In the typical Christmas pageant, one of the children will be cast as the heartless innkeeper who refuses lodging to Joseph and pregnant Mary. Most know that there is no innkeeper mentioned in the Bible, but fewer are aware that there is not even an inn described. The view that Joseph and Mary simply arrived late to Bethlehem and accommodations at the local hotel were full is incorrect. The word translated as “inn” is the word kataluma, which is used elsewhere by Luke and translated as “guest chamber” or “upper room” (Luke 22:11; cf. Mark 14:14). When Luke wants to speak of a paid establishment (i.e., an inn), he uses a different Greek word, pandocheion, as in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34). Unfortunately, of the dozens of English translations that I’ve checked, all translate kataluma as “inn” in Luke 2:7 and not as “guest room” (that includes the recent ESV and NET; apparently they are unwilling to buck tradition in favor of accuracy).
The result of this mistranslation leads to a different understanding of the story. It’s not that Joseph and Mary were late to town, but it’s that they were rejected by their family. Clearly they had family members in town, as that was the reason they returned to Bethlehem for the census. That there was no room in the guest chamber for a pregnant woman indicates that they chose not to make room for this unwedded mother. The birth of Jesus in a room where animals lived suggests shame and
Most of what I have described above is the general view of scholars and I find it compelling. But some scholars err in arguing that Bethlehem could not have had an inn. This view has been repeated enough for me to address it. Ben Witherington, for instance, says this:
It can be doubted whether there would have been an inn in Bethlehem in Jesus’ day since it was not on any major road, and inns normally were found only on major roads, especially the Roman ones (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 69).
Doug Greenwold, in the December 2006 Preserving Bible Times Reflection, writes:
These pandoxeion inns were typically located 16-18 miles apart on major trade routes, the average daily distance traveled by a caravan. Since Bethlehem was five miles south of Jerusalem, it was far too close to Jerusalem for the placement of such an inn. Furthermore, Bethlehem was not on a major trade route so there was little need for a pandoxeion.
I’m not sure what qualifies as a “major trade route,” but if there was any trade route in the hill country of Judea, Bethlehem was on it. The only way you can say that there was no “major road” near Bethlehem is by saying that there were no major roads in the hill country. But were there no travelers in this area, and were there no traders bringing supplies to Judea and Samaria? Certainly there were.
An understanding of the topography of the hill country will help here. The Judean hills are very rugged as they are divided by deep wadis (canyons) on the eastern and western slopes. Consequently, travelers have always preferred to stay on ridges, to avoid frequent ascents and descents. For this reason, travelers have moved along the watershed ridge, from the time of Abraham until the present.
About a decade ago, Israel decided that for political reasons they needed to build an alternate road to bypass the Arab population of Bethlehem. They built a road less than 2 miles to the west of the watershed ridge. Even such a small deviation required that they spend millions of dollars in the construction of tunnels and bridges. Today we can do it; in ancient times, they did not. In short, there can be no doubt that historically any north-south traffic in the hill country passed near to the town of Bethlehem (cf. Anchor Bible Dictionary 5:783).
Furthermore, the argument that Bethlehem is too close to Jerusalem to warrant an inn presupposes that all travelers left from the same point and had the same destination. Jerusalem may have been a major destination of travelers in the hill country, but it was not the only destination. Travelers could have been going to and from countless villages in the hill country. Some known settlements in the 1st century B.C./A.D. include Hebron, Gabath Saul, Ephraim, Gophna, Sychar, Sebaste. That travelers might stop at any point along the major north-south hill country route is illustrated well by the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19.
In the end, the argument that there was no inn in Bethlehem in the time of Jesus falls short. Luke, however, says nothing about an inn.
48 thoughts on “"No Room in the Inn"”
Yeah for the TNIV! They have “guest room.”
Thanks for spelling this out for me.
I did not realize that Christ’s own relatives rejected him at birth as an illegitimate child. I had always thought of it as being just the town’s people.
Our Saviour, truly, had a humble birth.
For the most part I most certainly agree. But on the part of rejecting Jesus, I disagree. I'll explain later on my computer.
There would have been many relatives who had to travel to Bethlehem for the counting. It is more likely that the guest room of Joseph’s relatives was already occupied by others who had also to travel to Bethlehem, leaving only the stable area below, which they allowed them to use.
Todd, thanks for bringing this facet of the story to our attention. Your interpretation is “very interesting” (Jodi Magness taught me an important lesson this week), but I think “TOPOS” (place/room) is important too.
You say you checked “dozens of English translations” & found that they all render “KATALUMATI” as “inn”, but here are some alternate readings from editions in my library:
“no room for them in the place where people stay for the night”–New Life Version (1993)
“no room for them in the place where travelers lodged”–New American Bible (1970)
“no room where they were lodging”–Lamsa’s Holy Bible (1957)
“no place for them in the lodging room”–New World Translation (1961/84)
“no room for them to lodge in the house”–New English Bible (1970)
“no room for them in the house”–Bible in Basic English (1974)
“no room for them in the living-space”–New Jerusalem Bible (1992)
“no room for them inside the khan”–Moffatt’s Holy Bible (1926)
I have no idea what a “khan” is, but the translations are very consistent in their transmission of the idea that Bethlehem was unusually crowded at this particular time. This reading supports the view that Jesus was probably born at a time when many Jews were attending one of the annual feasts in nearby Jerusalem, possibly in Sep/Oct near/during Sukkot, which coincidentally would also be a more likely time for shepherds to be in the fields at night, which coincidentally would also follow from clues provided in the first chapter of Luke regarding the timing of John the Baptist’s conception/birth.
It seems to me that a good time for people to travel for the census was when they’d be traveling anyway, like between the Feast of Trumpets & Day of Atonement, or between then & Sukkot. I’m guessing that they took the census first, & then a large number would travel to Jerusalem for Sukkot.
I’m Greek-illiterate, but based on how the experts have translated it, I’d prefer “they were not in the place [TOPOS] where they were lodging” (i.e., they happened to be in an outdoor booth/manger when she went into labor). There’s nothing at all to support your suggestion that the family rejected her, but I agree with you that they were not in the booth/manger because they were late arriving into town & couldn’t find a room in the Bethlehem Inn. They were probably already there for the census staying with Joseph’s family before Sukkot began.
Khan is the middle eastern name for a caravanseri or roadside inn for travelers in a caravan…not the kind you and I might hook up behind our cars!
You have supported my point by finding the most obscure English versions where it is translated otherwise. The point is that all the major ones translate it as “inn” (and “khan” is just another word for “inn”).
Clearly Bethlehem was crowded, but this seems to be the result of an enrollment, not a festival. You are correct that I am reading some context into my interpretation of why there was no room in the guest room. I suggest that 1) the guest room in question is belongs to one of their family, since that would be a natural place to stay, and 2) the lack of room cannot simply be explained by a first-come, first-served basis since Mary was pregnant. What I think best explains the lack of room in the guest room is her unwedded state. I think that is a better explanation than that Jesus was born at Sukkot. Since you link four times to this article suggesting Jesus was born during Sukkot, I’ll take that as a hint that you want me to interact with it.
I read this article last week and I thought it so worthless that I didn’t bother to mention it on this blog. Maybe Jesus was born on Sukkot, but not for any of the reasons given.
1. Jesus did come and “tabernacle” with men, but that doesn’t he was born on the day of tabernacles. It sounds good in a sermon, but there is no evidence.
2. Strips of cloth were used in the temple. Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes in Bethlehem. I don’t see the connection.
3. All baby boys were circumcised on the eighth day. Were they all born on the first day of Sukkot?
4. Good thing their tents had a hole or they never would have seen the star. Wise men back then never went outside.
5. Shepherds weren’t out with their flocks in the winter; I’ve answered that myth above.
6. Quirinius was governor in 1 B.C.? Herod died in 1 or 2 A.D.? I guess I must have missed this new data. If it’s true, it is very important and should be the focus of this article.
Wacky theories get media attention because they are “news,” but that doesn’t mean they withstand even the most basic analysis.
Luke 2:7 “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Todd, you are right about the “inn” translation. For the rest, I think the honest truth is that we just don’t have enough information to fill in all the details we want. So much is based on one short sentence. I know that it was not uncommon to have a space in a home (or in front) where you might house a few animals at night. I think of the caves hollowed out behind homes in Nazareth. Having a feed trough around doesn’t necessarily mean you are in a barn or a cave used as a stock pen.
In fact, assuming Bethlehem was filled with others who needed to be counted for a census, any guest room in homes would have had multiple people in them. Not a good place for childbirth. Perhaps setting Mary up in a place normally used for housing a few animals, was the best that could be done in the circumstance, not a sign of rejection.
I've read that the shepherds were the ones who cared for the sheep to be sacrificed. They would take the lambs to be slaughtered to a specific Tower and wrap them to keep them from being injured and put them in the manger. This was no "random" place. The Tower of Midgal, I believe.
Ok, Al, tell me who ranks higher than a woman about to give birth? The fact that she wasn’t given better accommodations should be telling us something. I think it stretches credibility more to suggest that she was given a better situation, when the point of the narrative is that the baby was laid in a manger because there wasn’t a better option. I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine in their culture that an unwed couple would be shunned; that was true in our own until recent years. I certainly concede that my suggestion can’t be proven; my basic point though was about the inn and whether there could have been one in Bethlehem.
Todd, the BDAG Lexicon agrees with you, saying that “kataluma” is a “lodging place,” understood here as a “guest room.”
In the name of economics, Bible editors are often asked to fudge a translation a little. When people flip through a Bible to see if they like it, they most often go to the “famous” passages. The clearest example for me is John 3:16. I don’t think you will find a version that does not say, “For God so loved the world.” If I were to translate it from say, the UBS text, I would have it, “For in the same way God loved the world…” This would convey that John was connecting the story of the golden serpent in the desert (being lifted up and God granting salvation from snake bite death to those who looked at it) with Jesus.
So the argument over whether Bethlehem could have had an “inn,” in my opinion, is moot.
It is my understanding that in the typical Hebrew house, the animals were kept in the bottom floor, while the family lodgings were on the upper stories (for a well-to-do family, otherwise there was one floor where everyone – people and animals – slept). I think you have a valid point here as well, Todd. If Mary was pregnant, she would have been given a priority. The fact that she was forced to give birth where ever the animals were gives evidence that she was being shunned.
Good questions. No for sure answers. It should be noted that according to Matthew, Joseph and Mary were married by the time they get to Bethlehem. We can only guess how early in the pregnancy they were married (though, certainly after her visit to Elizabeth), nor do we know how much the people of Bethlehem knew about the events leading up to the birth.
The other question is how connected was Joseph to any relatives in Bethlehem. One tradition identified the residents of Nazareth as people from the tribe of Judah who returned to Nazareth from Babylon around 100BC. If that’s true and Joseph is a descendant of those people, his family might not have lived in Bethlehem for 600 years. Joseph may not have had any close relatives in Bethlehem at the time.
Finally, a mother giving birth. I know in our culture, births are a big deal. But, I wonder how much deference would have been given to a 15-16 girl, who was at best a distant relative. If you already had one or two families staying at your too small house, would you turn them out or try to find a small, out of the way, spot for someone to have a baby? We know she is in a house when the magi show up, so someone at some point put them up for some time.
It is interesting to think that people in Bethlehem could have been less accepting of Joseph and Mary that the people of Nazareth
PS-If your short on holiday spirit there in Jerusalem, I would be happy to let you have some of our snow.
Mary and Joseph were indeed married before Jesus’ birth. In Matthew 1:24-25 my NASB makes it clear:
“And Joseph…took [Mary] as his wife, and was not knowing her until she gave birth to a Son”
But, what if Matthew is using the phrase “was not knowing her” synonymously with “did not marry her?” He then would be saying, “Joseph confirmed that he would take Mary to be his wife, but did not actually marry her until after she bore Jesus.”
A couple of reasons behind this interpretation would be:
(a) the word translated “virgin” cannot apply to a girl who is married, even if she has not yet had intercourse;
(b) weddings are usually followed by a wedding night “consumation,” and postponing this would be considered so culturally improper that Joseph would simply postpone the wedding itself.
I will note that these two reasons alone fail to persuade me, because they are based on norms that did not exist in the case of Mary and Joseph. Virgin usually implies being unmarried; this is only an implication though, because most brides cease being virgins on the wedding night. If Joseph took Mary as his wife immediatly, he would of course refrain from “knowing” her until after Jesus’ birth, to honor Isaiah’s prophecy. You cannot use customs observed in normal situations to disprove unique actions in this extremely unique circumstance.
This alternate interpretation I suggested then must be examined by the Greek grammar and surrounding context. If it does not pass these tests, then the straight-forward reading in English is the same as the original recipients understood from the Greek. (I don’t know enough Greek yet to determine this; someone pull out their Greek NT and examine the passage.)
My point is not whether Mary and Joseph were shunned or not, but that the text says clearly that Mary and Joseph were married before Jesus’ birth, and any case for understanding Matthew 2:24-25 differently is weak.
Perhaps I have missed something in this argument. If I have, please teach me; I want to learn.
Al – it is possible that there is another interpretation than family rejection; I just think it is the most likely one.
I don’t know how to prove that they had family living in Bethlehem, but certainly other family were in town for the census at the same time. Given that people tended to move around a lot less in antiquity than we do, I would be surprised if some of their family did not live there.
I don’t know if we can say anything about the people of Nazareth’s acceptance of Mary. Perhaps they had more time for it to “sink in” than did the family in Bethlehem who had “one shot” to show her what they thought of her loose living.
Who can know, but maybe Joseph bought a house in Bethlehem after the passage of some time? He could have done some business in the meantime, and Matthew suggests that Joseph intended to return to Bethlehem from Egypt.
What is snow? It’s short-sleeve weather here. But don’t tell anyone; it’s too cold for shepherds to be out tending their flocks in December!
>>”But don’t tell anyone; it’s too cold for shepherds to be out tending their flocks in December!”
First time I was in Bethlehem was early January and I saw lots of people in fields with sheep. I began to realize that commentaries were filled with assumptions written by people who had never been to Israel.
However, it was 5 degrees F here this morning. Good think Jesus wasn’t born in central Washington.
Todd, did you wear your short-sleeves during the daytime or in the night? Please let us know what the approximate difference is between Monday’s daytime high & nighttime low.
Al Sandalow, did you see “lots of people in fields with sheep” at noon or midnight?
>>>Al Sandalow, did you see “lots of people in fields with sheep” at noon or midnight?
I understand the point you’re trying to make and I have no special interest in defending a winter birthday for Jesus. I still think assumptions have been made about shepherds and winter that many not fit the facts on the ground.
I don’t think there are many shepherds that sleep in the fields with their sheep at any time of year in Israel now. But tending animals in the winter still goes on in many places. I have seen Basque shepherds in – believe it or not – the hills of southern California in the winter staying with their flocks out in the sagebrush 24 hours a day.
Here in the cattle country of central Washington state, ranchers are often out in their fields at all hours of the night in the winter, because that that is when most calf’s and lambs are born. Sometimes nature needs a little help and the colder it is, the more likely a newborn will freeze up and die.
It does not seem unlikely to me that even on a winters night, a group of hired men, who’s job it was to tend the sheep, might not be gathered into a small camp in the fields where sheep are penned for the night, sleeping and taking turns standing watch for thieves, predators, or new lambs.
The coldest overnight temperatures I experienced in January were only in the low 40’s F. I know it can get colder than that, but I camp out in temperatures that cold regularly in the Sierras and Cascades.
I just viewed your profile because your “central Washington” reference made me curious. I’m from Othello! Small world, really.
G.M. – I wore short sleeves in the daytime, but to answer your point: I have been in fields near Bethlehem on Christmas morning and seen a shepherd with his flock. He told me that he had spent the night out there with them. That doesn’t prove that Jesus was born in December, but I think it casts doubt on those who suggest it impossible on the basis of the weather.
Excellent analysis and comments.
I’ve often wondered why Mary made the trip to Bethleham at all, so late in her pregnancy. This was a culture where families were counted through the male lines, so wouldn’t Mary have normally been accounted for by her husband (or father for an unmarried girl)?
Seems to me that in a culture where the punishment for infidelity included the option of stoning to death, and given the kind of mindset some in related cultures still hold to today (i.e. Honor Killings of female relatives who’ve disgraced the famiy name), I wonder if Joseph didn’t keep Mary with him for her own protection.
This view would also fit well with the idea that they were rejected by their own relatives in Bethleham, where they were offered only shelter with the animals rather than in the “upper rooms” with the other guests…
It all has the “feel” of a good fit with the words in the Biblical account, but of course, as always, interpretation is fraught with chances for error.
The main theme of the story remains the same – Christ entered the world in the least glorious conditions imaginable.
I realize that this is past the date of original posting – but I’d like to add information. During festivals and large gathering (like the census),people of property or people who could rent property would establish “khans” or Inns. Areas that were somewhat protected, provided pens for livestock, had water and a communal fire or oven for baking. Space was rented or bartered for-like camp grounds today. Mary and Joseph were not accomodated mainly due to her pregnancy and the post childbirth rituals that were part of Jewish Law. (see Leviticus 12) If they had been allowed space in the Khan, then it would have been deemed “unclean” and the entrepreneur would have lost his income. While this seems harsh to us, it was the Jewish custom itself which led to their being housed in the stable. I do not believe that they were rejected by relatives necessarily, nor that the baby’s illegitmacy was in question, since Joseph had assumed his paternity.
I also disagree that a pregnant women would be given priority back then. Women were second class citizens, and childbirth was common. (consider other Oriental cultures even today) Should you disagree as to the “khan” vs guest house – the same childbirth laws would apply.
I would only like to say one thing. Matthew 1:20…But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto hime in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy WIFE: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
Matthew 1:24-25 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto hime his WIFE: And knew her ot till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
I seriously doubt considering God's view of fornication and adultery that he would have Mary being an unwed mother and I think the Word of God states that very clearly. Read the King James Version.
There may be a very plausable explaination. Please check this web link http://www.uhl.ac/christmasStory.html
I agree with the comment concerning Lev 12 as the reason for putting them in the animal keep. Also consider John 1:11.
Kenneth Bailey (NT scholar who lived in the middle east most of his adult life) does a really nice job with with "ketulama" in his article, "The Manger and the Inn":
The New World Translation says "lodging room": http://watchtower.org/e/bible/lu/chapter_002.htm
Very interesting connection with Leviticus 12. It adds a whole different twist to many of the Jews rejecting Jesus because of their love of the law.
Is it possible that no one expected Mary to give birth at that time?
While "inn" might be mistranslation – or rather an overly interpretive one – the rest if the first part of the posting engages in unjustified speculation to such an extent that the mistranslated word seems a mild transgression.
Nowhere in the Gospel text does it say that Joseph & Mary were rejected. It says that there was no space at the XYZ.
It is much more reasonable to think that there actually was no space avaiable – or at least no space suitable for a woman about to give birth. If it were a "professional inn", this would be obvious: such a crammed, dirty place is not suitable for birth.
To bring in Joseph's family is totally without any justification! (This is just continuing the blame game, only vilifying the family instead of innkeepers!)
And as for their motive for rejecting the couple, Mary supposedly being an "unwedded mother": this is clearly not the case! Mary is called "betrothed" when the angel announced that she would give birth to the Messiah. But in Jewish custom, a "betrothed" couple was already legally married but hadn't yet begun living together. But even if they had been "merely engaged" at that time, they would have married as soon as possible after Mary's pregnancy came about. Matthew says that Joseph decided to keep Mary even when he still believed her to have been unfaithful to him. They clearly would have been married way before going to Bethlehem.
Or to cut a long story short:
There is no evidence for any rejection whatsoever. Not by innkeepers, not by supposed family members.
And there is no unwed mother involved.
"One tradition identified the residents of Nazareth as people from the tribe of Judah who returned to Nazareth from Babylon around 100BC. If that’s true and Joseph is a descendant of those people, his family might not have lived in Bethlehem for 600 years."
That's clearly not the case. Assuming that Joseph's family returned from exile in the 6th/5th century (rather than stick around Babylonia for a few more centuries), they settled in Judah, just like everyone returning from exile. There was no Nazareth at the time, Galilee wasn't an area populated by Jews at the time (hence the name Galilaea Gojim) – only after the victories of the Maccabees did Jews settle there.
Sure, Joseph's family hailing from Bethlehem might refer to David's home town, going back a millenium, but it is more reasonable that those in charge of enrollment were more concerned with the place that the family lived more recently.
So, Joseph (and Mary!) may very well have relatives in the town. But that's no reason to suppose a rejection!
Guest room is the correct understanding. However, the idea of rejection is conjecture. It would certainly make sense since, even being married, Mary would have been giving birth prior to what many would have considered full term. I think there may have been an issue with ceremonial cleanliness. To have the birth in the crowded living quarters may not have been considered the 'clean' thing to do. Just a thought.
Even if it doesn't mean "inn", I don't think "guestROOM" is the only possible meaning of the term employed.
"It would certainly make sense since, even being married, Mary would have been giving birth prior to what many would have considered full term."
Sorry, but that's rubbish! Mary and Joseph were already betrothed at the time of the Annunciation. Legally, they were married and if Joseph had intercourse with Mary – as outsiders would have to assume – this alone would have made the marriage complete.
And even if your point were true, premature births are not unheard of and no reason to asumme anything that might lead to rejection.
"I think there may have been an issue with ceremonial cleanliness. To have the birth in the crowded living quarters may not have been considered the 'clean' thing to do. Just a thought."
And a fitting thought. But ceremonial cleanliness is often linked to physical cleanliness. There is a reason birth, death, bodily fluids, illnesses are considered ceremonially unclean – because they need special care. So a crowded room would have suffered ceremonial uncleaness by the birth (though I may ask: why should it matter to them if they were not about to hold a feast, sacrifice at the Temple) but it would also confront mother and newborn child with physical uncleanness. These people need to be assumed bad for that.
If i can contribute to the dialog, by giving the meaning of word "katalyma" in Greek:
a) A place that you can reside temporarily
b) Temporary place to sleep
So, the phrase "δεν ευρήκαν τόπον ἐν τῷ καταλύματι" means that there was not any space at the lodging, shelter or accommodation.
– Or, as well, no place at pandoheion "πανδοχείο" which is "inn".
The word katalyma has rather a broader meaning than "inn", can be any temporary house of host, but as it is put in here " in the katalyma" means that there was a special place like an "inn".
I do not think that can be documented that they were not welcome, as there is a clear reference to the crowd because of the census.
That Joseph came from Bethlehem, does not necessarily mean that he had close relatives who lived there permanently at the time of their arrival. He is from Juda tribe that comes from Bethlehem, maybe his grandfather left when he was young- he has only a very small piece of land that can not be transferred but can prove who his ancestors are- maybe!
Let me also add that he was formally betrothed to Mariam making her "legitimate" spouse within the Jewish community. The phrase "not knowing her" just clearly states that they did not have had marital relations.
Thus we still have the best evening in human history.
The reference to John 1:11. is for later
I Wish to you a happy new Year!
Wow. "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him."
A few historical notes:
1) All male Jews had to make three annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Tabernacles was one of them (Exodus 23:15-17) so it's not possible that Jesus was born in Bethlehem during Tabernacles or that Bethlehem would have been crowded during a feast.
2) The shepherds at Bethlehem were not ordinary shepherds who were under Rabbinic ban nor were the flocks ordinary flocks. Bethlehem is where the "Temple Flock" was quartered, those flocks and herds where animals intended for sacrifice in Jerusalem, 5 miles north, were brought for inspection and kept until they were driven up the city for offering. The shepherds at Bethlehem were not under Rabbinic ban as evidenced from their freely sharing with everyone around what they had seen and heard in the valley east of the village (the Shepherd's field).
3) The average night-time low temperature in Bethlehem on December 24/25 is 42 degrees F. Sheep and herds for sacrifice were kept in these fields year round.
4) The reason Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem for the census was the Mosaic Law only allowed the people to be counted "according to their tribes," so the Jews had to return to the seat of their tribal district for a census, which caused a major disruption of the economy and why it took 3 years (December 5 B.C.) before Herod was able to carry out Caesar's order given in 8 B.C. that "all the world" (Roman world) be taxed.
5) Early winter would have been the most likely time to conduct a Jewish census as it would impose the least disruption to the agricultural activities (Judaea and Galilee were agri-based economies); the weather is mild in December and the rains are sporatic and light, the heaviest rains and coldest temps occur in January and February, but even then, this is a region of the Mediterranean with a mild climate where palms and figs flourish, certainly not cold enough to require wooly sheep be brought in from the fields.
6) The Gospel says Jesus was laid in a manger "because" there was no room for him, not that he was rejected by family, which Luke would have no problem reporting if that had been the case as he reported Jesus' rejection in his adult life by his neighbors in Nazareth.
7) It is commonly known among archaeologists that there was once a caravansary just outside the gate to Bethlehem on the road which was the primary north-south route to Egypt that had been used anciently since before the time of Abraham.
8) The Magi (Persian Zoroastrians) did not visit Jesus until February 23, when Jesus was 2 months old (after his presentation on February 9). By that time Joseph had either purchased, or most likely rented a house (one would have been readily available as many lost their homes and lands due to the high taxes).
10) And finally, the reason Herod had all the male babes killed up to 2 years old is that is when the Magi reported to him, not that the Messiah had been born, but that is when they "first saw the sign," the conjunction of Saturn (the star of the god Ninurta, the god of war) and Jupiter (the star of Marduk, king of the gods) in a rare (once every 800 years) "Greatest Conjunction" in the constellation of Pisces (the land which lay to the west, at the end of the course of the sun's path when it turns and begins it's trip back across the sky), all of this indicating, according to ancient Zoroastrian mythology, that a Warrior/King wold rise from the land to the west (Judaea lies to the west of Babylon) who would usher in a new age. The Zoroastrians were the only other mono-theist religion of the ancient world and adopted many of the Jewish beliefs in the period after Daniel was appointed by Nebudchadnezzar as the Chief Mag, including the messianic belief in an end-time warrior-king who would rise up and bring light to overcome the darkness.
A few historical notes that may be of help.
It seems to me that the manger reference was used to connect Jesus as the infant the angel foretold.
"The one laying in a manger."
To read more into the passage than that seems a stretch of filling in silence.
The text leaves us wondering. Was it a greedy profiteer or a family member who owned the house? Was Mary given the animal cave because she was shunned, or was she pretty much given the best they had to give? It might be that a woman giving birth would be considered ritually unclean, and therefore given a place that was already unclean so that the other guests wouldn't be considered unclean as well. But, I think that the best we can do is simply take the text at face value and say, "They ran out of room." Either way, it still stands true that we can so fill our lives with things that we find that we too have no room for the Christ Child. I would still like to think that most of the women would have been back there with Mary. Given time, place, culture, rules on clean and unclean, there is still something in every woman that draws them to the birth of a child. I'll bet that place was filled with love. No regal courts and pillars, but God might just measure true treasures by the size of hearts.
Interesting thoughts. Thank you for the article. Let me add that Jeremiah 41:17 might indicate that there was an inn in Bethlehem, too. See http://www.ritmeyer.com/2014/12/14/bethlehem-the-inn-and-the-manger
I am not as smart as everyone who has commented here. But I love the idea that his own family rejected him because they did not believe in the supernatural miracle that had happened in Marry. Isn't that how religious people react? They abandon their loved ones during the time that they need them the most in the name of religion? Religion makes us inhuman, to think that a pregnant women who is extremely exhausted from a long journey was rejected because the righteous did not agree with her pregnancy. They were willing to risk that she miscarry that baby than to help. That just blows my mind. Thank you for sharing this insight.
It truly blessed me.
In a way you are right, Aaron. The SELF-righteous would act that way. Religion can be a way to try to establish our own righteousness while rejecting God's free offer of salvation through Christ. Faith in Christ, however, makes us new creatures in Christ, not though our merrits, but through the merrits of He who died for our sins and ressurrected for our justification. A true born again Christian would not want to act in the way you described. Some "religious" people, maybe.
so you "love the idea" that puts other people in the worst possible light, because you have the bigotted idea that "religion makes us inhuman" and you are "blessed" by this "insight".
I'm afraid that this reveals a lot about you that is cause for worry. Your comment sounds pretty self-righteous.
All this based on mere speculation without any foundation whatsoever. There was no unwed mother and the text doesn't speak of relatives or rejection at all (neither about "greedy" innkeepers).
Hey Todd, Josh Watson here.
You say in point 5 of one of your replies above: 'Shepherds weren’t out with their flocks in the winter; I’ve answered that myth above.' Curious where this answer to myth is? Thanks.
In connection, for some reason, my memory tells me you took a picture of a shepherd with his sheep near Bethlehem on Christmas Day and then asked him if he just came out, and he replied he'd been out all night… providing evidence against ruling out a December birth by the claim shepherds didn't tend their flocks by night that time of year.
It's possible I'm getting memories mixed up somewhere, but if this did happen, is that picture still somewhere accessible?
[I wrote you elsewhere, so if you get that message first, ignore this]
I don't know what reference was intended, but you have correctly summarized my experience. Here's a bit more about the weather in Bethlehem in the winter: https://ferrelljenkins.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/was-jesus-born-in-winter/
Thanks for the link – I actually did come across that article in my search, and it helps.
Maybe you showed us the picture in the article (from the link you gave), and then shared your own experience.. and I must've thought you had taken a picture that Christmas day as well.
Appreciate the clarification. And thanks for the post here – new take on the story for me.
No one mentioned Middle Eastern hospitality rules. If the guest space was already occupied it would have been very rude to shove them out for a later arrival. Perhaps a pregnant woman should have had priority but that is highly speculative. I think it's generally accepted that manger would not have been in a barn but simply have been available because animals were sometimes shelteted indoors. The bigger question is the absurdity of going to the home of your ancestors for a census. Clearly any census would have been more useful if people were counted where they lived rather than based on some ancestral home. That information would be of no use to the Romans.
I realize this is an old blog, but as I scrolled down and read the many interesting posts, I noticed the absence of something I think is important. My information comes from a Bahranian student I had some years ago. He went home at Christmas break and got married, and then he went back at spring break for the "party" at which time he brought her to the States with him. When I asked questions, he told me the Christmas event was the wedding, and they were legally man and wife at that point, but the marriage was not consumated until he went home in March. If he had chosen to end the "marriage" prior to consumation, he would still have had to legally divorce her.
Although that is a Muslim culture and practice, I would be surprised if it didn't apply to the Jewish culture of Jesus' day. It would square with what Scripture teaches about them being "engaged" and his considering divorcing her privately. I believe at the "engagement" [our Western concept], they were legally married, but there was a period of testing to ensure she was NOT pregnant before he took her into his home and consumated the union. She still would have been called his wife based on the legal status of the "engagement agreement/ceremony" that had clearly already taken place. We so easily and subconsciously apply our own cultural concepts to ancient records that it's hard to get a clear picture of just what was happening.
I agree with an earlier post that childbirth was a common event, but that privacy would have been provided even in a crowded household – if only for the benefit of the others in the house.
Rags/swaddling cloths were just the normal way a baby was securely wrapped at birth [and still is in modern hospitals today], and any expectant mother would have had those supplies with her in readiness. I don't think it implies discarded rags or humiliation of any kind.
I’m late to this party, but I’d like to add abit if I may. Augustus had changed the way the taxes FOR THE ENTIRE EMPIRE was done, not just the Jews…it was now a head tax, the collection of which was assigned by contract to local authorities which required a counting. Augustus established a fourteen year cycle with a two year window in which to declare one’s residency for these taxes. This would have been the second cycle of Augustus’ Census…the first when Quirinius was acting governor of Syria. Nobody was required to go back to an ancestral home…such an Empire Wide exercise would have been impossible and would not have served the reason for the census in the first place. Joseph, having worked in Nazareth or the surrounding area, relocated his new wife to Bethlehem and registered there.
Bethlehem was an important town for the pilgrims attending the annual Levitical festivals and had made an industry of accommodating those pilgrims since the town was a short five mile walk from Jerusalem. Assuming Joseph and Mary were recently in town, and she was due at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, the local Inn (Caravansary/Khan) would have been full of these pilgrims. They were afforded such comfort as the courtyard, or a stall, could and laid their child in a manger. A thoroughly first century Jewish circumstance. No rejection. Not even poverty. And nobody there, prior to the shepherds, knew that the child was anything but ordinary.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a worthy assumption of we do the math from the announcement to Zechariah and apply basic human biology. The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated “God with us” specifically in the desert of Sinai some 1400 years ago. It does seem a little too good to be true, except that we don’t have any problem with Jesus being crucified on Passover, or preaching at the Festival of Lights in complete fulfillment of the Levitical Example. So why not! The math works, the storyline settles, we don’t have to jump through any linguistic hoops to make it happen.
Joseph moved his family to Bethlehem and registered there, intending to stay at his ancestral town. They traveled there with the crowds of pilgrims for the Festival. Before they could get settled in permanent housing they stayed at the Caravansary and delivered their child there in such accommodation as could be arranged.
The storyline also works if they were staying at the home of relatives or friends, whose house was full because of the Festival and the guest room was occupied. They were staying in the common spaces, likely with other relatives of friends, delivered their child and laid him in a manger, much like we’d use a PlayNPak today.