Sunday, December 28, 2008

On Martyrologies

What is a Martyrology?

A martyrology (a synaxarion or menologion for the Eastern churches) is a catalogue or list of martyrs - later extended for saints in general, arranged in the calendar order of their anniversaries or feasts.

Since the time when the commemorations of martyrs, to which were added those of bishops, began to be celebrated, each local church had its special martyrology, on which the names of local Christians who were killed for their faith were listed. These local lists were further enriched by names borrowed from neighbouring localities. Consolidation occurred, by the combination of several local martyrologies, with or without borrowings from literary sources.

In the early years of Christianity, it became customary to offer the Eucharist on the tombs of the martyrs on the anniversary of their deaths; i.e. their birthday into Heaven. At this meeting, the local bishop, or one from a neighbouring community, would usually deliver an oration in praise of the martyr. The Acts of the trial and passion of the martyr would also be recounted or, if the community possessed them, read and, later on gathered in a special book, of the miracles accomplished by the martyr since his death.

The veneration of certain saints gradually spread beyond the bounds of their churches of origin, most often because of the miracles worked through their relics. These attracted pilgrims and the veneration of other churches who sought the martyrs' protection, particularly if they had been able to obtain some fragments of their holy relics. This led to consolidation and combination of several local martyrologies, with or without borrowings from literary sources, to produce general martyrologies, covering a wider range. The scope of martyrologies were further extended when the struggle against heresies produced many holy bishops and priests, and whose feasts, as confessors of the faith, were added to those of the martyrs.

These martyrologies either took the form of a simple list of names, or may also include small biographical details about a particular saint (these types of martyrologies were called historical martyrologies).

The Latin rite of the Catholic Church uses what is called the Roman Martyrology (Martyrologium Romanum in Latin). The main source for this was the Martyrology of Usuard, completed by the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great and the works of some of the Fathers, and for the Greek saints by the catalogue known as the Menologion of Sirlet. Its origins can be traced back to the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, which was originally based on calendars of Roman, African and Syrian provenance, but to which were gradually added names of many saints from other areas, resulting in a number of duplications, fusions of different saints into one, and other mistakes.

The Roman Martyrology was first published in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII, who in the year before had decreed the revision of the Julian calendar that is called, after him, the Gregorian calendar. A second edition was published in the same year. The third edition, in 1584, was made obligatory wherever the Roman Rite was in use. Very soon, in 1586 and again in 1589, revised editions were published with corrections by Caesar Baronius along with indications of the sources on which he drew, and in 1630 Pope Urban VIII issued a new edition. Pope Benedict XIV was also interested in the Roman Martyrology: his bull of 1748 addressed to John V, King of Portugal, long prefaced printings of the Roman Martyrology.

1748 saw the appearance of a revised edition by Pope Benedict XIV, who personally worked on the corrections: he suppressed some names, such as those of Clement of Alexandria and Sulpicius Severus, but kept others that had been objected to, such as that of Pope Siricius. Subsequent changes until the edition of 2001 were minor, involving some corrections, but mainly the addition of the names of newly canonized saints. The current (2005) edition, which corrected a number of typographical errors that appeared in the 2001 edition and added 117 people canonized or beatified between 2001 and 2004, contains about 7,000 saints and blesseds currently recognized and venerated by the Church.

A sample entry from the Roman Martyrology would look like this (taken from the 1956 Roman Martyrology):

The 1st day of January. The Kalends of January.

The Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the octave of his Nativity.

At Rome, under Emperor Alexander, St. Martina, virgin, who endured various kinds of torments, and being beheaded, received the palm of martyrdom. Her feast is kept on the 30th of this month.

At Caesarea in Cappadocia, the death of St. Basil the Great, bishop, confessor, and doctor of the Church, renowned for his learning and wisdom and gifted with every virtue, who during the reign of Emperor Valens wonderfully displayed his talents as he defended the Church with great constancy against the Arians and Macedonians. His feast, however, is appropriately kept on the 14th of June, the day on which he was consecrated bishop.

In Tuscany, on Mount Senario, St. Bonfilius, confessor, one of the seven founders of the Order of the Servites of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, having honoured her devoutly, was suddenly called to heaven by her. His feast, with that of his companions, is kept on February 12th.

At Rome, St. Almachius, martyr, who, by the command of Alipius, governor of the city, was killed by the gladiators for saying, "Today is the Octave of our Lord's birth; put an end to the worship of idols, and abstain from unclean sacrifices."

In the same city, on the Appian Way, the crowning with martyrdom of thirty holy soldiers under Emperor Diocletian.

At Spoleto, in the time of Emperor Antoninus, St. Concordius, priest and martyr, who was beaten with clubs, then stretched on the rack, and after a long confinement in prison, where he was visited by an angel, lost his life by the sword.

The same day, St. Magnus, martyr.

In Africa, St. Fulgentius, bishop of Rusp, who suffered much from the Arians, during the persecution of the Vandals, for holding the Catholic faith and teaching an excellent doctrine. After being banished to Sardinia, he was permitted to return to his diocese, where he ended his life by a holy death, leaving a reputation for sanctity and eloquence.

At Chieti in Abruzzo, the birthday of St. Justin, bishop of that city, illustrious for holiness of life and for his miracles.In the diocese of Lyons, in the monastery of St. Claude, St. Eugendus, abbot, whose life was eminent for virtues and miracles.

At Souvigny in France, St. Odilo, abbot of Cluny, who was the first to prescribe that the commemoration of all the faithful departed should be made in his monasteries the day after the feast of All Saints. This practice was afterwards received and approved by the universal Church.

At Rome, the birthday of St. Vincent Maria Strambi, Bishop of Macerata and Tolentino, of the Order of Passionists, renowned for his pastoral zeal, whom Pope Pius XII numbered among the saints.

At Alexandria, the departure from this world of St. Euphrosyna, virgin, who was renowned in her monastery for the virtue of abstinence, and for the gift of miracles.

And elsewhere in divers places, many other holy martyrs, confessors, and holy virgins.
R. Thanks be to God.
A sample entry from a calendar-type synaxarion (which is a mere listing of saints arranged in the order of their anniversaries), meanwhile, would look like the following:

1. The Circumcision of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea.
Peter the Neomartyr.
In the 10th century, scribes began to including biographical notices to these simple calendar listings. As the lessons in the Byzantine Divine Office are always lives of saints, the synaxarion became the collection of short lives of saints and accounts of events whose memory is kept. Another name for these synaxaria containing brief lives of the saints is the Prologue, a term which did not remain in popular use in the Byzantine church, but which remained popular among the Slavic nations. Essentially, the Slavonic Prolog (traditionally published in 4 volumes containing brief lives of the saints for 3 months per volume) and the modern Greek synaxarion are the same, or at least analogous, collections.

A sample entry would very much look like this:


This month has thirty-one days with ten hours of day fourteen hours of night.

The Circumcision according to the flesh of Our Lord Jesus Christ; and commemoration of our Father among the Saints Basil the Great, archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia.

Since the law of Moses lays down that if a woman gives birth to a male child it shall be circumcised in the flesh of its foreskin on the eighth day, for this reason our Savior on the present day, which is the eighth from his Nativity, accepted the Circumcision prescribed by the law, and received, in accordance with the Angel’s command, the name which is above every name, "Jesus", that is to say, Savior. As we celebrate our Lord’s name day today, from it we begin the New Year from his incarnation.

Saint Basil the Great belonged, through his father also named Basil, to the province of Pontus, and through his Emmelia, to the province of Pontus, and through his mother Emmelia, to Cappadocia. He was born in Caesarea in Cappadocia around 329-330. He studied in Caesarea, then in Constantinople under the famous rhetor Libanius, and finally in Athens, where he became a close friend of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus. Shortly after his return to Caesarea which occurred about 356, he retired in solitude to the outskirts of Neocaesarea, where his mother and his sister Macrina already led the monastic life. It is at that time he composed his ascetical writings. He was ordained a priest by Eusebius, Archbishop of Caesarea, and at the death of the latter was elected in 370 to succeed him and rule the Church of Christ. He governed it for eight years, during which time he proved himself a witness of the truth in the face of heresy and full of courage before the threats of the Arian Emperor Valens. He died on January 1, in the year 379. The wisdom and the learning which fill his works, his Philokalia (extracts from the works of Origen), his Treatise on the Holy Spirit, his theological work against the Arian Eunomius, his ascetical writings, his monastic rules, his commentaries on Sacred Scripture, the panegyrics which he made of many saints, his correspondence, and finally the splendor and the force of his words, have won for him rightly the epitaphs of "Revealer of Heaven," and of the "Great."

December 28 - The Holy Innocents


(Matthew 2:13-18)
At that time the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to destroy Him." Then he got up, took the child and His mother by night and went to Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called my Son."

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became enraged. He sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and throughout the surrounding region from two years old and under, according to the time which he had learned from the magi.

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

"A voice was heard in Rama, lamentation and great wailing,
Rachel weeping for her children,
And she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.

(Matthew 19:13-15; 18:1-6, 10-11)
At that time little children were brought to our Lord Jesus Christ that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not stop them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." And he placed his hands on them and went from there.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child and had him stand among them and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore anyone who humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; and whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.

"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father who is in heaven; for the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

December 27 - Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist

Gospel readings from various Liturgical Rites:


(John 21:19-24)
At that time, Jesus said to Peter, "Follow me." Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following (who had leaned on His breast at the supper and said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?"). When Peter saw this one he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me." So the saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say to him that he would not die; rather, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?"

This is the disciple who is testifying about these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

(John 20:1-8)

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have put Him!"

Then Peter and the other disciple went out and were coming to the tomb. The two were running together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he stooped down and saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face-cloth that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, also went in; and he saw and believed.
3.) MOZARABIC LECTIONARY, for 29 December

(John 21:15-24)
At that time, our Lord Jesus Christ said to Peter, "Simon of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him a third time, "Simon of John, do you love me?" Peter was sad that He said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and said to Him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Amen, Amen, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked wherever you wished, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will gird you and bring you where you do not wish" (He said this, signifying by what death he would glorify God). And when He had said this, He said to him, "Follow me."

Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following (who had leaned on His breast at the supper and said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?"). When Peter saw this one he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me." So the saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say to him that he would not die; rather, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?"

This is the disciple who is testifying about these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
4.) BYZANTINE LECTIONARY, for September 26 (October 9), Repose of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, and May 8 (May 21), Feast of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian

(John 19:25-27; 21:24-25)

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. So when Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing there, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!" He then said to His disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that very hour the disciple took her to his own.

This is the disciple who is testifying about these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
4.) COPTIC LECTIONARY, for Tobi 4, Departure of St. John the Evangelist and Theologian, and Bashans 16, Commemoration of St. John the Evangelist

(John 21:15-25)


(John 21:20-25)

6.) ARMENIAN LECTIONARY, for December 29 (feast of James and John)

(John 21:20-25)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Eucharistic Significance of the Manger

We often read it, but very often we neglect its significance.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the lodgings.

-Luke 2:7
Many people usually think that the Christ child was placed inside a manger because it resembled a cradle. While this may be true to an extent, newborn babies don't really need a crib yet as they could not move much. Even in our time, we only transfer babies from bassinets into infant beds when they are three or four months of age (as they could tip themselves out). Mary could have chosen to place the child beside her, but instead she chose a feeding-trough for her Child.

One thing we need to see is that the Infant was placed in a feeding trough for animals (see, for example, the illustration at left depicting a stone manger from Israel, which would have been similar to the one in which Jesus was laid on).

Early iconographers seem to be aware of a sort of connection between the Nativity and the Eucharist (John 6:51-58), as in many of these representations the animals push their muzzles into the manger as if to eat from it (or nibbling at the Child's hand). The manger itself was depicted as something similar to a bread-basket or even as a raised structure somewhat similar to an Altar. In fact, in some of the above depictions architectural elements block the view of and segregate the beasts, shepherds and angels from the inner sanctum like a rood screen, who are looking on the Infant in quiet reverence like worshippers in a medieval Church.

In these images Christ is presented not as the cute baby of our Christmas cards but as the spotless Lamb of God destined for a sacrifice on the cross that will be revisited in the Eucharist. El Greco makes the emphasis on sacrifice rather explicit in his depiction of the Adoration of the Shepherds where the inclusion of a trussed lamb identifies the child as the sacrificial Lamb "who will take away the sins of the world."

In Eastern iconography, there came a type of image depicting the infant Christ either lying on the altar or within a paten covered by the asterisk, with his midsection covered by a liturgical cloth (see left portion of the icon at right). This was known as the melismos ("breaking"), with the name coming from the action of breaking the consecrated bread, known as Amnos in Greek or Amnets in Slavonic, both meaning "Lamb", with a scalpel called a "spear" (in reference to the spear that pierced the side of Jesus; John 19:33-37) that the priest performs just before distributing Holy Communion.

"Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God; broken yet not divided, ever eaten yet is never consumed, but sanctifies those who partake of Him."
The diskos itself (which answers to the paten of the Western Church), on which the Lamb is laid, is taken to be representative either of the manger or Mary, who bore Christ in her womb, and at the same time, the tomb on which Jesus was laid. The asteriskos meanwhile represents the star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:9 is even quoted as the asteriskos is placed over the Lamb before the start of the Divine Liturgy), while the veil called aër (vózdukh), which covers both the diskos and the chalice, represents both the swaddling-clothes and the shroud which covered the Lord during burial.

The connection between the manger and the cross is also evident in another element of Eastern icons of the Nativity: in it the infant Jesus is bound, mummy-like, by strips of cloth (which is similar to the depiction of the Lord's grave clothes in burial) and rests in a raised structure, which in addition to its (vague) resemblance to an altar, also looks like a stone coffin.

The final connection between the Eucharist and Christmas we can make is the name of Bethlehem itself. Beit Lehem (בית לחם) is Hebrew for "House of Bread" (the Arabic name بيت لحم Bayt Laḥm is also interesting, as it literally means "House of Lamb" or "House of Meat"!); how fitting it is that the One who said He was the bread of life (John 6:35) was born in the House of Bread!

December 25 - The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

(Hebrews 1:1-12)

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke formerly to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us in a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and by whom He created the ages, who being the brightness of His glory and the representation of His substance, and sustaining all things by the word of His power, when He had made purification of sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has inherited a name superior to theirs.

For to which of the angels did He say at any time, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? And again, "I will be to Him a Father and He will be to me a Son." And again when He brings the Firstborn into the world, He says: "And let all the angels of God worship him.

And of the angels He says, "He who makes His messengers winds, and His ministers a flame of fire," but of the Son, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness over your companions."

And, "Lord, in the beginning you founded the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish, but you continue; and they will all grow old like a garment; and like a cloak you will fold them up and they will be changed, but you are the same, and your years will not fail.

(John 1:1-14)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a testimony, to bear witness of the Light, so that all through Him might believe. He was not the Light, but he came to bear witness about the Light. The true Light which gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name: who were born, not of bloods nor of the will of the flesh nor a man's decision but of God.

And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, (and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

"...Because there was no room for them in the katalyma"

I'm sure that most of us are at least familiar with the story of the very first Christmas ever:

And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.

And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

-Luke 2:1-7 (Douay-Rheims Challoner)
Because of that little statement that Luke makes in verse 7, as the ages pass by, many inspirational stories, poems, and sermons have been made on the innkeeper who either gave Mary and Joseph room or shooed them away. However, did Luke really refer to an inn in Luke 2:7?

First, we need to realize what word it was that Luke used in his story which is rendered as "inn" in our Bibles. Luke had used the word κατάλυμά (katalyma). In extra-biblical literature, katalyma has a wider connotation than "inn;" it can also mean "house," "guest room" or "lodging-place". It is a noun form of the verb καταλυο (kataluo), a compound verb (kata "among" + luo "break up" or "(un-)loose") which translates literally as "to disintegrate" or "to unyoke," i.e. "to loosen down." As a place of rest and lodging, a katalyma was a place to drop your baggage, to untie the straps and packs of the beasts of burden and simply sit down and relax.

When Luke speaks of a commercial inn, as he does in Luke 10:34 (in the parable of the Good Samaritan), he uses a different word, πανδοχεῖον (pandocheion), which literally means "accepting all comers", a type of public lodging-place or hostelry which was more common in Palestine, Syria, and southern Anatolia in Jesus' time than in the western Roman world (in a former time, pandocheia were more geographically distributed; many of these had diminished in Jesus' time).

The only other place where Luke uses katalyma is in 22:11, where it refers to the upper room where Jesus and company held the Last Supper, which is clearly not an "inn" but a large guest room attached to a private house. Mark (14:14) also uses katalyma to describe the upper room itself.

During the time of Jesus, the only inns that existed were essentially truck stops for caravans. It was a place for travelers and pack animals to eat, a shelter in which to sleep overnight, a market for supplies for the road and is considered to be a hangout for prostitutes (female innkeepers were referred to as pundaqit in Aramaic, which was synonymous with the Hebrew zonah "harlot"; cf. Joshua 2:1) and others of an unsavory reputation; the word pandocheion itself had some negative connotations due to this.

Another thing that we need to consider is that at the time of Jesus, Bethlehem was a small town that was not near a major highway, so there is no reason to think that there would have been a commercial inn there, since inns were mostly built where there is more traffic, i.e. major roads, especially Roman ones; indeed, there is no archeological evidence for the existence of any inns in Bethlehem. With the population of the town in the 1st century being estimated as being around a thousand (only about a few times bigger than Nazareth, which is estimated to have had 200-400 residents at this time) and the lack of any highway nearby, the existence of a commercial inn in Bethlehem seems rather unlikely.

It then becomes more likely that Luke meant katalyma to be understood as "guest room" or "house" rather than "commercial inn." Middle Eastern hospitality required people to give shelter and sustenance to travelers (relatives or no), to make themselves as comfortable as possible at the host's expense. Since Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem in the region of Judea since that was his ancestral home, we could assume that Joseph, at least, may have had a number of distant relations living in the town who could serve as potential hosts. Kinship ties throughout the village would have been the rule, not the exception.

Archeological and literary evidence shows that houses in Bethlehem and its vicinity often had stables within the house where the family would keep their animals while the guest room was in the front of the house. The animals as well as the family stayed under one large enclosed space that was divided so that the animals would usually be on a lower level, while the family would sleep on a raised upper level.
Joseph and Mary would have come too late to get the guest room (Luke uses the definite article in the original Greek), which would have been totally crowded with other travelers who had come because of the census, so the hosts (Joseph's distant relatives?) did the best they could to help both husband and wife by putting the newborn Jesus at the stables inside the house, since no space for the baby could be had in the now-crowded guest room.

For the Middle Eastern peasant, it is a bad thing to be alone. He does his thinking in a crowd, as his culture is a group-centered one (as opposed to the individualistic thinking of the 21st century West). Thus, in the case of a birth, the men will sit apart with the neighbors, but the room will be full of women assisting the midwife; the assumption therefore that Mary and Joseph were alone, as they are so often depicted in Nativity scenes, is probably historically inaccurate. We are told that Mary swaddled the newborn infant by herself, and indeed some take this as evidence that the Holy family were alone; however, there are accounts on how Palestinian women are not incapacitated by childbirth and could even give birth in a field and go back to the village, baby in tow, with no unusual effort required.

In this scenario, it would then perhaps be natural that Mary would have swaddled the babe, since she could physically do so with little to no assistance; so when Luke tells us that Mary "wrapped the babe in swaddling clothes" that does not necessarily mean that they were alone.

In an alternative scenario, the katalyma could also refer to an area where large crowds are gathered, as might have been the case with the census. In this arrangement, people and animals were crowded next to each other in a large, open area where temporary shelters could be erected. The area would then be a totally busy place bustling with activity, noise and cooking fires. If Bethlehem had such a very crowded "camping area" of sorts for the census, then a less busy and a less crowded accommodation like a stable would certainly have been preferable for the birth of Jesus.

St. Justin Martyr, in the 2nd century (Dialogue with Trypho 79), cites a tradition where Mary and Joseph took shelter in a cave near the village - which to an extent is still mainly present in the Eastern Church, which continues to depict the "stable" in iconography as a cave. This is also plausible from a historical point of view, as caves were oftentimes used as stables and various peasants were in fact known to use caves as houses in the time of Jesus.
Interestingly, ancient translations of the Bible never directly translate katalyma into inn. For example, the Syriac Peshitta says that Mary put the baby in the manger "because there was no room where they could lodge" while the Latin Vulgate and Codex Bezae (which preserves a Vetus Latina translation of the Bible) translates the word as diversorio, which like katalyma has a broader meaning than "inn" and could also be translated as "lodging house," "stopping place," or even "accomodations" in general. In Latin, more specific terms for an inn is taberna or stabulum; the latter term, also meaning "dwelling," "tavern" (or even "brothel"!) is the one which Jerome uses for pandocheion in Luke 10;34. Interestingly, Arabic translations of the Bible themselves have never rendered katalyma as inn.

John Wycliff's version of the Bible into English even renders diversorio as "chaumbir"; it was only from Tyndale's 1520 translation that the tradition of rendering katalyma/diversorio as "inn" in English Bibles started.

Another popular misconception is that Mary went into labor immediately or shortly after arriving to Bethlehem. Luke merely states that Jesus was born "when they were there" (not upon arrival); exactly when is not specified, yet this implies that the couple was already in Bethlehem for some period of time prior to Mary going into labor. Thus the popular image of Joseph and Mary arriving at Bethlehem at the very same day/night that she gave birth to Jesus probably has no historical basis. When fitted with the above, the picture becomes thus:
Joseph and the now-pregnant Mary arrive into Bethlehem. They either stay in the house of a certain resident of the village (relying on traditional Middle Eastern hospitality) or camp out in a large open area which functioned as a large "camping area" as the influx of "visitors" to Bethlehem continue. Eventually, as the number of guests staying in the house or the campsite increase, Joseph and Mary find it increasingly difficult to have some space for their child, necessitating that the newborn baby be placed inside the stables instead.
This may not fit our traditional understanding and depictions of the Christmas story and may prove to be 'uncomfortable' for a number of people, but hey, Jesus Himself who "set up His dwelling among us" did not meet His contemporaries' expectations and was even a stumbling-block!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm still alive

For anyone who's worrying about me, I'm still alive and well, as far as I know. I have merely been very busy lately due to school and other things, and perhaps will still be within the next three months, which explains the lack of any recent posts. I can't promise to post more often, but I will post something one of these days.