As told by Mary
Editor’s Note: As noted with the Annunciation fragment, the following was found in a clay jar inscribed “Letters from Cousin Mary”. My source says they are in poor shape, hard to restore and hard to read. This is the second story he/she has been able to read and translate.
I told you that my folks were freaked out by my pregnancy, but what was worse was a visit to our town by one of those itinerant preachers, this one promising to establish a “New Morality”. So, of course, all those busybodies who don’t have a life or a clue about anything really got into this and started working overtime to cleanse our town of its sluts and loose women (note that, somehow, evil was to found only among the females of the population).
My family panicked. “Mary, as soon as you start to show, they will stone you to death. Already, they are snooping about, seeking out the monthly blood. We need to get you out of here right away.”
“But my baby is not a child of sin; he is God’s baby,” I said.
“They won’t understand that,” they said. “They will just see that you are pregnant and not married. You must save yourself and your child. We have relatives in Judea; you must find them and seek shelter with them.”
The old “extended visit to the relatives” tale is usually trotted out to spare the family of the shame of a pregnant, out of wedlock daughter, but in my case it was to spare my life. I couldn’t keep my promise to God if I died and my baby with me, so I left for Judea with a party of traders. Judea was familiar because we have been to the Temple several times, but I could not find the cousins I was told to ask about. I was left to my own devices after the traders took off for Egypt or the East.
Fortunately, there are a lot of fine people in Judea, and ironically,the most generous are not those who have the most, but those with the least. It was among them that I found shelter. I did what I could to help out, from fieldwork to housework, but still they had to share their meager stores of food and their cramped little houses; they insisted it was no sacrifice. Most of all, they opened themselves up to me and treated me as one of their own family. They saw that I was getting really lonesome, especially for my mother. I really wanted her to be with me when the baby was born.
The actual birth of Joshua was without much warning. All of us, men, women, and children were out working in the pastures because it was lambing time. Right out there my water broke and I went into quick contractions. The women did not think they could get me back to the village in time, so we took shelter in a little stable cut into the hillside. They shooed the animals out and spread fresh straw around. I wanted to lie down because of the pain, but they insisted that I stand, or rather squat while they held me up. Supposedly, the labor was faster and less painful that way. Yeah, right. “O God,” I cried out. “I’m doing this for you. Can’t you help out a little bit?” “Hush”, they said. “He doesn’t understand.”
Despite the pain, I can’t tell you what joy I felt when I saw my little baby boy for the first time. I tried to tell the shepherd women “This is God’s child.” They only said, “Yes, all children are God’s children.” They’re right, of course, but in my own heart I felt God was responding to my promise by giving me a healthy baby. “I haven’t forgotten my promise, God”, I said. “This firstborn I am dedicating to you in a very special way.”
Then the women let the men and the children in to see the baby. All of the people broke into songs of gratitude and praise for the new life among us. You would have thought it was choirs of angels singing. They sing very beautifully; that’s how they pass their time watching over the sheep in the pastures.
A band of ragged fortune tellers from the East happened by. They made predictions about how strong this child would grow up to be and how proud I would be of him, and then they, too, shared their humble possessions, giving me a small jar of ointment, some incense, and a couple of shekels. They said they were on their way to tell fortunes for the rich and powerful of Israel. You know who I mean, the ones who not only sold out to the Romans but were also picking up the vile Roman practices of soothsaying and astrology.
The women of Bethlehem have a unique ritual for the Purification. There is a little hot spring close to the stable, and there they have carved a small tub out of stone. New mothers sit in the hot water while the women sing songs from some ancient people – no one knows what the words mean anymore, just that they were told by their mothers that the spring and the songs were here long before Moses led us to the promised land. They let me sit in there a long time each day. It was great!
I took Joshua up to the Temple to present him as a firstborn, as the law requires, but also because he was to be specially dedicated to God. The priest asked, “Where’s your husband?” I said “I have no husband.” He said “you ought to have been stoned”, and turned away. There were two holy people there, Anna and Simeon, who saw this and told me they knew my baby was to be the redeemer of Israel. They gave him their blessings. For once, what Luke reports to be their prayers is right. He copied them exactly as I told him, even the part about my own soul to be pierced.
I’m out of papyrus, so that’s all for now. Take care.