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The road to Bethlehem



BBC correspondent Aleem Maqbool explains his motivation for retracing the Christmas journey made by Joseph and Mary in the New Testament.

Aleem Maqbool and his donkey
For all the sacred places in this region - Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho - it is the land in-between where you can often feel most connected to history.

The hills and valleys have played a part in so many of the stories that still shape the lives of millions around the world today.

Whether you believe Mary and Joseph's walk ever took place or not, most of us became familiar with the story at a young age.

Many of us are even scarred by embarrassing moments acting in school nativity plays - or perhaps that is just me... I once played a sheep.

If it did happen, the journey of around 150km (93 miles), along Roman roads and dirt tracks, is likely to have been an arduous one, particularly for a heavily pregnant woman.

What does not get included in the nativity plays, is the probability that the couple also faced hostility from Samaritans who lived in what is now the northern West Bank.

Complex land

Of course, there are new difficulties today. The supposed route goes through areas of continued conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Army incursions, militancy, and checkpoints manned by soldiers are commonplace, and all have the potential to interrupt my journey.

Still, the notion of a walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem is, for me, a romantic one.

When I have told people here what I intend to do, they have generally seemed quite amused, but understand that it is a vehicle to tell modern day stories along this ancient route.

It will hopefully help me to get to know at least a little bit more about this complex land through getting to hear people's stories on the way.

For carrying daily provisions and equipment, a donkey seemed as practical a solution now as it might have done two millennia ago, and will, of course, be an added connection to the tale that inspired the journey.

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