Small town about 8 km. (5 miles) south of Jerusalem. It was in existence certainly by 1250 BCE and is mentioned frequently in the OT especially in connection with King David, where his great-grandmother Ruth lived (Ruth 1: 19; 4: 11) and where he himself was born (1 Sam. 17: 12). There is a prophecy in Mic. (5: 2) that the fortunes of Judah will be renewed through a ruler in Israel born in Bethlehem of the house of David. This verse was taken by Christians as a prophecy of the birth of their Messiah, Jesus, who is described in the gospels (Matt. 2: 1; Luke 2: 4; John 7: 42) as being born in Bethlehem of Judaea, although his home town was Nazareth (Luke 4: 16). But the reasons given for the birth in Bethlehem seem to be conceived to validate Mic. 5: 2 and 2 Sam. 5: 2. Luke describes an unbelievable universal census which obliged the family to leave their home at Nazareth for the registration; while Matthew explains that on returning to Bethlehem from Egypt (2: 22) they decided it would be safer after all to live at Nazareth rather than in Bethlehem.
In 386 CE Jerome made his Latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) while living in Bethlehem.
In the 21st cent. the Christian population is much reduced, for the modern town is described as an open prison, surrounded by concrete walls and high-voltage fences. There did also once exist a rural settlement in Galilee called Bethlehem (Josh. 19: 15) where archaeological evidence has identified a large 6th-cent. Christian church, and also remains of a lively Jewish community of the 1st cent. CE.