Whither the birthplace of Jesus? O little town of Bethlehem vs. the littler village of Bethlehem of the Galilee
For centuries, Christians have been making the pilgrimage to Bethlehem to pay their respects to Jesus — except they may have been making a wrong turn.
According to NPR and the London Times, the son of Mary wasn’t born in the little town of Bethlehem in Palestine’s West Bank area. Instead, archaeologists think it’s the little village called Bethlehem of the Galilee, about 100 miles north.
As if shifting a well-traveled holy route wouldn’t be awkward enough, the United Nations just designated Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in November— the first for Palestine. This year, AFP reported that an estimated 15,000 are visiting Bethlehem. People even pay homage online: Searches on Yahoo! have rise for “bethlehem” (+109%), “o little town of bethelem lyrics” (+50%), and “bethlehem israel” (off the charts) in the past day.
The hypothesis isn’t a new one among scholars, and the Israeli Antiques Authority (IAA) has been talking about evidence unearthed in an excavation that may point to where the real manger lies. “It makes much more sense that Mary rode on a donkey, while she was at the end of the pregnancy, from Nazareth to Bethlehem of Galilee which is only 7 kilometers rather then the other Bethlehem which is 150 kilometers,” IAA senior archaeologist Aviram Oshri explained to NPR, adding that West Bank’s Bethlehem (also called Judea) didn’t even have residents back in the first century.
Religious scholars have noted how the Bible refers to Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth.” In 2008, theNational Geographic points to a passage (John: 7:41-43) noting how his origins from Galilee counted against him.
Oshri wrote about how the evidence changed his mind for Archaeology magazine in 2005:
I had never before questioned the assumption that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. But in the early 1990s, as an archaeologist working for the IAA, I was contracted to perform some salvage excavations around building and infrastructure projects in a small rural community in the Galilee. When I started work, some of the people who lived around the site told me how Jesus was really born there, not in the south. Intrigued, I researched the archaeological evidence for Bethlehem in Judea at the time of Jesus and found nothing. This was very surprising, as Herodian remains should be the first thing one should find. What was even more surprising is what archaeologists had already uncovered and what I was to discover over the next 11 years of excavation at the small rural site–Bethlehem of Galilee.
The IAA stopped the excavations in 2006, citing a lack of funding; right now nobody’s investing in any more digs at the Bethlehem of the Galilee. Oshri doesn’t think any new evidence would change anything anyhow. “I don’t think it will make a difference to people,” Oshri told the London Times. “Christianity is leaning on the Old Testament, and in the Old Testament the Messiah should come from the house of David and Bethlehem near Jerusalem.”
The policewoman who killed an American contractor in Kabul is a native Iranian who came to Afghanistan and displayed “unstable behavior” but no known links to militants, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.
The policewoman, identified as Sgt. Nargas, shot 49-year-old Joseph Griffin, of Mansfield, Georgia, on Monday, in the first such shooting by a woman in a spate of insider attacks by Afghans against their foreign allies. Nargas walked into a heavily-guarded compound in the heart of Kabul, confronted Griffin and gunned him down with a single pistol bullet.
The U.S-based security firm DynCorp International said on its website that Griffin was a U.S. military veteran who earlier worked with law enforcement agencies in the United States. In Kabul, he was under contract to the NATO military command to advise the Afghan police force.
Insider killings have eroded the trust between the foreign contingent and the Afghan government, just a year before most NATO troops are set to withdraw and turn security responsibility over to local forces.
The ministry spokesman, Sediq Sediqi, told a news conference that Nargas, who uses one name like many in the country, was born in Tehran, where she married an Afghan. She moved to the country 10 years ago after her husband obtained fake documents enabling her to live and work there.
A mother of four in her early 30s, she joined the police five years ago, held various positions and had a clean record, he said. Sediqi produced an Iranian passport which he said was found at her home.
“Her mental condition is not good,” he said, describing her behavior as “unstable.” He said that after she attended a recent training course in Egypt a “foreign government” — a clear reference to Egypt — informed Afghan authorities that she did not appear to be “normal.”
On Monday, senior Afghan officials said the policewoman was licensed to carry the weapon into the compound and was well known there. On Tuesday, however, the chief investigator, Gen. Mohammad Zahir, told reporters that she was not authorized to carry weapons into the compound but managed to pass through security checks with a hidden pistol. Zahir said the lapse of security was also being investigated, as well as whether she had connections with foreign or local militant groups.
No militant group has claimed responsibility for the killing.
Zahir said that during interrogation, the policewoman said she had plans to kill either the Kabul governor, city police chief or Zahir himself, but when she realized that penetrating the last security cordons to reach them would be too difficult, she saw “a foreigner” and turned her weapon on him.
On Monday, NATO said that “some temporary, prudent measures” might be put into place to lessen exposure of NATO personnel to insider attacks, but the training of Afghan police would not be stopped. The NATO command had no additional comment on the case Tuesday.
There have been 60 insider attacks this year against foreign military and civilian personnel, compared to 21 in 2011. This surge presents another looming security issue as NATO prepares to pull out almost all of its forces by 2014, turning the war against the Taliban and other militant groups largely in the hands of the Afghans.
More than 50 Afghan members of the government’s security forces also have died this year in attacks by their own colleagues. The Taliban claims such incidents reflect a growing popular opposition to the foreign military presence and the Kabul government.