According to an ancient tradition, the shepherds received the first tidings of the Nativity in a broad valley in Beit Sahour: And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, ‘Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.’ (Luke 2:8-15)

The precise location of the appearance of the angels to the shepherds is unknown, but Christians have venerated several sites at different periods through history. St. Jerome (347-420 AD) believed the field to be identical with that in which Jacob, long before, had spread his tent, beyond the tower of Eder (Genesis 35, 21). He also tells us that the tower itself lies about a thousand paces to the east of Bethlehem. Not long after St. Jerome’s time, a church was built nearby. Arnulfus (670 AD) was a French bishop, who travelled to the Holy Land, related to his host of Iona that he himself visited this church containing the tombs of the three shepherds. For centuries, a monastery stood on this spot, but there is no mention of a cave until the time of the Crusaders (1099-1187). The tradition of the site centers on two places: one is in the care of the Greek Orthodox Church known as Der Er-Ra’wat, and the other is maintained by the Franciscans and is known as Der Esiar.