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What Is New Bethlehem on The Handmaid’s Tale? Map & Top Theories

New Bethlehem and Commander Lawrence

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On The Handmaid’s Tale, Commander Lawrence has been talking a lot about New Bethlehem. Here’s what we know about it so far, along with top theories from fans about what it means and a closer look at that New Bethlehem map they showed briefly. 

The Map of ‘New Bethlehem’

It’s not entirely clear what New Bethlehem is, but we do know that Commander Putnam was strongly opposed to it. Which means that it’s likely a good thing in some way! 

One Handmaid’s Twitter account describes New Bethlehem this way: “[it] will allow a haven for refugees and Gilead escapees to safely return to and reside within Gilead…”

But why would they want to safely return? 

This is obviously a different plan than the fertility center type of situation that Aunt Lydia had proposed for the Handmaids. Instead, New Bethlehem is somehow going to open up Gilead more to the world, which Putnam thought was a bad idea. He argued that it would allow “terrorists” and others back into Gilead. So is it an amnesty program of some sort? 

Which once again, leads me to wonder why anyone who escaped would even want to come back. 

Here’s a closer look at that map that was in the scene while they were talking about New Bethlehem. 

New Bethlehem
New Bethlehem (Hulu)

It’s fascinating, but it’s also tough to make heads or tails out of it. 

Here’s What Fans Are Theorizing

Here’s what fans are theorizing that New Bethlehem will be. 

On Twitter, Mellie wrote in reply to the tweet in the section above: “It seems to me like it might be some kind of DMZ within Gilead borders perhaps people can come back and somehow contribute to Gilead economy without as much persecution or as harsh treatment of women. I dunno just a wild guess on my part. 🤷🏽‍♀️”

Utopia #1 suggested: “this will relocate those of ‘like gilead mind’ into one area and not scattered around in the free world…they will be able to ‘gilead’ together…bonus points – it’s easier to extinguish ..js”

On Reddit, u/DeepDownUnderground asked brought up that Bethlehem is the location where Jesus was born. So the idea of a “New Bethlehem” must be connected with fertility and births. 

OrganizationLower286 replied, suggesting that this will be some kind of “gentler looking” Gilead to fool people into thinking Gilead is something nicer than it is. They wrote, “I think New Bethlehem is going to be a tourist destination. Opening up the rogue state of Gilead to the world and spreading their message. Only happy Handmaids and Martha’s.”

Others think that Serena’s baby will somehow be central to New Bethlehem, but at this point, I’m kind of doubting that theory. 

In a different discussion, FictionLover21 suggested: “I think New Bethlehem is meant to be Gilead 2.0, like a reform. Lawrence can see (like many others) that Gilead works as far as producing children but because it’s so inhumane people & more importantly, governments don’t want to support them. This is keeping them from being a bigger player on the world stage. So, they need government reform.”

But in a different discussion, Tersaldi had a completely different theory that I kind of like. They wrote: “The actual city of Bethlehem was destroyed by Emperor Hadrian during the Bar Kokhba revolt, where the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire. Two centuries later, Empress Helena, mother of Constantine I (first Christian emperor), had the entire city rebuilt. So I’m guessing the New Bethlehem idea is to rebuild the cities that were destroyed during the US/Gilead civil war and have American refugees move back into the country.”

Whatever it is, it’s an idea for helping Gilead sustain itself better, and perhaps gain better PR worldwide. 

The big question, I think, is Lawrence’s involvement. He’s trying to either reform Gilead from the inside or take Gilead down from the inside, I’m not really sure which. So either New Bethlehem is a way to get the world more involved, which he hopes will be detrimental to Gilead… Or it’s a way to try to create a “gentler” Gilead with more freedoms, by starting a slightly different reformed version that might ultimately expand into all of Gilead. Those are my two guesses, but either could be wrong. 

What do you think? 

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    Stephanie Dwilson started Post Apocalyptic Media with her husband Derek. She's a licensed attorney and has a master's in science and technology journalism. You can reach her at [email protected].

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