'Nativity' by Conrad von Soest
Jesus' birth in Nazareth
I'll be honest - this is one of my favorite paintings of the Nativity, probably because it shows the love this little family shares.
Mary cradles her newborn son as he strains up to kiss her, while Joseph coaxes a fire into existence so he can warm a little nourishing food for Mary.
The painting is sumptuous and homely at the same time - no mean feat for an artist.
What was the birth like?
Like the painting above, the real circumstances of Jesus’ birth were prosaic.
When Mary went into labor in Nazareth, she was the center of a tight little band of kinswomen and villagers: a midwife, her relatives and her friends. She knew what to expect, having seen other village women giving birth.
In primitive times, women hunched themselves over a hole hollowed in the ground, standing on bricks or stones placed at either side. They gave birth in a squatting position, with relatives and friends taking turns to support them under the arms.
In the Roman world there were special birthing chairs with a U-shaped hole in the seat and supports for the feet and back, but we have no way of knowing whether this latest medical technology had reached provincial little Nazareth.
Certainly you will not see such a contraption in the many idealized paintings of the birth of Jesus. This would have been far too confronting for the viewer – and male painters probably never even thought about the reality of giving birth anyway.
There were no modern pain-killers of course, but herbal remedies and massage were used.
If anything went wrong, the only thing a woman could count on was the skill of the midwife. Giving birth was a dangerous business, but a strong young peasant girl like Mary stood a good chance of survival.
As soon as the baby was born it was washed and wrapped in long bands of coarsely-woven linen (swaddling bands), which held the limbs of the baby firmly, though not tightly. These bands gave the baby a sense of security, confining it as it had been confined in the womb. We do much the same with modern babies when we wrap them firmly in a shawl.
Swaddling bands were also thought to promote strong, straight bones as the baby grew.
Babies in a small village like Nazareth did not wear diapers; they ‘went’ into small clay pots that the mother carried with her. The swaddling clothes on the baby at left do not cover its lower bottom.
Mothers quickly learnt to read the signals a baby sent when it was about to excrete, and since a baby virtually never left its mother’s side, this was easier than it would be now. This is still the common practice in many parts of the undeveloped world.
Once washed, the baby was presented to its waiting father, in this case Joseph. He 'named' the baby, calling him Jesus. By doing so, he accepted legal responsibility for this newborn child.
Other Online Bible Websites
Study famous and historical people, places, artwork and archaelogy of the Holy Bible online.
For more online Bible study resources and activities, visit the following websites:
www.bible-people.info - stories of the Bible's most famous men and women - Moses, Judas, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene and more
www.womeninthebible.net - all about Bible women, good and bad: Ruth, Deborah, Mary of Nazareth, Jezebel
www.bible-archaeology.info - archaeological evidence and the Bible - what can we prove?
http://www.bible-art.info/ - Bible paintings and artworks: Nativity, Resurrection, Esther, Martha and Mary
http://www.bible-topten.com/ - Top Ten heroes, bad women, ways to hell, young people, villains, murders, films
http://www.bible-architecture.info/ - more about houses, palaces, temples and fortresses
To search through all websites click HERE »