Ancient history

Seal bearing the name ''Bethlehem'' in ancient Hebrew script

In the Old Testament the city is mentioned as being the chief city and settlement of the tribe of King David, established in these lands from around 1200 BC. The city is also mentioned in Sacred Scripture as being the site of the tomb of Rachel, the wife of the patriarch Jacob. These biblical times were marked by centuries of wars and partitions of territories.

In 586 the Chaldean army of Nebuchadnezzar, having occupied Judea, deported the Jewish population to Babylon where they lived for fifty years in exile. At the end of this period the Persian king Cyrus II (“The Great”) allowed the Jews to return, and from this time onwards the city of Bethlehem was repopulated.

Palestine, including the city of Bethlehem, was occupied by Alexander the Great in 333 BC and subsequently subject to the rule of the Ptolomies from 301 to 198 BC, and then to that of the Seleucids of Antioch.

Between 167 and 164 BC persecutions of the Jews began and an anti-Syrian revolt led by the Maccabees broke out. The Hasmonean Dynasty began in 134 BC and was extended to the entire territory, including the town of Bethlehem, lasting for approximately 70 years until the arrival of Roman troops.

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