The Christmas Story … revisited.


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”.

Joseph Mary & Jesus

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 …

Tower of the Flock

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.

Fun Stuff?
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.

Farmhouse-Stable Sanstedt-Ehe Germany

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 ?

=  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =

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 !

What Santa really wants

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17 Responses to The Christmas Story … revisited.

  1. Eric Chaffee says:

    Nice work, Steve! Always glad to see clarity shine on classic accounts. I’ve just begun re-reading an excellent book by a fine scholar of ancient languages who is also an expert translator of Aramaic, the language widely spoken in Galilee, the hometown of Jesus. His book, titled Rabbi Jesus, is a splendid biography which delivers facts, insights, (and yes, some reasonable speculations) on the life of Jesus. The author’s name is Bruce Chilton. He is both a professor, and an Anglican priest. The book is available on Kindle and in various other formats here in Mexico thru Amazon MX. I hope to be reviewing it soon at my site.

  2. Eric Chaffee says:

    Correction: “hometown” should be Narzareth, of Galilee.

  3. Bill Barker says:

    Fantastic story thank you so much!

    I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, be safe.

  4. Les Wislon says:

    Thanks for the Christmas comments! Right on. Sometimes traditions can hide the beauty of the reality.

  5. Pingback: How to read "the Christmas stories" | MeridaGOround

  6. Mary Ann Wentworth says:

    Dear Steve
    Thanks so much for the enlightenment.
    This will be my first navidad in Mexico.
    Enjoy yours!
    Dona Ana

  7. Michael Savage says:

    Interesting story. I passed it on to a church friend who replied that the credibility would be greatly enhanced if sources were named. There are so many false stories that get copied and recopied. Hard to take seriously without means to verify. He was actually much more animated in his reply so as to call this very irresponsible, but who knows, I have not seen it elsewhere.

    • yucalandia says:

      Scholarship goes beyond quoting references.
      🙂

      Translating the earliest Greek, Aramaic (Syriac) & Hebrew texts vs Sr. Google:
      Think exegesis …. Appropriately translating the earliest Greek, Syriac~Aramaic & Hebrew texts goes beyond Google searches of people’s “stories” that comfort many modern readers.

      Do Exegesis:
      Read the Septuagint … Read contemporaneous Aramaic texts … Read the referenced Old Testament references in the earliest Hebrew texts.

      Those are the processes (scholarship) behind the explanations & best-translations offered above,
      steve

      • Michael Savage says:

        So you are saying this was your work product? Interesting that such a scholar has time or interest for blog on Mexico. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us. How are you doing with the new scrolls that were found in the caves?

      • yucalandia says:

        Yes, it’s my work product, as the combination of insights from friends who have studied ancient Hebrew & ancient Greek (including a local professor of ancient Hebrew), plus linguistic & translation analyses of the Septuagint & associated Old Testament texts, blended with insights from Oxford University scholars – including the latest-greatest Oxford Annotated study Bible.

        Oddly, rather than offering insights or useful perspectives or facts, you choose to attack the author, using a peculiar premise that people are capable of only unidimensional lives, and hence, anyone who is supposendly not an acclaimed “expert”, must somehow only cite & parrot the work of others.

        Fortunately, people have been multi-dimensional for the past few centuries. … Eg. My mother was an English teacher, business teacher, but also much enjoyed exegesis – especially in the wake of the Qumran cave scrolls discoveries & translations.

        A further example. … A small group of us are currently analyzing & working our way through Genesis, 1 chapter at a time, right now. You could be welcome to come participate in our weekly discussions if you agreed to check the snide comments at the door.
        😉

        steve

  8. Eric Chaffee says:

    Anyone following this post of Steve’s might find a book titled RABBI JESUS : An Intimate Biography, by Bruce Chilton, of interest. Professor Chilton is a leading expert on the language of Jesus – Aramaic. He is also an Anglican priest. I’ve read this book twice now, and can’t say enough for it. It has helped me encounter Jesus as a real human being.

  9. Michael Savage says:

    Hey look, I found your story interesting and possibly true but who knows. Logically as you present it according to our current customs, but two thousand years of scholars translating texts cannot simply be discarded by an anonymous, undocumented, unaccredited translation posted on a blog purported to be about Mexico. When you have some peer reviewed journals to show I would take your work seriously. Otherwise it could just as easily be classified as fake news. Your findings are premature to be taken for the truth and you do serious work a disservice to present them this way. Regarding my snide remarks, I had to restrain myself to just post them so I think my challenging personality would not be helpful to your efforts.

    • yucalandia says:

      Be well Michael.

      Your personal analysis
      two thousand years of scholars translating texts cannot simply be discarded by an anonymous, undocumented, unaccredited translation

      offers no insights … offers no facts … and only smears with no basis, except that you personally cannot current imagine how polymaths exist +> so you personally smear other’s work as “fake news

      Re “the work of 2,000 years of scholars“:
      Consider instead, the incredible learning tools & resources we now have, that did not even exist for 1,970 years of your proposed 2000 years.

      Before broadly judging & smearing others,
      Consider instead a tool like the Blue Letter Bible – that your “2000 years of scholars” could never imagine:
      https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5869&t=KJV

      It’s always a choice:
      Judge others, name-call, and arbitrarily label people,

      while hiding behind the personal excuse of having a
      challenging personality

      … or take advantage of personal scholarship opportunities & new chances to learn.
      steve

      • Michael Savage says:

        You simply should have stated the origin of your story in the beginning instead of presenting it as fact which it is not. This is all I ever said until your other comments which I consider just arrogance to being questioned you hypocrite.

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