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town in Jordan, south of Jerusalem. Population, 22,500 (1964). In ancient times Bayt Lahm was a Canaanite and later a Judean town in southern Palestine. It was probably founded about the middle of the second millennium B.C. It is first mentioned in the 14th century B.C. in the so-called Tell el-Amarna tablets under the name Bet-ilu-Lahema (house of the goddess Lahema). It was sometimes called Bethlehem of Judea to distinguish it from the town of the same name in northern Palestine. According to the Bible, Bethlehem (the ancient Hebrew name; the Slavonic rendering of the Greek transliteration is Vifleem) was the birthplace of King David. It was the site of a cult of Adonis. According to evangelical tradition, it was the birthplace of Jesus Christ, who is regarded as a descendant of King David and who should therefore have been born in his town. However, since according to another equally mythical version, the parents of Jesus lived in Nazareth in northern Palestine, the Gospel of Luke gives a fictitious account of a journey by Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Vifleem) because of the decree of the Roman legate Quirinius that a census of the population should be taken according to the place of residence of their forefathers. Near the present Bayt Lahm, a well mentioned in the Bible, the so-called David’s well, has been preserved; it is a cistern hewn out of the mountainside to collect and store rainwater.
D. G. REDER