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What To Do When Faced With Tough Times Ahead

Thus, it was Joseph “who counted” in the eyes of those making the census of Caesar Augustus, not women and children. Mary could have just as well stayed behind in the safety of Nazareth and let Joseph “go it alone.” However, Mary also knew Holy Scripture very well and she knew that the prophets had prophesied that her Son would be born in Bethlehem.

No doubt she must have wondered how on earth that was going to happen—and now Providence provided the answer—even though it was a “tough call” (for a pregnant woman) at a “tough time” (the middle of winter). Yet Mary was not only a holy girl but also a tough girl!

WHICH WAY TO GO? The exact way that Mary and Joseph took get from Nazareth to Bethlehem is not described in any of the Gospels. However, according to the writings of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus Flavius: “It is the custom of the Galileans at the time of festival to pass through the Samaritan territory on their way to the Holy City.” This is the more direct route in the straight-line distance—but there are two reasons why it was probably not the way Joseph and Mary went.

First of all, of all the possible routes, it is the most physically demanding, with constant ups and downs through the hills—and it took the traveler directly through Samaritan country, and the Jews preferred to have no dealings with the Samaritans “For the Jews do not communicate with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).

From their hometown of Nazareth Mary and Joseph would have headed southeast, between the mountains to the north—of which Mount Thabor was part—and the mountains bordering onto Samaria in the south, walking down to the River Jordan some miles south of the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee. There they would have tuned directly south to hug the River Jordan along its winding valley south towards Jericho.

The route at first stayed on the west shores of the Jordan River. Just south of Beth Shean, the route crossed the River Jordan from west to east, into what is now modern-day Jordan. The route was easier and safer from there to Jericho, where they would cross back over the River Jordan, from the east bank to the west bank. The temperature in this fertile green valley would have been slightly milder—though it was still winter weather—than would be found in the mountains around Bethlehem.

DANGERS OF THE ROAD. To this point, the route would have traversed mostly smooth terrain. From Jericho to Bethlehem would have required going through the barren Wilderness of Judea. Here especially the protection afforded by group travel would have been essential. It was along this road the Good Samaritan encountered the man who had been beaten and robbed.

It was the norm for people to travel these routes in groups to avoid robbers. Usually, a self-appointed guide and protector was paid a fee, to go along with his group. Both the trade route through Samaria, and the alternative route along the Jordan River, were notorious for both robbers and wild animals, such as bears.

Bandits, pirates of the desert, and robbers were also among the common hazards along the major trade routes like the one Joseph and Mary would have traveled, says Fr. Peter Vasko, a Catholic priest, and director of the Holy Land Foundation. The threat of outlaws often forced solitary travelers to join trade caravans for protection.

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Galileans Jewish Joseph Josephus Flavius Nazareth


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