Palestine in Our Lord's time
PALESTINE: THE COUNTRY
Palestine, sometimes known as the Holy Land, is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and is about the size of Wales. In the time of Jesus part of it was ruled by a Roman governor and the rest by kings who did as the Romans told them.
Bethlehem is in the southern part of the country called Judea. King David’s home was in Bethlehem which is why it was sometimes called the City of David. It is built on a hill. Some houses on the hillside were built above caves into which stone steps led down.
The use of caves as storerooms or stables was common in the region until recent times. One of these caves was enshrined in the fourth century as the traditional site of the Nativity. The present Basilica of the Nativity is the oldest surviving consecrated church in the world. It was built by the Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD) on the site of an earlier basilica which was erected in 325 AD by the Emperor Constantine. (1) Beneath the Basilica is the cave itself which you reach by going down a flight of steps. It is lit by silver lamps and on the floor, marking what is believed to be the actual place where Jesus was born, is a silver star around which are the Latin words, “HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST”, “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary”.