s Birth?

We all know the story, even non-Christians. One lonely night, Joseph led a donkey with his heavenly impregnated wife, Mary, to the city of Bethlehem. There the inn keeper had no rooms, but allowed the couple to stay in the, well, barn. In the stalls, Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Christian Messiah and God incarnate. Then the three wise men found them and came bearing gifts. This is the beginning of Christian beliefs. And it all started in Bethlehem.

But which Bethlehem?

For centuries, Christians worldwide have believed that the Judean Bethlehem, that of the city of King David, was the Bethlehem in which Jesus Christ was born. People have gathered—and likely will continue to gather—on Christmas Eve in the place where they feel Christ came to earth to save their souls. They gather to honor him and celebrate his birth. However, a recent archaeological dig has unearthed what is more likely the Bethlehem where Mary gave birth.

In an article on National Public Radio (NPR), correspondent Sheera Frenkel discusses the dig that found evidence of the new and likely correct Bethlehem. This Bethlehem is a small village in Galilee. So to avoid confusion, we will call the old city Judean Bethlehem and the new one Galileean Bethlehem. Okay, so Aviram Oshri, an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist, excavated Galileean Bethlehem and found ample evidence that the Galileean Bethlehem is the Bethlehem of Christ’s birth, not the Judean Bethlehem.

What’s the evidence you ask? Here we go:

First, the Galileean Bethlehem is only seven kilometers from Nazareth whereas the Judean Bethlehem was 150 kilometers. That is a long way for a very pregnant Mary to ride on a donkey.

Secondly, the Galileean Bethlehem was definitely inhabited by Jews as proved by the stone vessels.

Third, artifacts showed that centuries later the Galileean Bethlehem became a Christian community. They built a massive church to convert the village.

Finally, the emperor Justinian built a fortification wall around the village for protection, and there are still remnants of this wall around the newly discovered Galileean Bethlehem.

All of this provides plentiful support that the Galileean Bethlehem is the Bethlehem from the Christian Bible, the one where Christ was born.

Okay, so what does this mean? In all reality, on the faith level, all this means is that scientists have found another Bethlehem. The fact that the Judean Bethlehem has been revered for centuries as the place of Christ’s birth is far weightier than the newly discovered data that shows a different Galilee is probably the birth place of Jesus Christ.

Christians everywhere do not put their faith in a place; their faith lies in Christ, and where he was born is only significant on a minute level. Okay, so they have been gathering in a city to honor his birth that is likely not where he was born, but that does not matter because Christians worldwide gather in their own cities to honor his birth. The fact that the Judean Bethlehem brought believers together is good even if it is not where Christ came to earth.

On a scientific level, this is way cool. We have evidence of the birthplace of one of the world’s major religious figures. It helps us to better understand the time period and the struggles of the inhabitants. It gives us perspective and challenges our already conceived notions of where Jesus Christ began his life. And for non-believers, it fleshes out the history.

Isn’t discovery grand?

Image Credit: jorisvo /

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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