Question:

I'm wondering if Jesus and his family were refugees of political violence, or are these web posts lies? I've seen comparisons to the Syrian refugees on the web. A Google search brought me to your site. Did they flee Bethlehem to Nazareth to escape?

What is the best answer to those posts?


Answer:

About a year or so after Jesus was born, wise men from the east came looking for a child. They had seen signs of his birth in the heavens. "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him" (Matthew 2:2). Likely earlier prophecies had caused them to be watchful for this sign. They stopped at Herod's to ask for directions. It was a reasonable thing to do. Herod was the current ruler of the Jews, so it could easily be concluded that the child would be a descendant of his. Herod hadn't heard of this before and didn't like it. "When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel'
" (Matthew 2:4-6). Notice that Herod knew about the coming Messiah. He just didn't want this happening during his reign.

God warned the wise men not to return to Herod, so they went home via a different route (Matthew 2:12).

When the wise men didn't return to tell him where they found the child, Herod ordered all children two and under in that district to be killed. "When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi" (Matthew 2:16).

Joseph was also warned the same night as the wise men that Herod would be seeking to kill Jesus. "When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod" (Matthew 2:13-15).

After Herod's death, Joseph and his family returned, but decided to settle back in Nazareth, the town he and Mary originally came from before they had moved to Bethlehem. "But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth" (Matthew 2:22-23).

This is not like the Syrian refugees who are fleeing the general destruction of their land and people. Joseph and Mary left before any killing took place and that killing was specifically targeted to destroy Jesus. When they returned after the death of Herod, they settled in Nazareth to avoid Herod's son. But notice that while they were in the Galilee district, they were still in the same country.

You cannot truly call Joseph and Mary refugees, even while they were in Egypt. It isn't that they fled with nothing. The gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense would easily have financed their journey and stay in Egypt. This is more like a family staying in a country on an extended temporary visa, though this formal restriction of borders was not known back in those days. Nor did Joseph and Mary flee with other families.

Therefore, there is almost nothing in the story of Joseph and Mary's escape to Egypt and return to Nazareth that can be compared to the plight of the Syrians looking for escape from a terrible war.