Friday, December 13, 2013

The Nativity Story and Interpretive Tradition

As the celebration of Christ's birth comes nearer, I thought it would be appropriate to share an article (previously alluded to) examining our tradition of saying Jesus was born in a stable. Specifically, the author points out that the nativity account in Luke 2 never says that Jesus was born in a stable (much less a cave), that the word for "inn", katalyma, is translated to "guest room" the other two times it is used in the NT, and asks some very good questions that the born-in-a-stable account raises. This leads to a new hypothesis for the circumstances of Jesus' birth:
Archeologists have excavated houses from the time of Jesus, and they are very much the same as some rural Palestinian (and Mexican) farmhouses today: a guest room for visiting family or friends; other than that the whole house is basically a big open room. The family cooks in this corner, sleeps in that corner, sits and visits in that other corner. There’s a little “mud room” (that’s what my Wisconsin farmer friends call it) or “dirt room” (that’s what my West Texas farmer friends call it) at the entrance. You walk in, take off your dirty farming boots, then step into the rest of the house. But it’s all one big room. The cow or donkey was brought in at night and kept in the mud room. This served the dual purpose of protecting the animal and adding warmth to the house. And there was always…yep, you guessed it…a feeding trough - a manger - for the animals to eat from while they waited through the night.
I'm not trying to be provocative or rain on anyone's Christmas parade here. Maybe I'm being a bit of a perfectionist (don't get me started on Nativity scenes with the wise men). If you find this alternate theory of Jesus' birth interesting, feel free to share it with others. If you find it offensive, let me suggest that you have too much invested in an account on which no Christian doctrine or practice are based. The only difference it makes whether Jesus was born in a stable or a "mud room" is for our understanding of Luke 2, and whatever significance we have vested in it. The truth is, though we Protestants like to elevate Scripture and demote tradition, that doesn't stop us from formulating our own, by making certain interpretations of Scripture identical in our minds to "what the Bible says".

Or maybe a stable is just easier to draw/carve/animate.

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