The name

Xilografia-B. von Breidenbach (1483)

The name Bethlehem appears to have been indicated in a cuneiform tablet found in Egypt belonging to the archive of the pharaoh Akhenaton: it speaks of the city of Bit Lahmu located in the territory of Jerusalem. It is very likely that the original name of the city derived from Lahmo, the Chaldean god of nature and fertility whose name was adopted by the Canaanite people and modified to Lahama.

If one accepts this hypothesis, the translation of the name Beit-el-Laham might have been “House of the Lahama”, which would make sense in view of the fact that this land was very fertile and rich in water. Moreover, in the Old Testament the city is called by the name Beth Lechem, “House of Bread”, and also Ephrath, a name derived from the tribe that lived in these places, which literally means “fruitful”.

The more modern names also make reference to the idea of a fertile and abundant place; in Arabic, Beit Lahm has the sense “house of flesh”, reflecting the large number of flocks of sheep and goats, one of the principal activities in the area. Meanwhile Hebrew Beit-Lehem means “house of bread”, a notion that introduces us to the image of Jesus as the living bread that came down from heaven.

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