Lost in Translation

on the Sea of Galilee
One of the most illuminating things I learned in Israel had to do with the world’s most celebrated holiday. We all know the story. While living in Nazareth, this
Joseph and Mary are engaged to be married. Mary has a visit from Gabriel the angel with the message that she is going to have God’s child and she, seek
being the good Jew that she is, complies. Naturally, Joseph thinks this is a little crazy and decides to divorce her (Matthew 1:19) until he, too, has a visit from an angel. Side note – though they weren’t officially married, culturally during this time, their engagement arrangement was just as binding. Matthew 1:24 says “When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her…” The Bible is unclear as to where the marriage ceremony occurred, but my extremely amateur theory is that they got married and traveled to Nazareth early in Mary’s pregnancy so that Joseph could avoid disgracing her publicly (Matthew 1:19). It doesn’t say how long they are there, but “while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” (Luke 2:6) They could have been there for a few days or a few months, but it wasn’t likely that they rolled into town on a donkey and immediately had the baby.

We all know Jesus was born and placed in a manger. However, this manger that I have always seen depicted as a little stable outside of town is absolutely not where a 1st century manger would have been. Instead, we find the place where the “Word became flesh” (John 1:14) in a cave! The cave was either at the back of or underneath a house, but definitely connected to a home.

Nativity Cave, photo by Bill/Karen Gadol

Here is the big kicker – Luke 2:7 tells us that there wasn’t room in the inn. The original Greek translation of the word “inn” actually means guest chamber. Because Joseph was from the line of David, he had extended family in Bethlehem (they don’t call it the City of David for nothing) and it is almost certain that Mary and Joseph were staying in a guest chamber in their home – as in a guest room, spare bedroom, etc. Childbirth was one of the most dangerous procedures for this time period. It is most likely that Mary had family and some type of midwife present at the time of delivery, which is probably why there wasn’t enough space in the spare bedroom to deliver.
I have always pictured a brave 13 year old Mary (with no epidural!) delivering her child in a cold barn way outside of town with no one there to help.

A lot of women, myself most guilty of all, think that we can do everything on our own so the awareness that Mary most likely had help during delivery is quite liberating for me. The way I have always imagined the nativity story has been changed forever and I think I’ll try to be a little less superwoman because of it.

Another quick sidenote about the Nativity story. You remember the angel and heavenly host of angels that appeared to the shepherds to tell them that their savior was born (Luke 2:8-14)? I’d always pictured them having to travel some kind of a distance and really seeking to find baby Jesus lying in a manger. They were actually right down the hill, just outside of Bethlehem (I’m talking closer than Starbucks to Seacoast kind of distance here). These were also the same fields where David would have shepherded! And, to find out where a baby had been born in a town of 500 would not have been very difficult… especially with the echoing sounds that must have been coming from the cave.

Shepherds Field just outside Bethlehem, 1st Century Bethlehem was at top of hill to right