In this Necklace we will use the three parts of the Covenant found in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Holy Writings. These three parts show well the unity and God’s fidelity to the Covenant with God’s People.
In our Necklace we have the different stages in the history of Israel:
In Genesis, from the Tora: the Patriarchal period
in the earlier Prophets:
With Joshua the distribution of the land,
in Judges the first settlements,
in Samuel the Kingship of David,
and in the latter Prophets:
Micha written before the Babylonian Exile,
Jeremiah during the Exile.
In the Holy writings:
Nehemiah and Ezra, books written after the Exile,
and the Book of Ruth, which gives a basis to the genealogy of David, from whom will come the Messiah.
The pagan background
of the city of Bethlehem in Judah shows how God can intercultural the history of the covenant into pagan culture: Bethlehem, house of bread, לחם, or house of meat as well as the house of war (since the word for war is milhama מלחמהliterally meaning: the place of (fighting for) bread or meat, which says war for economic reasons. The city began as a pagan city: Bethlehem named after the Canaanite god of fertility Lehem. The Canaanites built a temple on the hill known as the Hill of the Nativity, probably dedicated to Lehem.The temple, and subsequently the town that grew up around it, would then have been known as Beit Leḥem, “House (Temple) of Lehem“. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethlehem)
Gen: 35:16: There we read of the birth of Benjamin close to the village of Bethlehem. He was the last son of Rachel, who died in childbirth. We see here the Patriarchal period in the history of the Jewish people. Rachel was the beloved wife of Jacob, and from Benjamin will come the first king of Israel, Saul (Shaul).
Joshua 15:19: The time of the conquest. In the first book of the Prophets we read that Ephrata= Bethlehem lies within the territory of Judah who is the fourth son of Lea. The territories of Judah and Benjamin share borders.
Joshua 19:10-16: Bethlehem of Galilee is where Zebulun, the sixth and last son of Lea, received his assigned territory (by Kattath and Nahallal, Shimron and Idalah and Bethlehem: twelve cities with their villages). These cities with their villages are the inheritance of the children of Zebulun according to their families.
Judges: Settlement in the Land
According to the Book of Judges12:8, one of the so-called “Minor Judges” during the early settlement of Israel, Ibzan, came from Bethlehem in Galilee and was buried there.
The book of Judges knows the two Bethlehems, Bethlehem in Galilee and Bethlehem in Judah. In the second according to Judges 17-19:18 the story of the Levite is situated, who went to live as a stranger in the Land, and then the first civil war began because of the behaviour of the tribe of Benjamin. Here, the Book of Judges speaksof the Bethlehem of Judah or simply of Bethlehem.
The Books of Samuel: the Beginning of the Kingship:The second King of Israel, David, comes from the tribe of Judah and from the village of Bethlehem. He was a shepherd and then became the shepherd of Israel.
2 Samuel 23:13-17 speaks of three warriors: Once, the Philistines had captured Bethlehem of Judah and were encamped there. David, hiding with his small army in caves of the region, grew homesick. “Oh, that someone would get me some good old Bethlehem water,” he mused. His three best warriors broke through enemy lines and drew some water for their leader. Shamed by their devotion, David poured it out. In 2 Samuel 23:24, Asahel, the brother of Joab, was one of the thirty warriors; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem was another.
Micah before the Babylonian Exile. Micah 5:1 says that Ephrata, Bethlehem is small but no less important. Here we need to look at the historical context. And we can see already a universal dimension to the history of the covenant and a messianic hope of peace (5:4-5)
Jeremiah says during the Exile that exile will be the result “if you do not listen to the voice of the Prophets”. But in Jer: 31:15, during the Exile, he gives a message of consolation.: If the Lord has saved in the past, He will also save in the future…if you obey his voice.
In the Holy Writings
Ruth 4:11 gives a basis for the genealogy of David (Ruth should become like Rachel and Lea).
1 Sam: 17:12: David was the son of a man from Ephrata, Ishai from Bethlehem in Judea.
Ezra and Nehemiah, written after the Exile speak of the return from Exile, but to which Bethlehem did they return? Nehemiah 7:26: 188 men from Bethlehem and Netofa returned, but to which Bethlehem – for as we saw, there are two, Bethlehem in Judea and Bethlehem in Galilee. Did the men return to the Bethlehem of Galilee? Netofa is a valley in the Lower Galilee region of Yisreel, midway between Tiberias and Haifa.
In the New Testament
We could say that on the theological level, Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem of Judah, as this is the city from which David came and where he was crowned king of Israel. It is also the city that was built as a fortified city by Rehoboam, son of king Salomon (2 Chr 11:5). Rehoboam lived in Jerusalem and built cities to defend Judah. He built Bethlehem, Etam and Tekoa.
Historically as well as on a human level, it makes sense that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Galilee, as his family was from Galilee.
We can add that the geography has theological meaning:
- Bethlehem of Judah is on the ridge of the Judean Hills and near the desert, thus a place of emptiness, of humility.
- Galilee is an open region, open to the nations, less arid, with vegetation, water….
The New Testament identifies Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. Which Bethlehem?
Bethlehem of Judah When Jesus lived, it was usual to call this region according to the division made by Herod the Great. He divided the land of Israel over which he reigned into three great regions, giving one to each of his three sons: Judah, Samaria and Galilee. In the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 2,19 it is said: “But when Herod was dead, an angel of the Lord came in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Get up and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: because they who were attempting to take the young child’s life are dead”. Josef got up and went with the child and the mother into the land of Israel.
Bethlehem of Galilee: Due to its proximity to Nazareth, some historians believe that this is the Bethlehem where Jesus was born. In the Jerusalem Talmud it is referred to as Beth Lehem Zoria, as it was part of the kingdom of Tyre at the time. Until the late 19th century, ruins of a church and a synagogue could be seen there, and archaeological findings “from the early Roman period” show that it was a prosperous city. So the biblical Bethlehem of Zebulon is “identified by archaeologists with today’s Bethlehem of Galilee. (wikipedia.org/wiki/ Bethlehem_of_Galilee.) This Bethlehem of Galilee lies within the borders of Tyre.
2 Sam 5:11: “And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees and carpenters and masons; and they built David a house.” Joseph was a Carpenter; Jesus knew about fishing… both trades are found in Tyre.
Mt 15:21: “And Jesus went out from there and withdrew into parts of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from those borders, and cried, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a demon.” In the text, Jesus goes on to say, “I am only sent to the house of Israel.”
Mark 7:24: “And from thence he arose, and went away into the borders of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered into a house, and would have no man know it; and he could not be hiding. But straightaway a woman, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, having heard of him, came and fell down at his feet. v.31: And again he went out from the borders of Tyre…”
Acts 21:4: “Paul on the way to Jerusalem, found the disciples, we tarried there seven days: and these said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not set foot in Jerusalem. And when it came to pass that we had accomplished the days, we departed and went on our journey; and they all, with wives and children, brought us on our way till we were out of the city: and kneeling down on the beach, we prayed, and bade each other farewell; and we went on board the ship, but they returned home again. And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived and began to ascend to Jerusalem…”
Did Josef come from the Bethlehem of Galilee? Is that why he had to go there to register according to the call of the Romans? And historically, was the human person Jesus born there?
Was there a community of disciples in Tyre, since the Acts of the Apostles state that Paul passed by there before going up to Jerusalem; and did even relatives of Jesus live there?
The theme of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem of Judah, before being a historical statement is a theological assertion; it was part of the Jewish religious belief in the period of the Second Temple that the Messiah would be born there. And this faith was founded on biblical texts or on the interpretation of texts. For the Gospel according to Matthew (chapter 2), Jesus was born in Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy of the Prophet Micah: (5:1) “And Bethlehem in the land of Judah is by no means the least of the clans of Judah, for out of thee shall come a ruler that shall feed Israel, even my people.”
For Luke (ch. 2), Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah because according to Scripture, he would be from the house of David and David was from Bethlehem of Judah: “Today a Savior is born to you in the city of David…”
In fact, according to the synoptic text, Jesus would have to be born in Bethlehem of Judah because that was where the Messiah was to be born, according to the interpretation of the Bible. That means, theologically Jesus must be born in Bethlehem of Judah. However, the texts do not claim to give an historical account of Jesus. If this were the intention of the authors, we would have much more information about the life of Jesus. The authors were concerned with presenting the Jesus of faith, the Jesus that the community experienced after his death and resurrection. Christian faith is post-Easter. And the central assertion is that everything happened according to the Scriptures, that is, according to the interpretation or according to an interpretation that was transmitted orally and to which Jesus corresponds in the interpretations of the texts.
In fact, the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem was proclaimed to the believing community that followed him. He died in Jerusalem and rose again and in the light of the resurrection, he was seen as the One who was to come, and according to the Scriptures, this was to be in Bethlehem of Judah.
In the Gospel according to John (7:42), there is an interesting reflection to which we usually don’t pay much attention. But the question raised remains unanswered and is probably a remnant of historical information about the birth of Jesus, of whom the Galilean community claimed that he was one of them: did he come from Bethlehem of Zebulon and not from Bethlehem of Judah? “Can Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will be of the seed of David and will come from Bethlehem, the city from which David was?” This question is stating that he was from Galilee and therefore could not be the true one, because the true one should be born in Bethlehem in Judah.
Through this history of Bethlehem, we can see that God makes his way through our correct as well as our crooked ways (history of the Judges, of the Kings…).
We can also see how free the Lord is in his choices: Shaul was not from the tribe of Judah; then the Lord finally chooses David from the tribe of Judah. One of their ancestors (Ruth) chooses to be part of the people of Israel, but she was not born within the people of Israel.
The continuity of God’s project and God’s fidelity until today to his project, the deep relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Until today, pilgrims go on pilgrimage to Bethlehem of Judah as the place of Jesus’ birth. And this has its value. How many generations of Christians have prayed in this place!
Can we hope that one day, without neglecting Bethlehem of Judah, pilgrims could visit Bethlehem of Galilee? Apossible true place of the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel according to John, which reflects an awareness of the Galilean community.
Sr. Ann Catherine and Sr. Juliana