Seeing it through a first century perspective rather than a twenty-first century viewpoint makes it more meaningful somehow. I want to share what I learned with you.
My December blogs will take little things from the Christmas story and put it back into the culture that it occurred. This knowledge has deepened what Christmas means to me, and I hope it does the same for you.
We will start off easy, with something small. Let’s read Luke 2:1-5…
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
Nazareth is located 65 miles from Bethlehem. Today it is easily driven in an hour. If someone walked the journey, he or she would cover on average 12 – 15 miles a day. That means the trek would take about four days.
Now the movie was awesome, and the scenes were amazing, even heart wrenching… but no one in Mary and Joseph’s culture would travel alone for four days.
There were marauders who would take advantage of the king’s order that everyone must return to his hometown, lying in wait for any travelers who could be easily overtaken.
As the saying goes, there was safety in numbers.
Culturally, they traveled in groups with anyone else who was from the house and lineage of David to be safe. After all, everyone had to go. Mary’s family, along with the rest of Joseph’s, could also be traced back to David.
And don’t forget the little nugget that Mary was pregnant. Why wouldn’t family travel with the young couple? In the first century, the family was the birthing crew. Mary wouldn’t have had distant relatives deliver her firstborn, especially when her own family was in the same town reporting for the census just as they were.
The gospels of Matthew and Mark don’t tell us anything about the trip, and the book of Luke simply states that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem from Nazareth for the census. But we know, due to historical studies from the day, Mary and Joseph were most likely surrounded by family and friends as they went to the City of David.
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