Day three exploring Galilee began with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), then we visited Gergesa, Qatsrin, the Jordan River, Capernaum, and Arbel. The most meaningful part of the day for me was learning about Jesus’ birth and profession.
Jesus’ Birth: Bible vs Tradition
By far the most interesting part of the day was sitting inside a reconstructed house at Qatsrin and talking about Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. I grew up hearing this story picturing Joseph and Mary coming to a small motel with donkeys parked outside. Joseph would knock on the door and a short, fat innkeeper would come to the door and yell at them about there being no room in the inn. Then he remembers his stable. So Joseph and Mary go out back to the stable and she gives birth to the baby Jesus in the meanest and most undesirable of conditions. I pictured the nativity story almost exactly as it is depicted in this clip from the 1989 movie, Ben Hur.
Little did I know just how far-fetched that version of the story probably is! We have King James, his version of the Bible, and a text called the Protoevangelium of James, to thank for this picture of Jesus’ birth.
Joseph came to Bethlehem because every man had to return to his home city in order to be counted. Because this was his home city, Joseph would have had family still living there. He and Mary would not have gone to an inn. As far as we know, there was no such thing as an inn in Judea at this point, other than perhaps a brothel. Joseph and Mary would have gone to the home of his family. Scripture says that there was no room for them. It is known from extra-biblical sources and present-day traditions that women of this land preferred to give birth with the animals in the “stable” because of the warmth of all of the animals. Also, few people actually had a separate, free-standing stable. Rather, when the weather was cold the animals would be brought inside the front room of the house. This was the guest room. It is very likely that the “stable” Mary gave birth in was actually the best possible situation for a woman to give birth in in 1st century Judea. She gave birth amidst the warmth of the animals belonging to Joseph’s family in the midst of Joseph’s family, probably attended to by midwives. Yes, it still would have been smelly, but life during that time was pretty smelly no matter what strata of society you lived in.
Jesus, the Tekton
After telling us this story Dr. Wright pointed out the door to the house and told us about Joseph’s role in the community. In our English translations he is referred to as a carpenter, but his real profession was a tekton, a sort of jack-of-all-trades. He was the all-around handyman who could do a little bit of everything. This is the profession Jesus was raised and trained in.
The house we were sitting in had a roof made of sticks with dirt and grass on top of that. There is a story where a man is lowered on a stretcher through the roof of the house Jesus is teaching in. Jesus heals the man and after the hubbub subsides you can imagine the owner of the house saying, “It’s wonderful he’s healed, but who’s going to fix my roof?” Who do you think fixed his roof? Perhaps the all-around handyman/tekton? Or, perhaps the man who had been healed said, “Finally, I can do this,” and Jesus said “Let me show you how.”