One simple fact about history is that there is no certainty. There can be near certainty, especially about recent events, but technically nothing can be known. As we go further into the past there is less certainty. The ancient world recorded little, so we can at best reconstruct the events as well as we can with limited data.
Two gospels, Matthew and Luke, tell us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but they have differing stories, focusing on Jospeph and Mary respectively. In recent years Scholars have tended to hold the opinion that Jesus was born at the family home in Nazareth. However, certain factors have been overlooked, and these lead me to think that the gospel tale is correct.
In the Middle East extended families lived close to each other. It is very much a clan society. Joseph came from the family of David, who were a clan based at Bethlehem in ancient times. Although they were exiled by the Babylonians in 587 BC along with other Jews, Cyrus the Persian king, allowed all Jews back in 527 BC and let them reclaim their lost lands. The family of David would have reclaimed the lands in Bethlehem. It is likely then that they lived there, tending their lands as they had done for centuries.
This is significant because it indicates that Joseph came from Bethlehem rather than Nazareth.So what was he doing in Nazareth? Easy. He is reported to have been a tecton. While this is translated as carpenter, it can also mean builder. A fundamental principle of the building trade is that builders have to go to where the buildings are being erected. As Herod the Great was conducting a massive building programme in Galilee, it is likely that Joseph went where the money was and found work in Galilee. There he met Mary.
In those days the woman was taken to live in the man's house, possibly the clan home with other membvers of the extended family. Joseph would have expected Mary to do this and she would have seen it as normal.It is likely then that Jospeh took Mary to Bethlehem.
The stable is a historical mistake. The word denoted the manger on the lower level of a Jewish house. The houses were split level, with the lower one being where the animals were housed. It is likely that Jospeh's family home was small and cramped with members of the extended family present, so the manger may have been the most comfortable place to place a baby.
Also erroneous is the image of Joseph being present at the birth. Even up to modern times the presence of males in a house at childbirth was considered unluckly, so the family women, who attended a birth, would have sent the men outside. It is also erroneous to think of the wise men attendeding the stable. If they existed at all, the Bible says that they came to the house where Jesus was living.
Nothing is certain in history. We can at best reconstruct the past on the basis of what we know. Our reconstructions are always tentative and we should not become too attached to them.
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