CHRISTMAS & Urban legends: No room at the inn

by David Croteau, excerpted fromUrban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions(B&A Academic).

Was there an urgency upon approaching or entering Bethlehem? Luke 2:6 says, “While they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (emphasis added), not “as they were approaching.” He doesn’t mention whether they were there for five minutes or five weeks, but it could allow for both.

Luke does not portray that her time for giving birth came as she was approaching the city, so there was no reason for panic or urgency. There is no evidence that the baby was pressing as they arrived.

But if they got to Bethlehem and Mary was fine, why couldn’t Joseph find adequate housing? Zechariah and Elizabeth were nearby, they were in a hospitable culture, and he was from the line of David. Why did he put his pregnant wife into a stable filled with animals?

The HCSB says they “laid Him in a feeding trough” (Luke 2:7). When you read “feeding trough,” images of a stable probably come to mind. However, there are three options for the location of the feeding trough.

First, feeding troughs were placed outside homes in a stable. This is the traditional understanding: wealthy homes in first-century Israel would have a stable. Countering the traditional view are two other options. Understanding how houses were typically constructed will help comprehend the other options.

A first-century house in Israel would have a large family room where the family would eat, cook, sleep, and do general living. At the end of the room there would be some steps down to a lower level, going down only a couple of feet.

That lower level would be the “animal room” of the house. There was no wall separating the rooms, just one room with two parts: the family room and the animal room. They would construct it so it slanted slightly toward the animal area for easy cleaning because the exterior door would be in the animal area.

On the raised surface in the family room would be a feeding trough for the larger animals carved out of the floor. The larger animals in the animal area, like a cow or a donkey, could walk over and eat out of this trough.

The smaller animals, like sheep, would have a smaller manger that would be carved out of the floor in the animal room, or the family might have a wooden trough that could be brought inside.

First century Jewish home New Testament Christmas

Scripture offers no explicit description of this design, but archeological evidence and implicit evidence from Scripture suggest that this was the general design of houses. Animals are mentioned being inside houses in a few biblical stories…

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Or buy the book at Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions(B&A Academic)