A Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem

Have you ever wondered what the few days before the historical event that initiated Christmas would have been like for Mary and Joseph? Walk through them with me.

From Nazareth they would have crossed over the mountains through Cana to the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee. There they would have rendezvoused with others going south.

It was the norm for people to travel these routes in groups to avoid robbers. Usually a self-appointed guide/protector was paid a fee in order to go along with his group.

There is no donkey in the Bible account for Mary to ride. Walking, though drudgery, might have been easier for a woman nine months pregnant than riding a donkey. Mary would have been a teenager at the time and doubtless a hardy one as most people of the time had to be to survive.

The route started on the west shores of the Jordan River. Just south of Beth Shean parties crossed the river into what is now Jordan. The route was easier and safer from there to Jericho where they crossed back. The temperature in this fertile green valley would have been more mild than would be found on the mountains around Bethlehem.

To this point the route would have traversed mostly smooth terrain. From Jericho to Bethlehem would have required going through the barren Wilderness of Judea. Here especially the protection afforded by group travel would have been essential. It was along this road the Good Samaritan encountered the man who had been beaten and robbed.

Once they arrived in Bethlehem it afforded them no Regency. An “inn” was simply a caravansary. There was one in Bethlehem which King David named for one of his generals. Such consisted of a plot of ground cleared of most stones out of which a perimeter “fence” would have been made. It restricted animals within it.

An inn was in no way anything like a hotel or motel. It was an outdoor walled off place where people and their animals slept together as they often did in the field. Within they were protected and had a bit of shelter.

The mountains around Bethlehem are porous providing many caves. Some of these caves were used to shelter livestock. Often a cave would have more than one chamber. The animals were kept in the outer chamber and provided warmth for the family deeper within. This is similar to what Eskimos allegedly do with their dogs in their igloos. Such caves were called mangers. There is no innkeeper in the Bible narrative but there must have been some proprietor to allowed Mary and Joseph to use the manger. It afforded more privacy than would have the inn itself.

I have visited that cave in Bethlehem more than fifty times. It is a humbling thing to stand there and think here, right here, the Word became flesh and came and dwelt among us.

Just outside that night an angel appeared with a special message that was good tidings of great joy. It entailed the potential for what we all long: “PEACE ON EARTH GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN.”