Bethlehem (Heb., place of bread; Arab. Beit Lahm, house of flesh), an ancient town of Palestine, belonging to the tribe of Judah, 6 m. S. of Jerusalem. It was called Bethlehem Ephratah to distinguish it from a Bethlehem in Zebulun,' and is famous for many remarkable events, as the birth of David and his inauguration and anointing by Samuel. But that which renders Bethlehem eminent in Christian history is the birth of Jesus. A large convent divided among the Greeks, Catholics, and Armenians, and which contains a church, is built over the spot where that event is supposed to have occurred. The church is stated by Eusebius to have been erected by Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, about 327. It consists of a basilica about 120 ft. long by 110 broad, divided into a nave and four aisles supported by ranges of Corinthian columns. The choir is portioned off by a low wall, and is divided into two chapels belonging respectively to the Greeks and Armenians. From each chapel a staircase leads down to the grotto of the nativity. At the E. end is a small semicircular apse with a marble slab on its floor. This is pointed out as the spot where Christ was born. Opposite this is a marble trough said to occupy the place of the original one.
In the catacombs are shown the study and tomb of St. Jerome, and the tombs of other saints. Another curious place near Bethlehem is the milk grotto, where the Virgin is said to have hid herself with her babe from Herod. Bits of the rock are chipped off and sold to pilgrims, who believe that if pounded and eaten it has the miraculous power of increasing a woman's milk. About a quarter of a mile from the town the well of David is pointed out, from which David's three mighty men drew water (2 Sam. xxiii. 16). The present population of Bethlehem is about 3,000, most of whom are Greek and Roman Catholic Christians, and the rest Moslems. There is a considerable admixture of European blood in the natives, probably from the time of the crusades, and it can be detected in their lighter complexion and different type from the other natives. They sell to pilgrims and travellers various relics, some of which are curiously carved. This town was one of the first possessions wrested from the Moslems by the crusaders. It was erected into a see, but in 1244 was overrun by the Tartars. The present town is on the brow of a hill or long ridge, and overlooks the opposite valley.
There never has been any dispute that it occupies the site of the ancient town.
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.
Bethlehem, a borough of Northampton county, Penn., on the Lehigh river, here crossed by a bridge, 51m. N. of Philadelphia; pop. in 1870, 4,512. It was settled by the Moravians in 1741, and contains a Gothic Moravian church built of stone, a female seminary, and several schools and benevolent institutions. It is much resorted to in summer. It is noted for its iron and zinc manufactories. The Lehigh Valley and Lehigh and Susquehanna railroads connect at this point with the North Pennsylvania road. The Lehigh university (Episcopal) was established here in 1800, through the liberality of Asa Packer, who gave 50 acres of land for its site, and endowed it with the sum of $500,000. In 1871 it had 15 instructors, 48 students in the preparatory and 08 in the collegiate department, and a library of 2,000 volumes.