A Manger By Any Other Name?

Deacon Greg points us to this interesting article about what a manger really is and what that meant in 1st century Palestine.
Bad Artist's Depiction?
I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up—though perhaps it is better to do this now than the week before Christmas, when everything has been carefully prepared. But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case.

So where has the idea come from? I would track the source to three things: issues of grammar and meaning; ignorance of first-century Palestinian culture; and traditional elaboration.

Keep on reading.

*subhead*Throw out your nativity set.*subhead*


  1. I know some older people who come from the mountains of the poorest parts of Greece. They like many others lived upstairs in their house while the animals lived below. This is how i pictured the Gospels. The Inn and the manger are one and the same.

  2. Some good reasoning, but like much of modern scholarship it goes beyond the evidence.

    Reading the Fathers or even Chesterton shows that Christ wasn't born in a stable but in an underground dugout or cave, so that point isn't contestable. However when the author of the article leaps to this conclusion he loses me:

    "In the Christmas story, Jesus is not sad and lonely, some distance away in the stable, needing our sympathy. He is in the midst of the family, and all the visiting relations, right in the thick of it and demanding our attention. This should fundamentally change our approach to enacting and preaching on the nativity."

    The traditional understanding of Jesus being born poor and alone is ancient not Medieval in origin, and should therefore not be cast aside so quickly - so many assumptions and generalizations are made in assuming to tell us what really happened - especially when we're talking about a supernatural event. For that reason and also more importantly because the conclusion conflicts with the text of Luke:

    "she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger", the 'she' being Mary.

    Now tell me, if a woman gives birth surrounded by family "right in the thick of it", why is the mother wrapping the child in swaddling? And why is Mary laying him in the manger? Wouldn't common sense dictate that all these wonderful blood-relative females (who never give you any privacy!) would be all over the situation, doting on the new born babe? Another problem I have with this interpretation is this: What kind of relatives let a PREGNANT WOMAN GIVE BIRTH IN THE LOWER ROOM WITH THE ANIMALS? Seriously, I know there are cultural matters at play, but I've got to think that if in 1st Century Palestine everybody's family, you're telling me that they wouldn't make space in the upper room because the PREGNANT WOMAN IS ABOUT TO GIVE BIRTH IN THE LOWER ROOM WITH THE ANIMALS. These Palestinians are so warm so welcoming, but please, get your pregnant body down there with the oxen. It doesn't add up.

    How do we know Joseph and Mary actually made it to a known relatives residence and didn't have to pull over to the first structure they came across? How do we know that there wasn't any tribal animosity at play? How do we know that they weren't shunning the couple? After all, Mary came back from her cousins house swollen with child; Joseph was going to divorce her - he avoided a scandal, but maybe certain tongues were wagging in the family?

    This would accord more with the "shunning" tinge to the words " there was no room for them in the inn". Notice it doesn't say "no room at all in the inn" or "no room in the inn". It says there was no room for THEM in the inn.

    On the level of parallelism and foreshadowing, we do know is that Christ is rejected by his own: in Nazareth where he and his preaching is ridiculed, and when he is crucified in Jerusalem. Being rejected by his own even at his birth in Bethlehem is the kind of balance we find all over scripture

    When we take a little bit of scholarship, mix in some academic ponderings and conclusions, and then throw out 2000 years of traditional understanding as it has been handed down, I say stop. At least stop for a moment, and consider what you're doing. A friend I have in construction says that the first rule of remodeling a structure is to never remove anything until you understand why it was put there in the first place and what its purpose is. I wish more scholars would take that kind of care when it comes to our deposit of Faith.

  3. Thank you, beachcomber. I have no respect for people who go to great lengths to show us that our oral history is all wrong. I will stick with the images that coincide with our written and oral traditions.

  4. Thank you, beachcomber. I have no respect for people who go to great lengths to show us that our oral history is all wrong. I will stick with the images that coincide with our written and oral traditions.

  5. I seem to recall there used to be a church over the actual cave where the Nativity occurred—supposedly, during the Parthian War, the Persians were going to sack Bethlehem but then stopped when they noticed a mural in that church.

    It depicted three Zoroastrian priests kneeling before an infant.

  6. The smarter modern people think they are the dumber they become. The bible does not say, there was no room at any of Joseph's cousins's houses. it says there was no room at the inn. Joseph and Mary for reasons unknown, and therefore unimportant, did not or could not go to family. The inn was full and so the choice was birth among the animals and strangers or find a private place with just beasts who at least couldn't gossip about the Mother and the miraculous Child.

  7. I'll stick with the tradition rather than this garbage from an article written by a non catholic who doesn't even believe in the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


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