(Click on the above line to see the video) We visited Bethlehem the other day, the place of Jesus’ birth. How wonderful to travel there across the fields and hills and imagine Mary and Joseph travelling there to be counted, Mary heavy with child, Joseph struggling on through the crowds. You could just visualize the shepherds, as we passed many shepherds herding their goats and donkeys. Even camels.
Bethlehem is an old town, first being mentioned in the 14th century BC when the king of Bethlehem writes to his Egyptian overlord asking for his help. This is the city where David was born, and his family had lived here for many generations. His great-grandmother was Ruth, the Moabitess (see the book of Ruth). It was a walled city, but David’s grandson, Rehoboam, fortified it, together with Etan and Tekoa to protect the eastern flank of his kingdom (2 Chronicles 11:6).
Justin, in the 2nd century AD speaks of the cave that Jesus in which Jesus was born, and so Christians have honored the site for many years. The Church buildling in Bethlehem goes back to the time of Justinian the Roman emperor. He ordered “his envoy to pull down the church of Bethlehem, which was a small one, and to build it again of such splendor, size and beauty that none even in the Holy City should surpass it” (Eutychius, 9th century).
The church avoided early waves of Muslim destruction, but finally suffered the effects of pillaging and neglect. It is very old and beautiful, but it is not what it once was.
The other thing we saw while we were there was the cave of St. Jerome. He is best known for translating the Bible from the Hebrew and the Greek into Latin. The resulting translation has become known as the Vulgate and remained the standard Latin translation until the present. He moved to Bethlehem in 384 and took up residence in caves adjacent to the church. It was a thrill to visit the home and study of one of the early doctors of our Church, and be challenged by his dedication and zeal and commitment.
Signing off – Father Wismer