December 14, 2001
had a special privilege this afternoon. I was treated to a study
on Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth, given by noted author,
pastor, and good man, Mitri Raheb. Mitri is the author of "I
am a Palestinian Christian", required reading for people
interested in Palestinian history.
us to mentally paint a picture of Bethlehem as we thought it was
like during the day Christ was born. My mental picture was a bit
faulty. I imagined a booming village in the desert. Small homes
built around caves.
that the landscape around Bethlehem was largely the same, except
that it used to be forested. Finding a tree in Bethlehem now is
pretty rare, but in 4 BC, pines were plentiful. They were all
cut by the Romans and Turks sometime after Christ's birth.
was actually on the edge between the desert and the farmland.
And there was tension between the shepherds of the desert to the
East and the farmers to the West. In fact, that the shepherds
came to Bethlehem to see Jesus was a very big deal. The tension
between the groups was overcome by the necessity to see the baby.
was only 300 - 1,000 people, so Bethlehem truly was a "little
town". The population of the Bethlehem area increased to
50,000 after 1948, when refugees flocked to the area.
in Bethlehem were mostly Jewish and spoke Hebrew, however there
were also other religions in the area. Most notably religions
honoring "fertility". In Aramaic, "Bethlehem"
means "House of the Fertility God". Wow. That was a
new one for me. By the year 142 AD, not a single Jew lived in
Most of the
residents of Bethlehem were stone masons, others were wheat farmers,
livestock farmers (sheep and goats, not cows), and weavers. And
today stone masonry is still the largest industry (outside of
tourism, I suppose).
probably not born in the winter, because "shepherds were
watching their flocks by night". Shepherds only watch their
flocks by night when it is comfortable outside. And I can verify
that it is cold in Bethlehem in December.
Bethlehem was a land under occupation when Christ was born. The
Romans were around then. And Christ was a refugee, because the
family had to flee to save his life.
us that this is one of the toughest Christmases he has ever experienced
here in Bethlehem.
study on Bethlehem Past, we all shared a special joint Arabic-English
Christmas service with candles, food and drink.