Many of you are prob-ably familiar with the story from Chapter 2 of the Bible’s book of Luke concerning the birth of Jesus. This has become the traditional “Christmas Story” so wonderfully portrayed in Christmas plays at churches around the world and in Charles Schulz’s first animated movie “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Unfortunately, the cast of characters in these plays is not entirely representative of what really happened on that Holy Night. The mob scene on stage during the rehearsal of Charlie Brown’s Christmas play is probably a much more authentic portrayal of what Jesus’ birth place looked like than the cute little manger scenes we place under our trees or in our front yards during Christmas.
Bethlehem was a small town in the hill country of Judah about 10km south of Jerusalem. It was known as a place where sheep used for the common and priestly sacrifices were raised and grazed. Most people from Bethlehem who were not involved in the sheep trades left and moved to other nearby cities where they could find other employment. Joseph lived over 100km to the north in Nazareth. When Governor Quirinius conducted a census, little Bethlehem swelled from several hundred residents to several thousand inhabitants. This overwhelming influx of travelers pretty much debunks the “all is calm” assertion in the song “Silent Night”.
Roman officials and troops would have been in Bethlehem; many more of them would have arrived to provide security and administration for the Census. “Canabae” were small city settlements that sprung up around Roman forts and camps. The Canabae contained a large “lixae” of merchants, prostitutes, slaves and other non combatants such as cooks and other support staff. There’s no telling how large this Canabae would have been, but I’m going to guess at least a couple thousand people. We’re beginning to understand why there was no room at the Inn, or ANY inn for that matter. Then; there were the animals – LOTS of animals!
The manger, or crèche (Etymology – from the Middle French and Old French words “creche” or “creshe “ meaning “manger or feeding trough”) was obviously part of the story. However, this crèche wasn’t a single feeding trough by itself in a large empty barn. The animal pens were probably jammed full with the animals of the dignitary travelers who wouldn’t park their rides among the Canabae. In addition, there were sacrifice lambs, doves, pigeons and oxen; a regular farm show!
Finally, we get to the figures in the crèche. Of course, there were Joseph, Mary and Jesus, but there were no wise men with gifts. They didn’t arrive until sometime around Jesus’ first birthday and they went to Joseph’s home, not the animal pen. The shepherds from the fields were definitely there, but what did they do when they left? “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:17-18). The news probably caused a near riot! Here’s what I think the nativity scene looked like; hoards crashing the crèche – Merchants running with their carts like peddlers at a parade, camp prostitutes trying to get a look at the baby, roman soldiers investigating the cause of the commotion, animals in an uproar and at least a few heavenly guardians in the room. The night was certainly holy, but definitely NOT silent. Now I need to find a bunch of new figures for my nativity scene!
© 2017 Curt Savage Media