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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

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( מלון , mālōn ; πανδοχεῖον , pandocheı́on , κατάλυμα , katáluma ):

1. Earliest Night Resting-Places

The Hebrew word mālōn means literally, a "night resting-place," and might be applied to any spot where caravans ( Genesis 42:27; Genesis 43:21 the King James Version), individuals ( Exodus 4:24; Jeremiah 9:2 ), or even armies (Joshua 4:3 , Joshua 4:8; 2 Kings 19:23; Isaiah 10:29 ) encamped for the night. In the slightly altered form melūnāh , the same word is used of a nightwatchman's lodge in a garden (Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 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 Jeremiah 41:17 margin, where gērūth kimhām 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 katagogaı́ , while in the Aramaic Jewish writings we meet with )u4shp|4za4) , from Latin hospitium , and 'akhṣanyā' from the Greek xenı́a ; the New Testament designation pandocheion has passed into the Aramaic pundhek) and the Arabic funduḳ . 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 (Judges 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, Yebhāmōth , xvi. 7 the word of an innkeeper was doubted, and Mishna, ‛Ăbbōdhāh Zārāh , ii.4 places them in the lowest scale of degradation. The New Testament is quite clear in speaking of "Rahab the harlot " (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25 ). The Targum designates her an "innkeeper," while Rashi translates zōnāh as "a seller of kinds of food," a meaning the word will bear. Ḳimḥı̄ , however, accepts both meanings. This evil repute of publicinns, 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 (Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 1:5 ) commends hospitality. It is remarkable that both the Talmud (Shab 127a ) and the New Testament (Hebrews 13:2 ) quote the same passage (Genesis 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 - Lubbān (compare Judges 21:19 ), and Khan Ḥaḍrur , midway between Jerusalem and Jericho. This last certainly occupies the site of the inn referred to in Luke 10:34 , and it is not without interest that we read in Mishna, Yebhāmōth , 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 katalúō ( Luke 9:12; Luke 19:7 ) makes his meaning clear. In the Septuagint, indeed, mālōn is sometimes translated kataluma , and it appears in 1 Samuel 9:22 for lishkāh , the King James Version "parlour." It is the word used of the "upper room" where the Last Supper was held (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11 , "guest-chamber"), and of the place of reception in Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary failed to find quarters (Luke 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 (Yōmā ) 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 ( Luke 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.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Inn'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​i/inn.html. 1915.
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