Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Which Bethlehem is Jesus' Birthplace?

Alice C. Linsley

Bethlehem (Bēt Lahm) means "house of meat" and indicates a settlement known for sheep and cattle. There are two places called Bethlehem, one in Galilee and the other near Jerusalem. The name indicates a place where shepherd-priests took animals from their flocks to sacrifice. The meat was distributed to the needy.

In Christian belief, Jesus is the Lamb of God who gave his flesh for the life of the world. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His nativity was announced first to the shepherds of Bethlehem, the very descendants of the people in Eden to whom the promise of Messiah's appearing was first given (Gen. 3:15).

David came from Bethlehem. He tended the sheep of his father, just as Moses tended the sheep of his priest father-in-law, Jethro. Jesus comes from a long line of shepherd-priests. His maternal grandfather was Yoakim (Joachim), a priest who kept flocks.

Bethlehem was a Horite settlement according to I Chronicles 4:4 which names Hur (Hor) as the "father of Bethlehem."  I Chronicles 2:54 gives Salmon as "the father of Bethlehem," but there is no contradiction here since Salmon was also a Horite. The names Salmon, Salma and Solomon were common names among the Horites, also know as Habiru (Hebrew). A leader named Salmon married Rahab of Jericho. He is listed as the son of Hur, another common Horite name.

The Horites were a caste of ruler-priests whose origins can be traced back to the Nile Valley.  The oldest know Horite shrine city was Nekhen in Sudan (4500 BC). The temple there was dedicated to Horus, the son of Ra. He was said to be born of Hathor-Meri by the overshadowing of the sun, the emblem of the Creator Ra. She is shown in ancient images with a crown of horns - Y - a solar symbol. 

From the Nile Valley, the Horites moved into Arabia, Canaan, and Mesopotamia, taking their religious beliefs and practices with them. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David and the Virgin Mary were of the Horite lines. David was from Bethlehem and Joseph went to Bethlehem to register for the census (Luke 1:26) because he and Mary were descendants of Horite ancestors who lived in Bethlehem. One of those ancestors was the righteous Boaz who married Ruth.

The Bethlehem of Boaz was an agricultural area where grain was grown in extensive fields. This describes Galilee, not the hill country around Jerusalem.

Bethlehem is where Ruth gave birth to Obed, King David's grandfather. Ruth is praised by the women of Bethlehem (the chorus) as being worth seven sons, and she is likened to Tamar who “built up” Judah by giving him twin sons Perez and Zerah. Judah gained these righteous sons after losing unrighteous sons.

Throughout the book of Ruth there is a subtle play on the theme of replacement. Naomi is the female counterpart of Job. Both lost everything and came to despair, but the Lord restored their fortunes and made them great in Israel.

Textual clues as to Jesse’s high standing in Israel

David was anointed first in Bethlehem and later he was anointed in Hebron (II Samuel 2:1-4). It is possible that these two settlements marked the northern and the southern boundaries of Jesse’s territory. Jesse would have had a wife in Bethlehem and another in Hebron, following the practice of his Horite shepherd-priests ancestors who maintained two wives in separate households on a north-south axis. If David's Bethlehem was in Galilee, Jesse's territory would have extended about 118 miles (190 kilometers) from Bethlehem in Galilee to Hebron in the south, and all would have been regarded as a holding of Judah.

Another possibility is that Jesse's two wives were located in Bethlehem of Galilee and Ramah in the hill country to the south. These are linked in Matthew's Gospel (Matt. 2:13-23); suggesting that Jesse's territory extended from Bethlehem "Ephratha" to Ramah. Throughout much of the Bible, Ephratha is a reference to Judah. This north-south extension would have been called "Judah" in Jesse's time. If David's city was the Bethlehem in Galilee, Jesse ruled over a territory extending from Galilee to Ramah of Judah.

Though it is clear that the ruler's wives lived in separate settlements on a north-south axis, it is difficult to determine the extent of the ruler's territory because of multiple located with the same name. There several settlements named Ramah and at least two named Bethlehem. Regardless, it is evident that Jesse of Bethlehem was a great ruler of Judah.

Jesse's solar designation

Jesse’s name in Hebrew is Yesai and designates a great ruler. The initial Y is a solar cradle which indicates someone who has been overshadowed by the Creator. This overshadowing means the person is appointed for some special purpose. Remember that the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive by the overshadowing of the Spirit and bring forth the Holy One who would rule and save his people.

Many other Biblical rulers are indicated by the Y symbol: Yitzak (Issac); Yishmael (Ishmael), Yaqtan (Joktan); Yisbak; Yacob (Jacob); Yosef (Joseph); Yetro (Jethro) and Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus). The men listed in Ruth 4 are royal persons and descendants of Abraham and his Horite ruler-priest ancestors. David was born into a family of very high standing and this prepared him for the years when he would serve King Saul and rule over Israel.

It is evident that David was born into a family of very high standing and this prepared him for the years ahead when he would serve King Saul and rule over Israel.

Connections to Egypt and Tyre

Rachel was buried at Bethlehem. She gave birth to Joseph who married the daughter of the priest of Heliopolis in Egypt. Heliopolis (called Onn in Genesis 41:45) was a Horite shrine city of great prominence in the ancient world. The great pyramids of Giza, Saqqara and Abusir were aligned to the obelisk at this Ainu shrine city.

If we draw a line from Heliopolis in Egypt to the shrine at Baalbek ("God of Beka") in Lebanon, we have a fairly straight diagonal line that extends from Abusir in Sudan to Baalbek.  Tyre was the main shrine city between Heliopolis and Baalbek. The earliest structure at Baalbek dates to at least 2900-2300 BC, corresponding to the Old Kingdom in Egypt. The builders were great stone masons and builders of temples and monuments.

The kings of Tyre were Horites and kin to David.  Bethlehem of Galilee was part of ancient Tyre. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus' true identity is recognized in the ancient island city of Tyre, not in Jerusalem.

Tyre was the home of Hiram I, the father of the Tyrian king who helped to build Solomon’s temple. Hiram I was kin to David and sent skilled artisans to help David build a palace in Jerusalem, “the city of the Great King” (Matt. 5:35). Hiram is also known as "Huram" and "Horam", variations of the names Hur, Hor and Harun (Aaron). According to Midrash, Hur was Moses’ brother-in-law. Hur’s grandson was one of the builders of the Tabernacle.

In other words, the common ancestors of Hiram I and David were Horites who anticipated the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. They believed that the promised Seed of the Woman (the Son of God) would be born of their blood lines and they expected Him to visit them. Mark 7:24 gives an account of when the Son of God visited Tyre, and here we are told that Jesus “could not pass unrecognized.”

Caste-based Industries of Bethlehem

Beside keeping sheep and priestly duties, another occupation in ancient Bethlehem was leather work. Leather workers were called Tahash. One of Nahor's sons was Tahash (Gen. 22:24). Tahash refers to a tanner of animal skins. Exodus 25:5 links "five ram skins dyed red" with "tahash skins" and "acacia wood." The Tahash appear to be those who ritually prepared the skins of sacrificed animals for use in solemn oath, such as the passing of leather sandals.

Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel. (Ruth 4:7)

The exchange of the leather sandal was a blood oath since it involved taking the life of an animal The practice was to confirm the exchange property after a death. Aben Ezra says that the giving of the leather shoe was "to confirm all things" whether by sale or barter.

The exchange of a leather shoe represents a solemn oath like that signaled by the exchange of a linen cloth, called "sudar." According to the Medieval rabbi Rashi, a linen cloth was used to make purchases and the cloth was called "sudar." 

Rashi is speaking of a related custom. The term "sudar" pertains to "Sudra" which is a reference to the peoples of Sudan. Linen originated in the Nile Valley and was carried from there to India. Among Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors wounds were treated with raw meat and bandaged with linen. Dead domesticated animals, such as dogs and donkeys, were wrapped in white linen and buried outside the towns.

In Genesis 3:21, God acts as the first tahash when He sacrifices animals to make coverings for the man and the woman. In doing so, God covers them by a blood oath, wraps the newly dead, and sends them out of the Garden.

Sudar is also a reference to the Dravidians. Dravidian leather workers are called "Madigas" and they are recognized as one of the world's oldest castes. The Madiga have nucleotide diversity levels as high as those of HapMap African populations. The Tahash and Madigas represent a very ancient practice of leather work associated with animal sacrifice and solemn oaths.

The Tahash were also known as "sarki" in Africa and parts of Asia. The sarki sacrificed animals and tanned the hides. Today Sarki live in the Orissa province of India and in Orisha, Nigeria. They also live in the Tarai region of Nepal. Sometimes they are called “Harwa” which is the ancient Egyptian word for priest.

Archaeology of Bethlehem

Speaking about the discovery of a clay seal dating to the First Temple period, Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority said, "This is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple period (1006-586 B.C.), which proves that Bethlehem was indeed a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly also in earlier periods."

2700 year seal bears the name of Bethlehem

The coin-sized artifact was found during archaeological excavations in the oldest part of Jerusalem. The seal (called a "bulla") bears the name of the city of Bethlehem in ancient Hebrew script. A bulla is a piece of clay used as an official seal on a document or object. The seal was impressed with the mark of the sender, and an intact bulla was proof that a document had been delivered unopened.

The seal indicates that a shipment was sent from Bethlehem to Jerusalem in the seventh year of a king's reign. Possibly the king was Hezekiah or Josiah.

The bulla makes it clear that a town called Bethlehem was inhabited by Hebrews in the time of Solomon's temple, but it doesn't specify which Bethlehem. There are two; one in Judah near Jerusalem, and the other in Galilee near Nazareth. Today there is growing consensus that Jesus' birthplace was the Bethlehem near Nazareth because the Bethlehem near Jerusalem was not inhabited during the first century when Jesus would have been born.

When the Magi appeared before Herod they were told that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod’s wise men found this in the book of Micah: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."  This indicates two things about Jesus's birthplace: it belongs to the tribe of Judah and it was also associated with Caleb's wife Ephrath. There is no contradiction here, as Bethlehem belonged to Caleb, whose son was Salma. Salma is called the father of Bethlehem in Chronicles 2:54.

Bethlehem is mentioned in Matthew 2:16-18 as the place where Herod ordered all the baby boys to be slaughtered, and Jesus would have been among "the Innocents" had Joseph not been warned by an angel to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. From Bethlehem in Galilee and nearby Nazareth the road to Egypt was a direct one.  From Bethlehem on the West bank there was no direct route into Egypt.

As Jews traced their blood lines through their mothers, it was necessary for Joseph to register both he and Mary in Bethlehem. So they left Nazareth and went to Bethlehem, a distance of about 5.5 miles (9 kilometers). The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem near Jerusalem is 93 miles (150 kilometers). Would Joseph have taken Mary, in the last stage of pregnancy, on a journey of 93 miles on a donkey?

Mary’s full name was "Miriam Daughter of Joachim Son of Pntjr (Panther) Priest of Nathan of Bethlehem." Long before the time of the Pharaohs the Horites designated the king ntjr. The name p-ntjr means "God is King."

Nathan is the name of the prophet who called King David to repentance and saved his kingdom. Likely this Nathan was one of David's kinsmen from Bethlehem in Galilee.

Bethlehem of the West Bank

The Church of the Nativity in the Bethlehem near Jerusalem was commissioned in 327 AD by Constantine and his mother Helena and was built over the site that was believed to be the cave where Jesus was born. There are caves under the church and one was used by St. Jerome for about 30 years. This is where he translated the Bible into Latin (Vulgate). Some of the caves were used for burial.

Such a cave tomb was discovered in "Bethlehem South" in 2009. It contained burial items such as pottery, plates and beads, along with the remains of two individuals. The tomb dates to the Middle Bronze period (2200-1550 BC) when there was no permanent settlement in that place. Many tombs from this period have been found throughout Israel. In fact, this period is primarily known from the study of its cemeteries, with relatively few settlements discovered in the region of Judah.

A 3100 year arrowhead found near Bethlehem South bears the inscription bn 'nt, meaning "son of Anat." In ancient Egyptian mythology, Anat and Ashtart were daughters of the Creator Ra. They became the wives of Set/Seth, the deified ruler on earth.

The great antiquity of Bethlehem

Evidence of human habitation in the area of Bethlehem between 100,000-10,000 BC is well-attested along the north side of Wadi Khareitun where there are three caves: Iraq al-Ahmar, Umm Qal’a, and Umm Qatafa. These caves were homes in a wooded landscape overlooking a river. At Umm Qatafa archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of the domestic use of fire in Palestine. There are 40 Paleolithic sites in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, many of them near Bethlehem.

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