Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Was Jesus Born In A Manger Or A Cave?

Question: Was Jesus born in a manger or a cave?

AP: According to the Gospel of Luke (2:6, 16), Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room in the inn. The Gospel of Matthew is doesn't say anything about this directly, but it seems to imply that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the house of his parents. According to the author of that Gospel, his parents lived there, not in Nazareth. They would, therefore, have a house there and Jesus would have been born in it. The idea of the cave comes from the Apocryphal Gospels, specifically the Protoevangelium of James (18:1), which was written around A.D. 150. In my opinion, it was entirely made up. The addition to the story of the donkey and the ox in the manger is the result of legend as well, this time resulting from the exegesis of Isa. 1:3: "An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger." That verse was applied to Jesus.

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TWH: We could also point out the mention of the cave in Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho (78.12–13). Justin conflates the two accounts, saying that Joseph couldn't find room in the village and so went to a cave. After Jesus was born, his mother placed him into a manger. And I cannot remember what the prophecy in Isaiah was that Justin supposedly thought pointed to the cave. (Does anyone remember what passage that was? If so, leave a note in the comment. I don't have time to track it down.) Origen did the same thing, and he even points out that, by the time he wrote Contra Celsum, there was already a cave picked out that the locals attributed to Jesus' birthplace (1.51):
"If anyone wants some additional proof to convince them that Jesus was born in Bethlehem . . . the cave at Bethlehem is shown where he was born and the manger in the cave where he was wrapped in swaddling clothes. What is shown there is famous in these parts even among those who are not part of the faith, since it was in this cave that Jesus, who is worshipped and adored by Christians, was born." 
Luke says Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I think it's a safe and reasonable conclusion to connect Luke 2:7a with 2:7b. Some people have argued at times that Luke doesn't say anything about where Jesus was born. In other words, they see a gap between "And she gave birth to her firstborn son" (2:7a) and ". . . she wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger" (2:7b).

So where did Justin and Origen get their information about the cave? We can assume that it came from Protoevangelium of James, though it may be difficult to imagine that something like this was written down before it was actually circulating among a group of people. By the way, Origen refers to another book in his writings known as the "Book of James." That work is referenced by him as the source that Joseph fathered other children before his relationship with Mary. It's a pretty safe bet that the "Book of James" is the Protoevangelium of James.

Where was he born? My answer is exactly where Luke says: In a stable, probably not too far from the inn where they sought lodging. My hunch is it was the stable connected to the inn. And if I was really imaginative, I could easily see the owners of the inn offering them the stable as the best they could do given there was no vacancy. 

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