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Church Information podcast: Bethlehem on the time of Jesus Christ’s start


Every Christmas season, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and others internationally, flip their ideas to the city of Bethlehem and the standard interpretation of the Nativity.

This episode of the Church Information podcast options Dr. Matthew Gray, a professor of historical scripture at Brigham Younger College.

He shares historic insights and biblical context on the village of Bethlehem, the archaeology and practices of Jewish each day life, and the spiritual and political ambiance that existed on this space on the time of the Savior’s start. 

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Matthew Gray: So, I truly love the way in which by which archaeology and historical past work collectively to assist us learn scripture extra rigorously. And when the story involves life, that simply helps me to resonate much more clearly with the message of the story that’s discovered, not solely in Luke, but additionally in Matthew, of the start of Jesus bringing the sunshine into the world. And that mild actually is for all humanity. Luke focuses on that by the shepherds. Matthew focuses on that by the Magi, the clever man, and right now as fashionable disciples, as fashionable believers and as fashionable historians, I feel it’s a message that’s extra wanted than ever earlier than, particularly this Christmas season, as I’m interested by the Christmas story in context, is simply remembering that the love of God has no boundaries. And that’s one thing that I really feel deep in my soul, each as a historian, but additionally as a believer.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church Information. Welcome to the Church Information podcast. We’re taking you on a journey of connection as we talk about information and occasions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Every Christmas season, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and others internationally, flip their imaginative and prescient to the city of Bethlehem. This episode of the Church Information podcast options Dr. Matthew Gray. He’s right here with us to share insights on the village of Bethlehem, the archaeology of Jewish each day life and the spiritual and political ambiance that existed on this space on the time of Jesus’s start.

Dr. Gray is a professor of historical scripture at Brigham Younger College. He accomplished research in archaeology and the historical past of early Judaism from Andrews College, College of Oxford and the College of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the place he acquired his PhD. For the previous 12 years he has been educating programs at Brigham Younger College on archaeology and the New Testomony, together with a yr of educating on the BYU Jerusalem Heart for Close to Japanese Research. Throughout this time, he has additionally been actively concerned supervising archaeology work on an historical village and synagogue. Welcome, Dr. Gray, to the Church Information podcast.


Matthew Gray: Thanks. It’s nice to be right here.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Effectively, I hope we are able to drop the formality. Do you thoughts if we simply name you Mat  as we undergo this podcast?


Matthew Gray: Matt is simply wonderful.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Nice, let’s simply begin. Are you able to inform us slightly bit about fashionable Bethlehem after which we are able to kind of flip our gaze again and give attention to historical Bethlehem?


Matthew Gray: Positive, fashionable Bethlehem is an excellent metropolis. It’s a big Palestinian metropolis, which has its personal wealthy, native tradition. And each semester, we get to convey BYU Jerusalem Heart college students to Bethlehem to, not solely go to this contemporary metropolis, but additionally to go to the websites historically related to the start of Jesus. And in that we be a part of pilgrims from all around the world who want to discover the placement the place Jesus was born from the Gospels. However you’re proper, town that you just’ll see right now is sort of totally different from the primary entry village that’s described within the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. So right now, it’s pretty densely inhabited. And it mainly revolves across the fashionable Christian vacationer business.


The skyline of contemporary Bethlehem.

So downtown Bethlehem right now, you’ll see for instance, marketplaces which have retailers promoting gadgets for vacationers that recall the Christmas story. There are many olive wooden retailers promoting Nativity scenes and statues of the assorted characters from the Christmas story. You’ll have child blankets retailers produced from wool from Bethlehem. And also you’ll have all kinds of gorgeous areas to go to together with websites historically related to the start of Jesus. So proper downtown Bethlehem, for instance, you’ve obtained the standard areas of the shepherd’s fields. There’s a Catholic and a Greek Orthodox website there. There’s a location known as the Milk Grotto, that commemorates the journey of Mary and Joseph from Bethlehem to Egypt. And naturally, proper in the course of all of it’s the Church of the Nativity, which is an historical church constructed across the fourth century, however that underwent a number of centuries of renovation that vacationers can go to right now to commemorate the standard location of the cave by which Jesus was born. So all of this can be a great place to go to. It’s obtained a wealthy tradition of its personal. However as you mentioned, it bears little or no resemblance to the traditional village of Bethlehem from the Gospel accounts.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I truly love that there’s a place the place we are able to go and take into consideration what occurred in Bethlehem so, so a few years in the past. I, personally, acquire nativities.


Matthew Gray: Oh, nice.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I choose one up after I journey for work to totally different areas. However what I actually need to speak about is what it might have been like throughout the precise time of the Savior’s start. Are you able to share some archeological insights of that First Century village?


Matthew Gray: Positive. And that is what’s sort of troublesome to ascertain once you’re there as a contemporary vacationer, as a result of it’s such a busy fashionable Palestinian metropolis. And that is the place archaeology can are available in to be very helpful. Now, sadly, there has not been plenty of archaeological excavation work accomplished in Bethlehem, exactly as a result of it’s nonetheless a contemporary metropolis the place fashionable homes and fashionable life remains to be very a lot current. However having mentioned that, during the last century or two, there have been occasional archaeological surveys of the world, archaeological soundings or probes in varied elements of town. And this permits at the least a modest insights into what the traditional village would have been like.

So if we mixed these modest archeological insights together with what we all know in regards to the village, traditionally, I feel we are able to moderately reconstruct at the least the essential thought of what this village was like within the time of Jesus, which itself, I feel will help us to extra rigorously learn the Gospel accounts at Christmastime and will help us to higher envision what these occasions would have been like.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I observed that you just use the phrase “cave,” once you have been speaking about the place the Savior could have truly been born. What wouldn’t it have been like? What insights are you able to share?


Matthew Gray: That’s an amazing query. So if we take what we all know from historic sources and archaeological proof, the modest reconstruction that we can provide of the traditional village mainly goes as follows: It appears that evidently historical Bethlehem was a small settlement all through the complete biblical interval. It by no means was a big city or a big metropolis. But it surely at all times gave the impression to be a small, farming and shepherding village, simply exterior — about 5 miles to the south — of Jerusalem. So it at all times existed within the bigger hinterland of Jerusalem, however itself was at all times a really small village, most likely by no means had a wall round it, for instance. It most likely solely had clusters of houses. And we all know from the topography of the area that the village of Bethlehem existed alongside a small crescent-shaped ridge that’s on the street proper between Jerusalem and Hebron—  a street that’s generally known as The Method of the Patriarchs.

That’s a street the place, all the way in which again beginning within the Outdated Testomony interval, for instance, Rachel was buried. And in order vacationers went between Jerusalem and Hebron, the small village of Bethlehem would have been only a small settlement simply off of that foremost street and it might have been surrounded by agricultural fields and terraced olive orchards. And so we get a way of the farming and shepherding nature of this village within the Biblical world.


Sarah Jane Weaver: When every of us take into consideration Bethlehem, we take into consideration the scenes that we see within the manger. We take into consideration, , sheep and shepherds. Inform us slightly bit in regards to the fields.


Matthew Gray: Yeah, certain. So, the encircling space round Bethlehem had at all times been very pastoral. Bethlehem is positioned simply on the East Ridge of the Judean hill nation, so plenty of low hills, and instantly to the east of Bethlehem would begin the western fringe of the Judean Desert. So, geographically, it’s set proper in the course of these two zones inside historical Israel. And the world round Bethlehem usually consists of terraced olive orchards and many patches of uncovered limestone bedrock. And it’s in that space the place shepherds naturally would have raised their sheep and their goats. And in order that positively, the pastoral setting, not just for the start of Jesus, however going all the way in which again to the Outdated Testomony, Bethlehem, after all, being most recognized biblically as being the hometown of David, the good King of Israel, who himself was a shepherd in these very fields.


The “shepherds’ fields,” small watchtowers, terraces and pure caves used for grazing sheep and goats alongside the hill slopes exterior of Bethlehem.

So the custom of Bethlehem not solely being a spot for grazing flocks and herds, but additionally a spot the place agriculture was pretty wealthy. Numerous wheat and barley could be grown there, which units the context for the Ruth story. Which may even be the background for why we name Bethlehem, Bethlehem. In Hebrew, “Beit Lechem” means the home of bread. And so between the agricultural actions that might have occurred in these fields and the shepherding actions that might have occurred on the hillsides within the space, we get very nice sense of Bethlehem beginning on the time of Ruth and David, and going all the way in which into the Jewish settlement that existed there within the early Roman interval, which is the setting for the start of Jesus.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And any mild that might have come to these fields that night time would have come from stars.


Matthew Gray: After all, yeah.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I like that. So how does that assist us envision the setting that we examine within the Gospel of Luke?


Matthew Gray: Positive. So the Gospel of Luke, between the 2 Infancy Gospels, or the accounts of Jesus’s start within the New Testomony, the Gospel of Luke is the gospel that focuses on the shepherds within the fields in between Bethlehem and Jerusalem and coming to be the witnesses of Jesus’s start as He was laid within the manger after He was born. And so the world round Bethlehem can provide us a very nice sense of what that setting was like. And in order we have been mentioning earlier, between the terraced orchards, the olive bushes, the patches of limestone bedrock that existed across the countryside, this gave nice grazing lands for the sheep and the goats that will even have been a part of the bigger temple economic system.

There’s some proof from historical Jewish writings that the fields within the space between Bethlehem and Jerusalem could have truly been the place the temple flocks have been raised. And we don’t know that for certain and the Gospel of Luke doesn’t emphasize that time of it, nevertheless it does give us a way of how necessary the shepherding actions have been on this space. And so when the Gospel of Luke describes the shepherds within the fields and seeing the angel proclaim to them that Jesus had been born, that’s a very nice setting to ascertain these occasions.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I feel so typically after I, personally, take into consideration the story of the Savior’s start, I take into consideration the phrase, “There was no room on the inn.” Can we speak about what houses and stables would have appeared like on this time of First Century Bethlehem?


Matthew Gray: Positive, yeah. And also you elevate a really attention-grabbing level, as effectively. And that’s that there’s typically a giant distinction between the way in which we envision the tales historically, like in fashionable movies, or in fashionable Nativity scenes, all of that are great. However there can generally be a giant distinction between these depictions of occasions and what we truly see in traditionally contextualized studying of the biblical accounts.

If we return to the unique biblical textual content, within the Greek textual content of Luke chapter two, it says that there was no room for them within the “Kataluma,” is the Greek phrase. The phrase “Kataluma” in Greek simply merely means a resting spot. 


The “shepherds’ fields,” small watchtowers, terraces and pure caves used for grazing sheep and goats alongside the hill slopes exterior of Bethlehem.

And one other side of the textual content in Luke that’s attention-grabbing to notice, is that it’s not a rush, frantic sprint to attempt to discover house. The Gospel of Luke says that whereas they have been there, Mary gave start. And so it provides a way that they settled in slightly bit and so they have been getting ready. After which when it got here time for her to provide start, as a result of there was no house for them, that they needed to go to a different a part of the power, most likely a secure, the place they housed their animals. And we are able to speak about that in a second when it comes to how these houses and the way the stables interacted collectively. However that’s most likely a extra cautious and extra contextualized studying of the Christmas story that’s based mostly much less on fashionable creativeness and custom, and extra on the precise sources themselves.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Effectively, and the primary time I had ever contemplated that was after I noticed “The Christ Little one” video that was produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I perceive that you just have been a historic guide for that undertaking.

Matthew Gray: I used to be, yeah, that was an exquisite alternative.


Matthew Gray: Yeah, that’s one of many issues that was so great about “The Christ Little one” movie again from 2019, is that it was one of many first makes an attempt, I feel, in movie anyplace, to attempt to painting these occasions in a method that’s extra traditionally knowledgeable and fewer conventional. 

I feel it’s actually useful to notice how homes have been designed. So what we all know from historical Bethlehem, and sadly, as I mentioned, that we don’t have plenty of excavated houses from historical Bethlehem. However from across the bigger area, we do have houses that date to the First Century that inform us rather a lot about what this residence most likely was like. So for instance, we all know that the majority houses on this Judean hill nation area, have been very modest houses, perhaps one, two or three rooms on the most — largely constructed of stacked discipline stones that have been piled collectively after which mortared over with sort of a flat plaster roof. And there was most likely some modest courtyard that might have been a part of this residence that, the place the relations might have accomplished some meals preparation actions. So it’s a reasonably modest residence itself, the place the consuming and the sleeping and the dwelling truly occurred. In actual fact, most of those houses both simply merely had bedrock flooring, or patched grime flooring, with the concept you possibly can lay a reed mat over these flooring. And that that might be your house for consuming the place you’d all sit round shared cooking pots and dip bread into soups and stews. After which use that very same house with a reed mat over a packed grime flooring for sleeping.


A part of the traditional cave advanced, now used as a sequence chapels, underneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In the course of the time of the New Testomony, these and different close by grottos could have served as secure, storage or water services for adjoining households.

And so that offers you a way of sort of the modest nature of those First Century houses that have been on this area. And it additionally provides you a way of how there’s little or no privateness in these houses. There’s not plenty of private house. In order that leads us into the following a part of these houses, which is that always, particularly on this hill nation, the place a lot of the uncovered limestone bedrock of the world accommodates pure caves, plenty of occasions these houses can be constructed both proper subsequent to or proper over a cave that would itself, then be repurposed into the stables. So that might be the house that might home the animals, and perhaps a donkey or two, most likely some goats for milk and cheese, probably some sheep, as effectively.

However when Mary’s prepared to provide start, there’s actually simply no private house for her to take action. And for Jewish ritual purity functions, as effectively. It’s simply throughout higher to supply different house, by which case simply let him have the secure. Let him have that repurposed cave that was often used for sheep and goats, perhaps some donkeys, and that’s going to be the setting by which Mary provides start.

And once more, we take into consideration our conventional depictions, is it simply Mary and Joseph? Or is it extra possible, Mary, perhaps Joseph, however definitely a number of the ladies, nearly serving as midwives, to assist Mary ship the infant.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And would there have been animals there, like we see in our fashionable Nativities?


Matthew Gray: Probably, as a result of it was a secure, except they cleared out all of the animals only for this occasion. It’s not not possible that there have been some goats or some sheep there, most likely not rather more than that. We most likely don’t must pack the secure with all all kinds of animals, as we regularly do in our great Nativity scenes. However yeah, and in reality, we even have some indication from the Gospel of Luke, itself, that services for animals have been a part of the story, as a result of when Luke says that Mary gave start, and wrapped her child in swaddling garments and laid the infant in a manger, the manger facility was pretty widespread inside a few of these repurposed caves that at the moment are stables. The manger being not a picket field that we regularly think about from a Northern European Nativity scene, however as a substitute a manger being a stone carved trough for watering and feeding the animals that might have naturally been housed in these caves/services. 


A repurposed cave positioned underneath a first-century home excavated close to Bethlehem. Carved into the higher a part of the wall on the left is a row of small niches for holding oil lamps, and carved into the cave wall on the fitting is a row of feeding or watering troughs for animals. This latter function possible resembles the “manger” into which Jesus was positioned in keeping with Luke 2.

And we all know from archaeological excavations within the space, that these stone mangers or these stone troughs for watering the animals for the sheep, the goats, perhaps even the donkeys, can both be standalone limestone blocks that have been simply carved out to place the water or the meals for the animals. Or it is also everlasting buildings inside the cave the place you’re taking uncovered bedrock from inside the cave and simply carve it out and have non permanent mangers or feeding troughs. And so both method, we don’t know precisely which one would have utilized right here. However both method, we’ve a very nice sense of how this cave facility would have labored, often for housing animals, however quickly being the house the place Mary might give start to the infant Jesus, wrap the infant Jesus and put Him right into a stone feeding trough that might usually be used for animals. And naturally, it’s whereas Jesus is in that stone manger, that the shepherds from the encircling fields come to see the start of Mary’s child.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And whereas we’re speaking about all the things happening presently, are you able to give us some perception into the spiritual and political ambiance that might have existed throughout this time interval?


Matthew Gray: Yeah, certain. So religiously and politically, this can be a time of nice transition in Judea extra broadly. Herod the Nice had been appointed king of Judea by the Romans, just a few many years earlier. So across the yr 40 BC is when Herod was declared by the Roman senate to be king of Judea, or king of the Jews. And whereas Herod was a really highly effective determine, he didn’t have any pure lineage connections or claims to Judea and kingship. His father, effectively truly I ought to say, his grandfather was an Idumaean. That’s a area to the south of Judea. And his household was forcibly transformed to Judaism a few technology or two earlier than Herod was born, and his mom was Nabataean. That’s the world down by Petra in southern Jordan. And so, genealogically, Herod has no claims to any sort of regional kingship, definitely not the Davidic kingship line that goes all the way in which again to the Outdated Testomony. However being a really highly effective political determine and being effectively aligned with the Roman world, the Roman Senate declares him to be king of Judea.

And so for his very lengthy and highly effective 40-year reign, there have been many teams in Judea, many Jewish teams, who didn’t see Herod as professional, who nonetheless longed for extra indigenous kingship, a king that might come up from the Home of David. And so, this example the place you’ve native Jewish teams who’re eager for a return of Davidic kingship and the rise of a king from the traditional line of David would have dropped at thoughts, for instance, the prophecy of Micah that urged that there at some point can be a brand new Davidic king who was born in Bethlehem, the unique village of King David from the Outdated Testomony. And this statement was not misplaced on Herod.

Herod, all through his reign, was very conscious that he was seen as an illegitimate ruler. And consequently, he developed fairly a little bit of paranoia the place any potential threats to his reign and to his rule could be brutally suppressed, together with amongst his circle of relatives. And in order Herod is looking for methods to advertise a legitimacy to his reign, one of many issues that he appears to have accomplished is taken benefit of the world round Bethlehem, the standard ancestral seat of King David, as the placement the place he would personally construct a monument to his reign and to his rule. In actual fact, the place the place he would later be interred at a website known as Herodium.


The monument and tomb of Herod the Nice at Herodion, a man-made mountain and fortified palace constructed to the southeast of Bethlehem.

Herodium is a exceptional website constructed by Herod the Nice simply exterior to the south east of the village of Bethlehem. It’s a man-made mountain that Herod the Nice had constructed utilizing the newest in Roman building methods that was not solely fortified, however had pleasure palaces, that had a theater, all kinds of Roman facilities, and it simply towered over the neighboring area, together with the small village of Bethlehem. And Herod constructed this website of Herodium, which may nonetheless be seen right now, with the intention that that might not solely be the place of his burial, finally, however that it might function an eternal memorial to his reign. And as we marvel why Herod selected to construct his personal private monument close to Bethlehem, chances are high excellent that it’s exactly due to Bethlehem’s affiliation with Davidic kingship, although Bethlehem was a really small village, within the time of David, and within the time of Jesus, its symbolic resonance, its symbolic reference to Davidic kingship could very effectively have been the rationale why Herod constructed his private monument inside view of Bethlehem, nearly as if he’s making an attempt to affiliate himself with the Davidic line that he is aware of full effectively, he isn’t a part of genealogically.

And so, what all of this does is paints an image that reminds us that Bethlehem can be proper on the middle of a second of non secular and political turmoil in early Judaism, the place claims of kingship are being debated and contested, the place Herod is absolutely conscious of this, and the place the Gospel of Matthew now locations the start of Jesus in Bethlehem. So similar to Luke positioned the start of Jesus in Bethlehem and highlighted the shepherds and the fields and so forth, Matthew, who additionally locations Jesus’s start in Bethlehem, appears to focus nearly totally on this political rigidity, the place it’s nearly a competing declare: “Who’s the professional King from David’s line? Is it Herod together with his monument at Herodion overshadowing the start of Jesus at Bethlehem or is it the infant Jesus who’s born on this small village, itself? So I feel that’s a extremely necessary political context once we’re studying the Gospel of Matthew.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And the way do the clever males play into all of this?


Matthew Gray: Yeah, in order that’s an enchanting story that, once more, is barely highlighted in Matthew, I feel, exactly, due to this political rigidity that appears to be the framing of Matthew’s Christmas account. So proper in the course of this second, the place Herod could be very jealous and paranoid over potential threats to his reign, making an attempt to determine his personal legitimacy. We then hear that Jesus is born in Bethlehem and that these clever males from the east, seem having seen the star. And plainly having adopted the star from the east, and so they observe that star to Jerusalem the place they encounter Herod the Nice.

They usually ask, “The place is he that’s born, King of the Jews?” And that line proper there, I feel would have been notably provocative for Herod himself, who could be very conscious that he was not born as king of something. He’s king of Judea by Roman appointment. And so then you know the way the entire story performs out. They find yourself wanting by scripture, they find yourself discovering the prophecy from Micah chapter 5, that he would, effectively, the Davidic king can be born in Bethlehem. And so the clever man then continued to go away from Herod’s palace in Jerusalem, down that Method of the Patriarchs down in direction of the village of Bethlehem, the place they finally discover the infant Jesus. 

However I feel that the way in which that Matthew constructs the story of the clever man, itself, is fascinating. It attracts closely on Outdated Testomony scripture. For instance, Numbers chapter 24, the place you’ve obtained Balaam, a Gentile, who sees a imaginative and prescient of a star within the sky, that represents Judean kingship. And I feel that Matthew is clearly evoking that Numbers 24 picture {that a} star will come up from the home of Jacob, that star will signify Israelite kingship. So I feel that that’s very a lot in Matthew’s thoughts as, as are passages like Psalm 72, and Isaiah 60, that each one the nations will see the sunshine of the Lord, and can convey items to God’s King, items of gold, frankincense and myrrh. So I feel that Matthew very a lot has these Outdated Testomony passages in thoughts, Numbers 24, Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60, when he’s describing these Magi coming from the east, following the star and searching for he that’s born King of the Jews.

And so all of these collectively, together with the archaeological panorama of the village of Bethlehem and the big monument close by of Herodion units a really highly effective political scene for us to learn the Christmas tales from that mild.


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Sarah Jane Weaver: And I need to speak slightly bit extra in regards to the items.

Matthew Gray: Oh, certain.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Are you able to assist contextualize these for us for this time period?


Matthew Gray: Yeah, so these items, clearly, of gold, frankincense and myrrh, are very uncommon. These should not the pure items you’ll give to somebody once they have been born or on some other event. If we return by these very previous Testomony passages of Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60, the place gold, frankincense and myrrh seem, they do appear to be within the context of items, recognizing the professional king of Israel. Gold, after all, being a present for a king. Frankincense, the place, after all, the incense is usually not solely a really pricey spice, however one thing that can be utilized for incense, for instance, on the temple. After which myrrh being a really valuable resin, all of which could be present in Arabia. So, although we don’t know precisely the place these Magi have been from, it’s very doable that they’re coming in someplace from the Arabian Peninsula on the spice trails, bringing these items of gold, frankincense and myrrh to current to the person who they see because the true professional king of Israel, all based mostly on and rooted in these Outdated Testomony scriptures of Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And right now, we focus a lot on the start of the Savior. However beginning in January, we get spent an entire yr learning the New Testomony — learning His life, His teachings, and may benefit from studying a lot in regards to the archaeology of this complete area.

Matthew Gray: Sure.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Is there a message or a theme or one thing that we should always learn about or take into consideration once we’re learning this yr?


Matthew Gray: Gosh, that’s an amazing query. And there’s simply a lot that we might discover there, as we’re searching for an entire yr of learning the New Testomony. I’d say plenty of the concepts that we talked about right now can apply all through the complete yr. The concept that context issues, the concept not solely historic setting, and authentic intent, how these tales would have sounded, is one thing that I hope we consider all year long. It’s not only for the Christmas story. It’s all by the ministry of Jesus. These have been actual villages and actual areas and understanding each day life, spiritual dynamics in these locations, can so deeply enrich the way in which we examine Jesus’s teachings and ministry, that I’d simply hope that all of us maintain this dialog going, that all through the complete New Testomony yr for “Come, Observe me” we’re consistently interested by not solely how does this apply to us, which is an important query, that tends to be our first query that we go to is, is, “What does this imply to me? How does this apply to us?” And that could be a actually nice second or third query.

I’d say one of the best first query, although, can be anytime you learn scripture to ask, “What did this imply to them? What was the setting of Nazareth, or Capernaum or a really totally different setting, like Jerusalem?” And story after story, should you can ask that query first and get sense of what this stuff would have meant of their first century context, then the textual content lights up with which means. After which, as we ask, “What does this imply to me” or “What does this imply for our modern-day?” I feel the ability of software could be enhanced by understanding what it meant to them initially.

So I’d say that this complete strategy that we’re making an attempt to take of contextualizing the Christmas tales is one thing I hope we are able to proceed all year long, get some actually good sources. There are necessary podcasts and different sources, examine bibles that you could get that will help you to grasp that First Century significance. So I’d simply encourage us all to maintain that authentic setting in thoughts as we’re studying an entire yr price of Jesus’s ministry and the ministry of His early disciples.


Sarah Jane Weaver: As we speak about all these archaeological insights, though restricted by time, and house and what we are able to uncover, how have they influenced or knowledgeable the way in which you’ve personally studied the New Testomony?


Matthew Gray: Yeah, that’s an amazing query. So I truly love the way in which by which archaeology and historical past work collectively to assist us learn scripture extra rigorously. We at all times speak with our college students at BYU that context issues. Anytime we learn scripture out of context, or some other doc out of context, we’re inadvertently altering its which means. We’re not tapping into the complete significance that it meant to its authentic creator and its authentic viewers. So this historic and archaeological background, for me, helps anchor the scriptural texts in its First Century setting. 

And seeing it in that context simply helps it not solely come to life in a method that I feel could be very thrilling and galvanizing, however lets you see insights helps you be a extra cautious reader of scripture. And that at all times enriches our scriptural expertise. Studying issues out of context won’t ever be fairly as highly effective as understanding what it meant to the unique viewers to the unique creator. And that’s the place I feel archaeology and historical past can actually do us a service in our scripture examine, to boost that scriptural literacy.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And there are some lovely phrases that we consider once we consider this story of the Savior’s start. Considered one of them is, “Good tidings of pleasure for all individuals.” How can we recognize the bodily realities behind that message in Luke?


Matthew Gray: Luke, out of all 4 Gospels, is very recognized for being a gospel that highlights God’s like to outcast peoples, to marginalized peoples, to underprivileged peoples. Luke, for instance, highlights ladies extra typically than some other gospel and has so many distinctive parables that Jesus teaches about God’s mercy and like to those that don’t simply match into society and don’t simply match right into a neighborhood. And in order that being the case, I feel Luke is beginning that theme proper right here within the start story of Jesus, the place you get shepherds who should not a part of the higher echelon of historical society.

Shepherds are very low on the socioeconomic totem pole, the place they’re not solely, , residing very humble existence, however they don’t have any place of energy or any place of privilege. And I feel Luke goes out of his option to be aware that it’s to not the kings of the earth. It’s to not Herod’s court docket. It’s to not the excessive priestly households of Jerusalem, that the angel appeared to announce the start of Jesus. It’s truly to those shepherds. And that very a lot matches in with Luke’s theme of God’s love and outreach to the outcasts. So once we see shepherds as being the primary to witness the start of Jesus, with the angelic proclamation, that this start represents the love of God, the excellent news for all individuals.

Luke could be very emphatic in regards to the inclusivity that comes from the message of Jesus and the ministry of Jesus. And so I feel that’s a really highly effective setting. And although Matthew takes a extra political tack, right here, the place he’s specializing in the ability politics of Herod the Nice, and, and so forth, Matthew finally does have the identical message. The truth that clever males coming in from the east, and so they’re those, not Herod’s court docket, not the rich households of Jerusalem. But it surely’s these clever males from the East, who, they’re those following the star. They’re those coming to the sunshine of the Lord, as described in Isaiah 60, urged for Matthew’s Gospel, as effectively, it’s not as a lot about neighborhood boundary upkeep, it’s in regards to the religion and the love of all humanity.

And so I like how each Luke and Matthew emphasize that message and the way the archaeology of understanding life on the bottom and understanding the pretty humble and modest circumstances of individuals like shepherds and villagers, that they’re those who acquired God’s love within the individual of Jesus in these Christmas accounts, I feel tells us rather a lot in regards to the general message of the excellent news.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And that goes together with one in every of our favourite phrases from Matthew, the place he says, “It is a mild to all nations.” 

Matthew Gray: Precisely, precisely. Yeah, that’s it. That’s proper out of Isaiah, chapter 60, which Matthew is so rigorously weaving into his start narrative.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Effectively, Dr. Gray, thanks a lot for your entire insights, your entire very astute learnings and serving to them grow to be relevant to all of us who’re eager to be taught a lot extra about this story. And I need to ask you a query, as a result of I discussed earlier that I acquire nativities.

Matthew Gray: Yeah

Sarah Jane Weaver: We acquire them from throughout. We maintain them out in our home yr spherical.

Matthew Gray: Oh, that’s nice.

Sarah Jane Weaver: As a result of this story has a lot which means to us. And I like that it’s represented in several cultures, in several methods, however nonetheless has so many central issues which might be constant and the identical. Now I’ve a factor with my nativities. And I like nativities the place Mary or Joseph are holding the infant.

Matthew Gray: Oh, certain, yeah.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, that’s one thing that’s laborious to seek out. However I can’t think about that the Savior of the World was born and that He stayed within the manger very lengthy. I’d like to suppose that any individual picked Him up and held Him shut. 


Matthew Gray: Yeah that’s truly an amazing query. And customarily talking, , that is going to be a time of nice celebration. And, and as we mentioned earlier, it’s going to be a narrative that most likely just isn’t occurring in isolation. It’s not simply Mary and Joseph. And that’s one thing we tried to do in “The Christ Little one” movie, was to indicate one or two different individuals inside that setting. So it’s not simply Mary and Joseph. However should you look very rigorously, in “The Christ Little one,” you’ll see a midwife strolling round within the again.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And this has been so so fascinating, particularly as all of us flip our ideas to this place of the world, and this occasion. And we have fun it in December, not the fitting month. Right? We all know that the Savior was born, not in December.


Matthew Gray: We truly don’t know. There’s some attention-grabbing scholarly debate over when precisely Jesus was born. I feel for essentially the most half, it does appear to be extra of a springtime start. However I even have colleagues who would argue that December may, actually, be an affordable time so far the start of Jesus. The fact is, we simply don’t know we don’t have sufficient proof from the textual content itself, to say precisely.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Effectively, and as we, as we speak about issues we don’t know, we’ve a convention on the Church Information podcast, to truly finish with a phrase that claims, “What have you learnt? What have you learnt now?” And we at all times give our friends the final phrase. And in order we shut right now, I’d wish to pose that query to you. And I hope that additionally, you will share your individual private testimony of the Redeemer of the World. After learning and reflecting on the archaeology and the circumstances of His start, what have you learnt now?


Matthew Gray: Effectively, that’s an amazing query. There’s a lot that we are able to say there. I’d say, going again to one thing we talked about earlier, that I like archaeology and the way in which that archaeology can convey to life the world of scripture. However we even have to acknowledge the bounds of archaeology. Archaeology can very hardly ever show particular occasions or particular people. So I feel the place archeology is at its greatest is when it illuminates the context that helps us to ascertain the setting, helps us to see varied dynamics which may not in any other case be apparent. And all of these issues do convey the Christmas story to life, for me, each as an archaeologist and in addition as a believer. So I very a lot worth that archaeological setting.

And when the story involves life, by archaeology and historic background, in my private expertise, that simply helps me to resonate much more clearly with the message of the story, which is what we’ve simply described. This message that’s discovered not solely in Luke, but additionally in Matthew, of the start of Jesus bringing a lightweight into the world. And that mild actually is for all humanity. And, , we’re residing in a second proper now, the place tribalism is fairly fierce and divisions socially, politically, and in all kinds of how appear to manipulate and body the way in which we reside, right now. This story is a robust reminder that the sunshine that God brings into the world by the individual of Jesus actually is a lightweight for all humanity. Luke focuses on that by the shepherds. Matthew focuses on that by the Magi, the clever males, and right now as fashionable disciples, as fashionable believers and as fashionable historians, I feel it’s a message that’s extra wanted than ever earlier than.

In order that’s the message that basically resonates with me, particularly this Christmas season, as I’m interested by the Christmas story in context. Is simply remembering that the love of God has no boundaries. That it’s the those who we regularly don’t count on the marginalized, the underprivileged, those that don’t simply slot in, these are the very those who these Christmas tales are all about. And that’s one thing that I really feel deep in my soul, each as a historian, but additionally as a believer.


Sarah Jane Weaver: You’ve got been listening to the Church Information podcast. I’m your host, Church Information editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve discovered one thing right now in regards to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me by the Church Information window. Please keep in mind to subscribe to this podcast and should you loved the messages we shared right now, please be sure you share the podcast with others. Because of our friends, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast doable. Be part of us each week for a brand new episode. Discover us in your favourite podcasting channel or with different information and updates in regards to the Church on TheChurchNews.com.


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