Though Jesus’s birth is celebrated on December 25 in most parts of the word, and dated to the start of year 1, most scientist agree that it is unlikely that Mary has given birth to Jesus on that specific day. Luke’s mention of a census and Matthew’s of Herod the Great and a Star of Bethlehem help fix the dating, and the most plausible time of year is early September or late March. The census that Luke speaks of is almost universally identified with that of Quirinius, who conducted a census of Iudaea Province in 6 or 7. Unfortunately Herod died in 4 BC, making it somewhat impossible for the accounts of Matthew and Luke to agree.
The location of the birth is traditionally put down to the result of Joseph and Mary being forced by order of Herod the Great to leave their homes in Nazareth and come to the home of Joseph’s ancestors, the house of David, for a census. With a whole city full of people who had made the pilgrimage, there was no room for the expecting couple at the town’s inn. This tradition derives from a conflation of the account in the Gospel of Luke, which states that the couple headed to Bethlehem for a census, which was decreed by the Roman Emperor Augustus, with that in the Gospel of Matthew, which states that the birth occurred during the reign of Herod the Great. Historically, Herod the Great had been dead for 10 years before the census occurred, casting quite a bit of doubt on the accuracy of the text.
Mark’s narration does not begin with the birth of Jesus but instead starts with the adult Jesus in the region of Galilee. As well as the justification of accurate reporting, several scholars more willing to criticise the accuracy have proposed alternate reasons for Matthew and Luke to wish to have Jesus born in Bethlehem. A minority of scholars believe that Luke, writing for a Hellenic audience, may have chosen to use the term Bethlehem (Hebrew for house of bread) due to similar terms occurring in a few mystery religions and an alleged syncretistic tendency in Luke’s writing. Matthew on the other hand is often suspected by scholars of trying to portray Jesus as a new Moses, though obviously based in Palestine, and would have thus had a strong motive to demonstrate Jesus’ claim to the Jewish crown by placing his birth in the city of king David. Each gospel gives a different explanation of how Jesus could end up in Galilee but be born in Bethlehem; Luke has Jesus’s family living in Galilee but temporarily go to Bethlehem, while Matthew has Jesus’s family living in the area, but then need to escape to Egypt once Jesus is born, from where they move to Galilee to continue living in safety.
Although the event is usually described as taking place in a stable-like edifice, many biblical scientist believe that the stable was rather a cave carved in the side of a hill – as this was the typical location of stables in Classical Palestine. Many others believe that the manger was not in a stable at all but in a lower floor room of a building or house where agricultural tools and grain stores were normally kept, but where animals were brought into on cold nights or to protect them from thieves. The Bible does not specifically mention an inn keeper or a stable or even animals (except the flocks of the shepherds) relating to the birth of Jesus, and these extra traditions derive from works in the New Testament apocrypha; the Arabic Infancy Gospel introduces the donkey and the ox, while the Protevangelium of James introduces the inn keeper, as well as the midwife that is no longer part of the tradition. Technically, the tradition of the birth location derives from the translation of a Greek term which ambiguously means either gathering room (an upper room in a home) and or cave.