Bethlehem

About 5 miles south of Jerusalem is the town of Bethlehem where King David was born and raised, and thus also known as the City of David (not to be confused with the area of Jerusalem immediately south of the Temple Mount which became his capitol, also known as the City of David).  The name means “House of Bread”, possibly because of all the wheat grown in the region.  Archeologists estimate the population at the time of Jesus to be about 5,000, not exactly a town set up to receive a lot of visitors. 

This was Joseph’s ancestral home and upon arrival he and Mary probably sought refuge with extended family members.  However because of the registration decreed by Augustus and the requirement by Herod that decedents of David had to report to Bethlehem, it was probably packed and the usual guest rooms were filled.  Despite tradition nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus was born in a stable (although it very well could have been), only that he was placed in a manger, a stone feeding trough conveniently just about the right size and height for a crib.  The King James Bible says that this was because there was no room at the “inn”, but the Greek word used in this case for “inn” is “kataluma”, literally “loosing down place”, which is quite open to interpretation.  This presents several options; it could have been a guest room upstairs at a private residence, or a corner of the house set aside for guests.  What it is not is the “inn” referred to that the Good Samaritan deposited the wounded Jewish man at and paid the innkeeper to take care of him; the Greek word for this type of inn was pandoxeion.

Some suggest that given what we know about the betrothal process, many relatives would be present that would know that the wedding feast had not taken place yet between Mary and Joseph, and yet here she is full-term pregnant.  The scandal of adultery and the defilement it entails may have caused them to shut their doors and refuse their kataluma to them, until some kind-hearted soul took pity on them and at least let them use the stable, which may indeed been the downstairs of the house, not some outlying cave.  Or it may be that even if they were warmly received, Mary and Joseph didn’t feel like displacing the 2 or 3 families that were already stuffed into the kataluma, and at their own admonition moved out to the stable, where there would be at least a semblance of peace and quiet. But then again, it may have indeed been a cave, as the hills around Bethlehem are still dotted with them. I’ve spent nights in a unheated stone house before, and can assure you it’s not much better than a cave.

 

God kept the birth of His Son relatively quiet and low-key, but there was a group of angels that were just chomping at the bit to celebrate and tell someone, so God sent them to a group of shepherds who were most likely tending the sheep by nignt used for the Temple sacrifices.  Shepherds were pretty low on the social ladder, considered by the general population as untrustworthy, and their profession made them ceremonially unclean, which was a big deal in these times.  Yet God looked on their hearts as those who Jesus came to save, and they showed the nobleness of their hearts in believing the angel’s message, rejoicing to hear it, and running to Bethlehem to worship the newborn King.  Isaiah the prophet foretold this event 700 years before when he wrote “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder.  And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:6-7) 

After the shepherds left, they went and told everyone who would listen what they had seen and heard, and gave glory to God.  Mary marveled at the things the shepherds said, and often pondered these things in her heart.  News of this probably reached the chief priests and Herod in Jerusalem, who with them being shepherds and all, probably didn’t pay much heed to it.  An event would happen in a while however that would attract Herod’s complete and undivided attention…

-To be continued

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