The Roman period

The Madaba Mosaic Map

The Palestinian territories were conquered by Pompey in 63 BC and remained under Roman control throughout the lifetime of Jesus Christ. The territories conquered by the Romans were divided into various tetrarchies. Among these, the city of Bethlehem was under the control of King Herod I (“the Great”), who in approximately 30 BC had a fortified palace called Herodion built on the outskirts of the city.

The era about which we are speaking was clearly marked by the event of the birth of Jesus Christ, which saw the coming of the Christian era and also coincided with a great revolt of the Jewish people against Roman rule. In 6 AD the ethnarch Archelaus was deposed and Judea was incorporated into the imperial province of Syria and administered by procurators based in Caesarea Maritima.

When Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD, Bethlehem was fortunately spared. The holy place was already a site of worship by the first Christians who venerated the cave in which Jesus had been born. During this period the Jewish revolts increased in intensity and were suppressed during the reign of Hadrian, who decided to construct in Bethlehem a pagan temple dedicated to Adonis above the Grotto of the Nativity, which was to be buried and destroyed along with all signs of Christianity, as had already occurred with the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The place at that time must still have been in its natural state, as it was to be described later by Jerome who provides us with this evidence. As attested for us by Origen in his writings, a clear memory has always existed that it was in this place that Jesus was born. Due to the brutal repressions many Judeo-Christians departed, leaving the town in the hands of pagans who continued with their religion.

The date of Jesus’ birth

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