BET(H)-CHEREM (Heb. בֵּית הַכֶּרֶם, "Bet ha-Kerem," "The House of the Vineyard"), settlement west of Jerusalem in the First and Second Temple periods. It is first mentioned at the time of the Judean kingdom in an appendix of the Septuagint to the list of Judean cities in Joshua 15:49 (as Karem), situated between Suba (Tzova), Gallim (Beth Jala), Baither (Battir) and Manahath (Malcha). Judging by a passage in Jeremiah (6:1), the town was the capital of the district west of Jerusalem in the Iron Age, where beacons were lit in times of danger. Jeremiah warned of the pending destruction from the north with the approach of the Babylonians: "O ye Children of Benjamin [in the north], gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and to blow the trumpet in Tekoa [in the south], and to set up a sign of fire [i.e., beacons, massa'ot] in Beth-Cherem [in the west]; for evil appeareth out of the north, and great destruction." Jeremiah referred specifically in this passage to the ultimate territory of Jerusalem (a radius of five kilometers around the city), demarcated specifically by the furthermost sites of Tekoa and Beth-Cherem, to the south and west, respectively, and with the northern limit set at the border between Judah and Benjamin (probably at Gibeah/Tell el-Ful). It again appears during the time of Nehemiah as the center of one of the Judean districts; Malchijah, son of Rechab, the ruler of the district of Beth-Cherem, took part in building the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah (Neh. 3:14). The valley of Beth-Cherem appearing in later sources should apparently be sought next to the town. According to the Mishnah (Mid. 3:4: Biq'at Beth-Cherem), the stones for the temple altar and its ramp were brought from the valley of Beth-Cherem (Ex. 20:25 (JPS 20:22); Deut. 27:5–6). The fertile valley in the proximity of Ain Karim was also noted as a source of a specific kind of flat stone, still seen there today. Elsewhere we hear that the bright color of the valley soils was discussed by the sages in reference to menstrual blood (Niddah 2:7). The town and its valley are also mentioned in two Dead Sea Scrolls from the end of the Second Temple period. In the Genesis Aprocryphon on Genesis 14:17, the "vale of Shaveh – the same is the King's Vale" is thought by some scholars to be the same as "the valley of Beth-Karma." The Copper Scroll, which contains a list of hiding places for treasure, describes Beth-Cherem as a depository for treasure in a large water system (asyw). In Jerome's commentary on Jeremiah 6:1 (from the fifth century c.e.), Bethacharma is incorrectly situated on a mountain between Jerusalem and Tekoa. An attempt was made by Y. Aharoni to identify Beth Cherem with Ramat Rahel – a site which he excavated – in southern Jerusalem, based mainly on Jerome's misidentification.
Beth-Cherem should be identified as Ain Karim ("spring of the vineyard"), situated within the western suburbs of modern Jerusalem. In antiquity it was a major town in the hills east of a broad valley basin, with excellent sources of natural water and surrounded by rich agricultural lands. The main spring, known as the Spring of the Virgin, provided 1,135 cubic meters of water per day. Archaeological finds in the present village date back to the Middle Bronze Age ii, Iron Age ii and Persian periods. Later remains from the Roman, Byzantine and medieval parts are also known. Ain Karim is important in Christian sources as the birthplace of John the Baptist. Two churches in the village – the Nativity and the Visitation – are associated with the tradition of John the Baptist. In the hinterland is the traditional Monastery of John in the Wilderness, and nearby recent excavations have uncovered a Byzantine memorial cave dedicated to the Baptist, with earlier remains connected to baptism rituals dating back to the Roman period.
M.T. Petrozzi, Ain Karim (1971); 392–93 in Z. Kallai, Historical Geography of the Bible: The Tribal Territories of Israel (1986); Y. Aharoni, "Beth-Haccerem," 171–84 in T.D. Winton (ed.), Archaeology and Old Testament Study: Jubilee Volume of the Society for Old Testament Study 1917–1967 (1967); Y. Tsafrir, L. Di Segni, and J. Green (eds.), Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea – Palaestina: Maps and Gazetteer (1994), 82; M. Piccirillo, "Ain Karim: les sanctuaries de l'enfance de Jean," Le Monde de la Bible, 89:24–5; S. Gibson, The Cave of John the Baptist (2004), 26–43.
[Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]