Bethlehem in Palastina

Titus Tobler

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Bethlehem in Palastina

By Titus Tobler

Translated by: Michelle Standley

Foreword by: Khalil Shokeh and Maxim Sansour


Bethlehem in Palastina is a fascinating account of a young Swiss doctor exploring the famous town of Bethlehem, the place of Jesus Christ’s birth, more than 170 years ago. It is an essential research document for Palestine studies which had until now been only available in German.

In 1835, a 27-year-old Swiss doctor, Titus Tobler, travelled to Palestine for the sole purpose of undertaking medical research. The trip sparked a lifelong fascination with the Holy Land. Over the course of four major visits to the area, Tobler wrote several extensive geographical studies and surveys on Palestine. He eventually became a prominent authority on Palestine studies in Europe and used this platform to enter politics.

On his second journey to Palestine, Tobler spent some time in Bethlehem and decided that the city of Christ’s birth, which had so often been studied as a mere environ to Jerusalem, deserved its own detailed publication. The book, published in German in 1849, delivers a fascinating and meticulous insight into the historic small town in the critical few years before global events changed it forever and opened it up to the world.

It details all aspects of the inhabitants’ lives, including access to water, agricultural practices, cooking traditions, dress, hygiene, family dynamics, attitudes towards one another and towards foreigners, economics, professions and, most significantly, the growing trade of making and shipping souvenirs abroad.

Some of Tobler’s most interesting observations describe the long-term feuds between different Christian denominations in the town, which, along with similar feuds in Jerusalem, would be used as a pretext for the Crimean War just four years after the publication of his book.

As insightful as Tobler’s accounts are, the book is possibly more interesting for what it says about Tobler himself and his frequently unfiltered European perspectives, which, despite Tobler’s repeated claims to the contrary, are anything but neutral

In spite of the book’s historic importance and its essential value to Palestine studies, it has until now remained available in German only. Its translation into English now renews its significance as an essential piece for understanding Palestine and the evolution of European attitudes towards it.


About the author: 

Known affectionately as the “Father of German Exploration in Palestine”, Titus Tobler (1806-1877), was a Swiss German doctor, linguist and historian who is considered to be one of the most important explorers of the Holy Land in the 19th century.  

Tobler first visited Palestine in 1835 to conduct medical research and soon became fascinated with the Palestine exploration scene. With progress in steamship travel and Ottoman reforms the region became accessible to hundreds of western explorers who competed with each other to publish their Palestine surveys, travelogues and maps.

Tobler’s initial research spurred the German scientific establishment to fund three subsequent trips to Palestine, in 1845, 1857 and 1865. His research focused mainly on Jerusalem, where he is credited with a few historic discoveries, and included stays in Bethlehem and Nazareth. He published his research in 62 different publications during his lifetime, the most well-known being the Bibliographia Geographica Palastinae in 1867.



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