The Hebrew word (malon
) thus rendered literally signified "a lodging-place for the night." Inns, in our sense of the term were, as they still are, unknown in the East, where hospitality is religiously practiced. The khans or caravanserais are the representatives of European inns, and these were established but gradually. The halting-place of a caravan was selected originally on account of its proximity to water or pasture, by which the travellers pitched their tents and passed the night. Such was undoubtedly the "inn" at which occurred the Incident in the life of Moses narrated in (Exodus 4:24
) comp. Genesis42:27 On the more frequented routes, remote from towns, (Jeremiah 9:2
) caravanserais were in course of time erected, often at the expense of the wealthy. "A caravanserai is a large and substantial square building... Passing through strong gateway, the guest enters a large court, in the centre of which is a spacious raised platform, used for sleeping upon at night or for the devotions of the faithful during the day. Around this court are arranged the rooms of the building."
- (malon; pandocheion, kataluma):
1. Earliest Night Resting-Places:
The Hebrew word malon means literally, a "night resting-place," and might be applied to any spot where caravans (Gen 42:27; 43:21 the King James Version), individuals (Ex 4:24; Jer 9:2), or even armies (Josh 4:3,8; 2 Ki 19:23; Isa 10:29) encamped for the night. In the slightly altered form melunah, the same word is used of a nightwatchman's lodge in a garden (Isa 1:8; 24:20, the King James Version "cottage"). The word in itself does not imply the presence of any building, and in the case of caravans and travelers was doubtless originally, as very often at the present day, only a convenient level bit of ground near some spring, where baggage might be unloaded, animals watered and tethered, and men rest on the bare ground. Nothing in the Old Testament suggests the occupancy of a house in such cases. The nearest approach to such an idea occurs in Jer 41:17 margin, where geruth kimham is translated "the lodging-place of Chimham," but the text is very doubtful and probably refers rather to sheepfolds. We cannot say when buildings were first used, but the need of shelter for caravans traveling in winter, and of protection in dangerous times and districts, would lead to their introduction at an early period in the history of trade.
2. Public Inns:
It is noteworthy that all the indisputable designations of "inn" come in with the Greek period. Josephus (Ant., XV, v, 1; BJ, I, xxi, 7) speaks of "Public inns" under the name of katagogal, while in the Aramaic Jewish writings we meet with 'ushpiza', from Latin hospitium, and 'akhcanya' from the Greek xenia; the New Testament designation pandocheion has passed into the Aramaic pundheqa' and the Arabic funduq. All these are used of public inns, and they all correspond to the modern "khan" or "caravanserai." These are to be found on the great trade routes all over the East. In their most elaborate form they have almost the strength of a fortress. They consist of a great quadrangle into which admission is gained through a broad, strong gateway. The quadrangle is enclosed on all sides by a 2-story building, the windows in the case of the lower story opening only to the interior. The upper story is reached by stairways, and has a gangway all around, giving access to the practically bare rooms which are at the disposal of travelers.
3. Their Evil Name:
There is usually a well of good water in the center of the quadrangle, and travelers as a rule bring their own food and often that of their animals (Jdg 19:19) with them. There are no fixed payments, and on departure, the arranging of haqq el-khan generally means a disagreeable dispute, as the innkeepers are invariably untruthful, dishonest and oppressive. They have ever been regarded as of infamous character. The Roman laws in many places recognize this. In Mishna, Yebhamoth, xvi. 7 the word of an innkeeper was doubted, and Mishna, `Abbodhah Zarah, ii.4 places them in the lowest scale of degradation. The New Testament is quite clear in speaking of "Rahab the harlot" (Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). The Targum designates her an "innkeeper," while Rashi translates zonah as "a seller of kinds of food," a meaning the word will bear. Chimchi, however, accepts both meanings. This evil repute of public inns, together with the Semitic spirit of hospitality, led the Jews and the early Christians to prefer to recommend the keeping of open house for the entertainment of strangers. In the Jewish Morning Prayers, even in our day, such action is linked with great promises, and the New Testament repeatedly (Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9; 3 Jn 1:5) commends hospitality. It is remarkable that both the Talmud (Shab 127a) and the New Testament (Heb 13:2) quote the same passage (Gen 18:3) in recommending it.
The best-known khans in Palestine are Khan Jubb-Yusuf, North of the Lake of Galilee, Khan et-Tujjar, under the shadow of Tabor, Khan el-Lubban (compare Jdg 21:19), and Khan Chadrur, midway between Jerusalem and Jericho. This last certainly occupies the site of the inn referred to in Lk 10:34, and it is not without interest that we read in Mishna, Yebhamoth, xvi.7, of another sick man being left at that same inn. See illustration, p. 64.
4. Guest Chambers:
The Greek word kataluma, though implying a "loosing" for the night, seems rather to be connected with the idea of hospitality in a private house than in a public inn. Luke with his usual care distinguishes between this and pandocheion, and his use of the verb kataluo (Lk 9:12; 19:7) makes his meaning clear. In the Septuagint, indeed, malon is sometimes translated kataluma, and it appears in 1 Sam 9:22 for lishkah, the King James Version "parlour." It is the word used of the "upper room" where the Last Supper was held (Mk 14:14; Lk 22:11, "guest-chamber"), and of the place of reception in Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary failed to find quarters (Lk 2:7). It thus corresponds to the spare or upper room in a private house or in a village, i.e. to the manzil adjoining the house of the sheikh, where travelers received hospitality and where no payment was expected, except a trifle to the caretaker. In Jerusalem such payments were made by leaving behind the earthenware vessels that had been used, and the skins of the animals that had been slaughtered (Yoma' 12a).
5. Birth of Christ:
Judging from the word used, and the conditions implied, we are led to believe that Joseph and Mary had at first expected reception in the upper room or manzil at the house of the sheikh of Bethlehem, probably a friend and member of the house of David; that in this they were disappointed, and had to content themselves with the next best, the elevated platform alongside the interior of the stable, and on which those having the care of the animals generally slept. It being now the season when they were in the fields (Lk 2:8), the stable would be empty and clean. There then the Lord Jesus was born and laid in the safest and most convenient place, the nearest empty manger alongside of this elevated platform. Humble though the circumstances were, the family were preserved from all the annoyance and evil associations of a public khan, and all the demands of delicacy and privacy were duly met.
W. M. Christie