The Original Christmas
by John Peet
It has spawned a multitude of powerful sermons and a few carols. It is there in our English translations of the Bible and yet it has been long known that it is not a correct representation of the text. It is an interpretation based on English culture in the days of King James! Middle Eastern experts have known the truth (and written on it); archaeologists have exposed it by excavation of buildings from the time of our Lord; even Jeremy Bowen (of the BBC!) has got it right (mind you, he’s another Middle Eastern expert).
I refer to the clause, ‘because there was no room for them in the inn’ (Luke 2:7). We all know the imaginary scenario of them knocking on the door and ending up in a cave behind the inn. But this does not resemble the cultural and historical reality.
Aside from the fact that an inn was probably unlikely in Bethlehem, as it was not on a significant route between towns, it is usually forgotten that they were going ‘home’. This was Joseph’s home town and Mary’s family lived not too far away. Can you imagine the family subjecting them to such conditions? What would we do if faced with such a scene? Wouldn’t we move out of our bedroom and let the mother have our bed, etc.? Even with strangers, it is insulting to them to imagine they would treat a pregnant mother like that.
So, what is the reality?
Kenneth Bailey, a specialist in Middle Eastern New Testament Studies, has written and spoken on this subject frequently. The key is the word ‘ inn’. In 1611, it was normal for travellers to look for accommodation in an inn and this obviously influenced the translators. The surprising aspect is that they still think in that way! As far as I can see, all the translations and paraphrases stick with that wording. So, let us look at the evidence…
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