Bethlehem of Galilee

Both nativity stories in the New Testament have Jesus of Nazareth being born in the town of Bethlehem and most Christians have believed that the Bethlehem referred to is the small town, not far from Jerusalem, the traditional birthplace of King David. Recently an Israeli archeologist, Dr. Aviram Oshri has argued that this consensus is based on a mistake in geography. As is often the case, he believes that there was more than one town named Bethlehem and that Jesus was born in a Bethlehem in Galilee. I read about Dr. Oshri’s theory in this article at

There’s a groundswell of people accepting that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, just not the one we’ve known for years.

The International Business Times is reporting that Israel archaeologist Dr. Aviram Oshri believes that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Galilee, nine miles west of Nazareth, and not where Christians for centuries have believed Christ’s birthplace to be: about 100 miles from Nazareth, near Jerusalem.

Part of Oshri’s argument lies around Mother Mary herself.

“How would a woman nine months pregnant travel 175 kilometres on a donkey all the way to Bethlehem of Judea? It makes much more sense that she would travel 14 kilometres,” Oshri states.

Oshri has been excavating near what he calls the second Bethlehem for over a decade now, and has discovered a Byzantine-era underground.

“Underneath the church, where the holiest of holies usually is, there was a natural cave,” he added.

Some Christian theories have Jesus being born in a manger located in a cave

Oshri’s site shows what could have been a two-story inn underneath the recently found church. Another interesting fact is that historical records show a fortifying wall being built in biblical Bethlehem. Though no such wall appears in Bethlehem, there are signs of one in Oshri’s site.

Not everyone agrees with Dr. Oshri’s findings.

Many people have claimed Dr. Oshri’s work to be erroneous. The Israel Antiquities Authority denounces his work as “worse than a joke.”

Oshri remains undeterred. “As I dig deeper and deeper, I am more convinced,” he says.

It is an intriguing idea, but it just doesn’t work. The Gospels are very clear that Jesus was born David’s home town. This was not simply an accident of geography. Bethlehem of Judea is where the Messiah or Christ had to be born.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matt 2:1-8)

Herod would not have been threatened by any child born in Galilee, whatever his ancestry. Of course, this assumes that the Biblical account is accurate. For someone who does not believe the Gospels are historically accurate, the most reasonable assumption is that Jesus was born in Nazareth and that the Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke are simply pious fictions.

One of the problems here is that the popular idea of the birth of Jesus, as celebrated in Nativity Scenes does not actually correspond to the actual narratives found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mary was not actually nine months pregnant when she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. Neither the gospel of Matthew or Luke tells us how long they spent in Bethlehem but it was likely to have been a considerable period of time, perhaps months or even years. Remember that Herod ordered every male child two years old and younger to be killed. The Magi didn’t just show up as Jesus was being born.

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (Matt 2:16)

In fact, Joseph was more likely to take Mary with him if he expected to be gone for many months. What of the inn, though? Did Joseph and Mary spend months living in an outbuilding?

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

Well, as it happens, they very likely didn’t stay at an inn at all nor did Mary give birth in a barn. The Greek word translated as “inn” in Luke, καταλυμα (kataluma) actually means something closer to “guest room” The NIV actually translates kataluma as guest room. Bethlehem was a small village and it is not likely that there were any inns there.

English: The Church of the Nativity in Bethleh...
English: The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Place of Jesus’ birth Русский: Святая Пещера Рождества, православный престол над местом рождения Спасителя. Базилика Рождества Христова в Вифлееме (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even if there were, Joseph would surely have preferred to stay with his relatives. In most houses of that time and place, the guest room would be on the upper floor. In fact, kataluma is also used to refer to the “upper room” in Acts.

12 Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.

13 And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. (Acts 1:12-13)

Most of the day-to-day activity in the house would have taken place on the ground floor and at night the animals would have been brought into the ground floor for protection and warmth. In other words, Joseph and Mary were not staying out in a stable because the inns were too crowded. They were staying in the ground floor of their host’s residence because the guest room was already taken.

There is no particular reason to question the Biblical account of the location of the birth of Jesus. If the Gospels are not true, than we have no way of knowing where Jesus was really born, nor perhaps does it matter very much. Most likely he was born in Nazareth or some other village in Galilee. If the Gospels are true, then they state very plainly that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, not in Galilee.




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