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Listed under Historic Towns and Villages in Jerusalem, Israel.

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South of Jerusalem, Bethlehem is considered the birth place of Jesus according to the Gospels of Mathew and Luke. Various New Testament scholars believe parts of these gospels to be later accretions and assert that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth, his childhood home. Christian belief however, has sanctified Bethlehem as Jesus' birthplace since the cave was 'identified' in the 2nd century AD by St. Justin Martyr. Archaeological evidence indicates that this cave was a pre-existing sacred site dedicated to Adonis, an ancient Greek deity whose death and rebirth represented the cycle of nature. The first church at the site was built by Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, sometime around 326 AD. Later destroyed, the church was rebuilt in its present form by the Emperor Justinian around 529 AD.

The matter of the birth date of Christ is not mentioned anywhere in the four Gospels. No reference is actually made to such a date until the Philocalian calendar was compiled in Rome in 336 AD, when December 25 was set as the birth of Jesus. The December 25 date was chosen to absorb pagan festivals of the winter solstice on December 21 and the Roman festival of Mithras, the God of Light, on December 25. There are no authentic scriptures or historical sources which give an indication of the birth date of Jesus, and the time of December 25 was merely a politically expedient contrivance of early Roman church leaders. It is important to know that several earlier dying-and-rising gods also shared Jesus’ birthday, although when Pope John Paul announced in 1994 that Jesus was not born on December 25, the announcement caused widespread disbelief and astonishment. Many Christians were uncomfortable hearing that the long-assumed birth date of Jesus was the same birth date of the pagan gods Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Dionysus, Attis and Orpheus, each of whom were also born in caves or other humble places and were attended by wise men bringing expensive and symbolic gifts.

Photo: The Chapel of the Nativity at Bethlehem

More Bethlehem information on Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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