Every Christmas we write about some of the misconceptions and criticisms pertaining to Christmas. Our purpose is not to glorify error but to arm you with information when you're confronted with these ideas.
You may have never heard of it, but there is a Bethlehem in Galilee situated between Haifa and Nazareth, actually about four miles from Nazareth. Some historians and archaeologists believe this is the town where Jesus was born and not in the Bethlehem south of Jerusalem which is over ninety miles from Nazareth.
The first description by archaeologists of the Galilean Bethlehem was in 1880. Beginning in the early 1990s, Aviram Oshri spent eleven years excavating the site under contract with the Israel Antiquities Authority. He is convinced this northern Bethlehem is the logical site for Jesus' birth and that he has the evidence to prove it.
In the last post we talked about scientists and archaeologists who see the same facts but interpret them differently based on their preconceived ideas or worldview. Here is an example. Oshri's theory has major problems if you believe the Bible is inerrant. It even has problems if you believe other archaeologists.
Oshri claims no one was living in the traditional city of Bethlehem in Judea during the first century. But recent excavations unearthed pottery dating to the first century. Dr. Shimon Gibson, archaeologist at the site, says they have been able to confirm the existence of Bethlehem and its settlement at the time of Jesus birth.
Luke who wrote with the intention of providing an accurate historical account says, "And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David." (Luke 2:4) He is clearly indicating the southern Bethlehem which is the city Micah prophesied where the Messiah would be born. (Micah 5:2)
Matthew also states Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem." (Matthew 2:1) Despite claims that it wasn't until the fourth century that people singled out Bethlehem in Judea as Jesus' birthplace, early writers like Justin Martyr and Origen were doing so well before.
Oshri also believes it would have been unlikely that Mary and Joseph would have ever met since Mary was from Sepphoris, four miles from Nazareth, and Joseph was from Bethlehem in Judea. But Oshri seems to misunderstand that the Bible states Joseph was living in Nazareth not Judea. Joseph was forced to travel to his ancestral home in Bethlehem because of Caesar Augustus' decree. "And it happened in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus for all the habitable world to be registered. This registration first occurred under the governing of Syria by Cyrenius. And all went to be registered, each to his own city." (Luke 2:1-3LITV)
A very pregnant woman riding ninety miles plus on a donkey is another bothersome point to Oshri. He stated in The Times of Israel , “How would a woman who is nine months pregnant travel 175 kilometers on a donkey all the way to Bethlehem of Judea?... It makes much more sense that she would have traveled seven kilometers, the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem of the Galilee."
Just because it doesn't makes sense doesn't mean it didn't happen. For instance, have you ever heard the story of Captain Peter Wesssel Tordenskjold? In 1714 he was in a battle with another ship and ran out of ammunition. He sent an envoy to the opposing ship to ask for some of theirs to continue the battle. Odd but true.
And then, pregnant women have always been amazing us with their strength, haven't they? Women like Aimee Roseborrough who was still rock climbing while eight months pregnant and Amber Miller who delivered her baby mere hours after completing the 2011 Chicago Marathon. I wouldn't have wanted to be any of them– Mary, Aimee or Amber– and apparently neither would Oshri.
Mary didn't have a choice, however. She had to go to Bethlehem. She was related to King David (Luke 3:31) as was Joseph (Matthew 1:1-16).
Obviously not all Oshri's colleagues agree with his conclusions, but their reasons vary. In the same Times of Israel article, Uzi Dahari states that while there is no credible connection to a Galilean Bethlehem, the story of having Jesus born in Judea's Bethlehem is just a "religious excuse" to link Jesus to King David.
So what is the presupposition the critics for a Bethlehem in Judea have? They do not believe the Bible is telling the truth, despite the writings of early historians and eye witnesses. They claim these sources only prove the early tradition of Jesus being born in Bethlehem of Judea.
But there is more than early tradition. There are early prophecies and a historic decree.
Micah's prophecy was spoken around seven hundred years before Jesus was born, and it was found written on a scroll dating a hundred and twenty-five years before He was born. Herod was disturbed when the wisemen told him of this prophecy and the baby king. He called in the chief priests and scribes to tell him where this Anointed One would be born. "And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel." (Matthew 2:5-6) If it wasn't for a Roman ruler's decree, however, Mary and Joseph would not have been forced to go to Bethlehem in Judea.
We can be confident God is telling us truth, and we must be careful not to accept another message. Anything that exalts itself above the Word we have been given should be set aside. Does Oshri's work during his eleven years of excavations have value? Certainly! But conclusions made without the Holy Spirit's wisdom can lead us astray and delay or prevent true knowledge.
We encourage you to light that Bethlehem star over your nativity and imagine those fields outside the city full of angels. For there was born to you that day "in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Image by Thalia Tran courtesy of Unsplash
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