The First Bath

Shepherds, magi, the ox and the ass… how can you say anything new about the Christmas scene? Through much of Christian history, there was actually a lot more to the story, mainly derived from the second century “Infancy Gospel of James,” the Protevangelium. This told elaborate stories of the birth, many involving the midwife, Salome.

The Protevangelium dropped out of use quite early in the West, although its influence survived in several more or less plagiarized versions. But in the eastern churches, the stories remain as popular as ever, and were often represented in icons.

And here is one of my favorites. Jesus was born, and was worshiped, and then… well of course, he needed a bath. How could Western churches have forgotten something so basic? Were those Western works written by men?


This image is from a twelfth century fresco from Cappadocia, in modern Turkey. (It is in the Public domain – see here for details).

To see some other images, go to Google Images and check out “Salome midwife bath”. There are some lovely examples.

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  • MesKalamDug

    The Protevangelium is closer to the image of Jesus in the Qur’an than the gospels
    but there is still a gap. We don’t know how the Qur’an came to its odd ideas about

    Off Topic but I may forget to mention it. Early Islam preserved a number of saying attributed to Jesus – none of which, so far as i know, are preserved in the Christian tradition. The big collection is in al-Ghazzali but Malik ibn Anas has a couple.

  • philipjenkins

    I actually wrote about those Muslim Jesus sayings here:

  • MesKalamDug

    Great. I have seen a collection of them online by a Muslim who believed that al-Ghazzali found an Aramaic collection and translated them. This is surely wrong

    because of the saying in the Muwatta (Malik ibn Anas). One of Malik’s sayings
    was repeated by al-Ghazzali. So far as I know these are the only two Islamic sources were the saying are attributed to Jesus. They are certainly do not presume Islam.

    Malik wrote before it was requires that “all” hadiths be traced back to Muhammad
    and al-Ghazzali appears to have ignored all the scholarly hadith science. But it
    is remarkable that the saying survived Shafi’i’s revolution. Perhaps al-Ghazzali did work from an older manusript – but more likely an Arabic one.

    I agree about their compatibility with Christian thought.