MYTH 3: MARY RODE A DONKEY TO BETHLEHEM
Are the Christmas cards wrong again? I do not know. I wasn’t there. But I would say they are. When one reads carefully with a clear head, the scriptures, and a blank canvas in front of you, I don’t see a donkey. The Bible simply does not say that Mary rode a donkey.
Here’s what it DOES say In Luke 2:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
That’s it! Nothing else. Aside from legends and writings of doubtful origin, the only other verse in the Bible that would support the idea of a donkey MIGHT be this one:
Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you,
a righteous one bringing salvation.
He is lowly, riding on a donkey—
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.[b
However wonderful the symbolism is here, let’s not forget that as a prophecy, this actually did come to pass when Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Why then does it appear at the nativity? Actually, it doesn’t. Did Mary ride a donkey to Bethlehem? No one knows.
I’ve always been taught to beware of traditions. Whereas they are charming in families and are the stuff legends are made of, TRUTH trumps tradition.
Especially when raising our children, we had decided early on not to tell as TRUTH the tales of fairies and gnomes and personages that slide down chimneys in the middle of the night. “Let God be true and every man a liar.” (Rom.3:4) Let fantasy point to truth. That’s the point of fantasy. But just because we don’t know every detail does not make something true or false. In this case, we just don’t know.
A pragmatic view of Mary in her pregnancy riding a donkey over hilly paths seems unwise if not ridiculous. Yes, Mary was young and healthy. Pregnant women work hard, sometimes all the way up to delivery day. I did, with my two pregnancies, but when I was two months pregnant with my first, I fell from a horse. It was more a sliding off, really. I was not hurt. Nevertheless, I thought it time to stop riding. Mary and Joseph were well aware of their precious cargo. Why would they risk it?
What are the other possibilities, then, for a carpenter and his pregnant fiancé to travel the up-to eighty or ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem? Hired wagon or conveyance? Donkey cart? Walking?
Actually, walking in moderation is recommended for pregnant women. It helps build strength, relieve back pain, and helps with general constitution. Going slowly, they could have walked it in two to three weeks. If Jesus was born at the end of September during the Feast of Tabernacles, as Myth #1 suggests, perhaps Joseph carried their tent or “tabernacle” on his back. Or maybe on his donkey. I guess we’ll never know this side of heaven.
So what’s the point of Bethlehem? Why did they have to go there to deliver the son of God, with or without a donkey? To fulfill the prophecy:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
Joseph was from the royal line of David and so needed to go to Bethlehem to pay a new tax. David, the shepherd-king, was born there. Jesus, the lamb of God, was born there too. The point is, they got there somehow.
This Christmas, let’s focus on what the Bible DOES say and stick to that. Let’s be true readers of the Word, not adding fantasy, but focusing on the truth. The point is not HOW they got there, but that they went, obeying God and government. And in so doing, changed the world.