Nine-Months Pregnant and 100 Miles to Go

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matthew 28:20b

Can you imagine being almost nine months pregnant and receiving the news that you have to travel almost 100 miles – on foot! That's the quandary that Mary found herself in when Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that the entire Roman world should be taxed. Everyone was required to return to their hometowns to be counted, and that meant that Mary and Joseph had to pack quickly for a journey from their home in Nazareth to the town of Bethlehem, about 92 miles away. What went through Mary's head just then? She knew that she was chosen to give birth to the Son of God, but she had no clue where the birth might happen. (See Luke 1:26-35) Did she worry that she might have the baby on the road to Bethlehem? Did she wonder if she had the strength to make the journey at all?

As I set up my nativity scene this week, I thought about these things, and I wondered: What was the journey really like for Mary and Joseph? The only account of it is found in Luke 2:1-5.

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 Judaea, 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. (KJV)

That's not a lot of information for a writer, like myself, who thrives on details. So, I searched the Internet to see if I could find the route that Mary and Joseph might have taken and if it held clues about their travels. I found this interesting account by D. Kelly Ogden on the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints web site.

"They would probably have made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem by one of two routes. One would have taken them south across the Jezreel Valley, then through the hills of Samaria into Judaea. This is the more direct route in straight-line distance -- but there are two reasons it probably was not the way Joseph and Mary went: It is physically demanding, with constant ups and downs through the hills -- and it took the traveler directly through Samaritan country, and “the Jews [had] no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).

The other possible route is the one Joseph and Mary more likely traveled. It would have taken them southeast across the Jezreel Valley, connecting with the Jordan Valley, then level or slightly down in elevation all the way to Jericho, then up through the Judaean Desert to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

To discover for myself what each of the routes would have been like, I have walked both of them. Both routes are about ninety-two miles long. Normal walking pace, even with a camel or donkey, is three miles per hour. So a traveler can usually walk between seventeen and twenty-four miles each day. Each route took me about thirty hours to walk—seventeen to twenty miles a day for five days.

At that rate, the journey would have taken Joseph and Mary at least four to five days. We wonder where they stayed each night, where and with whom they camped along the way. It would have been a wearying journey for anyone, but especially for a pregnant woman soon to give birth. It was early spring, which can still be very chilly at night in the hill country. However, in the Jordan Valley -- which is below sea level -- the temperatures would have been mild and pleasant.

The last leg of the eastern route would have been the hardest of all. Jericho is the lowest city on the globe, and Jerusalem and Bethlehem are situated right in the top of the hills. From Jericho’s desert to Bethlehem is an uphill hike of 3,500 feet. How exhausted Mary must have been! How anxious Joseph must have been to find a comfortable room at the inn! Desperate to find adequate shelter, they may have resorted at last to a limestone cave used for a stable." [D. Kelly Ogden, “The Road to Bethlehem,” Ensign, Dec 1995]

Imagine that. Mary walked, or perhaps rode on a donkey, for 92 miles, part of it through a desert, camped at night in God knows what kind of weather, and then ended her journey with a 3500-foot uphill hike; all of it when she was nine-months pregnant. This only adds to the miracle of Christ's birth.

This week, take time to think of Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem. Contemplate the trip and the difficulties they might have encountered. Then remember that God was with them every step of the way, just as He's with us now, guiding us through this journey called "life."

Kind Heavenly Father: Guide us through this Christmas season, and lead us in prayerful remembrance to the hour when Christ was born. Amen

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Wow. That was really cool information about the fellow that tried to figure out their journey to Bethlehem. Four or five days. I will try to keep all these things in my mind this hectic month. Thanks Jean.


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Max Lucado has a unique way with words, and his children's book Hermie A Common Caterpillar is no exception. With simple text and bright, watercolor illustrations, the story of Hermie unfolds.

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