Americans apparently have a new holiday tradition: Arguing whether Mary and Joseph were refugees. My social media timelines were filled this weekend with posts and counter-posts arguing the "immigration status" of Biblical characters.
It started every time with someone on the Left tweeting or Facebook posting that they find it interesting that Christians are celebrating a family that were refugees that were given nowhere to live--even though Mary was pregnant. The insinuation was that if you don't believe in unfettered immigration to the United States, you are not a "real Christian".
Those posts were then answered by "amateur biblical scholars" more than willing to cite passage and verse that Mary and Joseph were not forced from their homes to seek asylum in another country--but rather came to Bethlehem to register for the Roman Census and to pay their taxes. So they had every intention of going back to Nazareth. And as for having no place to stay, you have to consider that there wasn't a hotel at every off-ramp on the footpaths between towns in the days of antiquity. Plus, the Greeks used similar words for "stable" "cave" and "guestroom"--so early translators could have easily misinterpreted the initial gospel texts.
"But what about them having to flee into Egypt to escape King Herod's wrath?" would be the next post--which led to arguments about whether they just "took a detour on the way home"--or if the family had to actually live in a foreign land until Herod died. And let's just say the conversation usually took on a not so "merry and bright" tone.
The problem with this argument is that the source material upon which both sides make their claims is seriously flawed. Of the four gospels, only two--Matthew and Luke--address the birth of Jesus, and their stories differ. Matthew--who was proselytizing to a mainly Jewish audience never mentions Mary and Joseph having to travel to Bethlehem--and makes no mention of stables and mangers. It also is from that account that you get the story of the family fleeing to Egypt.
Luke's account--which was intended for the greater Roman Empire at the time--is where we get the "modern" version of the nativity--with trip from Nazareth, the no room at the inn and angels making announcements to shepherds (whom Jews considered dirty, lowly folk--but Romans considered important parts of society). Luke makes no mention of fleeing to Egypt. instead stating that the family went to Jerusalem and then back to Nazareth.
So when it comes to shaming those who want the immigration laws we currently have on the books you may want to use source material that is a bit more clear--and that actually happened. Maybe next Christmas we can all argue about the proper way to crack an egg--courtesy of the Liliputians and Blefuscudians in Gullivers Travels.