Inn

Concise Bible Dictionary:

We read of the inn as early as Genesis 42:2727And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack's mouth. (Genesis 42:27) and Genesis 43:2121And it came to pass, when we came to the inn, that we opened our sacks, and, behold, every man's money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand. (Genesis 43:21), when Jacob sent to Egypt for corn. As the word malon signifies simply “lodging place,” at first nothing more may be implied than a place near water, where travelers usually rested. It would soon have been found that persons traveling long distances needed protection and some better resting place at night, which led to such places being provided at certain stations. Those known in the East were merely enclosures walled round for security, with covered compartments attached to the walls, where travelers could recline, and place their goods. It was at an inn that Zipporah circumcised her son (Ex. 4:2424And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. (Exodus 4:24)).
In the New Testament when the Lord was born, the word for “inn” is κατάλυμα, which is translated “guest-chamber” (Mark 14:1414And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? (Mark 14:14); Luke 22:1111And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? (Luke 22:11)); and may refer to a lodging house. Travelers have found such accommodation, and at times cattle occupied part of the house, which might account for a “manger” being found there. In Luke 10:3434And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:34) the word is πανδοχεῖον, “a house for the reception of strangers,” a road-side inn. As there was a “host” to whom the injured man was committed, it was doubtless a better place than a Khan.

From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

Luke 2:77And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7). She brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
1. The “swaddling clothes” were bandages which were tightly wrapped around a new-born child. The rank of the child was indicated by the splendor and costliness of these bands. A fine white shawl, tied with a golden band, was sometimes used for the purpose; at other times a small purple scarf fastened with a brooch. The poor used broad fillets of common cloth.
The practice is still followed in the East. Miss Rogers, an English lady, who had opportunities far beyond ordinary travelers for observing the domestic life of the Eastern people, describes the appearance of an infant thus bandaged: “The infant I held in my arms was so bound in swaddling-clothes that it was perfectly firm and solid, arid looked like a mummy. It had a band under its chin and across its forehead and a little, quilted silken cap on its head with tiny coins of gold sewed to it. ‘the outer covering of this little figure was of crimson and white striped silk; no sign of arms or legs, hands or feet, could be seen” (Domestic Life in Palestine, p. 28). This was in Jaffa. Another infant which she saw in Bethlehem is thus described: “I took the little creature in my arms. His body was stiff and unyielding, so tightly was it swathed with white and purple linen. His hands and feet were quite confined, and his head was bound with a small, soft red shawl, which passed under his chin and across his forehead in small folds” (p. 62). This custom is referred to in Job 38:99When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, (Job 38:9); Lamentations 2:2222Thou hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the day of the Lord's anger none escaped nor remained: those that I have swaddled and brought up hath mine enemy consumed. (Lamentations 2:22); Ezekiel 16:44And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. (Ezekiel 16:4); Luke 2:1212And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (Luke 2:12).
2. There is a dispute as to the precise meaning of the word φύτνη here and in verses 12 and 16 rendered “manger,” and in Luke 13:1515The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? (Luke 13:15), rendered “stall.” Some authorities give it the one meaning, and some the other; while others, as our translators, attach both meanings to the word. It is the Septuagint rendering for the Hebrew ebus in Job 39:99Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? (Job 39:9), and in Isaiah 1:33The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. (Isaiah 1:3); a word which, in our version, is translated “crib.” The location of the manger or the stall is also a point of discussion; whether it was connected with the stable belonging to the inn, or with some other stable in the neighborhood, as, for instance, in some cave nearby. Caves, we know, were used for dwellings (see note on Genesis 19:3030And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters. (Genesis 19:30), #18) and are so used at this day, and also for stables. The discussion is interesting, but is not pertinent to the object of this book. It is proper, however, to remark, that in many rude houses horses and cattle are stabled in the court, while the family are provided for in apartments raised on a platform of stone some two feet from the level of the court. The food of the animals is placed on this platform, and sometimes there are hollow places in the stone which serve the purpose of mangers. See further in the description of the inn in the next paragraph.
3. The Eastern “inn,” or caravanserai, bears no resemblance to the inns with which we are acquainted. There are various kinds of these Oriental inns, some being merely small, rude resting-places, such as are mentioned in the note on Jeremiah 9:22Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. (Jeremiah 9:2) (#540), while others are capacious and comparatively comfortable. Such an inn presents, at a distance, the appearance of a fortress, being a quadrangular building about a hundred yards long on each side of the square, having its wall about twenty feet high. An arched gateway, surmounted by a tower, opens into a large open court, surrounded by a platform, on the level of which are the travelers’ rooms. These rooms are not furnished, each traveler being expected to provide for himself everything but actual shelter. He must carry his own bedding, provisions, and cooking utensils. In case of sickness the porter in attendance may minister to his wants. See Luke 10:34, 3534And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. (Luke 10:34‑35). The horses, camels, and baggage are placed in the extensive court, in the center of which is a fountain. Sometimes, however, there are stables formed of covered avenues, extending between the rear wall of the lodging-rooms and the external wall of the caravanserai, the entrance being at the corners of the quadrangle. These stables are on a level with the court, and thus below the level of the platform on which are the travelers’ apartments. This platform, however, projects into the stable, thus forming a ledge or bench above the stable floor. On this ledge the cattle can, if they wish, rest the nose-bags of haircloth which contain their food. Dr. Kitto thinks that it was in such a stable as this that our Lord was born. See Daily Bible Readings, vol. 7, p. 63.