Over the next month, I'll be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model, a large papercraft crèche that you can find and download here:
Though the apocryphal Gospel of James doesn’t dwell on the medical details save for the description of a bright light accompanying the delivery, future books do, and Jesus goes from being “born” in the traditional sense to either phasing through Mary or beaming out of her, Star Trek-style, depending on the source.
The midwife, having witnessed temporarily intangible nightlight Jesus appear in this manner, runs out of the cave and encounters Salome, whose relationship with the midwife isn’t fully articulated. Is she a friend? An acquaintance? A relative, maybe? I kind of like the idea that she’s a nosy neighbor frenemy.
Anyway, the midwife tells Salome about Jesus’s miraculous conception, and Salome ain’t buying. So we get a scene that’s basically narrative apologetics for the Virgin Birth: The midwife, alerting Mary to the fact that she’s a subject of “great controversy” (highlighting the symbolic nature of this tableau; two people who’ve been talking about something for forty seconds do not a great controversy make), asks Mary to “show herself,” and Salome checks for a hymen.
Salome’s hand then withers up and seems likely to fall off, which I consider pretty darn fair payout for anybody keen on subjecting someone to the humiliation and discomfort of a physical virginity test, though contextually it’s Salome’s doubt, not the act, that causes it. Salome, freaked out and in pain, cries up to God to forgive her for doubting, and reminds him of how good a person she is. An angel appears and tells her to hold baby Jesus, which she does, and is cured.
Salome served a very important narrative role for early church followers, which was to give a scene in which the met-with-skepticism-Virgin-Birth is directly addressed not by pronouncements but by hard proof (albeit internal anecdotal proof).
I considered drawing her screaming at her dying mummy hand, but I thought it might pull too much from the hopeful solemnity of the crèche scene. Also, because the notion of a hymen being evidence of virginity is, biologically, an errant one (and one that I think has a negative social impact for both genders), I didn’t want any parents to have to explain it to their youngsters, probably necessary given its centrality to this particular story.
Unrelated, today is my thirty-fifth birthday.
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