Many of the events around Christ’s birth have been verified historically. Although, for some, the dates don’t seem to jive, but evidence is not always the force that causes one to believe. There is evidence that Caesar Augustus had 3 censuses during his reign with one being in 8 BC. In a previous post, I stated that there is evidence that Christ was born in 2 BC. So is this a discrepancy? Not really. Think about how long it would take to do a census in 8 BC. Just because Caesar said to “make it so” in 8 BC would it occur everywhere at the same time. We are so used to internet and microwaves that we forget the time in which we are referring. Taking six years to reach Palestine and getting the framework set up to taking such a census in that region is doing pretty good. Others have criticized Luke stating that “this taxing was first made when Cyrenius [Quirnius] was governor of Syria” (Lk 2:2). History does show Quirnius to be in Syria during this time period but not as Governor. He was governor in 6-7 AD. Again, a blunder? Not really. Just as our American words can have different meanings so can Greek words. The word translated ‘first” (i.e., prote) can also mean “prior to.” Therefore, the statement could be that this is the census before Quirnius was Governor in Syria. Now that the historical placement of the event can be considered accurate, let’s move on with the story. Was there really no room in the inn?
The census by Caesar Augustus brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem which fulfilled Micah’s prophecy (Mi 5:2). Because there were many people that had to return to Bethlehem for the same census, space was not over abundant. Although scripture states that there was no room in the inn (Lk 2:7), it seems that the word used for inn here (kataluma) is not that of a structure for lodging of travelers as a different word is used here than in another place where Luke really meant a place for travelers to lodge (pandokheion; Lk 10:34). The Greek word here is used elsewhere to mean guest room (Lk 22:11) and is likely more in line with its meaning here as well. Let’s also consider the context of the two passages. In Luke 2 we are talking about Bethlehem which is a city with great history but is a remote village off the beaten path. In Luke 22 we are talking about a road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a well-traveled path and better able to sustain a business of lodging and having people wealthy enough to pay for such. There would not be much wealthy travelers passing through Bethlehem. Therefore, the likelihood of an inn being in Bethlehem would be rather remote.
Because of the culture of the time, one would likely stay with relatives rather than elsewhere and one would be expected to do so. Some have claimed that even if they met relatives they may not allow them to stay because they were not married. However, this is unlikely for two reasons: (1) Joseph took ownership of Mary’s pregnancy (Mt 1:24), and (2) they, by tradition, were considered married from the point of betrothal even before they consummated their marriage. Therefore, they likely stayed with relatives but others were also staying there and so the guest room was also full of people. Anyone older than Mary or Joseph would take priority even though Mary was pregnant. Therefore, Joseph and Mary could not stay in the guest room but stayed in the main part of the house.
Most houses of this era were one room with a raised terrace where the family would sleep. Animals were brought into the house at night for safety and let out during the day. Most had a manger built into the floor as a permanent fixture for the animals to feed. Therefore, it would be easy for the family to use the raised terrace for the birth to occur and it would be natural and safe to use the manger as a place for the infant, especially since the family members were not expecting to have a baby in their house at the time. It would also be likely for the men to be outside or with neighbors during the birthing process while the women were helping Mary with the birth.16 Also, scripture does not indicate that Mary was giving birth as they initially entered Bethlehem, but “while they were there”(Lk 2:6). Swaddling clothes was quite a common practice during this time.
Angels appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Christ (Lk 2:8-9). It seems Micah had prophesied that the Messiah’s first coming would be announced at Migdal Eder, the watchtower of the flock (Mi 4:8) which is just a mile or so outside the city of
Bethlehem, the place of the Messiah’s prophesied birth (Mi 5:2). However, this was not a common watchtower but the watchtower used by the shepherds who tended the sheep for the temple sacrifices.2 Therefore, it would be expected that the events of this night would get back to the Jewish leaders who would be able to discern the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. Either the shepherds were not believed or the Jewish leaders chose not to believe. The scriptures are silent on this aspect. However, an angel appeared to these shepherds near Migdal Elder and told them of Christ’s birth within Bethlehem (Lk 2:8-11). The angel then announced that the sign to them of the fulfillment of his announcement would be that they would find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Lk 2:12). Then there were a host of angels that appeared who praised God and stated “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Lk 2:13-14). God was pleased to give this gift to mankind.
How the shepherds found the right house we are not told, but they must have woken up many families because the shepherds spread the news of what they had seen and heard to many others (Lk 2:17-18). Since the shepherds likely did not often visit the city, it is likely their news spreading was that same night. It is likely that the shepherds also spread the news to the Jewish leaders who oversaw the temple sacrifices. Why they did not investigate further is unknown.
So does this mess up our view of the perfect Christmas? I don’t think so. It still shows that God worked through ordinary people to achieve something extraordinary. It detracts not one iota from the miracle that occurred or the reason for Christ’s arrival. The sad part is that those that should have been looking for his coming missed it completely. Those that were “in the know” were too busy with their own career and political standing to take notice. So, in some respects, there were no different that we today. What about you? Are you looking? Are you missing the signs? I hope this Christmas you not only see the miracle but get the miracle as well.
 Richard P. Buchner, “A Closer Look at Christ’s Birth - A Study of Luke 2:1-14,” http://www.orlutheran.com/html/luk2.html(accessed 22-Dec-2012).
Kenneth E. Bailey, “The Manger and the Inn,” Associates for Biblical Research, http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/11/08/the-manger-and-the-inn.aspx#Article (accessed 22-Dec-2012).
Mike L. Short, “Migdal Elder,” Mayim's Endnote, http://www.mayimhayim.org/Rabbi%20Mike/Migdal%20Eder.htm (accessed