Most of us grew up with standard Christmas images—baby in a stable, surrounded by cows, sheep, shepherds, and wise men. And a star overhead.

But what if some of those images are wrong? What if centuries of birth-event “interpretation” leaves us with a false picture

Fasten your seatbelts—here comes Kenneth Bailey!

Joseph’s genealogy links him directly with King David, who had been born in Bethlehem. According to Middle Eastern culture, anyone—with or without those credentials—would have been welcomed warmly, and space would have been found for him and his pregnant wife. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth also lived in the area and would gladly have taken them in. But “no room in the inn” plugs in our modern, motel mentality. Sorry. Go away!

Many houses in that era had guest rooms, often on the roof. In that particular home, the guest space was full up. Well, never mind. Welcome to our living quarters. Picture the layout:

Houses of commoners had only one room for eating and sleeping, with a lower level for their animals. All one house. The upper-level floor had holes or depressions at one end that served as mangers for the lower-level animals. Doesn’t everyone have mangers in their living room? The perfect place to lay a swaddled, newborn infant.

Was Jesus born the night of their arrival or sometime afterwards? Luke 2:6—”While they were there, the days of her pregnancy were fulfilled.” And did Joseph himself serve as midwife? Unthinkable, given the cultural importance of hospitality! The men, including the daddy, would have been shoved out the door, and women would have cared for Mary.

Does this view of Jesus’ birth rip holes in your heart? Have we become so caught up in our familiar, comfortable “Christmas” that we can’t see past the accretions that blind us to what life was like in Jesus’ day?


Kenneth Bailey spent most of his life in the Middle East and experienced firsthand the hospitality of that culture. He knows Scripture and sees clearly how the two mesh. If you’d like to get his take on this, here is a longish video:

Stay tuned for Part 2—the shepherds.

Please leave a comment, or email me at