Tag Archives: Bethlehem

Excavations at Church of Nativity in Bethlehem

Although I have visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem many times I came across an interesting article on the excavation and preservation of the Armenian “Hall of Saint Jerome”—something I had not seen before.

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Excavation of the “Hall of Saint Jerome” that is part of the Armenian complex of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  Photo from article linked below.

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Excavation of the “Hall of Saint Jerome” that is part of the Armenian complex of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Photo from article linked below.

For details please see the article “CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY | WISCONSIN CONNECTION: UW-Madison professor helps preserve historic church in Bethlehem” that describes Professor Dante Fratta of the UW-Madison’s work in the church (a 3 min read with photos).

Where Have All the Christians Gone?

As usual, the airwaves and cable connections were filled with stories about Christmas in Bethlehem.  ”

In birthplace of Jesus, Christian population has dropped from 86% to 12% in the past 60 years, following trend across Middle East, except in Israel.
The Times of Israel

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Manger Square summer 2009. Note the “Peace Center” on the right (north) side of the image and the minaret of the Mosque on the west that towers over the square

Different people explain this phenomenon differently—not only for Bethlehem but for the whole Middle East and North Africa:

  1. Oppression from the Muslim majority.
  2. Oppression from the Israeli “occupation” [today, Bethlehem is under total Palestinian control]
  3. Christians have the economic means to emigrate.
  4. Some young adult Christians emigrate for better living conditions.
  5. Christians more easily integrate into western civilization.

The Times of Israel has a very interesting article entitled: “Christians worry ‘Silent Night’ may soon refer to their community in Bethlehem.”

  The article presents the statistical evidence of this phenomenon and cites a number of sources that offer explanations as to why this is: including quotes from Vera Baboun (the Catholic female mayor of Bethlehem), a shopkeeper, etc.

I also found some of the external links interesting:

A 2014 article citing a Pew Foundation Study.
The 2011 BBC’s Guide: Christians in the Middle East.

The article ends with an interesting quote:

“This issue of Christian emigration has become a political tool,” said Ramon, the researcher at the Jerusalem Institute. “There are right-wing groups, like Evangelists[sic], who are always saying ‘Christians are in such a bad situation with the Muslims and that’s why they’re leaving!’ Then there’s liberal Protestants who emphasize that the relations between Christians and Muslims are good, and it’s just the Israeli occupation that is responsible for all this.”

“The real situation is somewhere in the middle,” he said. “The question about whether to stay or go is really dependent on one single thing: the question, where my children will have a better future?”

3 Christmases in Bethlehem

On December 25 Protestants and Roman Catholics will celebrate Christmas.  The festivities in Manger Square in Bethlehem will be broadcast worldwide—and some Protestants and Roman Catholics will be celebrating in “Shepherds’ Field” east of Bethlehem (now filled with homes and shops of the village Beit Sahur).

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Grotto/Cave at the Roman Catholic Site of Shepherds’ Field
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On January 6, the Greek, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox Churches will celebrate Christmas.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
Said to be the very spot where Jesus was born
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A Greek Orthodox Priest Celebrating the Eucharist
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On January 18 the Armenian Orthodox Church will celebrate Christmas.

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An Armenian Service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Armenians Celebrate Christmas on 19 January
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For additional images of Bethlehem Click Here.

Our friends a “Israel’s History – a Picture a Day” have posted 6 photographic images of Bethlehem at Christmas around 1900 under Turkish Rule: grotto, processions, etc.  They are very interesting!

–   –    –    Personal Story Follows    –    –   –

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Grotto of the Manger — Only 15 feet from the “star”
Said to be the place where the “manger” was
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the early 1970’s, when we were living in Israel, Mary and I and John (our two-year old barely–able–to–walk son) were visiting the grotto of the Nativity, Mary and I were looking at a variety of things.  When we turned around, looking for our son John, there he was, blowing out the candles that the faithful had placed by this site—sorry about that!

An “Unknown” Christmas Site Near Bethlehem

KathismaMap02All Christian tour groups will make the bus trip from Jerusalem south to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  Along the short 5 mile journey there are so many things to see that buses race past the remains of an important octagonal church that is located just along the east side of the busy highway—just inside of pre–1967 Israeli Jerusalem.

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View looking south at the foundations of the Kathisma Church

The usually unnoticed excavations are the remains of the  “Kathisma Church” that is located about half way between New Testament Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  It was built around A.D. 456 to commemorate the spot where, according to the Protoevangelium of James, Mary rested (Kathisma, Greek for “seat” or “chair”) on the way to Bethlehem (text below).

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It is octagonal in shape with three concentric octagonal walls and a large apse area on the eastern side.  This type of church is called a martyrium.  Its octagonal design probably facilitated processions in the building.  Examples from Israel include churches from Capernaum, built over St. Peter’s house, and one at Caesarea (another is found at Hierapolis in Turkey).

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View looking northeast at the foundation walls of the octagonal
Kathisma Church — Place where Mary rested on the way to Bethlehem
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Between the two outer octagonal walls are four good-sized chapels—on the northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest.  The floors of the chapels were covered with geometric and floral mosaics (now covered with sand).  In the center of the octagon is a large stone (bedrock?) that was probably venerated as the spot where Mary rested.

The church was turned into a mosque when the Muslims conquered Palestine in the seventh century.

“And they came into the middle of the road, and Mary said to him [Joseph]: Take me down from off the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth.  And he took her down from off the ass, and said to her: Whiter shall I lead thee, and cover thy disgrace? for the place is a desert.  And he found a cave there, and led her into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to to seek a midwife in the district of Bethlehem”
(Protoevangelium of James 17 and 18)

To view more images of the Kathisma Church Click Here.

For a convenient description of this church see Hershel Shanks, “Rediscovering the Kathisma—Where Mary Rested.” Biblical Archaeological Review 32, no. 6 (November/December, 2006): 44–51.

Life in Bethlehem — Wedding Preparation

Sometimes when visiting the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem we encounter some pleasant surprises.  On occasions the Church of Saint Catherine’s is prepared for a wedding ceremony.

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“I am so excited to be going to the wedding!” In the courtyard of St. Catherine’s Church

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“Ooops, I think I need to practice a bit more!”

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“See! I am ready!!”

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Saint Catherine’s Church Prepared for a Wedding.

 

Herod or Jesus: Which “King” Has Had the Most Lasting Influence?

A site located about 7.5 miles south of Jerusalem called the Herodium is a site that looks like a volcano—but it is not!   The Herodium was built by Herod the Great (Matthew 2).  According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, the Herodium served as a palace/fortress for Herod the Great.  Herod was buried here in 4 B.C.  Later the Herodium served as a base for Jewish rebels during the first (A.D. 66-70) and second (A.D. 132-135) revolts against the Romans.

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View looking southwest at the volcanic-shaped Herodium
The Palace, Fortress, and Burial Site of Herod the Great
Click to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost/obligation

In addition, the Herodium is located only 3.5 miles southeast of Bethlehem—where Jesus (called the Christ) was born.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
The “Traditional” Site Where it is said that Jesus was born
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost or obligation

Herod was the king when Jesus was born—the same one who killed not only three of his sons, his favorite wife (Mariamne), the High Priest, his mother-in-law, but also the babies of Bethlehem (Matt 2:16).

Visitors to Israel are keenly aware of all the places built by Herod the Great and will probably visit Caesarea Maritima, the Temple Mount, and Masada.  And there are many others.  If fact, the land is littered with archaeological remains of places and buildings built by Herod.  But really, one must consider the lasting (cosmic?) significance of Herod versus that of the child that was born in the insignificant hamlet of Bethlehem—namely Jesus.

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The Ascended  Jesus Surrounded by Mary and John the Baptist
From the Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost or obligation

In spite of all the “oohing and aahing” at Herodian remains, today no one actually “worships” Herod—as they do Jesus.

Images for Advent/Christmas

As many of you prepare for the Christmas Season you might be interested in the images that I have posted on places that are associated with the birth of Jesus:

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View looking down into modern Nazareth
The Dome of the Church of the Annunciation is visible on the left
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20 images of Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation.

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The Grotto in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
The traditional site of the birth of Jesus
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32 images of Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity.

These are high-resolution images, with commentary, that are available for you to download and use (without cost or obligation) in your personal PowerPoint presentations.