Clerics Fight in Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Speaking of Church brawl, this time it’s between clergy in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests and monks who were armed with brooms got into it while cleaning the Church. Palestinian riot police were called in:

A Christmas cleaning of the Church of the Nativity turned into scuffles on Wednesday between rival Christian clerics zealously guarding denominational turf at the holy site.

Brooms and fists flew inside the church marking the birthplace of Jesus as some 100 priests and monks of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches brawled.

Palestinian police, bending their heads to squeeze through the church’s low “door of humility,” rushed in with batons flailing to restore order.

“It was a trivial problem that … occurs every year,” said police Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi. “Everything is all right and things have returned to normal,” he said. “No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God.”

Administration of the 6th century Bethlehem church, the oldest in the Holy Land, is shared by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics.

Any perceived encroachment of jurisdictional boundaries within the church can set off a row, especially during the annual cleaning for Orthodox Christmas celebrations, which will be held next week.

What a pathetic witness. See for yourself:


Photos: Christmas 2011 in Bethlehem

Bethlehem, West Bank – Tens of thousands of tourists and Christian pilgrims packed the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations Saturday, bringing warm holiday cheer to the traditional birthplace of Jesus on a raw, breezy and rainy night…

By late night, the Israeli military, which controls movement in and out of town, said some 100,000 visitors, including foreigners and Arab Christians from Israel, had reached Bethlehem, up from 70,000 the previous year.

Read on and check out the other photos here.


Bethlehem Prepares for Christmas Celebrations

Times Live:

As day broke on this not-so-little-town which lies just a few miles south of Jerusalem, locals began gearing up to welcome thousands of pilgrims who come to see the spot where biblical tradition says Jesus was born to a young couple visiting from Nazareth.

Saturday’s events were to be focused on Manger Square, the plaza in the town centre which was to host a traditional Christmas procession at midday followed by concerts and other entertainment on what is the biggest tourist attraction of the year in the Palestinian territories.

A huge Christmas tree covered in lights and glittering decorations dominated the centre of the square which was already filling up with excited visitors, some wearing red Santa hats, others in the sombre garb of various monastic orders.

Singing filled the square as pilgrims belted out carols in Arabic, and street vendors were doing a brisk trade in cakes, sweets and hot air balloons.

The celebrations were to continue into the night and culminate with a celebration of the Midnight Mass by Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, the most senior Catholic bishop in the Middle East.

He is expected to deliver a message of hope for peace in the Middle East and around the world, which was also expected to touch on the revolutions sweeping the Arab world.

Bethlehem’s Manger Square is the location of the Church of the Nativity which was built on the site where Christians believe Mary gave birth to Jesus in a cattle shed, and laid him in an animal’s feeding trough, also known as a manger.

Bethlehem attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year and is the main tourist attraction in the Palestinian territories.


Bible Archaeology

After Centuries, Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity to Get New Roof

Associated Press is reporting on the renovation:

Bethlehem, West Bank (AP) — Preparations for a long-needed renovation of the 1,500-year-old Church of the Nativity are moving ahead in Bethlehem, the town of Jesus’ birth, in the face of political and religious conflicts that have kept one of Christendom’s holiest sites in a state of decay for centuries.

The first and most urgent part of the renovation, initiated by the Palestinian government in the West Bank, is meant to replace the building’s roof. Ancient wooden beams pose a danger to visitors, officials say, and leaks have already ruined many of the church’s priceless mosaics and paintings.

If the repairs go ahead as planned next year, it will be the first time the crumbling basilica has seen major renovation work in more than a century and a half.

Altering a building like the Church of the Nativity, built 1,500 years ago on the site of a church 200 years older than that, is never a simple affair. The building is shared by three Christian sects — Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenians — who have traditionally viewed each other with suspicion and are wary of upsetting the brittle status quo that governs the site.

To repair a part of the church is to own it, according to accepted practice, meaning that letting other sects undertake renovations or pay for them could allow one to gain ground at another’s expense.

The resulting paralysis and disrepair has been a recurring theme at the church.

“In the roof the timbers which were constructed in ancient times are rotting, and this structure is falling daily into ruin,” wrote one visitor. That was in 1461.

Some measure of the complications involved in a renovation of this type can be found in the Nativity’s similarly ancient and fractious sister church, the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem…

… Today, the increasingly dire state of the Nativity’s roof and the intervention of an external player in the form of the Palestinian Authority — which has circumvented the old rivalries and allowed all to save face — has led the three churches to agree to a renovation to be arranged and funded by the Palestinian government and international donors…

… The roof is in such poor condition that there is a “risk of collapsing beams within the wooden structure which could hurt people inside the church,” said Issam Juha of the Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation…

… The roof was first built, along with the rest of the basilica, by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in the 6th century A.D. following the destruction of the original church built on the site of the grotto where Jesus was believed to have been born. Some of Justinian’s massive wooden beams are still in use.

In 1480, with Bethlehem under Muslim rule and the roof disintegrating, permission was granted to replace it. Philip, Duke of Burgundy, sent craftsmen, wood and iron. King Edward IV of England sent lead, and the Doge of Venice provided ships. Major work was carried out again two centuries later.

When the British controlled the Holy Land between 1917 and 1948, they recognized the urgency of replacing the roof but simply could not navigate the explosive rivalries between the sects in the church, traditionally backed by powers like France and Russia.

In the mid-1800s the tensions had become so fierce that Russian Czar Nicholas I actually deployed troops along the Danube to threaten a Turkish sultan who had been favoring the Catholics over the Orthodox.

The British managed only small repairs. The same went for the Jordanians, who ruled Bethlehem from 1948 to 1967, and for the Israelis, who captured the West Bank from the Jordanians and turned the city over to the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s.

A UNESCO report in 1997 found that because of water leaking from the roof, most of the mosaics and paintings, some dating from Byzantine times, had been “damaged beyond repair.”…

Give the article a full read here.

Bible Archaeology

Bethlehem and Beyond: Tracing the Life of Jesus

In the Washington Times:

The Holy Land has preserved churches and monuments that memorialize events in the life of Jesus. The truth is that we cannot be absolutely certain of the identity of these places. Tradition, Scripture, and reason are guides to indicate potential sites. For Christians the “holy sites” are not places to be worshipped, but an aid to understanding the events and teachings of the Bible.

Characters in the original scenes did not leave a pillar or stone to designate the location of an event. They were too busy with the cares of daily life. Nevertheless, knowledge of the background of Scripture is important to the interpretation of the events and instructions mentioned in the Bible.

Just how are the biblical locations identified with any degree of certainty when they were lost so long ago? Can tourists to the Holy Land be assured they are visiting real, identifiable sites or are they imaginary unsubstantiated locations used to satisfy a spiritual pilgrimage?

There are various avenues of research that can be used to identify traditional sites:

1) Literary sources, such as Josephus (1st century Jewish historian) and the church fathers often record distances from one location to another. These are invaluable for discovery. They may also remark how something is near a place previously identified.

2) Toponomy (study of place names) is often preserved in modern Arabic or Hebrew names.

3) Archaeology and geography are apt to paint a picture that match the biblical account.

4) Tradition, while it may be flawed, can be quite reliable. Sites became “holy” very early because eyewitnesses remembered traumatic events and where they took place…

Read on here.


Bible Archaeology

World Heritage Nod Sought for Church of the Nativity

And they should  give it, if it will help preserve the Church…

Bethlehem, West Bank — The Palestinian Authority has asked the U.N.’s cultural agency to designate the church built at the traditional birth site of Jesus as the first world heritage site in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinians say they asked UNESCO in January to place the Church of the Nativity on its list of the world’s most important cultural sites. No sites under Palestinian control are on the list because Palestinians do not have a state recognized by the U.N.

Palestinian officials say they hope the site’s overwhelming cultural significance will sway member states to approve the request. A decision is expected in mid-2012….

Mind the regrettable political motive and the real agenda (nonsense) behind the request.