Jesus Christ wasn’t born in Bethlehem and instead was born almost 100 miles away, it has been claimed.
It is a tale 2,000 years old, and this time of year is acted out by schoolchildren and is celebrated with festive decorations in the Nativity.
Conventional wisdom is that the story is set in the town of Bethlehem near Jerusalem.
Tourists and revellers flock in their thousands to sing carols in Manger Square in the town, but some claim this is not the storied birthplace of Jesus.
Instead – it is claimed that Jesus was actually born in a town almost 100 miles away in Israel, also called Bethlehem.
Israel has two Bethlehems, the more famous one almost next door to Jerusalem in the West Bank and then another much further north.
It is close to the borders of Lebanon and Syria, and every year seems to fly under the radar of the Christmas festivities.
And yet there are some historians who claim this unassuming location is the true Bethlehem.
The biggest claim is why would Joseph and the Virgin Mary ride for days to go the Bethlehem in the West Bank, when this Bethlehem is just a handful of miles from their home of Nazareth?
It is believed that the supposed misidentifying of Bethlehem may have been caused by St Helena.
Helena, the empress of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, ordered the building the Basilica of the Nativity in the West Bank Bethlehem on the site where they believed Jesus was born.
And because of her decision, some historians argue it has meant for almost two millennia Christians have been going to what may be wrong Bethlehem.
Jesus is referred to through the Bible as from Galilee and as the Nazorean, so for some it makes sense he was born in this other Bethlehem.
Dr. Aviram Oshrim, an arcaheologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, supports the claim of the northern Bethlehem.
He has been studying the matter since the 1990s, and has said he is “positive” of the true Bethlehem being near Nazareth.
“I was contracted to perform some salvage excavations around building and infrastructure projects in a small rural community in the Galilee,” he said.
“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.”
Dr Oshrim claims he does not believe that the heavily pregnant Mary could have made the trip south to the West Bank.
And he also questioned whether a baby would have been able to survive the return to Nazareth.
“I asked myself, what are the chances that the baby would still be alive if she rode all the way to Bethlehem in Judea?,” he said.
“Zero. Whereas the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is possible.”
Biblical scholar Marcus Borg, who died in 2015, also supported Jesus’s birth not being in the West Bank’s Bethlehem,
In an article on his foundation’s website, it describes “historically it seems likely Jesus was actually born in Nazareth”.
And this would seem to match up without the archaeologists account of this other Bethlehem near Nazareth.
Borg explained “theologically Mathew and Luke place Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem because that is the city of David and in traditional Judaism the messiah would be descended from David”.
It continues:. “Saying that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is making a statement about his legitimacy as a messiah.”
However, if you take the Bible itself as fact – it seems clear the Bethlehem described by Matthew and Luke is the one near Jerusalem.
It reads quite undisputedly in the Book of Matthew that Jesus was born in “Bethlehem of Judea”.
And in the gospel of Luke it explains that “Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem”.
It goes on: “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son.”
However, the historical accuracy of the Bible is another debate – with the possibility of mistranslations and the fact it was assembled more than 400 years after the time of Jesus.
By firstname.lastname@example.org (Henry Holloway)