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CHIMHAM AT BETHLEHEM.
weakness, his failing sight, saying, “How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem ? I am this day fourscore years old : and can I discern between good and evil ? Can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink ? Can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women ? Wherefore then should thy servant be yet a burden unto my lord the king ? Thy servant will go a little way over Jordan with the king : and why should the king recompense it me with such a reward ?
Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother."
But the honour which he declines for himself he solicits on behalf of his son Chimham, who accompanied David on his return to Jerusalem.' Chimham seems
have been treated with peculiar favour, and adopted into the family of the king ; for David, on his deathbed, specially commended him to the care of Solomon, and requested that he be of “those that eat at his table." We find further that he came into possession of property
BETHLEHEM FROM THE SHEPHERDS' FIELD. in or near Bethlehem, 3 which he transmitted to his descendants, for in the prophecies of Jeremiah " the habitation of Chimham which is by Bethlehem ” is spoken of as a place familiarly known. That this formed part of the patrimony of David, given to him as an adopted son, is highly probable, for in no other way can we understand a Gileadite permanently owning land at Bethlehem.
2 Sam. xix. 31-40.
i Kings ii. 7. That this involved admission into the family seems to be implied. Mephibosheth, said the king, he shall eat at my table as one of the king's sons."
But the word, translated “house ” in Jeremiah, where the Jews assembled on their way down into Egypt, means a khan or caravanserai. Elsewhere, it is translated “inn." What then are we to understand by the khan of Chimham ? It is, and always has been, the custom throughout the East for places to be provided for travellers—one in each village—where they might halt for the night. They are generally at distances of six or seven miles, so as to allow of an easy day's march from one to another. Bethlehem thus formed the first stage from Jerusalem, on the way to Egypt.
The duty and honour of providing and maintaining these khans devolved upon the
INTERIOR OF KHAN.
sheikh or head man of the village, who was empowered to levy a tax upon the villagers for their support. Sometimes only a space of ground was staked out and fenced with thorns, so as to furnish protection against thieves and wild beasts. But often a wealthy sheikh would erect a substantial edifice, either defraying the cost himself or seeking aid in the work from the inhabitants. It seems almost certain, therefore, that Chimham either became Sheikh of Bethlehem, or else that, out of gratitude to his benefactor, he built a khan on a portion of the land he received from the king. Of these, the former is the more probable, and more in accordance with the custom of the country. One thing, however, seems clear, that long after the time of David, “the inn” at Bethlehem was well known as the khan of Chimham, and that
THE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY.
it stood on land which had descended by inheritance from Boaz to Jesse, to David, and to David's adopted son.' Here was to be fulfilled the prophecy of Micah, " But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel ; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
We thus come to that event, the glory of which transcends every other which has yet passed under our review. Here the Eternal God veiled yet manifested Himself in human form. · The King of Glory is found “as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Omnipotence slumbered within an infant's arm. Omniscience lay concealed beneath an infant's brow. In the plain below us, the shepherds were keeping their flocks by night, when they heard the angelic anthem,“ Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will to men." Up that steep rocky path they came to see this great sight. Over that mountain-side the Wise Men brought their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh to pay homage to “the Desire of all nations.” As we stand in the rock-hewn Chapel of the Nativity gazing upon the silver star on the floor, and read the words HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST, even the most cold and apathetic can scarcely refrain from tears.
But is this the actual spot ? Do we really stand on the very place where the Virgin“ brought forth her first-born son and called His name Jesus”? There is everything in the surroundings of the place to awaken scepticism. This series of tawdrily decked chapels in which all the great events which have happened in Bethlehem are huddled together within one building almost compel incredulity. Here, for instance, is the altar of the Holy Innocents, and we are asked to believe that the remains of twenty thousand infants, slain by Herod, lie buried close by the place of the nativity, and we are shown the preserved tongue of one of them ! However willing we may be to accept the tradition, as to the site, we find it difficult to do so when it is mixed up with such preposterous legends as these.
And yet the evidence for its authenticity is strong, though not quite conclusive. The church stands upon a spot, just outside the village, which the inn or khan is very likely to have occupied. The “house of Chimham by Bethlehem” was well known to the Jews, as we have seen, and when the khan of a village has been once established it is seldom that its site is changed. It continues to occupy the same spot from age to age. We know that so early as the second century, Justin described our Lord's birth-place as “a cave near Bethlehem.” And Jerome himself, a native of Syria and familiar with the customs and traditions of the country, took up his abode in an adjacent cave, that he might be near his Lord's birth-place. The fact that the Chapel of the Nativity is a grotto, though calculated to excite suspicion, is not of itself
| Hepworth Dixon, in his ‘Holy Land,' endeavours to carry the argument a step further, and to show, by a comparison of the phraseology in the books of Ruth and of Jeremiah, that it was erected on or close to the house of Boaz. His arguments are not without weight, but they are far from being conclusive.
Matt. ii. 5, 6. John vii. 42.
2 Micah v. 2.
fatal. It is by no means improbable that a cave
cave contiguous to the inn might have served the purpose of a stable. It should further be remembered that the church may stand upon the site of the inn even though the Chapel of the Nativity has been placed in a cave in accordance with an erroneous and misleading superstition. Dean Stanley, summing up the evidence for and against the authenticity of the site, concludes with the remark, “ There remains the remarkable fact that the spot was reverenced by Christians as the birth-place of Christ two centuries before the conversion of the empire
before that burst of local religion which is commonly ascribed to the visit of Helena."
Whilst feeling that the balance of probability is in favour of the authenticity of the site, there was one consideration which made me wish to come to a different conclusion.
. The degrading superstition and the disgraceful discord which prevail here are a scandal to the birth-place of Christianity. Anything more alien to the spirit of the Prince of Peace can scarcely be conceived than the bitter hostility which rages amongst the three confessions-Latin, Greek, and Armenian—which share the sacred shrine.
THE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY.
The church-a noble edifice, with stately columns, probably brought from the Temple at Jerusalem-is no longer used for worship. It is held by a garrison of Turkish soldiers stationed to prevent bloodshed amongst the
monks and the pilgrims. Passing along the subterranean gallery, through the long series of gaudy chapels, acts of idolatry are witnessed the grossness of which recalls the fetish worship of Africa. Even a coldly scientific