Thursday, December 11, 2008

Redeeming the innkeeper of Luke 2:7

RNS recently featured a story redeeming the innkeeper of Luke 2:7 including a reference to the work of Mikeal Parsons:

The innkeeper's reputation stems from a single, oblique reference in Luke 2:7. The verse says Mary wrapped the newborn Jesus in cloth "and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." From this text, Christian communities through the centuries have inferred that their savior was rebuffed at birth.

The reality was possibly much different. The "inn" (or "lodgings" in some translations) was not a hotel or hostel but perhaps a guest room in the private residence of one of Joseph's relatives, according to Mikeal Parsons, a Baylor University New Testament scholar who's writing a commentary on Luke. Because that room was already occupied, Parsons says, hosts may have made room for Mary and Joseph within their own family quarters and cleaned up an animal feeding trough (manger) to serve as a crib.

Such details are important, scholars say, in part because the birth narrative is rich with symbolism. The divine infant's portrayal in modest circumstances suggests, for instance, that God humbled himself to join the commonest of humankind. Hence for later generations to conjure a fictitious innkeeper and make him into something of a villain may be to read a new, unwarranted and potentially misleading significance into the story.

1 comment:

Huw said...

Gotta be careful there, that whole "Jesus as a homeless person" gets a lot of mileage this time of year.