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December 12, 2008

No room in the split-level?

I've been reading a fascinating book by Dr. Nabeel T. Jabbour titled The Crescent through the Eyes of the Cross: Insights from an Arab Christian. In a chapter called "The Power of Paradigms," Jabbour offers some insights on the story of the birth of Christ, as related in Luke--insights that suggest that Jesus was not born in a stable, as Western Christians have always believed, but in a private home filled with relatives.

In chapter 2 verse 7, we read that Mary "gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

But as Jabbour points out, the Greek word used here for "inn" is kataluma, which "means the upper room of a home, and it is usually reserved for guests." Another Greek word for inn is pando, which we find in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jabbour notes--the story of the man preyed upon by criminals and was rescued by the Samaritan, who took him to an inn and arranged to have him cared for by the innkeeper.

"In this passage about the birth of Christ, why do translators insist on translating kataluma as 'inn' instead of 'upper room'?" Jabbour asks. "Why did Luke use the word kataluma when he could have used the word pando? If we look at Luke 2:7 again and translate kataluma as 'upper room,' will the verse make sense?"

Jabbour finds it astonishing--and implausible--that Joseph could have returned to his hometown and found not a single relative willing to offer him and the pregnant Mary hospitality. Could it be, he asks, "that the translators of Luke 2:7 were confused by the word manger and assumed that it must have been a stable? Could it be that they were not familiar with the fact that animals were brought into the lower section of the split-level living room area at night for safety and for protection against the elements? Could it be that these translators were not aware of the fact that every morning the animals were taken out to the courtyard and their place was cleaned thoroughly? Could it be that they were not aware of the fact that mangers separated the lower-level place of the animals from the slightly upper level of the living room? That living room was a bedroom at night and a living room during the day. The upper room was a room on the second floor of the house."

Jabbour, who grew up in the Middle East, understands Luke 2:7 to mean "that because there was no place in the upper room, Mary gave birth in the living/bedroom, and the baby Jesus was placed on a clean sheet in a manger since the animals were outside. I can imagine the room was packed with busy women who were close to the family, including a midwife. I can imagine the men waiting in another room with Joseph anticipating the birth of the expected baby. The upper room must have been occupied by other guests who were older in age."

"How many Christmas songs and poems need to be rewritten if this interpretation is accurate?" Jabbour asks.

How many, indeed.

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Luke the physician, "renowned on account of the gospel" that Paul took with him on his journeys, would have either written in Greek to start out with, or done his own translation for those new church plants. So there would be no translation issue.

At any rate, those eyewitness whom Luke spoke to would have set him straight on such points. And Mary was still alive, she probably remembered that night fairly well.

Allen W.

Several years ago Zola Levitt discussed this very thing on his TV series in the context of biblical archaeology. I've found nothing more on it 'til now. Levitt showed footage of a dig of a "four-room house" typical of the time of Christ. His conclusion was the same as that of Dr. Jabbour. Jesus very likely was born in a relative's house. Americans typically do not realize how very important hospitality is to Middle Eastern people. Thus why Dr. Jabbour would be 'astonished' no relatives would take in a woman very great with child.

Interestingly, the word translated 'house' in Matt. 2:7, when the magi arrived, is 'oikeos' implying a permanent dwelling. Question: did the holy family continue staying at the relatives' home for what some research says was likely around six months before the magi came? Did Joseph build a home in Bethlehem? Or did he buy an existing home? Any educated guesses?


But, Anne, with Christmas now occurring in June we'd all have time to exchange our Nativity sets for dollhouses.

And get all that last-minute shopping done...

Jason Taylor

And it is at least arguable that the real Agammemnon didn't give a darn about poor Menelaus' marital difficulties and just wanted to plunder Troy. The real father of Scherazade would have preferred assasinating the Mad Sultan to giving his daughter to him. And the real King Arthur probably was a petty warlord.

But that's not really the point, is it?


So, let me get this straight.

We have to choices.

1.) Jesus' family had no place to sleep and ended up sleeping in a barn (for all practical purposes) with a pregnant mother ready to give birth.

2.) Jesus' own family (or whoever they might have been staying with) wouldn't or couldn't make room in the upper level for a pregnant woman about to give birth.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but neither one of these sound very spectacular (maybe even a little humble - Hmmm?).

Samuel X

Jason: WRONG.

For the simple reason that we are not to worship lies.

Jason Taylor

Well now, we are not supposed to worship December 25 anyway, whether or not it is a lie, are we not?
And having a tradition is not worship, and a legend is not a lie, it is a legend. I did not suggest that we tell Virginia that there actually IS a Santa Claus. I pointed out that there was no reason to let that fact interfere with our fun.


Good answer, Jason!

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