We sing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” but what do we know about the birthplace of Christ?
1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge…
The Christmas narrative centers around the little town of Bethlehem. The trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem is a long one if the route by the sea is taken (see Proverbs 10 12-10-21). We get the story of Mary riding a donkey from a “book” written in 145 AD, Protoevangelium of James, :17. I read a little of it and found it to be unrealistic; even so, that’s probably from where the legend came.
Bethlehem (Hebrew for “house of bread”) was the birthplace of King David (1 Samuel 16:1-4). An unwalled village about five miles south of Jerusalem with little more than a hundred persons during the Herodian period, it was, nevertheless, the prophesied place of the Messiah’s birth (Micah 5:2-4).
The phrase “because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7) may better be rendered “because there was no space in the room,” indicating that Joseph and Mary may have found shelter in a relative’s home at the time. Although the New Testament does not mention a cave, a second-century source states that Jesus was born in one. Many homes in Bethlehem were built in front of caves, so we can easily envision Joseph and Mary seeking appropriate privacy in a home’s back area that was used for stabling and storage. Matthew indicates that they remained in Bethlehem for some time, as Jesus Christ is not described as an infant but as a child when the Wise Men visited Him (Matthew 2:11-14).
From 1st Century Bethlehem
In the narrative, the language is such that Mary probably wasn’t in labor as she came into Bethlehem, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,” (Luke 2:6). Again, the legend from the Protoevangelium of James provides this immediacy. Although none are mentioned, the social customs of the day plus the added family inclusion allow for us to envision several women cleaning the stall and providing Mary with all that she needed for the birth. The Protoevangelium of James even mentions a midwife.
The next aspect of the story is one that is lost in most nativity scenes. We are provided with clues that confirm that Jesus was older when the Magi visited Him.
- House- The Magi found Jesus in a house (Matthew 2:11a)
- Young Child- Jesus was probably about six months old (Matthew 2:11b)
- Conjunction- The third and final conjunction of Jupiter and Venus with Jupiter being in full-grade retro-motion (looked to stand still) happened on December 25, 2 BC, six months after the first conjunction, which was the brightest star in history at that point. See Bethlehemstar.com
The last aspect of Bethlehem is a sad one. The baby boys in the area two years and under were killed in an attempt to kill Jesus. There may not have been many in a town of only 100 (a few more in the outlying area), but it is still considered a massacre. Joseph was warned in a dream to go to Egypt–God even funded the trip!
Satan did his best to keep Jesus from coming and then tried his best to kill Him before His ministry could get started. He finally succeeded in killing Jesus, but it backfired! More on that tomorrow.
Abba, I don’t know how You work when You allow mankind to make their own choices, but You’re God and You are big enough to take everyone’s choices and work them into the beautiful tapestry of Your will. Thank You for the gift of Your Son–when You came to earth as Jesus–and for what You did for us on the cross. We praise You and worship You. Amen.