Did Mary really ride a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem?
She was likely riding a donkey-dragged wooden cart.
Joseph could not afford a sacrificial lamb, implying, he also could not afford expensive transports, such as horse, ox, camel, and dromedary. The most common and cheapest transport animal among commoners in his time was ass or donkey. From this social setting only, you got an image that Mary rode a donkey.
However, we need consider Joseph profession as a carpenter.
Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? (Matthew 13: 55)
As a carpenter, he had ability in making a wooden cart, which he used to transport raw woods or trees from forest or market(s) to his workshop and his final wooden products from his workshop to market(s) or to his customers. Big wooden products, such as cupboards, doors, tables, etc. needed a cart to be transported.
Combining social setting and Joseph profession, we got an image of donkey-dragged wooden cart.
Mary possibly rode his donkey-dragged cart to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem and, then, to Egypt.
Another reason for this picture: there was a greater risk of miscarriage for pregnant woman walking on foot or riding on donkey back from Nazareth to Bethlehem for 4-7 days. Riding a donkey-dragged wooden cart with soft pad (hays, clothes, pillows, etc) on it was more secure to her and her fetus.
This vehicle would be useful in their fled to Egypt.
1http://www.spiritualjourneys.org.uk/pdf/cwtravel.pdf; access May 31, 2015
2http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/view.cgi?n=340; access May 31, 2015
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