The ”other” Bethlehem

The World

Scores of tourists shuffle through this church in Bethlehem. Inside the sixth century Basilica, groups of tourists are led to the main attraction, the manger where Jesus is said to have been born. The guide goes onto say that Bethlehem was the original home of Joseph, Mary’s husband, who came from the Jewish lineage of King David. For Christians the birth in Bethlehem was no accident, it fulfilled the Jewish prophecy of the Messiah. The problem not everyone agrees that Joseph would’ve taken his pregnant wife on a long journey on a donkey to get to Bethlehem. Some work by this antiquities authority seems to add to the debate. For 15 years he has been digging in a different town called Bethlehem, the Bethlehem in Galilee only 7 miles from Nazareth. He has found an ancient city wall that fits the description of fortifications made around Bethlehem in the 6th century. He’s also found an inn, a monastery, and a huge church built with a cave under the altar. Not surprisingly, his research is controversial and to some Christians blasphemous. Funding for his excavations has run out and he’s also moved onto other projects, but he’s still eager to follow this story to its conclusion. For now the site of the buried church is covered by an Israeli town. Scholars have speculated for centuries about contradictions in stories of Jesus’s birthplace. This scholar doesn’t buy that Jesus’s birthplace had to be contrived in order to fit a prophecy. He points out the Jewish prophecy is of a warrior king, and Jesus doesn’t fit that description other. He says no archeologist can prove a miracle or that Jesus was a messiah, so archeology fills out the background but has nothing to do with faith. So for now it appears religious observers will continue to go to the Bethlehem in the West Bank.

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