The small Judean city of Bethlehem is perhaps one of the most beloved cities in Israel for Christian pilgrims; for many it sits at the absolute top of any Holy Land experience wish list!
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.” Micah 5:2
The Bethlehem of today is a city of around 25,000 people, with many of its inhabitants Christians (numbers are however dwindling), making Bethlehem the largest Christian Arab city in Judea. Although once upon a long time ago Bethlehem was an agricultural and shepherding community, the city today thrives on Christian tourism to Israel (approximately 20% of the local workforce is involved in tourism), with many, many pilgrims visiting the site where Christ was born, especially at Christmas (last year around two million tourists visited Bethlehem).
And it’s not hard to understand why Bethlehem is such a draw. There’s simply something almost life-changing when you walk back in time to the actual town of Christ’s birth; as you walk into the Church of the Nativity in the center of Bethlehem, close your eyes and envisage ancient scenes of worship, Mary and Joseph, and Three Regal Kings, it’s a surreal experience.
Perhaps the ultimate moment that might just knock you for six is when you walk down the steps into the Church of the Nativity Grotto; expect to be overcome with a wave of emotion! Even for non-believers this grotto has been known to leave an emotional mark, especially upon witnessing the 14-point sliver star embedded in the marble floor, the precise location of Christ’s birth. A very humbling and moving experience for all who see it…
Naturally, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the oldest complete church in the Christian world, is the pinnacle of any Christian pilgrim’s visit to Bethlehem – but did you know that this ancient city is actually important to both Christians and Jews? Jews hold Bethlehem close to their hearts because it was King David’s place of birth and childhood home (David was the second king of Israel, some 1000 years before Christ); in addition, the site at Rachel’s Tomb (at the entrance to Bethlehem) is known for its popularity among Jewish women struggling to get pregnant.
Bethlehem Sites of Interest
Of course, the Church of the Nativity is the big draw in Bethlehem, but Rachel’s Tomb should also not be missed. In addition, there are the fabled Shepherds’ Fields (where it is believed the angel came to visit the shepherds) are also interesting, but take into consideration there are TWO official sites, so watch out for rival shepherds! The Milk Grotto Chapel, where Mary is thought to have spilled some milk when feeding baby Jesus, is also an interesting site.
Also don’t miss the local market traders and their wares, including some amazing spices, Middle Eastern sweets (you have to try the very sweet Baklava), and Biblical-influenced wood carvings (typically from olive wood) which have proven very popular with tourists over the years.
We usually take in all of the above sites on any tour to Bethlehem – so have your questions (and cameras) ready!
Boaz’s Bethlehem Insight
Just mention the word Bethlehem and streams of ancient images come to mind; of Mary and Joseph, the Three Kings, the Bethlehem Star, and, of course, the Birth of Jesus. We include Bethlehem on a typical EDI Holy Land Tour – it truly is an amazing Holy Land experience!