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The Busted Halo Question Box
Ask our spiritual experts virtually anything!
This is the place where you can ask all of those burning questions that you wouldn't dare ask in person. We will post questions here (using your byline only with permission); we guarantee an answer to everyone.

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Caitlin Kennell Kim
Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
General Questions
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
Ecumenical, Interfaith
Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
Mike Hayes
Our readers asked:

I’ve heard some priests say Jesus was born in a stable while others have said he was born in a cave. Which was it?

Ann Naffziger Answers:

It is Luke’s Gospel that gives us the famous picture of the newborn babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Lk 2:1-20). Luke never specifies that Jesus was born in a stable or a cave; he only states that there was no room for them in the inn. Many have come to imagine the birthplace as a stable because of the note about the manger, another name for an open box or feeding trough for livestock. The image of a cave can be traced back to the apocryphal “Infancy Gospel of James” (probably written in the mid-second century), which places Mary and Joseph there at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Another possibility that scholars have offered is that the Holy Family might have ended their journey in the courtyard or on the first floor of a typical Jewish home. Residents of that era typically slept upstairs while the animals were stabled on the ground floor. It is an intriguing idea that both accommodates our image of animals present at the birth while suggesting that Mary and Joseph weren’t as isolated from human civilization as we tend to imagine.

We will probably never know the exact location of Jesus’ birth, but clearly Luke’s narrative makes the point that the Holy Family were transients at the time of Jesus’ coming.

The Author : Ann Naffziger
Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
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