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The Christmas story:

Was Jesus born in a home, stable, or cave?

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Was he born in a house, inn, stable or cave?

The familiar Christmas story describes an innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away from the village inn because of lack of room. They took refuge in a barn or stable where Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus) was born. He was laid in a manger in the presence of domesticated animals. This is a beautiful story retold countless times at Christmas time. However, there are a number of alternate possibilities of the location of Yeshua's birth:

bulletHe might have been born in a stable near an inn, as the popular story states:
bulletThe Greek word "kataluma" is traditionally translated in Luke 2:7 as "inn" by Bible translators. In the original Greek, it had a number of meanings, including an inn or caravansary.
bulletIf a census were underway, the town of Bethlehem would be very crowded with visitors and the inn would have been probably full. However it is difficult to understand how a woman about to give birth would be cruelly turned away by an innkeeper. He would have had to have a heart of stone.
bulletInside a room at an inn would have probably been the best location for Mary to give birth. There would probably have been female midwives in the vicinity. A nearby stable might have been the next best location for Mary to give birth. It would not be the most sanitary or sweet smelling place. However, the stable would be warmed by the heat radiated by the domesticated animals there.
bulletHe might have been born in a cave:
bulletEarly Christian tradition says that Jesus was born in a cave:
bulletJustin Martyr wrote in the second century CE that Jesus was born in a cave. 1
bulletThe Gospel of James, a.k.a. Infancy Gospel of James and the Protoevangelium of James, written circa 150 CE described the birth as being in a cave.
bulletOrigen of Alexandria wrote during the second century CE in his book "Against Celsus" that:
"...there is shown at Bethlehem the cave where He was born and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling-clothes. And this sight is greatly talked of in surrounding places, even among the enemies of the faith, it being said that in this cave was born that Jesus who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians." 2
bullet"Many early Renaissance Sienese and Florentine paintings of the Nativity, as well as Byzantine, Greek and Russian icons of the Nativity, show such a setting." 3
bulletThe Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was built by Constantine the Great, circa 330 CE, on the recommendation of Helena, his mother. It seems to have been built over a cave, that many Christians and Muslims believe is the location of Jesus' birth. [Muslims respect Jesus as a great prophet , second only in stature to Muhammad.] The exact spot of Jesus' birth is identified beneath the church and right under the high altar by a hole in a 14 point star.
bulletThere was a firm tradition that Mithras (a.k.a. Mitra, Meitros, Mihr, Mehr, and Meher) was born in a cave. and later as an adult resurrected from a different cave. He was worshipped throughout the Roman Empire as a Persian god born of a different virgin and a member of a different Holy Trinity. He was believed to have lived many centuries before Yeshua. 6 Many life events and stories concerning Jesus and Mithras, religious sacraments, and other items appear to have been exchanged between the two religions of Christianity and Mithraism. Theologians and religious historians disagree in which direction(s) the swapping occurred.
bulletAlternately, the early Christian belief that Yeshua was born in a cave may well be a myth without historical foundation. It may have been a traditional belief imported from Mithraism. A cave was a common female fertility symbol found in many religions worldwide.
bulletHe may have been born in a house:
bulletThe Greek word "kataluma" was alternately used to refer to a room in a house. One example is in Mark 14:14 to refer to the upper room where Jesus and his disciples gathered for their last supper.
bulletIn 1st Century Judea, farm animals were often kept inside houses at nighttime. There were mangers or feeding troughs built into the walls of the house. The practice continues in some countries to the present time.
bulletChristian Answers concludes that the real meaning of Luke 2:7 is that:

"... Mary and Joseph did not find space in the living quarters of the ancestral family home. Instead, they stayed downstairs in the domestic stable, still within the ancestral home, where a manger or two was located. Here they were visited by the shepherds, and maybe the wise men some time later." 4

bulletHe may have been born in a part of a house that was also a cave:

Chris Mitchell of CBN News writes:

"The customary way of building in those days included building around a courtyard, with rooms attached for family members. ... Downstairs, the courtyard led to a room in the basement, which was really a 'cave' dug out of soft limestone. That room was used for storage. ... The families kept large jars of olive oil and wine in the cave. There were stacks of wheat and grain, too."

"Sheep and donkeys were outdoors; boys often acted as shepherds, and the sheepfold (and pen for goats, donkeys etc.) would often be in or near that basement cave area. The family would bring their prized animals inside for protection and lead them into the basement cave where they would eat from the feeding trough -- a manger."

"Jesus could have been born in a room like the basement 'cave', then wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in the manger, as is written in the gospel of Luke. The animals would have been moved out, and clean hay laid down. Some of the women, midwives who were experienced in delivering babies would have come down here to help Mary." 5

Which story is correct? A challenge:

The Gospel of Luke does not mention an innkeeper, a barn, or a cave.

So, which one is the correct story? The historical evidence seems to result in a stalemate. One solution might be to pray to God and ask for the true location. Unfortunately, a pilot study that we have conducted showed that attempting to assess the will of God through prayer is unlikely to work. Trying to get at a historical truth through prayer may be similarly unsuccessful. It would be interesting to find out. And so, we are offering the following challenge:

We would greatly appreciate it if people willing to pray to God to find out where Jesus was born -- a home, a stable, a cave, or some other location -- would pray to God to find out the answer and then to Email us with two pieces of data:


The location.


How certain do you feel that you have received the correct answer from God (0 to 100%)

If we receive sufficient responses, we will report the results here at a later time.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Joan E. Taylor, (1993). Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 99?102. ISBN 0-19-814785-6.
  2. Origen, "Against Celsius," Volume 1, at: http://books.google.com/
  3. "Gospel of James," Wikipedia, as of 2009-DEC-20, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  4. "Was Jesus born in a stable?," Christian Answers Network, 1995, at: http://www.christiananswers.net/
  5. Chris Mitchell, "Nazareth Village, Re-Creating Jesus' Birth," CBN News, 2008-DEC-24, at:   http://www.cbn.com/
  6. "History: Mithras," Iranian Culture & Information Center, at: http://www.iranvision.com/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2009, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated 2009-DEC-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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