It is usually interpreted that "no room at the inn" in
Bethlehem was a result of typical bureaucratic bungling of census
arrangements. I wonder whether there is an alternative explanation.
The term translated "inn" is kataluma, the same word as is
used for the "large upper chamber" of the Last Supper. "Inn" would
be pandokheion (a place that receives all). Ouk en
topos gives "there was no room". But could the meaning be
simply "the guest room was no place for giving birth"?
The first chapter of Kenneth E. Bailey's excellent Jesus
Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural studies in the Gospels
(SPCK, 2008) examines Luke's birth narrative in detail. Bailey
expands the linguistic point made by the questioner with reference
to both typical Middle Eastern architecture and that society's
social and cultural norms. Useful diagrams of Palestinian homes
illustrate the argument.
Bailey's conclusion is that Jesus was born in relative comfort
in a peasant family home, though in the main (family) room of the
house rather than the guest room. His interpretation of Luke is
that Jesus's birth was among common people, and for common
Evelyn Sweerts, Luxembourg
The best treatment of this nativity story is by Bailey [as above].
There was no inn. There was no space in the guest room; so Joseph
and Mary were welcomed into the main living room, which would have
been on two levels: the family occupied the upper, while animals
were brought into the lower level at night for their safety and
heat. Between the two levels were mangers that would have provided
a good crib for a baby -though Luke may have had 9.58 in mind
("Foxes have holes and the birds their nests, but the son of man
nowhere to lay his head").
(Canon) John Goodchild, Liverpool
It is the nuance of the word topos which is crucial. "No
room for them in the inn" (AV) may give the misleading idea that
there was no space for them in the kataluma/guest room,
whereas "no place for them" (RSV and NRSV) may more accurately
suggest that the dilemma was no suitable place for a birth.
Acceptance of this understanding of topos invites fresh
appraisal of the possible place of the manger. It has often been
said that a manger (phatne) did not really imply a barn or
stable (e.g. H. J. Cadbury: The Making of Luke-Acts, pages
249-50). Once dissociated from the guest house or an adjoining
courtyard or cattle-shed, the birthplace could well have been sited
in a cave, as attested by mid-second-century tradition.
If the alternative meaning of Luke 2.7 were to be accepted,
Luke's infancy narrative would be supported by it. A cave would
have offered privacy and solitude.
(Canon) Terry Palmer
To help them keep fees down, I have been advising
couples that a verger's services are optional at a wedding. But I
haven't yet taken a vergerless wedding, and, with a dodgy back, am
nervous about it. How do other clergy manage them (on their
own)? A. J.
Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta
House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG. firstname.lastname@example.org