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A Clear View of Christmas

December 16, 2010

A Note From Bob: I honor Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey for first opening my eyes to “a clear view of Christmas” in his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.

Let’s look at the most familiar text of the Bible, The Christmas narrative, and see if we can learn anything new, simply by reading the text and asking questions.

Text: Luke 2:4 Joseph went up from Galilee to the city of David, because he was from the house and lineage of David.

What happens when a son returns to his village (the village of his fathers)?

Relatives will welcome him into their homes.  They will say “The son of Jacob, the son of Matthan has returned!” (See Matthew 1:16).

What happens when a son of David comes home? He will be welcome in every home in the city.

The Nativity Scene

So often, Scripture is interpreted through the misguided lens of culturally-driven images. A closer look at the text gives us an opportunity to see God's plan as far more perfect than our understanding.

Are you saying that Joseph and Mary stayed in a house, not an inn? Yes, that’s what I’m saying.

Luke 2:6 While they were there, the days of her pregnancy were fulfilled, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.

Did Mary give birth to Jesus on the night she arrived in Bethlehem? The text says, “While they were there, the days of her pregnancy were fulfilled, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.”

Is Joseph so inept, that he cannot get his wife into a house, when he is returning to the City of David where he has family? Apparently Joseph and Mary arrived in plenty of time to settle Mary into the home of relatives before she gave birth.

So what about “no room in the inn?”

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 katalumati. You thought that there was no room in the “inn,” but wait. Luke knows the word for “inn” in Greek:

Luke 10:34 “The Samaritan put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn (pandoxeion) and took care of him.”[1]

Luke knows the Greek word for inn (Luke 10:34)—Pandoxeian/πανδοχειον —but he does not use it in the Christmas story (Luke 2:7).

What is meaning of kataluma?

Kataluma is the word for the “guest room” where Jesus and the disciples ate the “Last Supper.”

Typical Home in 1st century Palestine

Consider the text anew after viewing the layout of a common home in Palestine during the life of Jesus

 

Luke 22:11—As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you.  Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, “Where is the katalumati where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”

Thus, the Christmas narrative should read, “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the guest room.”

Was there a manger in the house? Where animals would eat? Was that normal?

In Luke 13:15 Jesus said, “Doesn’t each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the manger (phatne) and lead it out to give it water?” Of course, some may ask whether the animals were in a barn. But animals were kept in a house for three reasons: 1) Keep them safe from predators and thieves 2) Useful to warm the house and 3) Who has extra money to build a house for animals? Plus, in the Old Testament the animals stayed at night in the homes (Judges 11:30, I Samuel 28:24).A home layout indicating the animals' resting place

So, all is set right in the Christmas story by carefully reading the text and asking questions. And at last, we can honor Joseph for taking good care of Mary and the baby Jesus.


[1] (The Arabic word for “hotel”, fondoq, derives from pandoxeion)

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