For hundreds – and even thousands of years – we’ve known the innkeeper is not one of the good guys in the Christmas story. He’s not the one we want to be. But what if the inn was more family home than modern hotel? And what if the innkeeper wasn’t the bad guy we thought he was?!

Biblical archaeologist Amanda Hope Haley invites us to look beyond the traditions this Christmas and focus in on the text – and its historical context.

“There’s a census going on in Bethlehem, and everyone who’s from Bethlehem is going there to be counted, including Joseph and his family. Within the Jewish tradition, hospitality is incredibly important, and so the people who lived in Bethlehem knew people were going to be knocking on their doors and asking to stay with them.”

“So Mary and Joseph get there. They knock on doors. When it says there’s no room – the way houses and hospitality worked there – what I believe actually happened is they knocked on the door, and there was no room in the living quarters of the of the house – the upper level. Because people would sleep on the second level, and on the lower level of homes the animals were there, the kitchens were there. Anything that generated heat would be there on the lower level.”

Amanda invites us to rediscover the setting where the beloved nativity story took place.

“In the first century they didn’t have barns the way we do now. It’s not like there were barns out in the middle of fields standing there by themselves. That just wasn’t a thing. The animals lived in the houses with the people. So it makes more sense that, basically, they went and knocked on the door, and there was no room to sleep upstairs with everybody else, but they were actually welcomed into a place. And they stayed with the animals, and he was laid in a manger next to the kitchen and all of that.”

So why does Amanda feel it’s important to try to look beyond the traditions?

It gives a different perspective that they weren’t denied hospitality. It wasn’t people shunning Mary because she was an unmarried pregnant woman or something like that. It was just that they were a little bit later getting there, and – in fact – it’s the opposite. People actually do show them hospitality. They actually did open up their home, and they did the absolute best they could for them.”


Amanda Hope Haley is a lover of the Bible, a scholar, author & an archaeologist. She just released her book Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow.

On the Road with Amanda Hope Haley

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