Christmas Story Myths and Facts

By Sandie Zimmerman,
wife of Messianic Rabbi Jack Zimmerman, Jewish Voice Staff Evangelist

What if what you learned about the nativity is wrong? What if there is more to this amazing story than what you think you already know? Let Sandie shed light on Yeshua’s (Jesus’) birth through a deeper understanding of Jewish history, tradition, and customs.

Many of us have grown up with the traditional, heartwarming story depicting Yeshua’s (Jesus’) birth. We have been told that Mary was nine months pregnant, and that she and Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is roughly 25 to 30 miles, on the day that she was supposed to give birth. Mary traveled by donkey over really rough terrain, trying to get to Bethlehem before the baby was born.

We have been led to believe that they finally got to Bethlehem and Joseph was so frantic that he was knocking on everybody’s door, trying to find a place to stay. Then the miraculous event happened on a cold December night in a stinky stable with flea-infested animals.

But is that what the Bible really says?

First of all, the shepherds that the angels came to were not just any shepherds. They were the Temple shepherds guarding the sacrificial lambs—the spotless lambs of God that were to be sacrificed as the spotless Lamb of God for all eternity was being born. I also just proved to you that Yeshua (Jesus) was born during Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths.

Read our Sept/Oct 2010 issue of Jewish Voice Today to learn more about the fall feasts.

Every Israelite male had to go to his birthplace because of the census, and that wasn’t required for the women. If Joseph was just going to Bethlehem for administrative purposes, why would he have brought his nine-month-pregnant wife? They were told to go to their ancestral home. They lived in Nazareth, but that wasn’t Joseph’s home. Wouldn’t that be careless and irresponsible of Joseph to wait till the very last minute to take his wife? Do you understand how unloving as a husband that would be? If I had been nine months pregnant, I would have slapped him! Don’t you think that Joseph would have been better prepared knowing that the Son of God was coming into the world? So, he was returning to his homeland. Don’t you think he would have had a place to stay coming to his homeland, because that’s where all his family was?

We have this picture of the wandering Jew, going from house to house knocking and pleading. All of this is because of one Greek word that has been mistranslated over and over again in the English: katalyma. This word doesn’t mean “inn;” it means “room” or “guest chamber” (see Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11).

To understand the concept of a room versus an inn, you have to understand first century houses and what they looked like. First century homes were basically one big room, and that was the heart of the family–the tools, the kitchen stuff, tables and chairs, and their sleeping mats. At the end of the day they would get out their sleeping mats and sleep in the same room.

A lot of them had an extra room, which would have been used for storage, for a guest room, or for women giving birth. Why? It was separated from the main living quarters and it was in seclusion. Women who gave birth had to be in seclusion because according to the Jewish law of clean and unclean, the minute you gave birth you were considered unclean. Depending on whether you had a girl or a boy, you were in seclusion either 40 days (boys) or 80 days (girls). You had to be away from everybody until you were considered clean by the law. We know that they followed the law of Moses. We know that Yeshua Himself followed the law of Moses. That little room is where Mary would have given birth to Yeshua because that’s what it was for.

This is why it is important for us to understand the Jewishness of Scripture, the customs and culture of the day, because if you don’t, you get the other story of the cold, wintry night and a long journey with a pregnant wife hobbling around. If you read Luke 1 and 2, you have to remember that even though Luke was probably half Gentile and half Jew, he lived in a Jewish culture. He wouldn’t have put a Greco-Roman mindset into a Jewish book. Therefore, this whole picture of Yeshua’s birth takes on new light and new meaning. With all the things you now know, go home and read the story from a Jewish perspective.

Here’s what would have happened. First, the Roman census was ordered, and Joseph had to go immediately. Now, when I say immediately, I am sure they went a month or two beforehand, because if you read the passage, it says, “and while they were there, she gave birth.” So they were already there. We have to understand that at that time because of the census, a village of a thousand people swelled to about 22,000 people. It would make sense that when Joseph went back to his home, his family, and his possessions,  all the family was back in that tiny little house.

First century houses had two places to put their animals. There was a cave-like dwelling in the back of the home, or what we consider a garage today built into the house.

This was Sukkot, and back in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, it was commanded to make a sukkah even for your animals, so every time you see a manger, that’s actually a sukkah. That’s where Yeshua was born. The reason why Yeshua was born there versus the room He should have been born in was because Joseph and Mary were probably very humble people. They allowed other family members to sleep there. Depending on what their house looked like, and let’s say they had a cave-like dwelling attached to the house, Joseph probably would have gone in there, gotten all the animals out, and cleaned it up, leaving the sukkah still standing. Then that’s where Mary gave birth to Yeshua, in something very clean, because Jewish law again would not permit her to give birth with animals around. That was against the law.

In the Scripture passage where it explains that Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, back then when a baby was born, the umbilical cord was cut, the baby was salted, and then the baby was oiled with frankincense and myrrh. Even at His birth, that is a picture of His death, being anointed and being prepared.

During the time of Sukkot, the priests were in the Temple. In the Holy of Holies, the high priest would take his linen undergarment, discard it, and lay it at the altar. All the other priests who were serving would also do the same thing right outside the Holy of Holies. It was traditional during Sukkot for the high priest’s garment to either be sold for money for the Temple or to be given to the poor.

We know that Joseph and Mary were poor because of the sacrifice they gave in the Temple for Yeshua’s birth, which was two turtledoves. It was required that you sacrifice a lamb and a dove, but if you were poor, they allowed two doves. Doesn’t it make sense that Mary got the wrapping from Zechariah the priest, who got it from the Temple, where it came from the high priest in the Holy of Holies? As she was wrapping her baby, she was wrapping Yeshua in high priestly garments.

Back then, they didn’t wrap the baby like a blanket. They did an oriental tradition of taking strips of the garment and wrapping and binding the legs together. For those of you who know anything about the custom of the Old Testament, they wrapped the baby’s arms individually all the way up, which was a picture of His burial. In the Old Testament, as they were putting the tefillin on, they recited the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” As Yeshua is being born and being wrapped in these priestly garments, it’s a picture of the Shema. Who is the Shema? Yeshua. You can find the wrapping of the baby mentioned in Ezekiel 16:4.

God gave the story of Yeshua’s birth through the Hebraic culture and mindset to two who were Jewish, who kept the law of Moses, and who loved and honored God with all their hearts and souls. He looked down on earth and He picked them because they were of the line of Judah, and Messiah had to come through that line. He gave them this precious gift, our High Priest, and all the symbolism that comes with that even at His birth.

From the minute of conception, from the time of birth, death, and resurrection, from eternity to eternity, He was given the authority. It was already ordained that He would be our forever High Priest and tabernacle among us during Sukkot and forever.

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Why Sukkot Is Yeshua’s Real Birthday

Learn About the Fall Feasts

Jewish Voice Ministries International

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