Christmas myths: What really happened at Jesus' birth?

Myth #1 – Jesus was born in a stable next to an inn:

Most Catholics, practicing or not, know the story: Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem in search of a place for Mary to give birth. They go around, from inn to inn, and are turned away each time. Finally, an innkeeper allows them to stay in his stables. The Bible says, “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7). The Greek word, “καταλύματι”, translated in the Bible as “inn”, actually means “lodging place”. This word is also used in Luke 22:11, where it is translated as “guest room”. Some have interpreted this as there being no space in the “guest room” of wherever they had planned to stay. As for the “stable”, it seems unlikely that Mary and Joseph stayed in a building separate from the main home. Also, family animals were commonly brought into the home to protect them from the weather. According to this interpretation, Mary and Joseph stayed where they had expected to stay, but in a part of the house not intended as a guest room.

Myth #2 – Three kings visited Jesus soon after his birth:

Three wise men or kings named Balthasar, Melchior and Gasper travel by camel from faraway nations in the direction of a bright star, motivated by the prophecy of the birth of a king. First, they meet with Herod and promise to report the location of the newborn king, but do not follow through after they are collectively warned not to in their dreams. Parts of the story are transparent. The Bible says, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:1). It also says that Herod called the magi to him and told him to search for the child and report back (2:7-8). The Scripture also says the magi were indeed warned in a dream not to report back to Herod (2:12). However, not much is known about who the “magi” were. The word “magi” seems to refer to a tribe of followers of Zoroastrianism, a Persian monotheistic religion. The word “magi” has been used in Greek to refer to practitioners of astrology, alchemy, and other forms of magic. So, they could have been Zoroastrians or they could have practiced magic. Additionally, it is unknown whether they were kings and how many of them there were. Their names and the countries they came from are also unknown.

Myth #3 – animals present at Jesus’ birth:

Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem on a donkey, the magi arrived on camels, and donkeys, cows, doves and sheep looked on as Mary gave birth to Jesus. These elements of the Christmas story are a common feature of every nativity scene, but the Scripture does not mention them specifically. The Gospel of Luke does mention the manger, which implies the presence of animals, but the attendance of specific animals, like those mentioned above, is uncertain.

Find out more about the myths surrounding the Christmas story here and here

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Alexander Foster

Alexander Foster is the Digital Communications Officer in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle