The Annunciation Of The Birth Of Jesus
You are probably aware that the announcement of Mary's pregnancy and the coming birth of the messiah is not made in Luke 1:39-45, but rather in Luke 1:26-38. However, the announcement is confirmed by Elizabeth when Mary goes for a visit to her cousin as reported in Luke 1:39-45. This passage is problematic and is at the heart of a major controversy surrounding the announcement of the birth of Jesus.
In the gospel accounts we have two conflicting reports of the birth of Jesus, and implicit in these is a conflict in the announcement of the birth of Jesus. We know that it was the custom of the day for a man to bring his bride to live in the home of his father. The father was required, by the custom of the day, to provide a home for his son and his son's bride. This was usually done by adding a new room to an existing house. Joseph's family lived in Bethlehem. It would have been a contradiction of the prevailing custom for Joseph to have taken his bride anywhere else. Furthermore, we have a tradition that Mary and her family lived in Jerusalem. Joseph and his family and Mary and her family might all have been Judeans.
Matthew's gospel is very explicit about Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. Matthew also reports the Holy Family's flight to Egypt in response to Herod's murder of the male children of Bethlehem. Following Herod's death Joseph planned to return to Judea, not Galilee. He only went to Galilee and Nazareth because Archalaus, Herod's son, was now ruling Judea.
An early Church tradition locates the home of Elizabeth and Zacharias in Ein Karem, to the southwest of Jerusalem, also in Judea. It is much more logical to think of a pregnant Mary traveling to see her cousin in the shorter distance between Bethlehem and Ein Karem than the longer and more rugged journey from Nazareth to Ein Karem.
This information must cause us to re-evaluate Luke's version of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary. Given our clearer understanding of first century customs, it is likely that the annunciation took place in Bethlehem, the home village of Joseph and the first home of his new family. The tradition of the annunciation in Nazareth is, probably, a later tradition.
Charles Page writes from Jerusalem where he is the Academic Dean of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies, an ecumenical biblical teaching center in Israel.