When I was a young girl, my cousin reprimanded me for something I did by asking, “were you born in a barn?” The question was an insult at best. Nonetheless, Jesus was born in a barn.
Most Christians believe that Jesus was born in a stable. At other times, pictures of his birthplace show a cave set apart from the town of Bethlehem. Very likely, these ideas about Jesus’ birth place aren’t completely accurate.
Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken of the entire Roman world. A part of the order required that all adult men go the place they were born. Joseph lived and worked in Nazareth when he married Mary, the mother of Jesus. But, Joseph was from the tribe of Judah; his ancestors from the area of Bethlehem. To fulfill the Emperor’s edict, Joseph had to return to Bethlehem.
Joseph left Nazareth along with Mary and traveled to Bethlehem. Most art depicting Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem show Mary on the back of a donkey. The Bible identified that Joseph and Mary were very poor (Luke 2:24). Conceivably, Joseph couldn’t afford a donkey for his wife to ride. Mary may have walked from Nazareth, Galilee to Bethlehem, Juda
How far Mary was into her nine-month pregnancy when Joseph and Mary made this trip, isn’t identified in the Bible. Pictures show Mary in about her eighth-month of pregnancy; however, these pictures could be inaccurate. It is unlikely that Joseph would wait that late in his wife’s pregnancy to start a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Conceivably, Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem in the 5th – 7th month of pregnancy.
When Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, he would have gone first to his family home to stay with kinfolks. Perhaps, one or both of his parents were still alive. More than likely, one of his brothers lived in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, for Mary and Joseph there was no room for them in any home of Joseph’s kin. Possibly, several families returned to Bethlehem for the census. Relatives living in Bethlehem had no space for another couple. The Bethlehem inns were filled. Joseph and Mary couldn’t rent an inn room or even space on the inn floor.
Joseph and Mary may have stayed in a family member’s barn. In first century Judah, it was common for men to bring valued animals into the bottom floor of their home overnight to keep animals safe. This bottom floor functioned as a barn with family living space on the floor above. To understand this barn and home arrangement, think of the Middle Age crofters in Scotland.
The bottom level of the home, the part reserved for animals, was rough, likely with a dirt floor. Its door may have been sufficient to keep the animals in the barn, but, did little to protect occupants from wind or rain. Most of these barns wouldn’t have had many, if any, divisions for individual animals such as we think of horse stables having stalls. Mary wrapped Jesus in cloths and placed him in a manger (Luke 2:7). The manger was a better place for a newborn babe than the dirty floor with animal excreta.