Where Was Jesus Born?

Jesus’ birthplace and hometown

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2014.—Ed.


 
Giotto_adoration-of-the-magi

Where was Jesus born? In the Bible, Jesus’ birthplace is identified as Bethlehem. This scene from the Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel in Padua by the Italian artist Giotto shows Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the Bethlehem stable. The three wise men, along with their caravan, and angels gather around the child. Above the stable, Haley’s comet streaks across the sky. Haley’s comet was sighted in 1301, three years before Giotto painted this scene.

When the Christmas season draws near each year, the Nativity story is revisited in churches and households around the world. Passages from Matthew 1–2 and Luke 1–2, the infancy narratives in the Gospels, are read and sung—and even acted out in Christmas pageants.

Where was Jesus born? In the Bible, the answer seems straightforward: Bethlehem. Both Matthew 2 and Luke 2 state that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea.

However, Biblical scholarship has recently called the identification of Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace into question: If Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, why is he called a Nazorean and a Galilean throughout the New Testament, and why is Bethlehem not mentioned as Jesus’ birthplace outside of the infancy narratives in the Gospels? This has caused some to wonder if Jesus was actually born in Nazareth.

In the November/December 2014 issue of BAR, Philip J. King addresses this question—where was Jesus born—in his Biblical Views column “Jesus’ Birthplace and Jesus’ Home.” He takes a close look at what the Bible says about the towns of Bethlehem, traditionally Jesus’ birthplace, and Nazareth, Jesus’ home.
 


 
Interested in learning about the birth of Jesus? Learn more about the history of Christmas and the date of Jesus’ birth in the free eBook The First Christmas: The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition.
 

 
While Bethlehem in Judea was known in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as being the birthplace of King David and the birthplace of the future messiah, the small village of Nazareth in Galilee was much lesser-known, not even warranting a mention in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud or in the writings of Josephus. King explains, “Nazareth derives its importance entirely from its relationship to the life and teaching of Jesus.”

The contrast between Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David, and Nazareth, a small agricultural village, is obvious. Yet both sites were significant in the life of Jesus.

So if Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as the Gospels of Matthew and Luke attest, why was he called a Nazorean? To see what Philip J. King thinks—and for more information about the Biblical towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth—read the full column “Jesus’ Birthplace and Jesus’ Home” in the November/December 2014 issue of BAR.

——————

BAS Library Members: Read the full column “Jesus’ Birthplace and Jesus’ Home,” by Philip J. King in the November/December 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on November 17, 2014.
 

 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible: Lawrence Mykytiuk’s feature article from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR with voluminous endnotes

How December 25 Became Christmas: Andrew McGowan’s full article from the December 2002 issue of Bible Review

Christmas Stories in Christian Apocrypha by Tony Burke

Who Was Jesus’ Biological Father?

Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?

Has the Childhood Home of Jesus Been Found?
 


 

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  1. Karen S says

    Isn’t it possible he was born in Bethlelam, and during infancy or at a very young age, they moved to Nazareth?

  2. Phillip says

    There are claims that there was more than one Bethlehem, and one of those towns was located in the Galilee. Those who were guiding Constantine’s mother through the area were not adverse to making things up as they went along.

  3. Yz2hear says

    Yeshua (Jesus) was Hebrew.
    Yeshua was not born at Christmas
    Christ mas was is & will always be pagan!!!
    YeHoVaH God All Mighty wants all of us to get w/ His calander celebrate his sacred feast days.
    check out truth YouTube Michael Rood /Rood awakening/119 ministry/Arthur Baily House of Israel.The truth will set you free.

  4. Kurt says

    Micah,a prophet of God, foretold that this child would eventually become a ruler and that he would be born in “Bethlehem Ephrathah.” (Micah 5:2) At the time of Jesus’ birth, there were two towns in Israel that were named Bethlehem. One was situated near Nazareth in the northern region of the country, and the other, near Jerusalem in Judah. Bethlehem near Jerusalem was formerly called Ephrathah. Jesus was born in that town, exactly as the prophecy foretold!—Matthew 2:1.
    It was natural and not particularly unusual to speak of Jesus as the Nazarene, since from infancy (less than three years of age) he was raised as the local carpenter’s son in the city of Nazareth, a place about 100 km (60 mi) N of Jerusalem. The practice of associating persons with the places from which they came was common in those days.—2Sa 3:2, 3; 17:27; 23:25-37; Na 1:1; Ac 13:1; 21:29.
    Frequently Jesus was referred to, in widely scattered places and by all kinds of persons, as the Nazarene. (Mr 1:23, 24; 10:46, 47; 14:66-69; 16:5, 6; Lu 24:13-19; Joh 18:1-7) Jesus himself accepted and used the name. (Joh 18:5-8; Ac 22:6-8) On the sign that Pilate had placed on the torture stake he wrote in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek: “Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews.” (Joh 19:19, 20) From Pentecost 33 C.E. forward, the apostles as well as others often spoke of Jesus Christ as the Nazarene or as being from Nazareth.—Ac 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 10:38; 26:9.http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200274021

  5. Wardell says

    Jesus was born in Jerusalem as noted by his tomb in Talpiot, Jerusalem. reflecting a Jerusalem native.

  6. Wendy says

    If they fled from Bethlehem because of Herod – if it were me as the mom at least – I would make certain is to say my baby was from anywhere but there – totally makes sense to me… Probably not the only instance of kids that age in that precise era either

  7. Karim says

    There is no doubt at all that Yāwshu (Jesus in Phoenician/Aramaic) was born in the Galilean Bet(h)-Lahm (House of Bread) possibly inside a grotto at the foot of Mt. Carmel, very close to what was later known, Nazareth (form Nazar or Nazir: consecrated to God Ēl, since he is Immanu-Ēl).
    The Judean Bethlehem did not exist at the time of Jesus in Archeological term, and relating Jesus to Bethlehem of Judea was not but an attempt to link Jesus to David by Matthew, something Jesus would have definitely refuse. Besides, there is no extra-Old Testament reference for David’s existence.
    To read more about where was Jesus born and who was he in reality, check out the Bestselling & Ground-Breaking book, «Jesus the Phoenician»

    Šalam,
    Karim El Koussa,
    Bestselling & Award Winning Lebanese Author

  8. CB says

    Born in Bethlehem (Matt.2:1); taken to Egypt (Matt.2:13); raised in Nazareth (Matt.2:23). All in a single chapter! So what is the problem? Rom.3:4.

  9. miguel says

    el Profeta Miqueas dijo; y tu Belen de Juda, de ninguna manera eres la menor entre los clanes de Juda, porque de ti saldra un caudillo que apacentara a mi pueblo Israel!, y los Santos Evangelios lo confirman!

  10. Nicholas says

    The Census of Quirinius was the enrollment of the Roman provinces of Syria and Judaea for tax purposes taken in 6/7 CE. The Census was taken during the reign of Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE), when Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria, after the banishment of Herod Archelaus from the Tetrarchy of Judea and the imposition of direct Roman rule. One account of the birth of Yeshua (Jesus), in the Gospel of Luke, connects it to this census.

    Notice the year of the Census, 6/7 CE (or AD if you prefer). This would have been 12 years AFTER the birth of Yeshua, as all now agree the the year of his birth was 6 BCE (or BC). As no Census was taken that year, there was no reason to travel to Bethlehem for any reason.

    The stories of his birth in Bethlehem were later additions to the Gospels by Christian writers in order to prove Yeshua’s identity as being the Messiah, since his birth was foretold to occur there. This has been shown to be the case by intensive research into the matter by countless Biblical Scholars.

  11. Nicholas says

    As to the fleeing from Bethlehem and subsequent journey into Egypt because King Herod had ordered the killing of all male infants born in Bethlehem, there is absolutely no references of this in any Histories written of his reign by any author from that period or later, Judean or otherwise.

    All other atrocities that were ordered by, and occurred during the reign of Herod the Great were recorded in the Histories of his reign. This alone should make you ask why was the slaughtering of the male infants of Bethlehem never mentioned or recorded. The answer is, because it never occurred during the time of King Herod’s reign.

  12. Jolynn says

    “If Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, why is he called a Nazorean…?” Puzzling indeed. I’m glad “biblical scholarship” is devoting time to finding an answer to this pressing mystery. Oh wait, here it is! “21 And he [Joseph] rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:21-23. So he was called a Nazorean because his father “took the child and his mother” and went to live there. Mystery solved!

  13. Paul says

    It’s interesting that Nicholas mentioned the year 6 B.C.E. as the year of Jesus’ birth, that’s in sync with someone’s dating of a census imposed on the population by the Romans under the procurator Coponious:
    :”Under his [Coponious’] administration, a Galilean, named Judas, incited his countrymen to revolt, upbraiding them as cowards for consenting to pay tribute to the Romans and tolerating mortal masters, after having God for their Lord. This man was a sophist [that is, a teacher] who founded a sect [that is, a school of thought] of his own, having nothing in common with the others. Jewish philosophy, in fact, takes three forms. The followers of the first school are called Pharisees, of the second Sadducees, of the third Essenes. (Josephus, Jewish War 2.117-118)” (“The Historical Jesus” by John Dominic Crossan, p. 112).
    This was the same Judas the Galilean mentioned in Acts 5:37, whose revolt was put down by the Romans and so here is the backdrop of violence at the time of Jesus’ birth that is attributed to Herod nearly a century later in the gospel of Matthew. Notice how the reference to Rachel is made in connection with Bethlehem in Matthew 2:16-18 that is based on Jeremiah 31:15 and that Rachel is the matriarch who died while giving birth on the way to Ephrath that was Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19). In the non-canonical “Protoevangelium of James,” Mary gives birth to Jesus in a cave near Bethlehem, being alone while Joseph searched for a midwife. The dark cave is symbolic of Rachel naming her son Ben-oni (son of my sorrow, trouble or vigor) and according to the book of Zohar (1:175a), “she named him Ben Oni, for the harshness of judgement decreed against her” (“The Zohar” by Daniel Matt, vol. 3, p.58). The naming of the child by his father as Ben Yamin (son of the right hand, or son of the south) was interpreted by the Jewish mystics to mean the attribute of loving-kindness since the right hand symbolizes mercy while the left hand symbolizes the attribute of judgement. To mitigate the severity of judgement a third attribute combines judgement with mercy and this is known as “rahamin” or compassion. This term is also used in the Koran as “Al Rahamu” or “(God) Most Gracious,” and in the Muslim version of the Jesus birth narrative, Mary gave birth beneath a palm tree under which was a rivulet flowing (Koran 19:23-25) and the source for this tradition is likely Christian since there was a structure known as a martryrium that was later converted to a mosque at the site where Mary was believed to have rested on the way to Bethlehem:
    “In about 456, according to Cyril of Scythopolis, a church was built to mark the spot where Mary dismounted and sat down outside of Bethlehem. It is called the Kathisma, ‘seat’ or ‘chair’ in Greek” (“Where Mary Rested” by Hershel Shanks, BAR, Nov./Dec. 2006, p. 46).
    If I remember correctly, a book called “Ra’aya Meheimnu” (The Faithful Shepherd), that like the book of Zohar, appeared in the late 13th century. It made a connection between Rachel giving birth near Ephrath and the attribute of “rahamin” by linking it to the word for womb, “rachem.” I believe this is significant in that there is an inter-faith connection that relates to the location of Ramat Rachel where there was a a royal Judahite palace in the late 8th century B.C.E. that had pillars flanking the entrances upon which proto-Aeolic capitals resembled palmettes, that is, palm fronds which have not yet opened. Perhaps this is symbolic of worldly government being in a potential state: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld” (Hebrews 11:1).

  14. Junior says

    Some websites provide some more tantalizing evidence;

    http://www.normangeisler.net/articles/Bible/Reliability/2012-IsNazarethAMyth.htm
    http://www.doxa.ws/Jesus_pages/Nazareth1.html

  15. tfm says

    To me it does not matter where Jesus was born, only that he was and died for our sins.

  16. ralph says

    It has nothing to do with a town called Nazareth.

    Jesus was called the Nazarene, in Math 2:23, because he was of the Nazarene sect. Saul was also identified as a Nazarene, in Acts 24:5. And if Saul was an aspiring apostle, then you can be sure he was a (lowly) member of the same sect as Jesus.

    And do remember that Queen helena of Adiabene was also a Nazarene, according to the Talmud. And it was Helena who saved Jerusalem from famine, and furnished the Temple of Jerusalem. These Nazarenes were very wealthy, and closely linked to the Judaean establishment. See the book ‘King Jesus’.

    R

  17. Linda says

    Psalms 119:165  Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them. I agree with tfm above, we walk by faith and not by sight. We know that in the end, many will be deceived by lying signs and wonders. I know in my heart and mind that Jesus is the Son of God, that He lived, died and was resurrected and now ministers in the heavens as my high priest. Study is good…but be sure what you are studying is God’s revealed knowledge and not that of man.

  18. Michael F. says

    The birth narrative in Matthew is a cosmic myth and cannot be taken seriously. It centers around Orion, Cancer, Virgo and Sirius (Star of the East). It wanted to show Jesus was born during the reign of Herod among other things. Luke is a more convincing tale, having Jesus born in 7 AD. It uses a vision to connect to Herod instead. Probably both narratives are false. If Jesus was historical, most likely he was born in Jerusalem. In order to deify him, his birth narrative had to connect him to a birth in Cancer with Virgo as his mother. This was common of that age for most great men. Virgo is also the sign for bread or “house of bread” which would place his earthly birth in Bethlehem.

  19. Joseph says

    Bethlehem in Hebrew means “Bakery”. There where many towns in ancient Israel given this title: Bethlehem of Judea, Bethlehem of Samaria and Bethlehem of Galilee…just a few of miles from Nazareth. This is probably the Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

  20. Coy says

    Nazareth is where Jesus was brought up, raised as a child. Therefore, where he was raised, not born, why he is called a Nazarene.

  21. Timothy says

    We ALL love GOD and his son who died for our sins. Doesn’t matter where he was born, who’s right, who’s wrong. We can all agree he came to earth, died and rose again to be seated at the right hand of OUR father! Love you my brother’s and sister’s.

  22. ken says

    So many `mysteries` are blown out of all proportion, presumably as the `bread and butter` of authors and writers who wish to make a name for themselves, inflate their ego, keep an organisation afloat etc.
    This is surely one of those – anyone with half a brain can give a reason for this `stupendous, staggering, faith destroying` puzzle that may well tear the Church apart.
    Sorry, naughty me!
    If one is void of Spirit quickened faith then these `hurdles` will be constantly looming and no amount of education and `insight` will clear them – but constantly crash them.

  23. Jean-Raymond says

    I believe that the story of Bethlehem in Judea is the Story of John the Baptist and that it was taken from him like other stories in the New Testament. Jesus was born in the Galilee at least ten years after the Birth of John, and was his Disciple until the Beheading of John the Baptist for being a Treat to Roman Rule and Jewish Religious Order. Jesus only followed on the Destiny of John the Baptist and was Crucified six months after his Beheading during the Jewish Passover and Survive the Crucifixion and died on the Day of Ascension 40 days later! What we believe is the Story of Saul of Tarsus who saw the Spirit on the Way to Damascus but not the Real Jesus! It could have been the Spirit of John the Baptist?

  24. Son says

    Hello sons and daughters of the one true living God, please pray always that you shall be accounted worthy to escape the hour of temptation that is going to come upon the whole world. And pray always that you shall also be accounted worthy to stand in the presence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

  25. Francesca says

    According to Matthew’s infancy narrative, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not because of a census (which is Luke) but because Mary and Joseph lived there. And after the angel informed him of Herod’s death, Joseph settled in Galilee rather than returning to his home in Bethlehem in Judea.

  26. Shoshana says

    Yeshua (“Ioseus, Jesus”) was born in a separate room or temporary dwelling as per ancient Jewish tradition. Birthing women, the same as menstruating ones, went to a separate tent or area till the period of their confinement was over. In this case is quite possible that if Yeshua was born in a skéné, Strong’s 4633, or succa (temporary dwelling) during Succot or the Feast of Tabernacles, Miriam (“Mary”) would have been confined to the succa for 7 days then on the 8th day have Yeshua circumcised and through her purification rites as per instructed in Lev 12. We should also keep in mind that birthing woman had midwives to assist her, not her husband. All this would not take away from placing Yeshua in a watering trough made from a carved stone. He would not have been born in close proximity to animals that is just not kosher at all.

  27. MSawyer says

    “Biblical scholarship has recently called the identification of Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace into question…”

    All I have to say to those scholars… 1 Corinthians 1:27 (KJV) But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty

  28. ari says

    https://ascentofsafed.com/cgi-bin/ascent.cgi?Name=Gilgul37

    According to a famous rabbi arizal in tzfat (galilee) jesus was buried in galilee. Clearly we see he was buried in jerusalem according to nt. Maybe jerusalem isnt where we think it is?

  29. tapani says

    Questions are possible, why Betlehem, Nazaret and Galilea are used. New Testament however supposes that Jesus was unknown mostly. There were many dwelling-places on inform. Parents were from Nazaret but Jesus was born in errand way. Mary may been also family of David? In Galilea Jesus perhaps helped his father in building of Roman town. In some maps there is Bethlehem near Nazaret. Young Jesus remowed to Cabernaum of Galilea!Matthew 4:13, John 2:12.

  30. Griffin says

    CB: indeed there is no issue here, then Bible is very clear and here is a quote from the Gospel of Matthew:
    But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
    Mat 2:20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.
    Mat 2:21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
    Mat 2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
    Mat 2:23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

  31. C.L.(Chuck)Troupe says

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, being that time after time, the spade of true, scientific archeology has unearthed and confirmed one Biblical fact after another. For example, for many, many years “the scholars” ridiculed the Bible’s reference to King Sargon. “No such person in all of history,” they said. But the remains of Sargon’s palace were finally found. So, again, for me it works like this. If a thousand scholars … all of equal intelligence, education and credentials … say the Bible is wrong about something, I will put my money on the Bible every time. That goes for the creation account, the rib story and Noah’s ark too. Proof? Sorry you skeptics and scoffers, you don’t get proof. God reveals Himself and confirms His Truth to ALL those who truly seek Him. Had any of them actually done that, they would have had their proof a long time ago.

  32. Ede says

    Did anyone read the Bible? Joseph did not live in Bethlehem, he WENT there for the census and to be taxed! His home was Nazareth. Why is that so hard to understand? Stop trying to tinker with Scripture – don’t add to it or take away from it. And the locals in Bethlehem didn’t know Joseph or his wife and baby and did not make a shrine of that stable. It was lost to time. Jesus would not WANT a shrine made of a cave anyway. HE IS THE FOCUS of our faith, not “things”!!!!

  33. DENNIS says

    What is also interesting is that Luke was a poor researcher of dates. Herod the Great died in 4 BC but Quirinius only became Legate (“governor”) of Syria in 6 AD, ie, 10 years later. In addition, Rome usually carried out their censuses every five years which would mean Joseph would have to go to Bethlehem every five years. This makes it more reasonable that it was the Bethlehem near Nazareth that was the actual census site. The village in Judea was substituted because the writers wanted to “prove” a link to King David and to an Old Testament prophecy. However, the bottomline is the actual PHYSICAL location does NOT matter: you either believe Jesus was divine or you don’t.

  34. FRED says

    I failed to see the complication in the birth place of Jesus, he was born in Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecies in Micah 5:2, Isa. 9:6, Ge. 49:10 and Lu. 2:4. Because King Herod was out to kill the young boy Jesus, under divine warning Joseph took Mary and Jesus into Egypt. Hosea 11:1 and Mat. 2: 1-15
    When King Herod died Joseph moved to Israel ,settle in the province of Galilee in the town of Nazareth…so for Jesus to be called The Nazarene or Jesus of Galilee was the same thing

  35. Andrew says

    Boy i tell you people try to nit pick too much I am far from a scholar but it clearly says the romans was doing a Census, everybody had to go back to their place of birth for it, Now it says he was born there but nothing about being raised there,, common sense people my sister was born in New York but raised in Kentucky and in 47 years I’ve never herd her say she was a new yorker..

  36. FLOYD SATTERWHITE says

    Jesus was born on or near Trumpets, not in December as the world believes.
    December was the time the sun god was worshiped. Luke 2:8 says there were shepherds in the fields with their sheep. This doesn’t happen in December in Israel
    As He came the first time at Trumpets , so will He come the second time at Trumpets 1Cor. 15:52 ,1Thess. 4:15-16.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Why We Can’t Know Jesus – Probability in Historical Criticism | Chance Bonar linked to this post on July 12, 2015

    […] Jesus might fit into the cultural context of Nazarean social, political, and economic life. (Recent scholarly work question the veracity of Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus.) Jesus also should fit into the […]


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