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A Night Resting Place

Inn, or lodging place, has been used to translate the original Hebrew word, pronounced maw-lone, which meant a night resting place. In ancient times it applied not to a building, as in later usage, but rather where small or large numbers of people, from an individual, to a caravan, or even large military forces, encamped for the night. An ancient "inn" of the earliest times of Bible History was usually just level ground near a source of water.

A Hostel Isn't Hostile

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 (hospitable, hospital and hotel all originated from hostel, meaning a place of shelter; hostile, although similar in sound, originated from an unrelated word, host, which meant an army or great multitude) :


"And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways." (Genesis 19:2 KJV)

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):

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city."

"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David: To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

"And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." (Luke 2:1-16 KJV)

Fact Finder: Did Jesus' lesson of the "Good Samaritan" involve an inn?
Luke 10:30-37

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