The best of Biblical Bethlehem

Discover the history of the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

'Jesus found in the Temple’ by James Tissot (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
'Jesus found in the Temple’ by James Tissot
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Bethlehem is famous all around the world as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Every year, thousands of pilgrims and tourists come to the city to experience Christmas in the place where it all began. However, most people are unaware that there are many more Biblical stories related to this area that reach far beyond Christmas. Below are some of the highlights of Bethlehem:
Church of Nativity
Built in the 4th century AD by Emperor Constantine, the first basilica was built over the Nativity Grotto but was burned down during the Samaritan Revolt of 529 AD. The subsequent basilica was constructed in the shape of a cross.
For those with a penchant for architecture and building, Travelujah recommends hiring a private tour guide to explain the intricate design and architecture of the building.
Milk Grotto
The Milk Grotto is irregularly shaped room that was hollowed from a rock cave and is located around the southeast corner of the Basilica of the Nativity. 
According to tradition, (Matt 2:13) the Holy Family hid within the Milk Grotto prior to escaping to Egypt. Tradition holds that while the Virgin Mary was nursing the baby Jesus there, drops of her milk fell on the ground and turned the rock white. Many believe that this rock is the source of miraculous fertility and as a result, couples who have difficulty conceiving, drink a bit of the rock’s powder mixed with water and pray to the Virgin Mary. In fact, a small room left of the chapel testifies to this fertility and displays many photos of newborn babies and  letters from joyous parents.
Opening hours: Everyday from 8 am till 5 pm.
Beit Sahour - Shepherd’s Fields
Although the exact location of the angel’s appearance to the shepherds is unknown tradition Luke 2:8-10 states that it was in the area of Beit Sahour – a place famous for broad fields and multiple caves – where the shepherds may have lived.
Today, you can visit two chapels - one Greek Orthodox and one Catholic – located a distance from each other, which  two possible sites of this Biblical story. In both places ruins of ancient Byzantine churches can be found, likely destroyed in 614 AD during the Persian invasion.
Mar Theodosius Monastery
Approximately 10km outside of Bethlehem en route to Jericho, you’ll see the imposing Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Theodosius. According to tradition (Matt 2:12) the cloister was built over a cave where the three Wise Men rested for a night.
St. Theodosius, of Cappadocia in 432 AD, started a monastery here in 476. After the church was destroyed in 808, the monks abandoned the site but during the Crusader period, religious life was reestablished once again.
The present monastery was constructed by the Greek Orthodox Church in 1952 on the remains of the Byzantine and Crusader ruins including mosaic pavements, damaged columns and capitals. Eighteen steps (which in Hebrew eighteen stands for “life”) lead down to the cave where the remains of the founder, St. Theodosius, lie.
Herod the Great was a Roman king of Judea during the period that Jesus was born. Famous for his possessive character and madness it was Herod that ordered the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem. Beyond these traits he was also known as a prolific builder, exemplified by Herodium, located around 10 km from Bethlehem in the Judean wilderness, This fortress was built in memory of his victory over Antonus in 42 BC. According to Josephus, Herod wished to be buried at Herodium, which he considered his summer palace.
The fortress is strategically located with viewpoints overlooking both Bethlehem and Jerusalem to the north, as well as the Judean desert and the Dead Sea beyond to the east and it rises on a  partly artificial hill some 750 m above sea level.
Significant remains of the fortress were discovered on the site, as well as the sarcophagus of what many believe is King Herod.
King David Wells
King David Wells are tree large cisterns, still in use, located just few minutes from Manger Square, at the end of Star Street. These wells (2 Sm 23, 15-17) are associated with the site where David’s soldiers broke through the Philistine lines in order to fetch drinking water. Upon returning to the Cave of Adulam, where David, a native of Bethlehem, and his followers were hiding, the king refused to drink from the water for which his soldiers risked their lives.
In 1895 remains of a mosaic from a Byzantine church and an underground monks’ cemetery were discovered just beyond the cisterns.
Rachel’s Tomb
Rachel’s tomb is located at the entrance of Bethlehem and marks the burial place of Jacob’s wife (Genesis 35:16-20) and is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. The memorial was constructed through the years. During the Crusader times, a cupola supported by twelve arches was built over the tomb and in 1620, the present shrine was built. In 1841, a room was added for Jewish worshipers.
Field of Ruth
The Field of Ruth is associated with the same area as the Shepherd’s Fields in Beit Sahour. Ruth married Boaz in Bethlehem, who was the great-grandfather of King David (Ruth 1:22).
Solomons Pools
In the southern end of Bethlehem, towards Hebron lie three legendary pools, once part of an ancient waterway supplying water to Jerusalem. These pools, known as Solomon's Pools,  are attributed to the resourceful and prosperous King Solomon (950 BC), who not only wanted to create reservoirs for storing the rain and spring water, but also wished to have a place where his numerous wives could bathe (Ecclesiastes 2:5-6).
Scholars, however, believe that the pools date only to the 2nd and 1st century BC and that part of the construction occurred under the Pontius Pilate. Herod the Great had the water carried by aqueduct to his fortress at Herodium.
Beata Antonia writes regularly for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the leading Christian travel network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.