In a previous post, I pointed out some of the inaccuracies in our Christmas nativity scenes. One that I did not mention, but that is probably the most inaccurate feature of all, is where Jesus was born. Our nativities, songs, and other depictions of Jesus’ birth have him in some type of stable or barn. It probably just did not happen that way.
Yes, there was a manger (an animal feeding trough) in which the newborn Jesus was placed. However, while we relate feeding troughs to barns in our modern thinking, this was not the reality of 1st Century Israel. The diagram below from Logos Bible Software gives us a better understanding of a typical Jewish home at the time of Christ’s birth.
The upper area was the place where Jewish families lived and slept. The lower area was a place where more of the day-to-day work of the house was done and where animals that needed a little extra protection were kept. It is in this lower area that Jesus was likely born. When we read that there was “no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7), we often think of a hotel or similar. However, the greek word behind the word translated as “inn” is katalyma, which simply means “lodging place, resting place, or guest room”. This likely refers to the upper living area. Therefore, Mary and Joseph were forced to stay in the lower living area, where animals were often kept, which is why there is a manger present.
I hope this is helpful and gives us all a better understanding of what happened on that wonderful night when our Savior was born.