Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem

September 13, 2019

Luke 2 narrates the night of the Savior’s birth, when the good news was first announced to Bethlehem-area shepherds:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:8-18, NKJV).

Sign indicating location of Shepherd’s Field east side of Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

When one visits Bethlehem there is the opportunity to see the area designated as “Shepherd’s Field,” the Franciscan site located  on the east side of Bethlehem. This helps us to visualize where the shepherds would have been that night when the angel informed them of Jesus’ birth in our text above.

Shepherds’ Fields, Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

On most other occasions when I’ve been here the fields were brown and dry. This past March 2019 they were green.

Our group gathered in a nearby cave.

Cave at Shepherds’ Field. Mauldin Group, 2019. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here we discussed the occasion of Jesus’ birth, and also took advantage of the natural acoustics to sing. Visiting Bethlehem gave us the opportunity to contemplate the wonderful plan of God, that Eternal Deity, the Eternal Word, became man! “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

I’ve previously posted on Bethlehem: click here, here and here. Ferrell Jenkins provides a listing of articles he has written on Bethlehem. Click here 

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Jerome of Bethlehem

May 18, 2017

We recently had the opportunity to visit Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born. In addition to Bethlehem’s being important for that reason (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-20; Matt. 2:1-13), this location is also significant due to the work of Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus).

Statue of Jerome in Bethlehem, outside of the Church of St. Catherine. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Jerome was born at Stridon, Dalmatia, ca. AD 347. He is especially noted for his translation of the Bible into Latin.

In 384 Jerome took up residence in Bethlehem, to be joined two years later by Paula and her daughter Eustochium. Together they made Bethlehem a great monastic centre; within this framework Jerome wrote prolifically, his most notable achievement being a new translation of the Old and New Testaments (the Vulgate) which remained the authoritative version of the Bible for Catholics until the C20. (Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, Oxford Archaeological Guides, p.233).

This cave is said to be Jerome’s study, where he did his monumental literary work.

Jerome’s study in Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

See Ferrell Jenkin’s article (Dec. ’08) on Jerome here.

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Ruth the Moabitess

November 15, 2014

After studying the book of Judges, especially with the material recorded in chapters 17-21, the book of Ruth is so refreshing, like a breath of fresh air! This 4 chapter book tells how Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons left Bethlehem in time of famine for the fields of Moab, sojourning there for ten years. The sons married women of Moab, Ruth and Orpah. Elimelech and both sons died. When Naomi determined to return to Bethlehem, Ruth made the choice to go with her. She said,

Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me (Ruth 1:16-17).

The text narrates how Ruth met and married Boaz, describing Ruth as a hard worker, showing kindness to her mother-in-law, and known throughout the town as a virtuous woman, and depicting Boaz as equally magnanimous, walking in the fear of the LORD. But the real reason Ruth is in the Bible does not become apparent until the closing verses. Starting with Judah’s son Perez as his beginning point, the writer informs us:

Now this is the genealogy of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron. 19 Hezron fathered Ram, who fathered Amminadab.  Amminadab fathered Nahshon, who fathered Salmon. Salmon fathered Boaz, who fathered Obed.  And Obed fathered Jesse, who fathered David (Ruth 4:18-22).

Ruth is thus seen in the lineage of the Messiah! Her story is one link in the chain of God’s Old Testament promise to bring Christ into the world to accomplish His great redemptive work. Matthew begins his gospel record with the genealogy of Christ, including Ruth: “Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse” (1:5).

Our photo, taken on the NW shore of the Dead Sea, looks across to the mountains of Moab, Ruth’s home.

View across Dead Sea, mountains of Moab in distance. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

View across Dead Sea, mountains of Moab in distance. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

OT Moab is today the territory of Jordan.

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Follow-up on Bethlehem of Galilee–Reader Response

September 2, 2014

In our previous post (click here) on Bethlehem of Galilee we referenced Ibzan (of Judges 12:8-10) of Bethlehem and observed: “Very likely this is the Bethlehem of Galilee, not the Bethlehem of Judah.” A reader asks, “I’ve learned about the existence of this town sometime ago, but I’ve never found out WHY it is likely that this Bethlehem is Ibzan’s hometown. Which arguments support this assumption?”

That is a good question. First, remember that Joshua 19:15 lists Bethlehem among other cities Zebulun inherited.

Wolf, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary observes, “The Zebulun location is favored because the southern city is usually identified as “Bethlehem in Judah” (17:7-9; 19:1-2, 18)” (Vol. 3, p.459). Note that is the wording repeatedly in each of these verses. It seems consistent that when the southern Bethlehem is intended, it is indicated, for example, Judges 17:7: “Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite; and he was staying there” (NASB). Note the rendering of the KJV: “And there was a young man out of Bethlehemjudah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there.”

Keil & Delitzsch: “Ibzan sprang from Bethlehem,—hardly, however, the town of that name in the tribe of Judah, as Josephus affirms (Ant. v. 7, 13), for that is generally distinguished either as Bethlehem ‘of Judah’ (Judg. 17:7, 9; Ruth 1:2; 1 Sam. 17:12), or Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:1), but probably Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun (Josh. 9:15)” (Vol 2, p. 287). To the Micah passage we could add Gen. 35:19: “So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)” (see also Gen. 48:7).

Pulpit Commentary: “But as Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah is generally called Bethlehem of Judah, or Bethlehem-Ephratah, and as Elon and Abdon were judges in North-East Israel, it is perhaps more probable that Bethlehem of Zebulun is meant” (p. 136). In his comment above, author A.C. Hervey is making two points: the fuller designation (of Judah or Ephratah) is used when Bethlehem of the south is intended, and second, the context of Judges 12:8-10. Verse 11 mentions Judge Elon of Zebulun, and Judge Abdon (vv. 13-15), on the border between Ephraim and Manasseh. While it is not conclusive proof, Ibzan’s placement in the text is in the context of judges to the north. Note in this connection that Butler, in the Word Biblical Commentary observes, “The context appears to point to the northern location. . .” (Vol. 8, p. 297).

Avraham Negev states regarding Bethlehem of Galilee: “A town in the territory of Zebulun, (Josh. 19:15), the birth-place of the judge Ibzan and the place where he was buried (Judg. 12:8–10)” (The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land).

While I do not think that truth is determined by the number of people who advocate a particular position, it is true that the majority of scholars favor Bethlehem of Zebulun of Galilee as best fitting the text and context of Judges 12:8-10.

Bethlehem of Galilee. Further remains from the Templars. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Bethlehem of Galilee. Further remains from the Templars. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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Traditional Site of Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem

December 18, 2011

Justin Martyr (c.103-165 AD), wrote in Dialogue with the Jew Trypho:

But when the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger . . . (The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. I, p. 237).

The Church of the Nativity was built by Helena, Constantine’s mother in 339 AD. It was built above the traditional cave which is associated with Jesus’ birth. This photo shows the approach to the church.

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here is a close-up of the entrance to the church.

Church of Nativity Entrance. Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The above photo is a scanned slide I took in 1999.

Inside you can see the cave, the traditional place of Jesus’ birth.

Star Marking the Place of Jesus' Birth in Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Other early evidence pointing to this spot as the location of Jesus’ birth includes that of Origen and Jerome.

For some thoughts on the useful purpose of shrines in this context, see Ferrell Jenkin’s post here.

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