Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Was the "Inn" in Bethleham a Hotel?

Luke 2:1-7, "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.  4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 

Note: When the author renders the word 'Church' as shown here, he is referring to our modern day, Corporate Run, Business Entity Institutional 'Church.' When he renders the word church in all lower case, he is referring to Christ's Authentic, Legitimate Home Based Assembly and model, which He continues to build.

Contrary to popular belief, the 'Inn' spoken of in Luke 2:7 was not a commercial hotel. It just goes to show how far and distorted man's traditions can go. I love breaking with tradition, so I'd like to point out that our Lord wasn't born in a stable. He was born in a home. Just like the true church He started wasn't created in a cathedral or a 'Church' building. He was born in a home of one of Joseph's relatives in Bethlehem.

Later, I will give several reasons for the perceived misconception that He was born in a stable because there was no room in a commercial Inn, but for now I ask that the reader be patient and read on to see the truth of this matter. I will be aided by a written piece by Kenneth E. Baily entitled, 'Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Cultural Studies In The Gospels.'1 Mr. Baily makes several valid points, the most glaring to me is how men's traditions run so deep that we today trust in them more than what is written in the Bible. This goes far beyond the modern-day Christmas story, which includes the Promotion of the false date of December 25th. 

With Christmas just around the corner I'd like to share some of these points about our Lord's birth. It'll give the reader a clear understanding of how different we, as believers in the western world, perceive Christmas versus the actual account given in Scripture. If we realize we've been in error about this, maybe we can be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we may be in error regarding other false teachings within the 'Main-Stream 'Church' system of our modern day.

First, Mr. Baily points out that family traditions run deep in Middle Eastern culture. In Israel, Joseph was considered a "Royal" because he was from the linage of David (vs 4). Almost any home in Bethlehem would be open to him. To refuse would bring great shame upon the entire community. Bethlehem was locally known as the City of David. The whole town would be disgraced if a family would not receive a person of such account. All Joseph would have to do was knock on a door and say, "I am Joseph, son of Heli, son of Matthat, the son of Levi,.." and so on, and people would instantly know he was a descendant of king David.

Second, Baily shows that Joseph was returning to his village of origin. There would be a number of villagers who were members of his extended family living there. He certainly wouldn't be refused by his family. No doubt he Probably went to a close relative, perhaps Mom and Pop.

Third, in almost every civilized culture, pregnant women are given special attention, especially one who is near to giving birth. Rural communities around the world always assist one of their own women regardless of the circumstances. Was Bethlehem an exception? Where does it say in Scripture that Bethlehem was so crowded that adequate shelter couldn't be found? This is an assumption conceived from almost two thousand years of tradition and lore.

Forth, Mary had relatives in near by villages just a short distance away from Bethlehem. Her cousin, Elizabeth was but two to three miles away. Surely, Mary would be welcome. If Joseph couldn't find shelter in Bethlehem, he would have gone there. 

Fifth, Baily writes, "Joseph had time to make adequate arrangements. Luke 2:4 says that Joseph and Mary "went up from Galilee to Judea," and verse 6 states, "while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered." The average Christian thinks that Jesus was born the same night the holy family arrived - hence Joseph's haste and willingness to accept any shelter, even the shelter of a stable. Traditional Christmas pageants reinforce this year after year. In the text, the time spent in Bethlehem before the birth is not specified. But it was surely long enough to find adequate shelter or to turn to Mary's family."1

The Scripture does say, "while they were there." Where? Bethlehem, that's where! They were there "DAYS!" That's two or more days for those of us who may have missed this because we are wearing our traditional Christmas folklore blinders a little too tight. As the popular story goes, the innkeeper told Joseph that he had no more room in the Inn, but he offered to let them make use of his stable out back. This just didn't happen. No innkeeper is mentioned in the birth accounts of Matthew and Luke. In fact, no stable or barn is mentioned - only an inn, a house (later when the wise men arrived Matt 2:11) and a manger. Joseph had plenty of time to get Mary settled in a relative's home long before she delivered her child. This is not out of the realm of being more than a distinct possibility. How often do we see commercials of relatives showing up at one's doorstep unannounced? How many times has it happened to you or people you know? People showing up without notice, especially in the Middle East, would not be frowned upon in that culture. The people there pride themselves on their hospitality, especially towards their relatives from out of town.

With these points out of the way, we can see that Joseph and Mary had ample time and resources to prepare for a suitable place for our Saviour to be born. The current story we all grew up with comes from a third century novel called, "The Protevangelium of James."2 This story had nothing to do with James. Authors back then frequently attached the names of famous people to sell their books. They had great imaginations and would spin yarns laced with fanciful story lines and imaginable details. This particular novel was even denounced by Jerome, the famous Latin scholar as did many of the popes, (not that I care what they thought). One detail being that the geographical area of Israel was unknown to the anonymous Christian author when he wrote that the landscape Joseph and Mary traveled through was all barren desert. In fact, many portions of the land in that area is fertile farm land. Olive trees are everywhere. He simply didn't have first hand knowledge of the area, so he 'embellished' and took license where he had no literal authority to do so. 

This novel was translated into Latin, Syrian, Armenian, Georgian, Coptic and old Slavonic. Little wonder this story is shared and believed world-wide. It spread as a warm and endearing tale, which people, over time, allowed themselves to use their own imaginations and cultivate it into a tradition and then a 'belief.' The Problem is, it isn't a 'fact.' It's just an embellished story - a somewhat inaccurate one to say the least. It is not the public's fault really. We've been lied to and conditioned to believe it the way it is portrayed in nativity scenes, on television, Christmas cards, plays, reenactments and 'Church' pageants. The true facts about the circumstances surrounding our Lord's birth are recorded in the Bible. That is what we need to believe seeing that it is our final authority regarding anything that involves Jesus Christ.

Now comes the two biggest questions. Where was the manger? and, What was the 'inn?' 

Even today, homes in Israel's rural communities remain unchanged. The type of home I will discuss originated from the time of David. They are ultra simple in their design but remarkably efficient to meet the needs of a family. The bigger more modern cities in Israel today have their modern homes and apartment buildings, but in the out of the way rural communities, there are still many of the old-style homes in use. Most are one room homes. The main room was called a family room. Some have another separate room with it's own entrance called, a "prophet's chamber" or, an 'inn.' It is like having an apartment built on the side of the house today. My mother has such an arrangement in her home. She has an apartment attached to her house which she used to rent out, and where guests stay today. When our family first bought the house, there was no garage. We had a carport. Over time we renovated that space into a beautiful and adequate studio apartment.

Most likely, when Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, they were staying there with one of Joseph's relatives who had a home with an attached apartment (available space or 'inn'). We already knew according to Scripture that they were in the area at least two days before Mary gave birth. I hate to get into the Greek, but for this post I think it is necessary. 

The Greek word for the inn within this passage is 'kataluma.' This means "a place to stay," and can refer to many types of shelters. The 'inn' (kataluma) was sometimes above the house, as in the case of the type of home where Jesus had the Last Supper in. However, when we look at the story of the good Samaritan, the Greek word for 'Inn' used in that text is, 'pandocheion,' which means a place with several rooms, or a place for many. It literally meant a public lodging place or commercial inn. The Samaritan even paid the inn-keeper to care for the wounded man until he returned. No innkeeper is mentioned in the Christmas account in either Matthew or Luke. No doubt, these two 'inns' are different in their applications as a place of shelter.

The inn that was refused to Joseph and Mary (kataluma) was a separate part of a home that was either occupied, or there was too much storage inside. There simply was no space for them to reside in the private room (a.k.a 'the Prophet's Chamber). In the same vein, the phrase, 'there was no room for them in the inn' could be used the same way as if I would say, 'there is no room on my desk for a computer.' It is talking about available space.
The word 'manger' in the western mind invokes the words 'stable' or 'barn.' But in a Middle Eastern home, stables were attached to the other side of and inside the home itself. It was just on the other side of the house from where the 'inn' (private room with separate entrance) was. Again, these were very modest and meager homes. The stable arrangement within a house was common for the inhabitants of simple farmers. Rich people would have separate quarters for their animals such as a separate stable or a barn unattached from the main house. But, Jesus was born of humble beginnings. The type of home He was born into was a humble, lower-income level house. At the end of the room next to the door, was either a few feet lower than the rest of the floor or blocked off with heavy timbers. 

The area was easily accessed by a few stairs leading the inhabitant to the lower level of the stall. The mangers were on (or carved out into) the floor on the top level of the living room at the very end near the stable area of the home so that the animals could reach the feed from a standing position a few feet below. Each night into that designated area, the family's cows, donkey and a few sheep would be driven. And every morning they would be taken out and tied up in the courtyard of the house. The animal stall would be cleaned for the day. The home owner wanted the animals in the house each night because they Provided heat and the livestock would be safe from theft. This was the basic and typical standard for almost all homes of lower income families.
As I eluded to earlier, the mangers were dug out on the floor of the main level of the family room close to the animal's stall area where they could feed. The mangers were in the shape of basins, or ovals. Hey, straw or other feed was placed in them. Since the animals resided within the structure at night, and the mangers were near them, what better environment could there be to accommodate the birth of a child given the meager state of the situation? Joseph and Mary made due. It was logical because the animals were a suitable source of heat for the newborn in such surroundings, especially when He was laid in a manger. He would be laid down in a soft cradle, and receive warmth Provided by the livestock close by.

Baily explains, "This style of traditional home fits naturally into the birth story of Jesus. There are a multitude of proof texts in Scripture to support that these humble homes were of one or two rooms with the animals living within at night. In Luke 13:10-17 where on the sabbath Jesus healed a woman who "was bent over and could not fully straighten herself." Jesus called to her and said, "Woman, thou art loosed (freed - literally untied) from thine infirmity." The head of the synagogue was angry because Jesus had "worked" on the sabbath. Jesus responded, "Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose (untie) his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?"(vs 15). His point being; "Today, on the sabbath you untied an animal. I "loosed" (untied) a woman. How can you blame me?" The text reports that "all his adversaries were put to shame."(vs 17). 

Clearly, Jesus knew that every night his opponents had at least an ox or an ass in their houses. That morning everyone in the room had taken animals out of their houses, tied them up outside, gave them water and cleaned the stall. Correct me if I am wrong here, but wouldn't that be considered 'work?' The leader of the synagogue didn't reply that he never touches his animals on the sabbath because it was unthinkable to keep the animals inside during the day, especially when there were no stables."1

The one-room village home with mangers has been noted by modern scholars as well. William Thompson, an Arabic-speaking Presbyterian missionary scholar of the mid-nineteenth century observed village homes in Bethlehem and wrote, "It is my impression that the birth actually took place in an ordinary house of some common peasant, and that the baby was laid in one of the mangers, such as are still found in the dwellings of farmers in this region."3 

The Anglican scholar E.F.F. Bishop, who lived in Jerusalem from 1922 to 1950, wrote, "Perhaps...recourse was had to one of the Bethlehem houses with the lower section provided for the animals, with mangers "hollowed in stone," the dais being reserved for the family. Such a manger being immovable filled with crushed straw, would do duty for a cradle."4 

Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth, to Bethlehem, some sixty miles away. They stayed with family for a short time and most Probably returned to their home in Nazareth with the newborn. Are we to believe that Joseph went to Bethlehem to be taxed and just decided to stay when he already had a ready-made home in Nazareth a mere sixty miles away? This is doubtful. He was on an errand to be taxed. When one is on an errand, one returns to his place of origin. Joseph, most likely was not making a permanent change of residence. The night Jesus was born in Bethlehem however, the angels spread word to the local shepherds to look for the newborn babe who would be lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. There was no mention in Scripture that Jesus was born in a stable, barn or cave. The wise men didn't attend this meeting, only the shepherds. This is important to point out because of the timing involved.

When the wise men showed up, two whole years had passed, if we take into account the facts listed in Matthew 2:16. The wise men met with Herod in Jerusalem, who sent them to Bethlehem to search for the young child. The account goes on to say that the star they had seen in the east reappeared and guided them to the "house" where the "young child" was. Scripture doesn't say that the star led them to Bethlehem, but to the "house." Joseph and Mary weren't nomads that moved from place to place just for the fun of it. They had a structured home like most everyone else. They only moved when commanded so by God in a dream. Chances are that home was located in Nazareth. A bright enough star can be seen during the daytime, even today, and easily guide the wise men to where Jesus was. The wise men could have traveled two to three days to get to Nazareth to see Jesus in His home and present their gifts to Him there. 

Herod was waiting for the wise men to return from Bethlehem with great anxiety because he knew that this child was a threat to his power. He was soon to discovered that they never made the shorter trip just two miles down the road. He wasn't sure where they had gone. After some time had passed he saw that he was mocked by the wise men and decided to commit murder of all the children two years old or younger in Bethlehem and throughout all the borders of Israel. Why would he do such a thing? Because he was trying to eliminate his competition for the throne. Why two years? Because when Herod diligently inquired of the wise men as to when they first saw the star. The star first appeared the night of our Lord's birth and not before then. It took them two years to make the trip by camel all the way from Asia before they arrived in Jerusalem. Matthew 2:16 is clear that Herod commanded every child slain who was two years and younger "according to" the time he diligently inquired of the wise men when they saw the star.

When they left Herod's palace, the star reappeared. They rejoiced with exceeding great joy the Bible records. Why would they get so excited? Because they hadn't seen the star for two whole years! It was like finding something of great value after a long time of losing it. They also spendt A LOT of time studying and preparing for this journey. It was like a science/historical team searching for the greatest and most valuable living human artifact. They understood, and believed that they were searchng for God incarnate. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they had been terribly disappointed when no one seemed to care about the momentous occasion of Christ's birth. They had come so far and had gotten so close, and now it looked as if they'd go back East with nothing to show for their trouble. 

When the star reappeared, they had new hope of reaching their goal. The reason they went to Herod in the first place was because they thought that Jesus, being a King, would be born in a palace. After finding out that He wasn't there, they were sad. Their mission was a failure until Herod told them Christ would be found somewhere in Bethlehem. The Problem for Herod was that he didn't realize that Jesus made His home in Nazareth and that He was only born in Bethlehem. That's when the star led them to the house where Jesus was living. ~Matthew 2:11.

By this time, Jesus was a toddler of about two years old. After being visited by the wise men, Joseph was told in a dream, to get down to Egypt with his young family because the rulers in Jerusalem had sought to destroy Jesus. God knew that Herod had no jurisdiction in Egypt. Jesus would be safe. After Herod and all those who would seek Jesus' death died off, Joseph returned to his home town of Nazareth and set up shop as a carpenter. How did he know when to return after so many years? God told him again in a dream. The account of what happened is recorded in Matthew and Luke chapter two.

Middle Eastern culture and surroundings are much, much different than what we know to exist here in our western world, especially in America. We'd do well if we would put people, events, time-tables and surroundings in their Proper perspective and see that Jesus was indeed born among relatives who would grant hospitality in such a situation. Also, that His Father in Heaven would Provide a suitable place for Him to be born.

Here we see overwhelming evidence that our western-style version of the Christmas story is fraught with error although believed as fact. When will we get over ourselves and embrace what is supported by Scripture and the tangible facts surrounding this New Testament area and account? Do we know better than it's Author? Do we know better because we haven't considered that not all people in Israel live as we do here in America? I submit that if our version of the Christmas story is wrong, why can't we acknowledge the same about tithing and the Institutional 'Church' system of today?

It seems that Christ's birth centered around the home. His teachings were about the home. And His church still meets in homes today. It's something to think about. Our traditions have made an opening for false doctrines to creep into our lives. We know this is not pleasing to God, especially when these traditions take away from the true history of Jesus Christ. Let us adjust our way of thinking and exhort one another to leave our comfort zones and adopt God's truth no matter how much it disagrees with our traditional perceptions. This might give us a better understanding regarding other areas of God's Holy Word. Merry Christmas!
1Kenneth E. Baily, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes; CULTURAL STUDIES IN THE GOSPELS (IVP Academic; An Imprint of InterVarsity Press) Downers Grove, IL.
2Oscar Cullman, "Infancy Gospels," in the New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963),1:370-88.
3Willliam Thompson, The Land and the Book (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1871):2:503.
4E.E.F. Bishop, Jesus of Palestine (London: Lutterworth, 1955), p. 42. 

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