Before a certain baby was born there, Bethlehem was famous for its sweet water. Shepherd boys like the young David, king-to-be, herded their flocks into the town and drank from the fountain at the gates.
Water, as well as Jesus Christ, helped shape Bethlehem’s story. Its aqueduct enabled nearby Jerusalem to function and expand as a city and pilgrimage site: every invader from the Seleucids to the Crusaders, the Mamluks, the Ottomans, the British and, in 1967, Israeli forces, has seized control of the water supply in order to take Jerusalem. As a result, Bethlehem was militarised from its early days.
Having lived in Bethlehem for a number of years, Nicholas Blincoe knows the area intimately. His masterful biography traces humankind’s steps from the caves and carvings of the 9th century BCE to the complicated politics of the present day.