December 21, 2008

Revisiting Christmas

I confess; there are parts of the Christmas story that have always bothered me. Trying to bring the stories of Matthew and Luke together have been difficult at best. Recently, I started reading the works of scholar Kenneth E. Bailey. Bailey is a professor, lecturer, and author who lived for 40 years in the Middle East (Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus). Bailey’s time in the Middle East allowed him insight into the cultural customs of the world of Jesus’ that are unavailable to those of us living a couple millennia later in the West.

Bailey’s latest work, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, is absolutely incredible. In it, he revisits the birth stories of Jesus, and some of the questions and confusion surrounding those narratives begin fall away.

In Luke 2, we read that there was no room for the family “in the inn.” The word translated “inn” in Greek is kataluma. This is not the common word for an inn as we know it. Thankfully, Luke uses this word again in his gospel, in chapter 22, verse 11. Here, Jesus tells his followers to ask a man, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”

There was no room for the family in the guest room, because of the census. So, Jesus was placed in the manger.


A couple of thousand years ago, in towns like Bethlehem, one-room homes had a raised floors. Some still do today.

(You can see a good diagram here, as well as read parts of the first chapter of the book here:

“The main floor is where the family cooks, eats, lives, and sleeps. The end of the room next to the door, was generally down a couple of steps. In this part of the room, the family would bring in their animals at night, taking them out each morning and tying them up in the courtyard.” (Not directly quoted, but pretty darn close.)

The ledge that separates the two spaces was used as a stall for hay or other food for the animals of the family. This was called the “manger”.

And this, most likely, is where Jesus was laid.

According to Bailey’s life research and the customs of the Middle East, most likely, Jesus was not born in a stable, a barn, or a shed. Jesus was born in a small, humble Jewish dwelling, wrapped up in cloths (like they still do today), and placed in a manger, beside everyone else in the small family room.

Happy Birthday, Jesus.


KGB said...

I liked that!!!!

goooooood girl said...

your blog is so good......

Jennifer H said...

well doesn't that change things... interesting.