Thanks for the good response to our posts on frankincense and myrrh. Over the past 4+ years I have written several posts about Christmas, the birth of Jesus, and Bethlehem, in hope that they would be beneficial to Bible students and teachers.
Here are links to some of the more significant articles, usually with photos.
If you have more interest in learning about the origin of the celebration of the birth of Christ, take a look here. A more detailed study of the historical aspects of the celebration is available in PDF here.
For the next couple of days I plan to spent some (read, total) time with my grandson. I trust you will enjoy quality time with your family and friends.
I see that Leon Mauldin has a post about the manger at Leon’s Message Board here, and another about the traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem here.
Todd Bolen has a list of his Christmas-Related Posts at Bible Places Blog here.
The media is giving its usual Christmas Eve attention to Bethlehem today. The New Testament teaches that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king (Matthew 2:1). The month, day, and year of the birth of Jesus is not stated in the New Testament. We do have some historical information that helps with the date, but not precise information is available (Luke 2).
Do we know the place of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem? About A.D. 160 Justin Martyr said, “when the child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village” (Dialogue With Trypho, 78). Near the middle of the third century Origen said that the cave where Jesus was born was being shown and that even the enemies of the faith were talking of it. Jerome was a resident of Bethlehem from A.D. 386 until his death in A.D. 420. He tells how the birthplace of Jesus, the place of the crucifixion and the tomb where Jesus had lain were defiled from the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine. The Church of the Nativity now stands at this spot. Of this location, Dalman says:
No one could discern in this former rocky chamber the place of the Nativity. The altar at the east end was perhaps not erected originally to designate the exact spot, although the background of the grotto would make it probable. Here also is the only remarkable feature in it, namely a small adjoining room which contains in the right wall a low niche resembling a manger (Sacred Sites and Ways, 38).
Typical of so many, this site has enjoyed its share of fanciful speculations. Tradition locates the spot where the adoration of the Magi took place and a projection in the background is taken to be the table at which the Virgin ate with the Magi. Like so much speculation, these overlook the fact that the gospel account represents the Magi as arriving at some time after the birth of Jesus and that they found the child with Mary in a “house.” The Wise Men may have had a fast means of transportation, but one should not forget that they traveled by plain, not plane; they came not from the east side of town, but from the East.
This photo shows the exterior of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
The Church of the Nativity has a long history. It is now a Greek Orthodox church. Underneath the altar is the Grotto of the Nativity where it is said that Jesus was born. Maybe, maybe not. A silver star was set in the marble pavement in 1717. The Latin inscription, “HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST.” The translation: “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.”
Among the confusion of the date of the birth of Jesus, and the lack of New Testament authority for a church celebration on a certain day, let us not forget that the eternal Word became flesh, and dwelt among men in order to bring salvation to those who obey Him through his death upon the cross (John 1:1, 14; Luke 19:10).
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” – Hebrews 5:8-9, ESV
Christmas is approaching. I would like to call your attention to an article I have written about Christmas. You may read it here. A more detailed outline, The Truth About Christmas, giving both biblical and historical information is available in PDF at BibleWorld.com. You are welcome to duplicate these articles for your own use. Please do not make changes in them.
Even by the end of the first century the church was beginning to move away from the apostolic pattern. One of the earliest departures was in church government. Instead of each church having a plurality of elders (bishops, overseers, pastors) (Acts 14:23; Philippians 1:1), it became popular to elevate one man to the position of Bishop over the elders.
In the fourth century there was a bishop at Myra, by the name of Nicholas, who was benevolent to those in need. From this historical person there arose the legend of Saint Nicholas, eventually Santa Claus.
Myra was a town of Lycia about 85 miles from Antalya, Turkey (biblical Attalia, Acts 14:25). The town is located a few miles away from the Mediterranean, but has a port. When Paul was being escorted by a Roman centurion from Caesarea Maritima to Rome, the ship sailed along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, and landed at Myra in Lycia (Acts 27:5). There they found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy.
Whether Paul was close enough to see any of Myra we do not know. There are several interesting things that could have been seen. I have only visited Myra once, in 1987. I mention this to say that it was before the days of digital photos. Here is a photo of the house-type tombs in the cliffs at Myra dating from the 4th century B.C.
The theater at Myra dates from the 2nd century B.C., and had a capacity of 10,000 spectators. The following photo comes from the Wikipedia entry on Myra.
Ruins of the Church of Saint Nicholas can be seen at nearby Demre. Here is a photo I made of the statue of St. Nicholas in 1987.
And that’s how legend grows!