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by Wayne Blank
Commercial inns were practically unknown in the very earliest times, as a result of a combination of lack of development and the custom of being hospitable to strangers:
"My lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant's house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise up early and go on your way." (Genesis 19:2 RSV)
By New Testament times however, public inns had become quite common throughout the Greek (see Ancient Empires - Greece) and Roman (see Ancient Empires - Rome) world. The simplest inns of the first century AD were merely a protected or walled-in area around a well. Larger inns had separate rooms which surrounded the central courtyard, but as with the simpler inns, the animals usually remained with the people.
One of the most famous "no vacancy" incidents involving inns was the birth of Jesus Christ which probably occurred in September or October of 4 BC. As many are well aware, the actual calendar date of the birth of Jesus Christ is unknown. The Bible makes no mention of it, and there is no trustworthy record of it to be found in any other source, religious or secular. Nearly all Christian-professing churches, Roman Catholic or Protestant, recognize the fact that although the birth of Jesus Christ has come to be observed on December 25 on the Roman calendar (at the same time that the Romans held their pagan Saturnalia festival, which was a time of merry-making and exchange of gifts), it is definitely not His actual date of birth. Many theologians and religious scholars readily agree that His birth was almost certainly not even in the winter, based upon, among other things, one of the most well-known verses of the Bible: "there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8 RSV). Shepherds in Judea did not leave their flocks out in winter - they were brought in well before the cold winter-rains began (see Winter):
"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city."
Fact Finder: Did Jesus' lesson of the "Good Samaritan" involve an inn?