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INN (Heb. mālôn, Gr. pandocheion, katalyma). The Hebrew word means a “night resting-place” and can apply to any place where there is encampment for the night, whether by caravans, individuals, or even armies. The presence of a building is not implied. It was originally very probably only a piece of level ground near a spring where carriers of merchandise could, with their animals, pass the night. Inns in the modern sense were not very necessary in primitive times, since travelers found hospitality the rule (Exod.2.20; Judg.19.15-Judg.19.21; 2Kgs.4.8; Acts.28.7; Heb.13.2). We do not know when buildings were first used, but they would be needed early in the history of trade as a protection from inclement weather and in dangerous times and places. The “lodging place for travelers” (Jer.9.2) may have been such an establishment. An inn of the Middle East bore little resemblance to a modern hotel. It was a mere shelter for man and beast. Like the modern “khan” or “caravanserai,” it was a large quadrangular court into which admission was gained by a strong gateway. The more elaborate ones were almost as strong as a fortress. In the center of the court there was a well, and around the sides there were rooms and stalls. An upper story was reached by stairways. Travelers usually brought food for themselves and their animals.

Innkeepers in ancient times had a very bad reputation; and this, together with the Semitic spirit of hospitality, led Jews and Christians to recommend hospitality for the entertainment of strangers. One of the best-known inns in Palestine was halfway between Jerusalem and Jericho (Luke.10.34). The Greek word katalyma, used of the Upper Room, where the Last Supper was held (Mark.14.14), and of the place in Bethlehem that turned away Joseph and Mary (Luke.2.7), was probably a room in a private house rather than in a public inn—corresponding to a spare room in a private house or in a village, probably that of a sheikh. The vast numbers who went to Jerusalem to attend the annual feasts were allowed to use such guest-chambers; and for this no payment was taken.——SB

INN (Heb. מָלוֹן, H4869, RSV LODGING PLACE; Gr. κατάλυμα, G2906, or πανδοχει̂ον, G4106). Word referring to several different kinds of shelter or dwelling.

In the Targum of Joshua 2:1 (cf. Josephus, Antiq. v. 1. 2) Rahab is called an innkeeper. Perhaps she combined this occupation with her profession as harlot, a thing which happened occasionally in Rom. times. It is interesting to note the word used in the passage referred to as well as the Rabbinic words for “inn” are of foreign origin, coming from the Gr. πανδοχει̂ον, G4106, and the Lat. hospitium. This may indicate that the organized inn was perhaps an importation into the Near E. It is common knowledge that inns existed in Gr. times and throughout the period of the Rom. empire. Generally they were considered bad, the traveler being subject not only to discomfort, but also robbery and even death. For this reason, wealthy people who traveled maintained their own deversoria (lodging houses) along the route, or stayed with friends on a reciprocal basis. Inns sometimes were managed independently, sometimes by the slaves or freedmen of the owner of a nearby villa.

According to the NT, the term κατάλυμα, G2906, signifies a “place to loose one’s burdens.” When Mary and Joseph discovered that “there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7), one should not think of anything resembling a hotel. More likely they found themselves in some sort of village guest house. Indeed, the same word is used to describe the upper room where Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). In the story of the good Samaritan, the term used is πανδοχει̂ον, G4106, (“all-receiving,” Luke 10:34). An innkeeper is mentioned who is paid to provide food and lodging for the man who was left in his care. Something more like an inn, the modern sense is in view in this passage. If one may judge from the Khan Hathrur, located today midway between Jerusalem and Jericho, the inn of Jesus’ day perhaps consisted of a large building, with an arched doorway opening into a spacious courtyard with a well in the center.


Oxford Classical Dictionary; IDB.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(malon; pandocheion, kataluma):

1. Earliest Night Resting-Places:

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:

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 Jud 21:19), and Khan Chadrur, midway between Jerusalem and Jericho. This last certainly occupies the site of the inn referred to in Lu 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 (Lu 9:12; 19:7) makes his meaning clear. In the Septuagint, indeed, malon is sometimes translated kataluma, and it appears in 1Sa 9:22 for lishkah, the King James Version "parlour." It is the word used of the "upper room" where the Last Supper was held (Mr 14:14; Lu 22:11, "guest-chamber"), and of the place of reception in Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary failed to find quarters (Lu 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 (Lu 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.