Wednesday, December 15, 2010

NT Pod 46: Was Jesus Born in a Stable?

NT Pod 46 asks "Was Jesus born in a stable?". It is about eleven minutes long.

NT Pod 46: Was Jesus Born in a Stable? (mp3)
NT Pod 46: Was Jesus Born in a Stable? (mp3) (Alternative location)

Key texts: Matthew 2.11 and especially Luke 2.7, but also texts from the rest of Matthew 2 and Luke 2. See also the Protevangelium of James 18-20.

The podcast mentions Stephen C. Carlson, “The Accommodations of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem: Κατάλυμα in Luke 2.7,” New Testament Studies 56 (2010): 326-342, reproduced here.

Feel free to leave your feedback below or on Twitter or on our Facebook page.

Thanks to Ram2000, Me and You, for the opening theme, released under a Creative Commons agreement.


  1. FIRST you would want to demonstrate that a Jesus was born. We have no primary or secondary data on legendary Jesus character. Talking about attributes of a Legendary character seems nothing but a not so simply masked attempt to promote a supernaturalistic legend.

    Real scholarship would talk about archeological, primary and secondary evidence regarding the legends, if there is any.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  2. Hi Rich. This episode is about what the texts say about the issue; I do not deal with Historical Jesus questions in this one. Cheers, Mark

  3. Mark, don't get me wrong, your a very nice and polite man. The problem is that not just you, but almost no religion professionals make it clear that these are stories, and are not things that happened. This continues on supernaturalistic belief, that both you and I know are non-historical created stories.

    I know that it sells, and that in your industry, unless you write about jesus, paul, or the bible you are not going to get read by the public. For example, if you talked about Irenaeus to any great extend, and how he possible had more to do with shaping our christianity than anyone else, nobody would probably read it.

    But, that may be like saying that you are working for peace and justifying working in the military industrial complex saying, "all I know how to do is build these tanks, and people want tanks, and I need a job, so what else can I do"

    You have to understand that by not clearly stating even in episodes like these on the nativity, which I am sure are popular around Christmas time, that these are made up legends, and that non of this stuff actually happened, you are promoting supernaturalism.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  4. Hi Rich, how do you know that these are just "stories"? The whole Gospel is in all likelihood a diegetic transposition, and the Nativity, for example, has been transposed from the stories and legends about the birth of Augustus, including even the infanticide. The "manger" story is an amalgam of the two births of Augustus, the one (historical) birth in Rome and the other (legendary) in Velitrae. In Rome he was born ad capita bubula ("at the head of the oxen" or alternatively "on the fodder[s] of the oxen"). Shortly afterwards he was put into a small stable, a storeroom (cella) at the country house of his family in Velitrae (≥ Betleem). The place remained a place of pilgrimage for a long time, and his worshippers actually believed that he had been born there. Sorry to break the news, but the Nativity has a clear historical origin, and it is not about supernaturalism.

  5. Hi Rich. Thanks for your comments. Actually my approach is a historical one. However, in this episode I am primarily getting into how people read and translate the texts. Cheers, Mark

  6. Hey Mark,

    Sorry to keep on the same subject, but I noticed after listening to this nativity episode again, you use the term "historical" a number of times. Certainly that is going to be very misleading, as you can understand.

    I understand that you say in this comment, that you understand the nativity story to be fiction, and having nothing to do with history, but... if you listen to your own podcast, you will see that you fall into the same trap that many in the religion industry do, and actually talk as if this is an actual event, even to the point of using the world "historical" and "historical value" a number of times. Can't see why you would be even use the term "historical value" in a story about the nativity.

    Also, as you say, you are trying to talk about the nativity as it is represented in the texts, not as history. But... if you noticed, you never mention that in the podcast. You appear to be talking about events, not just stories.

    I'm just saying that it might be handy to keep this in mind as you do future podcasts. Neither one of us wants to promote supernaturalism. And I can tell you, that this podcast, to two other people I have pointed it out to, in their opinion, does promote this story as actually happening, not as simply being a story.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  7. It's a question of focus, Rich. If you go back to last Christmas's episode, about Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, I am more focused on the historical Jesus question. In this one, I am more focused on the question of what Luke is doing. That is also a historical question, of course, but it's different in focus from last year's, for example.

  8. Rich,
    I believe you're missing a key point: Mark is a specialist in NT studies, which makes the text his subject- it's content, both historical and literary, and it's place in cultural context, contemporaneously and subsequently. Your comments overreach the point of this podcast; he is discussing Luke's take on this, and the subsequent cultural romanticism surrounding it. He does, in fact, strip away much this layering, including citing archeological evidence. However, your concern about someone being beguiled by Mark "failing" to mention the unhistoricity of the text- which I think your perspective overstates in the opposite extreme (to a claim Mark is not making) - is betrayed by the cynical nature of your comments ("that sells...your industry...popular around Christmas", etc.). Your argument is actually a straw man against something Mark is not even arguing for in this podcast.

  9. Hi Mark,

    thanks for you interesting podcasts. I had a thought recently as to why, considering that Luke's reasoning as to why they went to Bethlehem was not viable (census). I always assumed that the 'guest room' was that of Joseph's relatives in Bethlehem but I think what you say about the marital house makes sense and also might give rise to the reason why they moved to Bethlehem. It does make me wonder how Luke made his (likely) dating mistake with the census though.

    I like the NIV (2011) translation of luke 2:7 "...She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." Seems to express the term better (as you suggest)

    Merry Christmas from England.
    God bless

  10. Thanks; yes, the new NIV translation is much better, though it appears to come straight from the TNIV. Stephen Carlson does tackle this in his article -- guest room is not quite right. Best wishes, Mark

  11. Mark,
    Enjoyed the paper by Stephen and you podcast! A quick thought on Steve's paper and would enjoy our thoughts.
    His conclusion 'and she gave birth to Jesus in the main room of the house rather than in her marital apartment, because it was too small.." I did not see Lev 15 in his citations, but only Lev. 12. If we can read Lev 12 as refering to Lev 15, would that not make the room (According to Mishnah, the whole room, or minimally the spot/area) she gives birth in unclean for 40 days? Meaning no one can use it, so you may not want to give birth in a main room. Thus you may want to give birth in a small, yet not to small of a room. Also, There is some evidance that large animals could also be keep in a cave structure that is unattached from the main household, while smaller animals could be in the courtyard. So perhaps she gave birth in the cave away from the household, because no one cares if common animals are in an unclean area.

  12. Rich, might I gently suggest that scholarly publications deserve scholarly responses less akin to, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

    Excellent podcast as usual, Mark.

    -- Chip

  13. Hi Steve, thanks for your comments. There are two issues:

    (1) Blood Impurity. I did mean Lev. 12 in the paper, but I also researched the Lev. 15 angle, including the Mishna. Unfortunately, I didn't find any definitive to my liking for the first century, and what its implications would have been for people other than Mary, especially Joseph. As a result, I am not prepared to agree that, based on the evidence I've read, that "no one can use it" after giving birth there. It is more complicated than that, and dealing with various kinds of impurity was a normal part of life. Of course, it must be kept in mind that this issue isn't just for Mary, but for any woman giving birth. I merely assume that the birth of Jesus was ordinary just like any other birth.

    (2) The Cave. The information about the cave, while interesting, is driven in the literature, as I perceive it, by a desire to save the authenticity of a traditional infancy account like that found in the Protevangelium of James. There is nothing in Luke's account, however, that suggests a cave. The traditional grotto used to be a pagan shrine in the early second century, so I tend to be skeptical of its claim for being the location of Jesus's birth.

  14. Dear wsudderth1

    wsudderth1 said...

    Rich, might I gently suggest that scholarly publications deserve scholarly responses less akin to, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

    I don't know what that comment is in reference to. If you want to email me we can talk about it.


  15. Dear wsudderth1,

    Sorry, I should have included in the previous post that I attempted to follow your ID link in your comment which took me to and I could find no way to email you from there, so I posted the above followup comment here.