The Joy Was Worth the Journey

The celebration of Christmas as a religious event is based on the Bible narrative of the events associated with the birth of Jesus. Extra-biblical insight gives a fuller understanding.  I have traveled the reputed route more than 25 times and marvel that a teenage girl, nine months pregnant, could make the 90 mile trip in approximately six or seven days. This is the customary route and conditions of the era for travel from the Galilee to Bethlehem and/or Jerusalem. These  two latter cities  were only about 13 miles apart.

Ancestors of Mary and Joseph had been moved from Bethlehem to the area of Nazareth by the government years earlier. That is why the two villages are associated, causing some people confusion as to where Jesus was born.

First, the method of travel. There would have been no donkey. Donkeys were small animals employed for village and urban use, not long journeys. Camels were for commerce, horses for wealthy Romans. If there was an animal used in their travels, it would have been the more popular mule. However, it is highly unlikely there was an animal involved. The poor young couple could not have afforded one. They would have likely walked.

For this same reason the Wise Men would not have ridden camels, Such a commercial animal would have been beneath their dignity, Again donkeys would not have been the choice. They probably traveled on mules. Camels had only been domesticated for a short time.

Mary and Joseph would have left Nazareth and rendezvoused with a group at the south end of the Sea of Galilee. Robbers and predators made it essential to travel in groups. Small militias were paid to escort groups.

One day out from the Sea of Galilee they would have camped outside the pagan city of Beit She’an. They would not have spent time in the city because of its pagan nature.

Here they would have crossed to the east bank of the Jordan River and walked four days through the area of Perea, governed by Antipas. This part of the journey to Jericho would have brought them to the place known as Bethabara, “Place of Crossing,” where they could cross the Jordan back to the west bank. Here they would have encountered the hostility of the people of Judea who detested Galileans. 

Roman soldiers were always at the crossing searching for travelers and Zealots who despised Romans. Mary and Joseph would have made efforts to avoid the Romans in that they were pagans and contact would have defiled them, making them ceremonially unclean.

This was the area where John would later have baptized Jesus as an adult.

The site is today known as Qasr el Yahud.

From here they would have experienced the two hardest days of the journey.

On this section of the journey they would encounter many Roman soldiers.

They would have ascended nearly 2,000 feet through the Wilderness of Judea to Bethlehem. Years earlier David referred to the valley in the 23rd Psalm as the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Today it is known as Wadi (valley) Kelt and runs from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Now reflect, mules, distance, terrain, robbers, predators, Romans, detesting Judeans, and Mary’s condition made for a challenging journey requiring  a hearty and determined couple. Seems like an unplanned trip. Reality is it had been planned and prophetically written of years in advance to have a MERRY CHRISTMAS.