CHRISTMAS – The location of the birth of Christ

Last Year I wrote the first book of a trilogy series called “this is the way” and chapter one starts out challenging the reader with why we as Christians continue to accept and go along with things related to Christ that we know aren’t true or might be misleading. I love Christmas because it points everyone towards Jesus, but I also get tired of the worldliness that is placed on “their” version of the celebration and how far it has strayed from the story of the Messiah’s coming that was presented to us in scripture. I have written a lot on this and have a few videos (posted below), but here is some details of things I have alluded to surrounding the birth of Christ that you might enjoy, and I pray that it also deepens your appetite for intimacy with the Word.

Most devout Christians know the traditional story of Jesus born in a manger has issues. Every year when my church puts a manger out front with three wise men who likely weren’t three and didn’t show up until two years later, I have to question what we are doing as Christians who proclaim the “good news.” Doesn’t Good news imply truth? As I have mentioned before, Jesus likely wasn’t born in a mangy barn but rather the first floor “kitchen-garage” of relative’s home and today I will expound on that.

As with most New Testament stories we first have to start with the Old Testament to get the context right. In Gen 29:9 we learn that Rachel was a shepherdess, and the burial-place of Rachel is called the Tower of the Flock (Migdal Eder in Hebrew). Rachel died there while giving birth to a son, whom she named “Ben-Oni” which means “son of sorrow”, which may have foreshadowed the life that Mary would come to know as she would watch her blessed Son be crucified before her eyes. (I think we all understand the man of Sorrow personification.) In Genesis 35, after Rachel died, Jacob changed the boy’s name to Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand”; both of which names would be very significant foreshadows of Christ. Though we have earthly sin and sorrow, we have a Father that changes our name and claims us as His own. (There is a lot more to the changing of names spiritually but that is another post!)

Micah 4:8 and Gen 35:21 reference the same place – the Tower of Eder also called the Tower of the Flock. Micah is the most interesting, as he mentions the Kingdom and Dominion comes to the Tower of the Flock. 6 verses down, Micah again references the same shepherd who will arise from Bethlehem and feed his flock, to whom all of Israel will return. (I love the “feed” inuendo identifying what Jesus does for us with symbolic reference to the communion within His body.)

It is interesting when we read the prophets, we get the idea that they saw some things that they didn’t have words for. I don’t think they fully comprehended the coming of a Messiah, especially not in the form He came in; but they certainly had some understanding of an Exodus motif deliverance that the remnant of Israel was praying for and spent a lot of time and passion studying and waiting for, likely thanks to the influence of Daniel.

In Ancient Near East culture (ANE – this is what my Doctoral Degree is in), there are 3 lambing or shepherding seasons; early lambs born in November-January, Spring Lambs born in February-March and Summer lambs born in June. The Spring Season is the time of the Passover Sacrifice which required a 1-year old Lamb. Personally, I lean towards Jesus to have been born in this season (likely March 25 according to scholars) as the Lamb of God, as a foreshadowing of His ministry of becoming the Passover Lamb. Most people know the significance of shepherds in the Old Testament and the foreshadow of the royal priestly heritage that is given to us as New Testament shepherds of the New Covenant in Christ. According to the Mishnah (Bekhorot 5:4) shepherds and priests share the same family, we can also gather this from the Old Testament. Where this ties in, is that if the Luke 2:8 shepherds keeping watch were priests this also might explain how they knew where to go. I bet you think they just followed the star (but wasn’t that just the wise men? See how tradition twists this?) I believe the priestly shepherds knew EXACTLY where to go. The wise men from the East weren’t the only ones studying.

The most problematic point of this theory is that Migdal Eder or the “Tower of the Flock” is located outside of Bethlehem not “IN” the city of David as most people understand Matthew 2 to read. But that is a very Western way of reading, a more Eastern or Hebraic understanding of the text will help us. Note that Matthew 2 reads, “in Bethlehem of Judea.” the Greek word ἐν (en) has a broad range especially in the way that it is written when coupled with “of Judea.” In Greek because “of Judea” is added there is a good argument that it is Bethlehem proper rather than specific. In my opinion this is within the hermeneutics of the Greek preposition en which in its nearly 3000 biblical occurrences often takes on a much broader meaning such as on, at, by, or with making the Bethlehem proper usage perfectly acceptable according to any interlinear.

In taking everything in, this study leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured near Migdal Eder, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and, accordingly, the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds, but priests. The Greek word which is translated in our English Bibles “manger” is Yatnh phat-ne. The definition of the word is of a “stall” where animals are kept and in Luke 13:15 is translated as such. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word means a stall or a crib (See Proverbs 14:4). It is also worth noting that because shepherding was seasonal, the shepherd’s family housing would have been similar to the temporary dwelling or coming and going place we often refer to in English as an INN. This functioned not only as a home to the shepherds but likely a place of study for the priests. Sure, there were nicer places in Bethlehem, but this is where the “lowlier” of the caste would have been staying for Passover festivities.

You may not know that both Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David, though they were not considered among the aristocrats of Israel. Mary was related to Elizabeth, the wife of the priest, Zacharias, and thus in the Priestly line of Jesus. As most family land often remained in the family for generations there is a good chance that Mary and Joseph knew the location “in Bethlehem” well that had been in their line of priestly shepherds and the guest room was full in the Passover season but gave way to the “ordinary” kitchen or preparation area for the feast, where the livestock also remained. (This functions as a mosaic picture of the lowly of lowly servants’ quarters as a picture of Christs complete humility.) This also does away with the images of an irresponsible Joseph whose wife is about to birth the Messiah (as he knows) running around knocking door to door; it makes much more strategic Biblical sense.

Does it matter? Maybe not, sort of, yea?! Jesus’ birth at Migdal Eder places Jesus in the traditional location for Passover lambs to be born & explains how the shepherds knew where to go to find and certify “THE Passover lamb” upon birth. It also helps us to understand and explain a better more historically accurate version of Christ’s birth. But it also presents a better truth of the birth of Jesus that leads to a consistency of trust with the gospel message and building on the journey to discipleship.

Merry Christmas, may the Lord Bless you and keep you.

Dr. Ryan

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