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.

View of temple model from the southwest

(Above) 1 to 50 scale model of 1st century Jerusalem at the Israel Museum, showing the Tyropoeon Valley and the massive Temple complex from the south.

There, at the Nicanor Gate, she was pronounced clean by the high priest on duty. Furthermore, Mary 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 side 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.

model of temple - court of gentiles, temple and royal stoa

(Above) 1 to 50 scale model of the Jerusalem Temple at the Israel Museum, looking west.
(left, Royal Portico; center, Court of Gentiles; right, Temple with inner courts in front)

Moreover, because Jesus was the firstborn son, he was consecrated to the service of God, described as presented at the Temple. Therefore, Joseph and Mary had to pay "five shekels of silver" (Numbers 18:16) to ransom him back. For a simple craftsman like Joseph the redemption offering plus the price of the doves must have been a hardship.

(Note: Luke omits any mention of the ransom payment, which for him signified that Jesus' whole life was consecrated to the service of God). (Right) fragment of a stone vessel inscribed with two crudely drawn birds with the Hebrew word korban, meaning "sacrifice." It was discovered during excavations at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Birds were the traditional sacrifice for the birth of a child.

ragment of a stone vessel inscribed with two crudely drawn birds with the Hebrew word korban, meaning "sacrifice."

Upon completion of the rituals Mary and Joseph stood with the bundled infant in the Court of Women. A devout elderly man named Simeon approached them. He explained that he had been waiting for the fulfillment of messianic hopes, and God had promised he would not die until he saw with his own eyes the infant “anointed one” (Hebrew messiah). He knew that his prayers had been answered. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying:

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 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." The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2: 29-35).


Simeon with mary and baby jesus Anna a very old woman with headscarf

Probably also in the Court of Woman, the family met an eighty-four year old widow named Anna (same as Hannah, meaning "grace"), the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher, who spent all of her waking hours attending and worshiping in the Temple. Upon witnessing Simeon's testimony, she gave thanks to God. Wandering about the Temple courts, she "spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:36).

Jesus' Life Home n Witness the Visit of the Magi