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    How Accurate Is Our Nativity Scene?

    Last year many communities were fighting for the right to display a public nativity scene. Why the opposition if it is a fairy tale tradition on the level of Santa Claus?

     

    Because there is alot more truth than fiction in the image, and it has the ability to stir hope in the hearts of men.

     

    That said, there are so many misconceptions about Jesus' birth. Some of them are our own fault because we do not pay attention to what the Bible really says. In this post we are going to consider a few things we are getting wrong.

     

    My husband loved nativity scenes, and we had several. One of my favorites was a wooden one with a barn type shelter that had a star at the peak of the roof. I was charmed by the painted sheep, the regal wisemen, the adoring shepherds, and I too was awed like the carved Mary and Joseph seemed to be of the Baby in the manger.

     

    I am willing to admit, however, this scene was not accurate as it stood. Instead, that nativity, like others of its kind, represent a composite of the story from Jesus' birth to almost His second year. And the barn structure? While I like the way it looked, Jesus wasn't born in a barn.

     

    In our last post we discussed the city of Bethlehem in Judea. It was Joseph's ancestral home. When he and Mary traveled over ninety miles to get there, most likely he was going to a home of a relative to stay with them. There is some archaeological evidence for this type of travel required by a census. It is in Papyrus 904, but it is dated later than this event.

     

    Joseph was related to King David which many Jews probably respected. The story of a local innkeeper turning Joseph away is not accurate. He never went to an inn. The word translated inn is guest chamber, kataluma. It literally means the breaking up of a journey. It is a place to stay, but Luke used a different word to indicate a public inn in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In fact, he used kataluma in Luke 22:11-12 to describe an upper room.

     

    The language Luke used fits perfectly with the design of the common first century home in Judea. There was a main level that consisted of a courtyard, an area that served as a kitchen and a place to perform household tasks, a storage area, and an enclosed section to keep a few animals and a manger. The second level over the enclosed area was another living area and sleeping quarters. Some homes even had a third level.

     

    The area for animals could also be an adjacent cave, natural or manmade. The Bible never mentions a cave, however. The upper level could serve as a place to host guests. Except Joseph and Mary had arrived a bit late apparently because the guest rooms were full, and that must have been the situation throughout Bethlehem. It was all because of Augustus Caesar's decree.

     

    The house where Joseph and Mary were staying was full. This may not agree with our tradition of Mary and Joseph alone surrounded by animals. It may indicate Mary had some women to help her. We don't know that, however.

     

    We do know what a first century house looked like, and the Bible says there was no room for them in the kataluma, the guest chamber. We know Mary had Jesus and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and lay Him in a manger. We also know the shepherds visited them soon after Jesus was born.

     

    The wisemen, however, came twelve to eighteen months later, possibly close to two years later. We know this because of Herod's order to kill babies two years old and under. The wisemen visited Mary and Joseph at a house. We do not know if it was the same house, and we do not know how many wisemen there were. Most nativity scenes depict three, probably due to the gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh.

     

    So to answer our question concerning the accuracy of the nativity scene-

     

    No, the true nativity scene is not the traditional one. As Christians we need to study our Bibles a bit closer so we can discern fact from fiction, truth from tradition. But, the real value is the nativity serves as an image to remind us of all the parts of the story of our beautiful Savior's birth.

     

    If you'd like to learn more, check out our book for children and families on the Christmas story. You can also read more articles on the blog page here.

     

    Image by Greyson Joralemon courtesy of Unsplash

Comments

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    Robin Sweigert says (Dec 22, 2021):

    Love you my friend. I found alot of that as well as I searched the scriptures. Love one another

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