No Inn, No Innkeeper, and No Stable

Joseph took his betrothed Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (2.5). Bethlehem was his home town (v. 3) and, in accordance with the patrilocal marital customs of the day, it must also have been the place where they finalized their matrimonial arrangements by bringing her into his home. As a newly married man … he and his bride could stay in a marital chamber attached to the house until they could get a place of their own. They stayed there for some time until she came to full term (v. 6), and she gave birth to Jesus in the main room of the house rather than in her marital apartment because it was too small, and she laid the newborn in one of those mangers (v. 7) common to the main room of an ancient farmhouse. After staying at least another forty days in Bethlehem (v. 22; cf. Lev 12.2–8), Joseph and Mary eventually moved to Nazareth to make their home together in her family’s town (v. 39; cf. 1.26–27).

To be sure, this scenario as presupposed in Luke’s infancy account diverges greatly from the conventional Christmas story. There is no inn, no innkeeper, and no stable. But it is grounded in a careful exegesis of the text. The term κατάλυμα has a broad sense of a ‘place to stay’ and the final clause of Luke 2.7 should be translated as ‘because they had no space in their place to stay’.

Stephen Carlson, “The Accommodations of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem: Κατάλυμα in Luke 2.7”

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