In our previous post (click here) on Bethlehem of Galilee we referenced Ibzan (of Judges 12:8-10) of Bethlehem and observed: “Very likely this is the Bethlehem of Galilee, not the Bethlehem of Judah.” A reader asks, “I’ve learned about the existence of this town sometime ago, but I’ve never found out WHY it is likely that this Bethlehem is Ibzan’s hometown. Which arguments support this assumption?”
That is a good question. First, remember that Joshua 19:15 lists Bethlehem among other cities Zebulun inherited.
Wolf, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary observes, “The Zebulun location is favored because the southern city is usually identified as “Bethlehem in Judah” (17:7-9; 19:1-2, 18)” (Vol. 3, p.459). Note that is the wording repeatedly in each of these verses. It seems consistent that when the southern Bethlehem is intended, it is indicated, for example, Judges 17:7: “Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite; and he was staying there” (NASB). Note the rendering of the KJV: “And there was a young man out of Bethlehemjudah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there.”
Keil & Delitzsch: “Ibzan sprang from Bethlehem,—hardly, however, the town of that name in the tribe of Judah, as Josephus affirms (Ant. v. 7, 13), for that is generally distinguished either as Bethlehem ‘of Judah’ (Judg. 17:7, 9; Ruth 1:2; 1 Sam. 17:12), or Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:1), but probably Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun (Josh. 9:15)” (Vol 2, p. 287). To the Micah passage we could add Gen. 35:19: “So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)” (see also Gen. 48:7).
Pulpit Commentary: “But as Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah is generally called Bethlehem of Judah, or Bethlehem-Ephratah, and as Elon and Abdon were judges in North-East Israel, it is perhaps more probable that Bethlehem of Zebulun is meant” (p. 136). In his comment above, author A.C. Hervey is making two points: the fuller designation (of Judah or Ephratah) is used when Bethlehem of the south is intended, and second, the context of Judges 12:8-10. Verse 11 mentions Judge Elon of Zebulun, and Judge Abdon (vv. 13-15), on the border between Ephraim and Manasseh. While it is not conclusive proof, Ibzan’s placement in the text is in the context of judges to the north. Note in this connection that Butler, in the Word Biblical Commentary observes, “The context appears to point to the northern location. . .” (Vol. 8, p. 297).
Avraham Negev states regarding Bethlehem of Galilee: “A town in the territory of Zebulun, (Josh. 19:15), the birth-place of the judge Ibzan and the place where he was buried (Judg. 12:8–10)” (The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land).
While I do not think that truth is determined by the number of people who advocate a particular position, it is true that the majority of scholars favor Bethlehem of Zebulun of Galilee as best fitting the text and context of Judges 12:8-10.
Bethlehem of Galilee. Further remains from the Templars. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Click image for larger view.