Were Jesus, Mary, and Joseph ‘Palestinian Refugees’?

By John Zmirak Published on December 27, 2017

It happens just about every year: Social justice warriors try to hijack the story of Jesus and the Holy Family to score political points. They know better than the Nazis and Soviets. Those revolutionaries sought to suppress the holiday outright. Smart radicals don’t try to crush potent symbols and stories that touch the heart. They try to co-opt them.

How to Secularize the Sacred

It works like this. Take the events of sacred history that point to the real supernatural. Then de-Christianize them. Use stories that play on our heartstrings. But retune them to play instead some Party anthem. The most extreme form of this counter-baptism is surely seen in North Korea. There the Communist despots of the Kim family explicitly perverted Christian theology, even the Trinity. They created a potent myth that combined Marxist ideology with crackpot ultra-nationalism and worship of the Leader as an idol.

The Holy Family as a Political Football

Less overt but also insidious: Attempts to twist the story of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph into fables of immigration. As I wrote way back in 2003:

It’s common in certain circles nowadays to compare the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, or their search for a “room at the inn,” to the plight of illegal immigrants. Bunk (as usual). These were no economic refugees, slipping across a border in search of higher carpentry wages. Joseph and Mary were law-abiding and obedient — to Caesar, who ordered them to Bethlehem for a census, and to God, who commanded they flee the tyrant Herod.

They were poor but nobly-born — of the House of David — proud members of a people that spurned intermarriage with alien races, despised other nation’s gods as fictions or devils, and fully expected one day to be a “light unto the gentiles,” a city on a hill, ruled over by a triumphant Messiah who governed the world.

And these two knew their son was the Messiah. They expected him to assume the throne, to reign as priest-king of a newly triumphant race, to drive out the invaders and purge the sacred kingdom of foreign influences. In other words, they were less like new immigrants slipping into the U.S. than like the family of King Louis XVI trying to slip away from the Jacobins.

Or like the Romanovs fleeing the tyrant Lenin.

Pope Francis Moves In

Pope Francis and others are still spreading this mashed-up message. In his Christmas Message, Pope Francis said:

We see Jesus in the many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions and who become an easy target for human traffickers. Through their eyes we see the drama of all those forced to emigrate and risk their lives to face exhausting journeys that end at times in tragedy. … Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one’s head. May our hearts not be closed as they were in the homes of Bethlehem.

In the past, Pope Francis has been even blunter. In 2013, he spoke at the Italian town of Lampedusa. (It has has been completely inundated by mostly economic migrants from Africa.) Francis minced no words. He compared those who resist the colonization of Europe by millions of Muslims to King Herod, who slaughtered the infants of Bethlehem.

Catholic News Service drove the point home on Christmas Eve:

Wrong About Everything

Theologian Chad Pecknold pointed out that in Bethlehem, Jesus, Mary and Joseph were not refugees in any sense:

They weren’t rejected from the inn because of their race or religion. There was simply “no room.” Probably because there was a census going on. Nor were they immigrants. They were obeying the law of their country (the Roman empire) by returning to Joseph’s home town.

Help us champion truth, freedom, limited government and human dignity. Support The Stream »

Fleeing a Globalist Puppet

Later on, of course, they fled the tyrant Herod. So the Holy Family were briefly political refugees. Kevin Michael Grace described that nicely:

There is almost no similarity whatsoever between the Holy Family and the million-plus Muslims admitted to Europe by Angela Merkel. Maybe I don’t read the New Testament closely enough. But can anyone point out to me where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph:

  • Left the Roman empire.
  • Passed through several other safe countries till they found one with a much higher living standard.
  • Stayed indefinitely in that new country.
  • Remained unemployed, collecting public benefits not offered back in Bethlehem.
  • Joined synagogues full of Zealots, who preached the overthrow of the local regime in favor of a Jewish theocracy.

Most of the Muslims now in Europe weren’t persecuted for their religion, but displaced by a civil war. In any case, the moment they set foot in Turkey (the first safe country), they lost their refugee status and turned into economic migrants.

So there is really only one thing that the Holy Family had in common with Muslims now colonizing Europe: They were a group of people who moved from one place to another.

Cue the world’s tiniest violin.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Print Friendly
Comments ()
The Stream encourages comments, whether in agreement with the article or not. However, comments that violate our commenting rules or terms of use will be removed. Any commenter who repeatedly violates these rules and terms of use will be blocked from commenting. Comments on The Stream are hosted by Disqus, with logins available through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts. You must log in to comment. Please flag any comments you see breaking the rules. More detail is available here.
  • tz1

    In WW2, the Catholic Church hid 600,000 jews by allowing them to stay in the Vatican, Monestaries, churches, Castle Gandolfo, etc.
    I’m sure Pope Francis wouldn’t mind repeating and letting in that many refugees into the Churches and other church properties across Europe.

    • m parker


  • Charles Burge

    It’s amazing how much misunderstanding over the centuries has resulted from one poorly translated word. The “inn” in Luke 2:7 wasn’t an inn like we think of today. In fact, the very same Greek word, “kataluma”, is translated as “upper room” in Luke 22:11 (the passage about the Last Supper). Moreover, it’s important to remember that they were traveling to Joseph’s ancestral home. It’s a guarantee that he would have had relatives there. And ancient near-east custom demanded that people take in traveling relatives. Also note that the actual written scripture contains no sense of urgency at all. In short, Joseph and Mary were staying at a relative’s house.

    In those days it was common for people to sleep upstairs, and animals be brought into the house downstairs for the night (especially if it was cold outside). So why were Joseph and Mary downstairs? For one, the house might have been full of other relatives. But secondly, that would be a more private place to give birth in a house full of people.

    To summarize, the picture of a bedraggled lonely couple desperately looking for shelter is completely wrong. More likely, they were comfortable and surrounded by people who loved them.

    • Bryan

      I wouldn’t try to sanitize it too much. Yes Joseph had relatives but he would have had scandal associated with him and Mary too. Surely they weren’t refugees in the modern sense. But they probably would have had more comforts at their home rather than in Bethlehem. Some of the relatives might have refused or literally had no room, even downstairs with the animals. And some may have been so distant that they were strangers even if they did allow them to stay. So not a bedraggled runaway, but not a Norman Rockwell painting either.
      We often forget about balance and rock the pendulum of life in whichever direction suits us at the time.

      • Charles Burge

        Well, it wasn’t my intent to paint a Normal Rockwell picture. Certainly it was a difficult and trying time, but my intent was to dispel modern misunderstandings. It seems to me that a lot of Christians get their ideas from mis-representations in popular culture rather than directly from scripture itself.

      • Propane&PropaneAccessories

        I wonder if the “scandal” in the minds of people were erased.

        They did go to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, and there were relatives with them. Maybe/hopefully by that point, all the misunderstanding was resolved…

      • Michael Siddle

        There was no scandal. Mary and Joseph were betrothed at the time she conceived so there would have been no issue with relatives or anyone else.

        • Bryan

          In our time, there wouldn’t be a scandal if an engaged woman was pregnant. Just 50-60 years ago, it would have been cause for a shotgun wedding before the baby was born.
          Mary and Joseph were betrothed but that is not the same as married. It’s more than engaged but, in the Jewish culture of the time, the betrothed couple wouldn’t have known each other in that way until they were actually married.
          Mary being found pregnant before the marriage could have been a reason for her to be stoned for adultery. That’s why Matthew describes Joseph’s plan to divorce (because to break a betrothal then was more serious than breaking an engagement today) Mary as quietly so that she might avoid that fate.
          Relatives on both sides may have heard Mary’s testimony that an angel told her that she would bear the son of God but I’m sure they had doubts about the veracity of her story. Relatives, on Joseph’s side especially, probably considered what Joseph did to be akin to what Hosea did during Old Testament times. Just as a pastor marrying a prostitute today would be scandalous, so too it would have been in the time of Hosea.
          So yes, there was scandal for both Mary and Joseph. And even if their relatives believed, more than likely they still had to deal with rumors, mutterings, and whispers from friends and neighbors who weren’t relatives.

          • Michael Siddle

            The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

            From time to time a Catholic speaker may make the innocent mistake of referring to Mary as an unwed mother. However, it is abundantly clear that the Virgin Mary was legally married to Joseph at the time she conceived Jesus (when the Annunciation took place). Thus, the Gospel of Matthew refers to Joseph as Mary’s “husband” at 1:19, and additionally the angel sent to Joseph calls Mary Joseph’s “wife” at 1:20 (as Joseph considered whether to divorce Mary). Again, at verse 1:24, Mary is called Joseph’s “wife.”

            It is true that Saint Luke refers to Mary’s betrothal to Joseph at Luke 1:26, but as Dr. Scott Hahn points out in The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Mary’s “betrothal to Joseph was already a legally binding marriage.” This is why Joseph could not simply walk away from Mary without first getting a divorce, and because Joseph and Mary were legally married “such a betrothal could only be terminated by death or divorce [according to] Deut. 24: 1-4” (The Ignatius Catholic Bible Study, The Gospel of Matthew, page 18).

            In his Apostolic Exhortation, Guardian of the Redeemer, Pope Saint John Paul II makes clear that at the time of Mary’s Annunciation Joseph and Mary were married. The Pope stated:
            “Addressing Joseph through the words of the angel, God speaks to him as the husband of the Virgin of Nazareth. What took place in her through the power of the Holy Spirit also confirmed in a special way the marriage bond which already existed between Joseph and Mary. God’s messenger was clear in what he said to Joseph: “Do not fear to take Mary your wife into your home.” Hence, what had taken place earlier, namely, Joseph’s marriage to Mary, happened in accord with God’s will and was meant to endure. In her divine motherhood Mary had to continue to live as “a virgin, the wife of her husband” (cf. Lk 1:27).” (no. 18)

            The Virgin Mary was never an unwed mother. It is entirely incorrect to suggest that God planned it otherwise.

          • Bryan

            I’m not saying she was an unwed mother. She and Joseph were married by the time Jesus was born. I’m saying when she conceived, she wasn’t married to Joseph but betrothed. That’s why when the angel came to Joseph, he said “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 1:20b). Then verse 24 says he did as the angel told him and took Mary home as his wife but did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born.
            If they had been married, it would have been assumed that Joseph was the biological father and that Jesus was just a normal kid with delusions of grandeur. In fact, this was assumed by his friends and neighbors in Matthew 13:54-55. But Mary would not have withheld herself from her husband if they had been married before the Annunciation. She would have had no reason. It wasn’t until the Annunciation that Mary knew she was being set apart for something special.
            Yes, a betrothal is legally binding situation, but it was not the same as marriage. It was the step between what we would call dating and marriage that, by Jewish law, required death or divorce, to nullify as you pointed out. But there was to be, by Jewish custom, no union of the man and woman during the betrothal period either because they were not, in fact, married.

  • Patmos

    Yeah but Francis is deemed to be cool and hip with young people, that’s the whole point, right?

    • Mudpuppy

      He should change his name to Pope Che. He’ll really be “cool” then.

      • mr. producer

        Well, he did perform Mass before a giant likeness of Che in Cuba, and he loved the CommieCrux, so…

        • Mudpuppy


  • Allen

    Rom 1:18, 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; KJV

  • Grn724

    You can’t be serious. It is written that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth and went to Bethlehem for the census.

  • mr. producer

    Disgusting, absolutely disgusting. Whether he’s an anti-pope or heretic at this point it doesn’t really matter, he’s done irreparable damage to the Church by politicizing the papal office. Not to mention scandalizing the faithful.

  • Serenity Now!


  • lroy77

    Regarding the accompanying picture. Way too young to be married (but perhaps it was arranged).

    Anyway, the woman has a nice bright scarf but WAY too much makeup and seriously needs to work on her tan once in a nice safe country. Still pretty.

    • m. e. m.

      Why do you think anyone at all cares about your assessment of that girl’s appearance?

  • m. e. m.

    – Refugees aren’t leaving their homes for fun — they are refugees, forced to flee for their safety and the safety of their children (children make up the majority of refugees and displaced people)
    – Most displaced people are still in their home country — they are therefore not counted as refugees (instead they are IDPs). The vast majority of those displaced by violence are not passing through any other countries at all. And the vast majority are still not passing through “several other safe countries” for a cushy life — most refugees are living in Lebanon and Jordan with very below standard living standards.
    – The majority of refugees do not stay permanently in their host country — it is a lie to portray current refugees as is they want to stay “indefinitely in that new country” Armed conflicts are lasting longer on average than past decades, so many are still displaced by violence and instability longer than past generations, but they would love to go home as soon as they are able and most will.
    – It is dishonest for you to portray current refugees as “unemployed, collecting public benefits not offered back [home]”.
    – You are incredibly dishonest to imply that refugees tend towards joining zealots or supporting theocracy

    Since you do not have any evidence to support your position and you are painting a version of the world which in fact directly contradicts the reality of the facts, I can’t understand what the point of this article is — besides to score cheap points with your followers by bashing SJWs and spreading aspersions about the very widows, fatherless, sojourners, and the poor which your God demands you love, care for and welcome. (Exodus 22:21-24 for example)

Don’t Let a Pit Become a Grave
James Robison
More from The Stream
Connect with Us