Bethlehem, which means house of bread in Hebrew and house of meat in Arabic, lies 5 miles south of Jerusalem. Its recorded history goes right back to the time of the Patriarchs, and is mentioned in the Bible in connection with the death of Rachel. Bethlehem was also the scene of the meeting of Ruth and Boaz, whom she married. Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, so it was the original home of the house of David. It was here that David was born, tended his father's flocks, and was anointed king.
When the Emperor Caesar Augustus called a census just before the birth of Jesus, everyone had to return to their family home town to be counted, and Joseph and Mary, of the House of David, travelled to Bethlehem, and it was here that Jesus was born.
The stable was almost certainly a cave, and the whereabouts of the cave were known. In 135 Hadrian, in the process of crushing a Jewish revolt, profaned Bethlehem and built a temple to Adonis over the holy cave. This desecration, in fact, preserved the site of the cave, which was sealed under the temple, and in 325, Queen Helena, mother of the Christian Emperor Constantine, rediscovered the cave and built the first of the basilicas to stand on this site.
In 529 the Samaritans plundered Bethlehem, and the Church of the Nativity was looted and burned. The Emperor Justin restored and rebuilt the church, and it is his building that stands in Manger Square in Bethlehem today.
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