Tis the Season …
For people who enjoy scratching the surface of traditional stories,
there are some interesting (yet traditional) translations & understandings of the Jesus-Mary-Joseph birth narrative that don’t necessarily fit our nostalgic memories of “The Christmas Story” … of Inns … and Inn-keepers yelling “Go Away!” …. “No room at the Inn” … and desperate conditions of dirty common stables.
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7 RSV)
Consider that Luke 2:7 in the earliest Christian text says there was no room in the καταλυμα “kataluma”. “Kataluma” can mean inn, but more frequently translates as the guest room in a family~personal home … because there were not Holiday Inns nor Hampton Inns in the tiny hamlet of “Bethlehem Ephrata”.
Next: Where is “Bethlehem”? …. Is it the “Bethlehem”, near Nazareth? … Consider that “The City of David” (as is written in the earliest Christian texts), Joseph’s ancestral family home, was not the City of Bethlehem, but instead: “Bethlehem Eprata”.
Early Christian texts clearly describe Jesus birthplace as the “City of David” or sometimes “Bethlehem Ephrata” … is not the (modern … or ancient) City of Bethlehem. From both modern archaeology and the earliest Greek & Aramaic/Syriac sources: “Bethlehem Ephrata” is different than the “City of Bethlehem”. The City of Bethlehem was a walled city where the wealthy people lived.
In contrast, the first century village of Bethlehem Ephrata was a very rural (but special) farm community that grew food, raised sheep & goats for the City of Bethlehem and … sacrificial lambs for the Temple. … As such, the people of the village of Bethlehem Ephrata were primarily shepherds, and the main structure in the village of Bethlehem Ephrata was known as … the “Tower of the Flock”. which identifies Bethlehem Ephrata as the “Migdal Edar” (“Tower of the Flock”) described in Micah 4:8. for watching over the specially born, pens of protected unblemished lambs destined for the Temple … Bethlehem Ephrata. which is also a reference to the birthplace of the (unblemished) messiah …
Migdal Edar – Watchtower over the sheep pens of Bethlehem Ephrata
Then note: David’s father and brothers lived in the City of Bethlehem … but David was born and grew up in the village of Bethlehem Ephrata … hence, “The City of David”
Does it now make sense that the crowds of David’s ancestors coming to be counted in the ancestral yet tiny “City of David” … went to a small hamlet … with no “inns” nor inn-keepers … and that the καταλυμα (kataluma) upstairs family-home guest room was already full of other visiting family members, when Mary & Joseph arrived?
Why upstairs vs downstairs?
The καταλυμα (kataluma) guest-room was typically upstairs (see Luke 22:11).
Doubt this? Jesus used this same Greek word καταλυμα (kataluma) in Luke 22:11’s Last Supper story to refer to an upstairs guest room. That room (from Luke 22) is now known as the Upper Room … for the Last Supper meal that Jesus ate with His disciples before His Crucifixion. … Do we really think that Jesus & the Disciples had the Last Supper in a public inn (pandocheion, πανδοχειον), paying some “innkeeper” (pandochei, πανδοχει)? or … Did they use a καταλυμα (kataluma) private home Upper Room ?
Next? … Yes, as some readers have already guessed, the room at the lowest level of a Judean hill country home at that time has been crudely translated in English as: “stable” creating images of a dirty barn … vs. the better translation as a special “stall” set aside for birthing sacrificial ~unblemished~ lambs – separate from the stable. The manger Yatnh phat-ne in the Septuagint, (see Proverbs 14:4) translates as either manger or … a crib.
If we choose science, facts & good-quality translations of early Christian texts … It was NOT a stable in American terms. … Archaeologists excavating contemporary first century Judean hill country homes discover that while the upper level served as a guest chamber, the middle level served as the living and dining rooms, and the lowest level served as special night-time rooms … specifically stalls for our highly valued animals.
Modern archaeologists have found that these lowest rooms were often the earliest occupied part of a typical Judean hill country home = > a cave. This lowest room was also often where the more vulnerable animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold, harm & theft. This lowest room was not the dirty manure filled stable we think of today – and these lowest rooms often had a special stall set aside for birthing of sacrificial lambs, to protect & keep them unblemished.
Modern Context: While Americans & Canadians wouldn’t even think of bringing cattle into the house at night, notice instead that clean Germans & Austrians still have night-time animal quarters as rooms of their home.
Is the Christmas story starting to make sense now ?
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For doubters, who still want to insist that the rural hamlet of Bethlehem Ephrata, must have had an “inn”, consider that first century Palestine inns were more commonly called pandocheion, πανδοχειον… as is used in Luke 10:34’s story of the Good Samaritan who took the beaten man to the “inn” (pandocheion, πανδοχειον) and paid the “innkeeper” (pandochei, πανδοχει, v. 35) to care for the man.
Sure … People are welcome to cling to their nostalgic stories of “Inns” … and Inn Keepers saying “Go AWAY” … “No room at the Inn” … but that ignores the earliest Christian Greek & Syriac~Aramaic texts … and ignores modern archaeological results.
Instead, we can choose archaeological results & good translations of those earliest Gospel texts … as they do make sense.
Merry Christmas !