Since Christmas is quickly approaching, I thought I would point my readers to a fantastic article by Stephen Carlson published in NTS in 2010 titled, "The Accommodations of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem: Κατάλυμα in Luke 2.7." Carlson's study turns the traditional interpretation of the "inn" as being a kind of ancient hotel on its head. He also denies the view that Jesus was born in a stable or barn. Through a detailed lexical and semantic analysis of the term κατάλυμα (traditionally translated "inn") and Jewish patrilocal marital customs during the time of Jesus, Carlson demonstrates that the reference to κατάλυμα in Luke 2.7 alludes to a marital chamber built on top, or onto the side of, the main room of a family village home. According to Carlson, the phrase διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι should be rendered "because they did not have room in their place to stay." The reference to "their place" is the marital chamber attached to the family village home of Joseph where the married couple would have stayed for some time before finding their own place. Since there was no space in their room, Mary had to give birth in the larger main room of the house, where the rest of the family slept. Carlson also shows that it was common for a "manger" to be present in the main room of most Jewish homes and so this detail of the birth account is in keeping with Jewish living customs. I quote Carlson's conclusion found on page 342 of the article:
"Luke's infancy narrative therefore presupposes the following events. Joseph took his betrothed Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (2.5). Bethlehem was his hometown (v. 3) and, in accordance with the patrilocal marital customs of the day, it must also have been the place where they finalized their matrimonial arrangements by bringing her into his home. As a newly married man, he no longer would have to sleep in the main room of the village house with his other relatives, but he and his bride could stay in a marital chamber attached to the house until they could get a place of their own. They stayed there for some time until she came to full term (v. 6), and she gave birth to Jesus in the main room of the house rather than in her marital apartment because it was too small, and she laid the newborn in one of those mangers (v. 7) common to the main room of an ancient farmhouse. After staying at least another forty days in Bethlehem (v. 22; cf. Lev 12.2–8), Joseph and Mary eventually moved to Nazareth to make their home together in her family's town (v. 39; cf. 1.26–27). To be sure, this scenario as presupposed in Luke's infancy account diverges greatly from the conventional Christmas story. There is no inn, no innkeeper, and no stable. But it is grounded in a careful exegesis of the text."
This is one of those articles that can be described as being truly groundbreaking. Carlson's conclusions are so convincing that it would take considerable evidence to overturn them. Indeed, some may be uncomfortable with how this evidence changes the face of the traditional Christmas story, but it is, as Carlson admits, "grounded in a careful exegesis of the text." This article needs to be circulated widely, not only among academics, but also pastors and lay people alike, because it has serious implications for how we should understand this story as told by Luke. Carlson has posted this article on his personal website and it can be found here. Happy reading and happy holidays to all!
Several months ago, I blogged about an interesting little papyrus slip from Yale's collection. Be sure to check that post out. My edition of this little papyrus has just been published in the BASP, and I have uploaded a copy to the publications section of this site. So, if you are looking for a little Thanksgiving reading, you can access the full article here.
For those of you who will be attending the Society of Biblical Literature's (SBL) annual meeting next week, you might be interested in a session that with a focus on the provenance of ancient artifacts. This session is being presided over by my erudite colleague Ross Ponder, and all of the panelists are highly respected scholars in their fields. They are also my friends. I am sad to announce that, although I am listed as a participant, I will not be able to make the conference. But I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in questions related to the provenance of ancient artifacts, and particularly papyri (all but one of the speakers are papyrologists), to attend this session. The information is listed below.
I am happy to announce here that my doctoral dissertation is soon to be published by T&T Clark in the Library of New Testament Studies (LNTS) series. It is in the very last stages of production and is on schedule to be released in March 2016.
The full citation is:
Brice C. Jones, New Testament Texts on Greek Amulets from Late Antiquity. LNTS 554. London: T&T Clark, 2016.
Here is the abstract, followed by a link to where you can pre-order the hardback or eBook. Please note that this book will be released in paperback as well probably sometime in 2017.
"Brice C. Jones presents a comprehensive analysis of Greek amulets from late antique Egypt which contain New Testament citations. He evaluates the words they contain in terms of their text-critical value. The use of New Testament texts on amulets was common in late antiquity. These citations were extracted from their larger Biblical contexts and used for ritual purposes that have traditionally been understood in tterms of the ambiguous category of 'magic'. Often, these citations were used to invoke the divine for some favour, healing or protection. For various reasons, however, these citations have not played a significant role in the study of the text of the Greek New Testament.
As such, this is the first systematic treatment of Greek New Testament citations on amulets from late antique Egypt. Jones' work has real implications for how amulets and other such witnesses from this era should be treated in the future of the discipline of New Testament textual criticism."
To learn more, please visit Bloomsbury's website here.