Presentation at the Temple
Late October-Early November 6 BC
"For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32).
Our afternoon itinerary calls for us to explore other sites in and around Bethlehem. Our stomachs, though, remind us it is near lunch time and, as we head back to Bethlehem from Beit Sahour, some of the group begin snacking on the dates, figs, olives and bread purchased earlier at shops along Paul VI Street. We pick up the next part of Luke's narrative:
"On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, 'Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord' and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: 'a pair of doves or two young pigeons' (Luke 2:21-24).
The two ceremonies reported here provide further proof that Mary and Joseph were observant Jews, faithfully keeping traditions that have survived to this day. Circumcision was recognized as an outward sign of the covenant God made with Abraham:
"This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised." (Genesis 17:10)
So, in keeping with Jewish law, Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth, at which time he was given the name Yeshua or Joshua (a contraction of "Yehoshuha," meaning "Yahweh is salvation;" English form Jesus, derived from Latin Iesus), 'commanded by God.'
Luke also reminds us that there were other rituals associated with a birth. According to Jewish law, Mary was ceremonially unclean for forty days after giving birth and was not allowed to leave the house or participate in religious rites. Once Mary's time of separation was over, the family trudged up the six-mile-long dusty, winding road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for the required rites of purification and sacrifice at the Temple.
Entering through the Fountain Gate near the southeast corner of the city wall they made their way along the street through the central north-south valley (called the Tyropoeon Valley by Flavius Josephus) up to the huge Temple complex.
At the Nicanor Gate, Mary was pronounced clean by the high priest on duty. Furthermore, she was required to sacrifice "a pair of doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering" (Leviticus 12:8) which Joseph might have purchased from vendors in the Royal Stoa on the south end of the Court of Gentiles. Had he been wealthier, Joseph would have bought a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove.