Biblical Archaeology Review 33:6, November/December 2007

Strata: Strata Answers

How Many?

Answer: At least five days

The Bible tells us very little about Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem just before Jesus’ birth. The only account comes from the Gospel of Luke: “All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child” (Luke 2:3–5). We hear nothing of the path they took or the duration of their trip.

By examining ancient roads and travel habits, however, scholars have narrowed it down to two possible routes. From the Galilean village of Nazareth in the north, Mary and Joseph could have gone directly south through Samaria into Judea, past Jerusalem to Bethlehem. This is the more direct route, but the hilly terrain makes for a very difficult journey, and they may have avoided Samaria because of the bad relations between the Jews and the Samaritans at that time. The other possible route—and the one that seems more likely—would have taken them southeast from Nazareth to the Jordan Valley, then south to Jericho before turning west into the Judean hills toward Bethlehem.

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