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Just Where Did Joseph And Mary Live When Jesus Was Born?


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#1 cinepro

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 08:55 PM

Can someone please help me understand how the stories of Jesus being born in Luke 2 and Matthew 2 are at all compatible? Maybe we can take a stab at making a timeline of the events surrounding this period of Jesus' life?

My biggest question concerns where Joseph and Mary called "home" before and after Jesus was born. We are all familiar with Luke's story, where he says they lived in Galilee, but journeyed to Bethlehem for a census of some sort:

Luke 2:4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David)


But Matthew seems to present the story as if Joseph and Mary were already living in Bethlehem, and continued to do so until being told to go to Egypt. Here, the wise men find Jesus living with Mary and Joseph in a "house" as a "young child":

Matthew 2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.


Obviously, if they were already living in Bethlehem, there would be no reason for them to go stay in a stable, so that whole part of the story wouldn't be needed.

Then, according to Matthew, after their sojourn in Egypt (which Luke doesn't mention), Joseph and Mary decide not to return to their home in Bethlehem (Judea) but go and live in Galilee:

Matthew 2:22 But when [Joseph] heard that Archelaus did reign in Judæa in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:

23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.


Of course, this makes no sense to Luke. He says that when Jesus was 8 days old, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple in Jerusalem for circumcision, then after Mary's "purification" (40 days?), they returned to Nazareth, and lived happily ever after:

Luke 2:39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.


So how can the wise men, slaughter of the infants, and trip to Egypt fit into Luke's story?

Are Luke and Matthew really describing the same event? Is there any way to tell to what degree their descriptions based on legends and myths?

Edited by cinepro, 19 December 2011 - 09:20 PM.

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#2 Duncan

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 09:33 PM

I am listening to "Dare to be stupid" while writing this so take this this with a grain salt. In the first part do we even know Joseph and Mary even lived in Bethlehem? Neither of those first two scriptures say that. It may have taken two years for the Wise men to come in which case at that point they may have been living in a house, not in a stable like arrangement. Luke 2:40 doesn't indicate where any of that happened. Who knows who wrote what first and who was copying from whom. If one author put in details the other may not have recorded it because it was already in another manuscript or it wasn't and they may have been filling in details that were left out.
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#3 Freedom

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:44 PM

This is how I understand it:
They came to Bethlehem from Nazareth to be counted. We do not know what they were residing in when he was born, only that they used a feeding trough for a crib. It could have been a cave in the surrounding hills, or in a temporary 'Inn' that would have been built in the outscirts of down which was essencialy a raised platform with the animals underneath and the people above. Or they could have found refuge with some shepherds. The wise men came a few years later. most suspect Jesus was at least 2 years old because this was the age that Herod settled on for his murdering spree. The most recent church movie has Jesus being about 5 years old, that this is little more than artistic liberties. There are a number of theories given as to why they remained in Bethlehem for so long. One is that they had actually moved back to Nazareth but returned to Bethlehem for Passover or some other event. Another is that they remained there until the child was old enough to travel. Although they were in a house when the wise men came, we do not have to assume it was their own house. they could have been visiting someone, or after the child was born and after the census was completed, there would have been vacancies in town.

I do not feel obligated to assume that the books of Matthew and Luke are entirely accurate. They may have cobbled the story together by interviewing family members but we need to acknowledge that the stories were recorded many decades after his death. There is no evidence that the story of his birth was commonly discussed. None of the Gospels every quote Jesus as referring back to the miraculous events of his birth.
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#4 Stargazer

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 11:22 PM

It seems to me that it is most likely that they stayed in Bethlehem until Jesus was older. Joseph was a carpenter, I believe, and could easily support his family there with that trade. One also needs to keep in mind that Joseph and Mary were not alone in the world. Presumably Mary was living in her father's home in Nazareth, and she was also related to Elizabeth, Zacharias' wife (they were John the Baptist's parents) who likely lived nearby, so there was more than one reason to be in the area. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was not an insurmountable trek, after all, they may have traveled back and forth more than once in the meantime. And it is a fact that Bethlehem, with its nearness to Jerusalem might have been more economically lucrative for the family than relative backwater Nazareth.

The gospels were written many decades after Jesus' birth, and there would have been few (if any) people left who had first-hand knowledge of all the details of events of that time. It is not surprising that the accounts do not seem complete.
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#5 katherine the great

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 04:38 PM

I agree with Freedom that it is entirely feasible that they stayed in Bethlehem when they traveled to Jerusalem for Passover every year. They were obviously a very observant family and we know that Joseph's family originated in Bethlehem and probably still had family there to stay with. I saw a show on the History Channel (I think) that had excavated a first century Judean house. The family rooms were on the main floor and underneath the floorboards was a space (kinda like a basement) where they put the animals during the colder months at night. This very well have been the "stable" referred to in the scriptures and not a remote, free standing stable.
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#6 Mortal Man

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 04:48 PM

Can someone please help me understand how the stories of Jesus being born in Luke 2 and Matthew 2 are at all compatible?

Matthew and Luke are neatly harmonized right here.
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#7 Mortal Man

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 05:07 PM

They came to Bethlehem from Nazareth to be counted.

This makes AD 6 the earliest possible year of birth.

We do not know what they were residing in when he was born,

Luke says there was no room in the kataluma. He uses the same word for the upper-story room in the private house where the Last Supper was held. He uses a different word, pandocheion, for the public inn where the Samaritan took the traveler.

The wise men came a few years later. most suspect Jesus was at least 2 years old because this was the age that Herod settled on for his murdering spree.

This makes 6 BC the latest possible year of birth.

None of the Gospels every quote Jesus as referring back to the miraculous events of his birth.

That's because he most probably had a very ordinary birth in Nazareth.

Edited by Mortal Man, 21 December 2011 - 09:20 AM.

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#8 Freedom

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 06:00 PM

This makes AD 6 the earliest possible year of birth.


Luke says they were residing in a kataluma. He uses the same word for the upper-story room in the private house where the Last Supper was held. He uses a different word, pandocheion, for a public inn.


This makes 6 BC the latest possible year of birth.


That's because he most probably had a very ordinary birth in Nazareth.

It specifically says he was not residing in the kataluma or guest room as it is more commonly translated. .
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#9 Cobalt-70

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 06:09 PM

From a secular historical perspective, it is most likely that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth, and that the two distinct and contradictory myths (Matthew and Luke) of how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem were invented to bolster the claim that Jesus was the heir of King David. The Gospel of Mark, written first, does not make any special claim as to Jesus' birth.

Edited by Cobalt-70, 20 December 2011 - 06:10 PM.

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#10 Freedom

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 01:28 AM

I do not see the record of Matthew and Luke as being contradictory. One records the events at the time of his birth, the other of when he was about two years old.
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#11 Mortal Man

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 09:23 AM

I do not see the record of Matthew and Luke as being contradictory. One records the events at the time of his birth, the other of when he was about two years old.

How could he be two years old a decade before he was born?
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#12 cinepro

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 09:29 AM

I do not see the record of Matthew and Luke as being contradictory. One records the events at the time of his birth, the other of when he was about two years old.


So Joseph, Mary and Jesus still lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was two years old? Are you theorizing that they returned to Nazareth after the birth (per Luke), and then moved back to live in Bethlehem sometime later? Wouldn't it be the move back to Bethlehem that put them in danger of Herod? If they had just stayed in Nazareth, would they have needed to go to Egypt?

If you could sketch out a timeline on how you see things working, that would probably help me understand better.
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The Flood and the Tower of Babel, by Donald W. Parry, assistant professor of Hebrew at BYU, Ensign, Jan 1998, 35

#13 Freedom

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 10:55 AM


So Joseph, Mary and Jesus still lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was two years old? Are you theorizing that they returned to Nazareth after the birth (per Luke), and then moved back to live in Bethlehem sometime later? Wouldn't it be the move back to Bethlehem that put them in danger of Herod? If they had just stayed in Nazareth, would they have needed to go to Egypt?

If you could sketch out a timeline on how you see things working, that would probably help me understand better.


Unfortunately the scriptures provide very little details however Mathew states he was a child, not an infant, and Herod killed all the children under two years of age. The common theories have already been posted but I could restate them:
1) They remained in Bethlehem until Jesus was old enough to travel, or because Joseph found better economic prospects there so they decided not to move back.
2) They did move back to Nazareth but they returned each year as part of the Passover or some other celebration. Alliteratively, they were commanded to return as a pilgrimage in much the same way Joseph Smith was commanded to return to the location of the buried plates.
3) When they came to Bethlehem, they stayed with family. There was no room in the inn, or guest room, so they resided in the lower room usually inhabited by animals. This would be equivalent to you going to a family reunion and sleeping in the living room because all the spare bedrooms were filled. They may well have shared this area with other family members. When other family members left, they moved into the house where they remained until the wise men came. They may have been commanded to remain there until the wise men arrived.
4) The details in each book is not entirely accurate because they are based on an oral history recorded many decades after the event so the timeline and some of the details may be wrong.

There are a thousand other theories but from a simple reading, it seems clear to me that the two accounts are at least two years apart.
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#14 Freedom

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 11:35 AM

Matthew and Luke are neatly harmonized right here.


Instead of reading the opinions of atheists who's agenda is to prove the story wrong, read the opinions of genuine historians who understand the complexity of reading ancient texts and understanding deficiencies in dating systems and time lines. At best we can say most historians agree Herod died in 4bc, some argue it was 5bc or 1bc, others argue that the data is inconclusive because the source material was written to long after the events and were likely based solely on oral history. Further, Luke may have been in error and it could have been Herod's son Herod Antipas who was in power at the time. Due to a severe lack of sources, relying almost entirely on the opinions of Josephus, we cannot make definite conclusions. Those that do are either overly zealous in proving the story true or proving the story false.
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#15 cinepro

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 11:45 AM


Unfortunately the scriptures provide very little details however Mathew states he was a child, not an infant, and Herod killed all the children under two years of age. The common theories have already been posted but I could restate them:
1) They remained in Bethlehem until Jesus was old enough to travel, or because Joseph found better economic prospects there so they decided not to move back.


Luke would seem to directly contradict that theory:


Luke 2:39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.



Obviously, any other theory can work if we are allowed wide latitude to introduce "pilgrimages" or other such things. But that would beg the question of why they would go back to Bethlehem years later only to face danger from Herod and then flee to Egypt. Assuming Galilee was outside of Herod's influence (which Matthew seems to say in 2:22), perhaps they could have just stayed put?
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The Flood and the Tower of Babel, by Donald W. Parry, assistant professor of Hebrew at BYU, Ensign, Jan 1998, 35

#16 Freedom

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 01:45 PM



Luke would seem to directly contradict that theory:


Luke 2:39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.



Obviously, any other theory can work if we are allowed wide latitude to introduce "pilgrimages" or other such things. But that would beg the question of why they would go back to Bethlehem years later only to face danger from Herod and then flee to Egypt. Assuming Galilee was outside of Herod's influence (which Matthew seems to say in 2:22), perhaps they could have just stayed put?



It is important to consider the meaning of "when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord". Does this strictly apply to the common rituals of the Law of Moses, or does it encompass the specific commands given to them, including the trip to Egypt. It further notes that they returned to Jerusalem every year so this is why they most likely returned to Nazareth after his birth and returned each year. On one of these return trips they met the wise men and subsequently fled to Egypt.

Rather than looking at the Gospels as historical texts, they need to be looked at as religious texts. Two completely different genres. An historical text takes historical evidence and applied relevant cultural, linguistic, and other data to provide context. A religious text takes doctrinal concepts and applies relevant historical data to provide context. You cannot apply 21st century literary standards to these books. They had no reason to provide qualifying language because it was not part of their knowledge base to do so. Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten' is an good example of a relatively modern book that takes great liberty with historical data in order to present principles of how to live a good life.

There are thousands of examples of 20th and 21st century literature that take great liberties with historical data and yet are not criticized for this apparent flaw. It comes down to the type of book it is. Luke's method of glossing over the events in Matthew may be deplorable by our standards but completely acceptable for his society.
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#17 Duncan

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Posted 22 December 2011 - 09:32 AM

http://www.ldsmag.co...ticle/9115?ac=1

very interesting article indeed! talks about some of the issues here
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Joseph Fielding McConkie, Between the Lines:Unlocking Scripture with Timeless Principles, 157


#18 cinepro

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Posted 22 December 2011 - 12:53 PM

http://www.ldsmag.co...ticle/9115?ac=1

very interesting article indeed! talks about some of the issues here


Very interesting. He argues that Mary and Joseph did move from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Rather, Yosef and Miryam moved from Nazareth to Bethlehem on purpose. The young couple knew what they were doing, and they carried out their plans with faith and resolve. They relocated to Bethlehem with the intent of making it their permanent home. They even obtained land there, and built themselves a house in the town. We will speak more of that house later.


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The LDS Stake Medium Council Blog

In spite of the world's arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God's prophets.

The Flood and the Tower of Babel, by Donald W. Parry, assistant professor of Hebrew at BYU, Ensign, Jan 1998, 35

#19 David T

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Posted 22 December 2011 - 01:39 PM


Instead of reading the opinions of atheists who's agenda is to prove the story wrong, read the opinions of genuine historians who understand the complexity of reading ancient texts and understanding deficiencies in dating systems and time lines. At best we can say most historians agree Herod died in 4bc, some argue it was 5bc or 1bc, others argue that the data is inconclusive because the source material was written to long after the events and were likely based solely on oral history. Further, Luke may have been in error and it could have been Herod's son Herod Antipas who was in power at the time. Due to a severe lack of sources, relying almost entirely on the opinions of Josephus, we cannot make definite conclusions. Those that do are either overly zealous in proving the story true or proving the story false.


Like the renowned and respected (and faithful) Catholic scholar John Meier in A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person? He has done the best job I've ever seen of laying out all the intricacies and problems and possibilities inherent in the stories. His conclusion, as a faithful (cited by the Pope in his Jesus books) believer and diligent and exhaustive scholar seems to be that we can't view either of Matthews or Luke's birth narratives as being reliable history (Jesus and John the Baptist probably had no familial connection), and that Jesus was most likely born in Nazareth.

I, as an LDS believer, currently tend to agree with this conclusion.

Edited by nackhadlow, 22 December 2011 - 01:49 PM.

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