5.2 The Historical Mary: A Girl from Galilee

A Girl from Galilee

The Gospels provide very few concrete details about Mary, but historians can use archaeology and other sources to say what a typical life for a Jewish peasant girl would have been: what she ate, what she wore, where she lived, how she worked, and what marriage and childbirth might have been like for her.

Selected Sources

In the Footsteps of Jesus by Jean-Pierre Isbouts is a beautiful book with background, social details, and many gorgeous photographs about the time and place of Jesus. It does focus on Jesus, so a great deal of it was not about Mary, but it was a major source for this episode. I also referenced Reza Aslan’s book ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. There is an interesting NBC news article on tekhelet blue. The quote about Mary as the ideal woman is from Amy-Jill Levine, quoted in “The Virgin Mary” in National Geographic, Dec 2015, p. 37.

The feature image is by Jo-B from Pixabay.


  1. When the innkeeper told Mary and Joseph, “There is no room in this inn,” they were probably talking to a relative who was the head of a family compound in Jerusalem. But he also had that central courtyard in which they kept all of the family animals. It was a relatively quiet and private place to labor and give birth because everywhere else was crammed full of relatives.

    Mary was probably assisted by female relatives who had lots of birthing experience, or midwives, and she would have brought the swaddling cloths that are passed down through generations of women with her to Jerusalem in anticipation of the birth.

    Some artistic depictions I’ve seen show the stable as a cave instead.


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