Bethlehem & Nazareth: The History and Legacy of Jesus Christ’s Birthplace and Hometown

Written by Charles River Editors
Category: · History

*Includes pictures
*Includes accounts about the two sites
*Includes a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

Bethlehem is amongst the oldest cities in the world, one that has been conquered and ruled by Caananites, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, the Mamluks of Egypt, and the Ottomans. In the last century alone, it has been controlled by various different parties. The British took Bethlehem during World War I and controlled the city from 1920-1948, and in the wake of the 1948 war between Israel and its neighbors, Jordan annexed Bethlehem and controlled it until the Six Day War in 1967. It was during the Six Day War that Israel took control of Bethlehem, remaining in power over the city until 1995, when, in compliance with the Oslo Peace Accords, control of the city and of the surrounding West Bank was handed over to the Palestinian National Authority. The Palestinians continue to administer affairs in Bethlehem to the present day. What was it that caused this one small, unassuming settlement to be the focus of so much attention and strife?

The primary reason that Bethlehem is so famous today is the Biblical passages that relate the town as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the oldest continuously used Christian church in the world is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Like the town itself, the Church of the Nativity has gone through numerous cycles of creation and ruin. First built above the Cave of the Nativity by Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, in May 339, the church existed for almost two centuries before it was destroyed during the Samarian revolt in 529 CE. The church was later reconstructed by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 565, and it is this structure that has largely survived to the present day. Today, the Church of the Nativity is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, alongside the pilgrimage route that led between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

The town of Nazareth, located in Galilee in northern Israel, is a bustling settlement of over 60,000 people today. But more than 2,000 years ago it was an insignificant village of only a few hundred people-mostly farmers and some laborers who would travel to the nearby Roman settlements for employment. Yet it was in this unlikely location that the Holy Family lived. Even more important is that this was where the Annunciation took place, the moment when the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would be the virgin mother of Jesus. Many also maintain that Nazareth was where Jesus spent many of his childhood years learning the trade of his father, growing up attending services at the local synagogue, and developing the foundations of his faith.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus would have had a traditionally Jewish lifestyle at that time, but after the life of Christ, Nazareth increasingly became a center of pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Over the years it has been the location of some of the most impressive displays of faith against oppression and danger, representing the turbulence of the early years of Christianity in the region, and of the military campaigns in the Holy Land during the Crusades and the Ottoman period. Through it all, Nazareth has continued to be an extremely important site for the Christian faith, as there are five sites in present-day Nazareth that relate to the life and times of Jesus Christ: the Church of Saint Gabriel, the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Church of Saint Joseph, the ancient synagogue, and a precipice on the edge of the town where Jesus was taken to be executed for blasphemy.

Bethlehem & Nazareth: The History and Legacy of Jesus Christ’s Birthplace and Hometown looks at the history of both sites and their importance. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about Bethlehem and Nazareth like never before.


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