Truth Versus Tradition: Joseph and Mary on Their Way to Bethlehem

I was embarrassed a few days ago to realize I had accepted as truth a certain matter of tradition. Oh well, it happens to all of us, I guess. It shouldn’t, but it does. If we are to believe the truth and only the truth, we must be ever vigilant.

I was writing the article on whether or not Joseph and Mary were poor. I was going to include a line saying that at least they owned a donkey. How could I have been so dumb? We’ve all seen the picture on the Christmas cards, Mary on the donkey being led by Joseph walking ahead. It is just the two of them. The picture was so ingrained in my mind that somehow I just thought it was in the Bible. When I looked for the Biblical reference, however, I found that such a reference does not exist. We know THAT they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, but we don’t know HOW they traveled.

Did they both walk? Were they both on donkeys or perhaps camels? Were they alone? No one knows. Culturally, traveling in a caravan is the most likely. In the lands and times of the Bible, robbers were not uncommon. People avoided traveling alone. Caravans were much safer. Considering the number of people who would have been going to Bethlehem (or at least as far as Jerusalem, only a few miles from Bethlehem and on the way) for the registration, it seems likely that a caravan would have been available, but we don’t know.

For the vast majority of my life, I have diligently examined my beliefs and the Scriptures to change my beliefs wherever necessary to line up with what is written. A few days ago, upon learning what I had done with the donkey thing, I discarded the Christmas-card picture in a heartbeat, not as false but as unverifiable and no longer the picture I hold in my mind as likely.

I said in our posting, “Were Joseph and Mary Poor?” that tradition can be a subtle thing. When I wrote that, I had not yet identified this little piece of tradition that I myself was holding as truth. Tradition can be a subtle thing indeed.

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