In 1945, ancient texts were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, which shed considerable light on religious thought. I thought you might like to hear from one of the unusual books that were discovered there. It was Jesus’ baby book, compiled by his Mother Mary. It must have been abandoned in Egypt when the family returned to Nazareth after their time as refugees in Egypt, but kept by faithful Jews until it ended up with the collection of scrolls at Nag Hammadi. This is how it goes:
PREGNANCY: I am pregnant! Me, a virgin! An angel said so. I don’t think everyone believes me! Mum is looking hurt and Dad is stony-faced.
FATHER: Joseph, a carpenter. Not best pleased at first, but he had a dream of an angel, and now he’s going with the flow. But it will be a quiet wedding, all things considered.
FIRST HOME: We had to come to Bethlehem for the census. Joseph’s relatives let us have the stable of their house so that we could have a bit of space for the baby.
LABOUR: I am NEVER doing that again. It was SOOO painful. It went on for hours! Joseph’s cousin Rebecca and Rachel the village midwife helped me. They were so kind.
WEIGHT: 6lb 9 ozs.
FIRST VISITORS: The baby was only 3 hours old when a bunch of unwashed shepherds arrived, straight from the fields. They were very kind, if a bit over-excited at having seen angels dancing in the sky and praising God. Gave me a lot to think about though.
CIRCUMCISION: Baby was circumcised on the 8th day. We gave him the name Jesus, as the angel had instructed. Great way to see in the New Year. We had a party. Roast lamb.
HOME LIFE: Joseph got some work, and we found somewhere more permanent to stay in Bethlehem while Jesus was little. I love being a mum, though it is exhausting sometimes.
CRAWLING: 8 ½ months. Clear the decks – this child is mobile!
FIRST STEPS: Jesus took a few steps at 11 months, but was so shocked by the experience, he didn’t try it again for a couple of weeks. Now he’s into everything.
OTHER VISITORS: Jesus was about 14 months old when a party of foreigners arrived in Bethlehem. I heard the local kids calling and cheering before I saw the visitors themselves. They had come a long way. I never got my head round where they had come from, different people were saying different things, and I didn’t like to ask. Some people said they came from Persia, but someone else said they had come from different places. They said they were magi and they studied the stars. Someone told me later that they were kings, but I wasn’t so sure about that. They said they had seen a star and knew that it meant that an important person had been born, a great king. (My baby, my Jesus – a great king!) They had been to Jerusalem and spoken to King Herod (of all people!) who had advised them to look for Jesus in Jerusalem. They had followed the star and it stopped over our home. They came in, and I made them a cup of peppermint tea. Jesus was toddling round. He was a bit shy at first, but curiosity got the better of him and he wanted to suss out the visitors. They took it in turns to pick him up and he played with their hats and odd things they presented from their pockets. They stayed in the village for a few days and then they set off for home. They decided not to go back via Jerusalem, but took another route.
GIFTS: The women of Bethlehem were so kind helping out with clothes and practical things. The shepherds brought a lamb, which was great. We roasted it for the circumcision feast. But the foreign magi brought the most amazing things: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Not necessarily the most practical things – except for the gold of course. Frankincense – they use that in the temple to burn before the altar, to take the sweet fragrance of our prayers to God. Myrrh is used for preparing bodies for burial – not much use to a small child at the start of life. Was it supposed to be some kind of omen? Were they saying that Jesus would need this himself? That was a bit creepy. Joseph got a good price for the frankincense and myrrh – the money was more useful to us.
BIG EVENTS: Joseph had another dream. An angel warned him that we should go, and go quickly. So we packed up and set off. I was a bit annoyed, to be honest. I didn’t want to go.
BAD NEWS: We travelled on the back roads. We stopped off in villages. Sometimes we picked up a bit of news. We heard that a troop of soldiers had gone to Bethlehem and they had killed all the baby boys. It made me realise – that could have been Jesus.
A NEW HOME: We are in Egypt now. Joseph has found some work – thank goodness he is so practical and can use his skills anywhere. And we used some of the money we got from the frankincense to get somewhere to live. But it isn’t easy. I am trying to learn the language. The people don’t seem to like immigrants, so we get a bit of abuse sometimes. When I go to the market, they won’t sell me the good stuff, only the vegetables that are wilting already. But King Herod has no power here and we are safe. And that is worth so much.
And that is where the Baby Book stops. There is so much more we would like to know about Jesus growing up, about his first words and the games he liked to play, but we shall never know. We can only imagine what it might have been like. There were things that were very similar to our own experiences, and some aspects that were very different. It wasn’t easy for Mary and the family. And life isn’t easy for many young families in our own day. Makes you think, doesn’t it?