|'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' by Bonifazio de Pitati (1487– 1553)|
|The Flight into Egypt by Battista Dossi and Dosso Dossi, c.1530, with two donkeys!|
Both accounts were written over 60 years after the events, and by men, so there is no mention of the things women might be interested in. How long was the labour? Did it start while they were travelling the 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem? The journey would have taken them at least four days on foot. As a carpenter, Joseph could well have owned a donkey for carrying his tools and timber. Christmas cards often depict Mary on a donkey out of sympathy for her predicament as a full-term primigravida, though she might have walked all the way.
As Joseph came originally from Bethlehem, he probably had relatives living there. Joseph’s mother, sister or an aunt may have accompanied Mary through her labour, cut the umbilical cord and disposed of the placenta. Jesus was then ‘laid in a manger’ - a net or wooden box containing hay for cattle – a prickly place for a baby! A manger (from the French word ‘to eat’) can be attached to a wall, a practical way of keeping a new-born baby safe from dogs and draughts while Mary was sleeping.
Bethlehem is at a high altitude and it could have been very cold, so Mary would have kept her new baby close to her body most of the time. We don’t know if they stayed in the stable for the 40 days Mary had to wait for her purification, a time of post-partum bleeding, or lochia. Hopefully, Joseph’s female relatives provided Mary with the necessary cloths which she then washed, and hung up to dry?
Matthew next tells of wise men from the East who visited the new baby, and warned his parents to return home by a different route, as King Herod wanted to kill the baby. Sometime after they returned to Nazareth, Joseph was warned in a dream to take the child to safety in Egypt. They left immediately by night, becoming refugees.
Matthew’s account does not say when they had to flee to Egypt, but King Herod had ordered all boys under two years old to be slaughtered – indicating Jesus must have been about 20 months.
|As the many depictions have imagined the holy refugees,|
Jesus was probably still being breastfed.
|Giotto Bondone was one of many major artists who depicted the Flight from Egypt.|
|Illustrated Bibles of my childhood, as depicted by Scott Orr circa 1930.|