Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Biblical Scholar's First Impressions of Israel III: Bethlehem

Well, of course you have to go to Bethlehem.  It wasn't top of my list of priorities, and I did not expect to find it particularly striking, and my expectations were met.  The most interesting thing about Bethlehem is the utter contrast with everywhere around it.  You have to spend a good ten or fifteen minutes crossing the border into Palestinian territory, where border officials are slouching in their seats with big scary rifles on their laps.  On the other side of the border, you can tell straight away that you are no longer in Israeli territory.  You are greeted by a whole line of taxi-drivers, shop-keepers and others looking for your business.

We did not do a lot in Bethlehem.  We looked around the Church of the Nativity, perhaps most memorable for the tiny entrance door to the main building and the little room down some stairs that supposedly marks the spot of Jesus' birth.  Since we were there on a Sunday, there were lots of people there to worship, and we got a few dirty looks and shoves.  Remarkably, I also met a film-crew there that I knew from my work on The Bible: A History last year.

I am pleased to have visited Bethlehem, but pleased too not to have spent too much time there.  It makes a good, short visit as part of a larger visit to Jerusalem, which is how we did things.

Photo credit: Viola Goodacre

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