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There are claims that Jesus was a refugee. For example, Al Sharpton tweeted,

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According to the New Testament, was Jesus a refugee?

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    Uhhh...if you must, but I’d rather you not. But you’re the boss. :) As it stands, it would be closed in Hermeneutics.SE. – Der Übermensch Feb 5 '17 at 5:48
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    This is literally a question on definitions, not on facts. Closing. – Sklivvz Feb 5 '17 at 13:19
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    How is this opinion based? There are commonly accepted definitions of a refugee and it is not a matter of opinion whether or not Jesus fits these. – bon Feb 5 '17 at 15:28
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    @SalvadorDalin There is a huge amount of historical evidence that Jesus existed as a person. Whether he did any of the things the Bible claims he did is another question but it is widely recognised amongst historians that he was a real person. – bon Feb 6 '17 at 8:29
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    Being a reverend, pretty clear that Sharpton's context is the Bible story only, with no regard to historicity. – fredsbend Feb 6 '17 at 17:05
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Yes, Jesus is a perfect example of a refugee.

The Webster's 1828 dictionary defines refugee as:

  1. One who flies to a shelter or place of safety.

  2. One who, in times of persecution or political commotion, flees to a foreign country for safety; as the French refugees, who left France after the revocation of the edict of Nantz, and settled in Flanders and America; the refugees from Hispaniola, in 1792; and the American refugees, who left their country at the revolution.

Jesus, according to the Bible, meets both these definitions, because he was fleeing to escape the fact that Herod was planning to kill all male babies:

he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under (Matthew 2:16)

Others have recognized Jesus as a refugee:

Religion in Malawi (1987):

So the child Jesus was a refugee in Egypt. The reason for fleeing to Egypt has been pointed out in the quotation and that is, Herod wanted to kill Jesus and therefore Jesus had to find safety elsewhere.

Refugee Ministry in the Local Congregation (1992) :

Jesus Was a Refugee
In remembering that its Lord was once a refugee, the early Christian community of Matthew's Gospel was reminded of at least two central truths.

The Minister's Manual for 1993:

Shortly after his birth Jesus was a refugee child.

The Big Book about Jesus (1995)

Jesus became a refugee. (See Matthew 2:13-15.)

The National Christian Council Review (1981) :

According to the Matthean narrative, due to the decree of Herod, Jesus had to escape his wrath by running away to Egypt. Jesus is rendered a refugee at birth and we know very well the plight of a refugee — helpless and dependent.

The Ministers Manual: A Study and Pulpit Guide (1955)

Jesus became a refugee, hurriedly taken down into Egypt

International Journal of Religious Education (1941):

28 December
Theme: Jesus, a Refugee
Worship Center:
The picture "Flight into Egypt" by Rubens; or "Repose in Egypt" by Merson

The Presbyterian Magazine, Volume 7 (1857) :

The infant Jesus became a refugee from the bloody tyranny of men

So for at least 160 years people have recognized that Jesus, as described in the Bible, was a refugee.

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    @fredsbend The second definition says "in times of persecution" and regardless of Herod's motivation for the persecution, it was definitely a time of persecution. – DavePhD Feb 5 '17 at 3:46
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    @Brew Herod was king of Judea and Egypt was outside his kingdom en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_the_Great – DavePhD Feb 5 '17 at 3:59
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    @Brew Maybe in the sense that some of the people being called refugees today are not facing persecution to the same degree Jesus was. Some might be faced with persecution to the point of death, like ISIS persecuting Yazidis en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide_of_Yazidis_by_ISIL but not others. – DavePhD Feb 5 '17 at 4:09
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    All these sources are from the Bible, or Christian sources based on it. Is there independent confirmation from historical sources that Herod was really killing babies at the time? From a quick web search, it seems that even Christian sites admit that the answer is no. So the best we can affirm is that according to the Gospels, Jesus was a refugee. – Federico Poloni Feb 5 '17 at 8:47
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    I think an "According to the gospel" line should be added to the answer to focus it and prevent question about the historical accuracy of the Bible and Jesus. – SIMEL Feb 5 '17 at 12:09
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Sharpton is referring to the time shortly after Jesus' birth as detailed in the Bible. He and his family did flee to Egypt.

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph [Jesus' father] in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child [Jesus] and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
Matthew 2:13

I personally find the word "refugee" a bit of a stretch here. Jesus' family was fleeing a danger that was very specific to them, not a general danger such as war. Jesus did flee (or rather, his parents did while he was an infant) his homeland according to the Bible story, but I don't think the word refugee is a reasonable description.

Webster defines refugee as:

  1. One who flies to a shelter or place of safety.

  2. One who, in times of persecution or political commotion, flees to a foreign country for safety; as the French refugees, who left France after the revocation of the edict of Nantz, and settled in Flanders and America; the refugees from Hispaniola, in 1792; and the American refugees, who left their country at the revolution.

Considering Sharpton's propensity for political commentary, it's extremely likely the second definition is what Sharpton had mind. He was probably making a subtle commentary on the current Syrian refugee issue.

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    Whatever the current definition is, the 5 BCE definition would have been very different - if the word even existed. – hdhondt Feb 5 '17 at 2:19
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    UNHCR defines a refugee as someone fleeing conflict or persecution, seems like a perfect fit to me. – alex Feb 5 '17 at 2:25
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    Why don't you think it's a reasonable description? Are you thinking that it only refers to people en masse fleeing some situation, like the Syrian refugees? Lots of refugees flee because they are personally and specifically targeted by their governments or even their families, such as religious converts from many countries. – curiousdannii Feb 5 '17 at 3:51
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    @Brew refugees can be within their home country. As a historical example: "Large numbers of white refugees, also, left their homes at the same time with the negroes"; "In New Berne, where there are more than eight thousand colored refugees, but little more than three thousand eat government bread." books.google.com/… – DavePhD Feb 5 '17 at 3:53
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    @fredsbend: There's nothing in the Geneva Convention (the legally binding multilateral treaty regulating the rights of refugees) which states that a person who is individually persecuted cannot be a refugee. The threat from which a refugee flees can also be a very specific threat, it doesn't have to be "a general danger such as war". At least under the definition of "refugee" from the Geneva Convention, your understanding of the term is a misconception (and a potentially dangerous one, in my opinion). – Schmuddi Feb 5 '17 at 10:12

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