Tourists, Pilgrims May be Heading to the Wrong Bethlehem
by Zach Pontz
As scores of tourists and pilgrims stream into Bethlehem for Christmas, archeologists aren’t certain that they’re in the proper place to be celebrating Jesus’ birth. Instead, some think that the Bethlehem in northern Israel, not the town in the West Bank, is the real birthplace of the savior of the Christian people.
“I think the genuine site of the Nativity is here, rather than the well-known site near Jerusalem,” Aviram Oshri, an Israeli archaeologist who has dug for ten years in Bethlehem of the Galilee, told the Times of London.
“Bethlehem in the Galilee was inhabited by Jews at the time of Jesus, whereas the other Bethlehem? There is no evidence that it was a living site, an inhabited area in the first century,” he said.
“It was clear that there was a Jewish community here, less than five miles from Nazareth,” said Mr Oshri. “Doesn’t it make much more sense that a heavily pregnant Mary would have ridden a donkey five miles to this Bethlehem rather than more than 100 miles to the other Bethlehem?”
Unfortunately it may never be proven. Mr. Oshri tells the Times that modern construction in the village has probably destroyed archaeological evidence.
“There are several historical mentions of a wall encircling Bethlehem. Or course, no such ancient wall has ever been found in the city of Bethlehem, but here in this site there is clearly a wall,” he said.
An ancient church was discovered in 1965 when a road was built.
“We found in the church a beautiful mosaic that is now on display at Ben Gurion airport. The church was very large, and built over the site of a cave. It was very similar in structure to the church of the Nativity,” he said.
“Even if we have conclusive proof for this new Bethlehem I don’t think it will make a difference to people,” said Mr Oshri. “Christianity is leaning on the Old Testament, and in the Old Testament the Messiah should come from the house of David and Bethlehem near Jerusalem. So I think the belief will go on, the tradition will stick to what we know whereas archaeology and other evidence would suggest this is not the genuine place where Jesus was born.”