No Room at the Inn
Well Christmas, the annual celebration of events that did not happen, is upon us once again. The revered Christmas story is just that– a story, a prime example of the extent to which religiosity is based on fantasy. The particularly puzzling thing to me is that the biblical text itself does not support the popular understanding of the Christmas story.
Take, for example, the famous “inn” which turned away Joseph and his pregnant (virgin!) wife. The word that gets translated “inn” in Luke’s Christmas narrative is kataluma in Greek. (Luke 2:7) The only other time the word appears in the entire New Testament is in Luke 22:11, when the disciples are looking for a place to celebrate the Passover before Jesus’ death. In that instance, most English versions translate the same word kataluma, as “guest-room.”
Earlier, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, when the author of Luke’s gospel actually does want to indicate an inn, he uses an entirely different word, pandokeion, which is unambiguously not a guest-room, but, rather, specifically an inn. (Luke 10:34)
Furthermore, as to the barn out back where the baby was born, there was no barn out back! Archaeologists have shown that homes in 1st century Palestine featured an area just inside the entrance where livestock would be brought in at night.
So Mary and Joseph were not turned away by a hostile inn-keeper. They were visiting Joseph’s ancestral home, Bethlehem. There were clearly relatives there who would take them in. The biblical text merely indicates that the guest room was already taken so they had to stay in the foyer, where the livestock were usually kept. But they were not turned away into the cold night.
There isn’t any basis in the Christian Bible for most of the rituals and symbolism that developed around the birth narrative. Why do Christians get upset about not being able to display Nativity scenes on public property when their own holy writings provide no justification for a belief in the historicity of such tableaux. This year when you drive by the local congregation staging the “Live Nativity Scene,” you might want to stop and point out some of these inconsistencies to the actors. But I guess that would be tacky.
And the myth endures.