6. How did Joseph and Mary get to the place of Jesus’ birth?
Tradition has long held that Mary rode a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. In 1977, the donkey even received his own Christmas television special, “Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.” The Bible, however, does not mention a donkey. It is hard for us to imagine that an almost nine months pregnant Mary would walk the 70-plus miles to Nazareth. Animals cost money, and perhaps Joseph could not afford one. Also, people in the Bible were used to walking great distances.
Another reason why we connect an animal to Mary and Joseph is the fact that they take shelter in the stable with the animals, but again the Bible does not make such a connection. As we have previously discussed, the Bible says that Mary and Joseph took refuge in the stable because there was no room in the inn. The word inn is the source of some debate. If it means hotel, then this would be in keeping with the belief that Bethlehem was a small town in the first century, since the Bible says “the inn” and not “an inn.”
Some scholars suggest the word mean guest room, and would indicate that Joseph and Mary were staying with close family relatives, giving credence that one or both were originally from Bethlehem. If inn means guest room, and they have to stay in the homeowners’ stable, then this would also be in keeping with first century homes. Houses were built over caves, which families used as stables and basement storage. The house then rose in levels above the stable below, and one of those levels was the guest room or inn. If Joseph and Mary are staying with relatives it explains a phrase used later in the story, which we will discuss next time.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.