A history of the town of Bethlehem, both sweeping and personal in scope.
Screenwriter and novelist Blincoe (Burning Paris, 2004, etc.) tells the story of Bethlehem, home of his wife’s family and therefore a significant place in his life. This is not a standard history of the town; the author laces the narrative with family stories, personal anecdotes, and his own reflections. Despite what readers familiar with Jewish and Christian Scriptures might assume, Blincoe explains that the town of Bethlehem itself only predates Jesus Christ by about two centuries, making it far less ancient than is popularly thought. Nevertheless, it is situated in a region with proof of human settlements going back 11,000 years. The author spends some time discussing the ancient peoples who lived around the immediate area before moving on to the town’s famous role as the birthplace of Jesus. “This is Bethlehem,” writes the author, “an old town facing the site of an even older town, sitting at the edge of the desert, just six miles south of Jerusalem.” Blincoe explores Bethlehem’s identity as a buffer between civilization and the desert, as a source of water for Jerusalem via ancient aqueducts, and as a holy pilgrimage site. The author also notes how, as centuries passed, women played a strong role in the continued formation of the town. In fact, he writes, “Bethlehem was built by women.” Blincoe goes on to describe the sometimes-sordid roles of both Ottoman and British influence before delving into the post-Balfour history and identity of the town. Throughout, the author takes a deeply personal approach, seen mostly through his consistent mention of food, both as metaphor and as the subject of true stories. Though broader background can be necessary for the history of any particular place, Blincoe covers far more extra ground, telling the story of the Levant and of Palestine, occasionally pushing the story of the town itself into the shadows.
Far from definitive but highly readable, anecdote-infused history.