Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Joseph saw

In the Ethiopic birth narrative, The Road to Bethlehem, Joseph went off to find a midwife "and as he went along the road, the earth trembled, and the oxen and sheep stood looking up into heaven." This is a brief reference to miraculous events accompanying Jesus' birth.

According to the Protevangelion of James, this is what Joseph saw:

XVIII. I And Joseph found a cave there and brought Mary into it, and set his sons by her: and he went forth and sought for a midwife of the Hebrews in the country of Bethlehem.

2 Now I Joseph was walking, and I walked not. And I looked up to the air and saw the air in amazement. And I looked up unto the pole of the heaven and saw it standing still, and the fowls of the heaven without motion. And I looked upon the earth and saw a dish set, and workmen lying by it, and their hands were in the dish: and they that were chewing chewed not, and they that were lifting the food lifted it not, and they that put it to their mouth put it not thereto, but the faces of all of them were looking upward. And behold there were sheep being driven, and they went not forward but stood still; and the shepherd lifted his hand to smite them with his staff, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the stream of the river and saw the mouths of the kids upon the water and they drank not. And of a sudden all things moved onward in their course.

What Joseph saw is the miraculous effects of Jesus' birth on nature in which what normally happens is suspended. This is a way of speaking about the virgin birth to which the fleeting reference in the Ethiopic story alludes. In the icon of my previous post, the shepherd reports these astonishing event to Joseph since he had seen the sheep and tried to use his staff. (I must acknowledge with gratitude help from Prof. Diane Apostolos-Cappadona on this point).

These two posts show that two details in an Ethiopic story of Jesus' birth belong to what we would call noncanonical material. However, the Ethiopic canon of scripture contains many more books than our canon. It is probable that The Road to Bethlehem also includes oral traditions found also in the Protevangelion of James.

1 comment:

Rev Dr Mom said...

I love this story...I love that everything stopped for a moment when Jesus was born, and I love that Joseph went and looked for a midwife for Mary--obviously he didn't find one in time, but at least he looked!

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