Gospel of Luke mentions Nazareth in Galilee to be the place where Virgin Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would bore Jesus. Also there, she married Joseph. However, it was in the town of Bethlehem where Jesus was born. One can ask: Why spouses decided to walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem, while Virgin Mary was in such an advanced pregnancy? That was indeed a long journey, which might have taken them from four up to seven days. The answer can be found in the Biblical verses:
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. […] And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke 2:1-5).
Joseph was obliged to leave Nazareth for Bethlehem as he did not want to risk being punished for not paying the tax. And probably it was God’s will which made him to take also Mary, so Micah’s prophecy about upcoming Messiah, could be fulfilled: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
The exact way which Mary and Joseph took to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem is not described in any of the Gospels. However, according to the writings of the ancient 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.” So we can suppose that the couple might have taken a way which they usually took to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.
They might have descended from Nazareth trough Jezreel Valley to Samaria and from there to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in Judea. Probably, on their way, they were hosted by various people as at those times, in the Near East, it was a common tradition to overnight the travelers.
“Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” (1 Peter 4:9)
There exists also another theory that because of continuous conflicts between Samaritans and Jews, Mary and Joseph might have chosen the way through Jordan Valley to avoid meeting the people of Samaria. But if they would have followed this way, would they pass through Jerusalem?
According to the Protoevangelium of James, ruins of the octagonal in shape Kathisma (Greek for “seat” or “chair”) church from the 5th century, located on the way between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, mark the place where Mary rested before reaching Bethlehem.
Hiking the Nativity Trail
Several times a year the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies organizes tours along a possible path that the Holy Couple might have followed, known as the Nativity Trail. The trail traverses 160 km passing through beautiful, though sometimes rough terrains, rocky hillsides, desert valleys and the multiple always-green olive groves, where hikers have an opportunity to rest just as Mary and Joseph did.
The trail stops in the Biblical towns of Nazareth, Nablus (ancient Shechem), Jericho and Bethlehem, as well as smaller villages along the way.
During the journey, hikers are able to experience local hospitality and stay in villagers’ homes, Christian monasteries, local B&Bs, Bedouin tents, etc.
Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.