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“…for There Was No Room in the Marital Chamber”

I somehow missed this article when it came out in New Testament Studies a few years back, but Brice C. Jones has the scoop on Stephen Carlson’s interpretation of the κατάλυμα (katalyma) in Luke 2:7, traditionally—yet erroneously—rendered “inn.”

I don’t know of any adult Bible readers who think of this space as the Bethlehem equivalent of a Motel 6. I’ve usually heard it explained as the guest room of a private home. Carlson’s interpretation takes it one step further by paying close attention to the marital and living customs of first-century Judaism:

“Luke’s infancy narrative therefore presupposes the following events. Joseph took his betrothed Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (2.5). Bethlehem was his hometown (v. 3) and, in accordance with the patrilocal marital customs of the day, it must also have been the place where they finalized their matrimonial arrangements by bringing her into his home. As a newly married man, he no longer would have to sleep in the main room of the village house with his other relatives, but he and his bride could stay in a marital chamber attached to the house until they could get a place of their own. They stayed there for some time until she came to full term (v. 6), and she gave birth to Jesus in the main room of the house rather than in her marital apartment because it was too small, and she laid the newborn in one of those mangers (v. 7) common to the main room of an ancient farmhouse. After staying at least another forty days in Bethlehem (v. 22; cf. Lev 12.2–8), Joseph and Mary eventually moved to Nazareth to make their home together in her family’s town (v. 39; cf. 1.26–27). To be sure, this scenario as presupposed in Luke’s infancy account diverges greatly from the conventional Christmas story. There is no inn, no innkeeper, and no stable. But it is grounded in a careful exegesis of the text.”

The whole article can be accessed from Carlson’s website (PDF).

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