Bethlehem's Second Big Day
Penny Young explores Bethlehem’s plans to make the small town of Judaea central to the millennium celebrations.
With the arrival of the second millennium, the little town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David and Jesus Christ, is about to experience what is likely to be the biggest international date in its history. Bethlehem's Palestinian population is hoping that the town, perched on a hill in Biblical Judaea, will take centre stage with the help of the Bethlehem 2000 project.
Bethlehem, whose name means House of Bread, is first mentioned in Genesis as the place where Jacob's wife Rachel died after she gave birth to her youngest son Benjamin. Ruth the Moabite chose to stay with her mother-in-law to glean ears of corn in the fields around Bethlehem rather than return to her home in the mountains east of the Jordan River. Ruth married Boaz and their great grandson was David, the young shepherd destined to be King of Israel.
But Bethlehem's big moment was yet to come as foretold by the prophet Micah: 'But thou, Bethlehem, Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.'
Tradition has it that Jesus was horn in a manger in a stable in Bethlehem because there was no room at the inn. The splendid Church of the Nativity built over the sacred spot is one of the oldest in the world. The site of the manger is mentioned as early as the second century. The Emperor Constantine had a basilica erected there in AD 330. Despite repeated occupation by foreign armies and long periods of neglect and ruin, Bethlehem has managed to hold on to its place as one of the most celebrated religious sites in the world.