Bethlehem (Arabic: Bayta Laḥm, "House of Meat"; Hebrew: Bet Leḥem, "House of Bread"; Ancient Greek: Greek pronunciation: [bɛːtʰle.ém]; Latin: Bethleem; initially named after Canaanite fertility god Lehem) is a city located in the central West Bank, Palestine, about 10 km (6.2 miles) south of Jerusalem. Its population is approximately 25,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate.
The earliest known mention of the city was in the Amarna correspondence of 1350–1330 BCE during its habitation by the Canaanites. The Hebrew Bible, which says that the city of Bethlehem was built up as a fortified city by Rehoboam, identifies it as the city David was from and where he was crowned as the king of Israel. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke identify Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem was destroyed by the Emperor Hadrian during the second-century Bar Kokhba revolt; its rebuilding was promoted by Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who commissioned the building of its great Church of the Nativity in 327 CE. The church was badly damaged by the Samaritans, who sacked it during a revolt in 529, but was rebuilt a century later by Emperor Justinian I.
Bethlehem became part of Jund Filastin following the Muslim conquest in 637. Muslim rule continued in Bethlehem until its conquest in 1099 by a crusading army, who replaced the town's Greek Orthodox clergy with a Latin one. In the mid-13th century, the Mamluks demolished the city's walls, which were subsequently rebuilt under the Ottomans in the early 16th century. Control of Bethlehem passed from the Ottomans to the British at the end of World War I. Bethlehem came under Jordanian rule during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and was later captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Since the 1995 Oslo Accords, Bethlehem has been administered by the Palestinian Authority.
Following an influx of refugees as a result of Israeli advances in the 1967 war, Bethlehem has a Muslim majority, but is still home to a significant Palestinian Christian community. It is now encircled and encroached upon by dozens of Israeli settlements and the Israeli West Bank barrier, which separates both Muslim and Christian communities from their land and livelihoods, and sees a steady exodus of those from both communities being driven out.
The Church of the Nativity is one of Bethlehem's major tourist attractions and a magnet for Christian pilgrims. It stands in the center of the city — a part of the Manger Square — over a grotto or cave called the Holy Crypt, where Jesus is believed to have been born. Nearby is the Milk Grotto where the Holy Family took refuge on their Flight to Egypt and next door is the cave where St. Jerome spent thirty years creating the Vulgate, the dominant Latin version of the Bible until the Reformation.
The Chapel of the Milk Grotto (Latin: Crypta lactea) also called Grotto of Our Lady or Milk Grotto, is a Catholic chapel in Bethlehem in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories, erected in 1872. Since Byzantine times, the place has been a center of Christian pilgrimage, maintained since its last erection together with its Marian shrine and monastery by the Custody of the Holy Land of the Order of the Friars Minor of the Catholic Church in Palestine.
Christian tradition says is the place where the Holy Family found refuge during the Massacre of the Innocents, before they could flee to Egypt. The name is derived from the story that a "drop of milk" of the Virgin Mary fell on the floor of the cave and changed its colour to white. The space, which contains three different caves, is visited by some in hope of healing infertile couples, the shrine allegedly being a place where prayers for children are miraculously answered