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January 4, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem for at least a month, perhaps longer.  They were likely residing with relatives.  Bethlehem was Joseph’s home town.  They had come the seventy some miles from Nazareth because of the Roman census.  They traveled with the pilgrimage crowds coming to Jerusalem for the high holidays held during the month of Tishri (September/October) beginning with Rosh HaShanah on Tishri one and ending with Sukkot on Tishri 22.  No, Jesus was not born in December.  That’s when we celebrate the Advent, including the first and second comings of Messiah.  However, Jesus was likely born on Tishri one, the eve of Rosh HaShanah.

Three things had to take place before Joseph and Mary returned home to Nazareth to show off their first born male child.   The Temple was only six miles from Bethlehem, which was a very small village in the first century, not nearly large enough for an inn.  The manger in which the newborn was laid was part of a typical Jewish home.  It was either a cave next to the house and connected to it so as to be used to shelter the animals at night, or a lower level room built for the same purpose.  The Greek word translated “inn” in our King James Translation simply means “guest room.”  Luke makes clear that these three things were carried out at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The first thing that took place at the Temple was Yeshua’s circumcision.  This was his name in Hebrew and means “Yahwah saves.”  The name would be pronounced at the circumcision and Luke reminds us that it was actually conferred by Gabriel, the messenger of Yahwah, at the announcement of Yeshua’s conception to Mary.

The second thing that had to take place was the dedication of Yeshua to the Lord.  The first born male had a special place in the Jewish family.  He was the privileged heir, inheriting the double portion upon his father’s death.  He would also be the head of the family when the father died.  The tradition of dedicating the first born male seems to have arisen from the dedication of Samuel by his mother Hannah.  It could take place any time, but in Yeshua’s case it seems to have taken place at the time of Mary’s purification forty days after the birth.

The third thing that had to occur in the life of Yeshua’s family before they left to travel back north was Mary’s purification.  This took place in stages.  The first stage was the eight days following the birth and leading to the circumcision.  The second stage was a thirty- three day period of semi ritual uncleanness   At the end of this time she would be officially declared ritually pure, and a sacrifice was offered.  The impurity has nothing to do with moral impurity.  It is ritual impurity connected with the sanctity of blood in the Temple ritual.  The ceremony probably included being immersed in a mikvah, although no mention of this process is given by Luke.  There were hundreds of mikvahs connected to the Temple.  An outline of these rites is given in Leviticus 12.

I will be leaving for a brief trip to Israel in a few days.  There may be a gap in the appearance of this column for a week or two.  Lord willing I will be visiting Bethlehem.  In the mid 1800’s Bethlehem was a predominately Christian city.  Today barely a third of the population is Christian.  That’s another story for another time.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs