Monday, July 16, 2018. Have a blessed day on this Feast of Our Lady!
noun ma·ras·mus \ mə-ˈraz-məs \
Popularity: Bottom 30% of words
Definition of marasmus
: a condition of chronic undernourishment occurring especially in children and usually caused by a diet deficient in calories and proteins
— marasmic play \-ˈraz-mik\ adjective
noun \ ə-ˈmək , -ˈmäk \
variants: or less commonly amuck \ə-ˈmək\
Definition of amok
: an episode of sudden mass assault against people or objects usually by a single individual following a period of brooding that has traditionally been regarded as occurring especially in Malaysian culture but is now increasingly viewed as psychopathological behavior occurring worldwide in numerous countries and cultures.
some hoodoo must be at work—I lost both sets of house keys
perhaps alteration of voodoo.
First known use: 1875
The following is an article I came across in my research on the White Shoulders fragrance and it’s history. It is one of my most favorite fragrances, as it was for my maternal grandmother.
I was mistaken that it was a fragrance created in the 19th century. It was, in fact, first produced at about the time of World War II.
This article is also a study in the marketing techniques of the time. Great use of Hollywood figures were utilized.
This article was first published in
WHITE SHOULDERS was launched by the design house of Evyan sometime in 1940s (dates vary from 1943 to 1949!). Very early on the Evyan company was apparently called by another name, albeit briefly- Hartnell. And so some of the older most original White Shoulders presentations are bottled under a Hartnell label. But soon enough the company was called Lady Evyan (and later, just Evyan) = Evelyn Diane Westall, the wife of company owner Dr Walter Langer. Evyan boasted at the time that White Shoulders (and their other perfumes) were prime examples of fine American perfumery. Everything, so it was told, was strictly produced in USA. So White Shoulders was meant to be the perfume to show that Americans could compete with the best of what was being produced in Europe (and specifically, in France). Now this was happening during the years of American involvement in WWII, feelings of patriotism were running high. Americans of the day wanted (and needed) to spend their luxury dollars at home. Indeed it is worth noting that prices for White Shoulders were initially set rather high- beginning around $3 at a time when many “fine” perfumes of that day offered products priced beginning at around $1.
Over time White Shoulders has remained very popular; it’s seen in both vintage and new formulations in thirft shops, antiques markets, modern drugstores and of course everywhere on-line. Although the perfume has changed hands from Hartnell/Evyan to Elizabeth Arden, the packaging- peach and lace, and later with a lovely feminine sillhouette- has remained and is familar to most American women. And there isn’t any mistake about why its become and stayed so successful- White Shoulders is an iconic fragrance. Actually it is probably the iconic American fragrance. Classified as a Floral Aldehyde, it is: beautiful, sweet, sexy, powdery, radiant, maternal, refined, approachable, fresh, gracious and warm but at it’s core.
I’ve owned cologne and perfume versions of White Shoulders from the Evyan years and have found them all to be very good. I can’t attest to the Elizabeth Arden version at all. For this review, I’m referring to the earliest Hartnell pure perfume version from my own collection. The original presentation of White Shoulders was packaged in round peach satin and cream lace powder style boxes. The bottles were square, decorated with vertically cut pinstripes alternating with plain glass stripes and topped by a stout round stopper. Ihe bottle I own was still tied up with it’s orignal peach satin bow and cord, wrapped in onion skin and as I peeled away, I was surprised to find a thick layer of beeswax under the onion skin. I’ve occasionally seen collectors reseal bottles with beeswax, but I didn’t realize it was used by the bottlers, too. I think now that I’ve probably come across some beeswax remnants before in opened older bottles, and not really known what the gunk was…However, in this case, it was easy to remove it cleanly and it seems to have prevented virtually any losses of the juice.
White Shoulders features a “joyful” opening – the nicely green and cool LOVT becomes positively juicy thanks to jammy banana notes (a delightful jasmine effect) that teases and whetts the pallet. The fresh smelling Neroli + rubbery, yummy Tuberose come together early and play especially well with the aldehydes, the whole creating a shimmering, nearly giddy opening.
At its heart, lilac and jasmine (supported by the rose) give White Shoulders a lush radiance. A very sweet Gardenia accord pronounces itself again and again throughout the mid-stages of wearing… that accord really underscores and characterizes this perfume for me. White Shoulders is very much what a classic Southern Belle would’ve worn (I picture Bette Davis wearing this while playing Jezebel- even though that movie dates 1938 and the perfume wasn’t released until at the earliest 1943). A nearly narcotic floral, saved from overdose by refreshing and cooling green facets that contrast well with the seductive animal tendencies and spicy heart; it would’ve suited Julie Marston to a tee.
The ending for the pure perfume is very, very rich. The base certainly gives the impression of a shoulder covered in a fine white powder of dry incense (orris, sandalwood, benzoin). But that lightness is perfectly set against darker shadows of musk, civet and oakmoss. The effect of the white flowers makes this a perfect perfume for wearing on warm summer nights. It sparkles and excites early on but in the end you’ll find you’re pleasantly subdued by the dry down….
White Shoulders movie poster – lapl.org
White Shoulders ad w/ Lilys- tradewithTony.com
pair of color ads- vintageadbrowser
pair of B&W ads devocanada and 237 (EBay sellers)
Bette Davis poster woodwins.org
Bette Davis still from dvdbeaver.com
The next offering in “word definitions” is one that has been on a slow boil for some time. There is nothing more annoying than to have something called by other names than the original.
I have seen the words, “emery board,” slowly slide into disuse for many years, and for no other reason than the beauty industry decided to exclude the correct name in their curriculum. Sort of like cursive being excluded from schools.
Word Definition: Emery Board
Origin of emery board
Source: Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
Bible, bless, blessing, Christ, Christian, Church, Colossians 3:14-15, enemies, enemy, Family, forgive, forgiveness, God, grateful, gratitude, Hate, Home, Love, Luke 6:28, Luke 6:35, obligation, pray, Prayer, providence, Psalms 139:23-24, Romans 5:8, thankful, Thanksgiving
By Brad Russell
Original Publication date: November 16, 2015
3 Prayers to Pray for Those Whom You are Not Thankful
When I was a teenager, my mother decided to try to start a new tradition at Thanksgiving. She made us all take kernels of corn and she passed around a bowl. We each placed the kernels in the bowl while telling “something or someone we were thankful for.”
Needless to say, as a brat of a teenager, I thought this was cheesy. Now, as a parent of two young girls, my wife and I constantly struggle to find ways to draw our children to moments of thankfulness when we find them constantly whining or complaining. We have to remind them of all the blessings of the Lord: our family, our church family, our home, God’s provision.
We struggle to remember even the most obvious of blessings in our lives. But I wonder… are we strategically and sufficiently teaching our children (and ourselves) to thank God for the difficulties, and even more so, the difficult people in our lives?
You know the type of people I mean: the ungrateful; the users; the selfish; the annoying; the complainers; the people who have hurt you; the people who have hurt those you love; the ones that are difficult to forgive; the people who never have a positive thing to say. They are the people about whom we complain, the people we often avoid, and definitely the people with whom we wouldn’t want to share a Thanksgiving meal. We all have those people in our lives that we are not thankful for. (By the way, if you don’t have a person like that in your life, it could be that you are that person for other people…just a thought.)
How should you pray for these people? How can you show gratefulness to God for His grace shown through these people? How can you be obedient to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:28 and “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”?
How can you pray for those for whom you are not thankful this Thanksgiving?
Here are three prayers you can pray this Thanksgiving and every day:
1. But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. –Romans 5:8
Thank God that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Remind yourself of the good news of the Gospel this Thanksgiving. The mercy that was shown to you is the mercy you are called to show to your enemies.
As Jesus said in Luke 6:35, when you love your enemies, you “will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
Praise God for loving you when you were (and are) ungrateful. Praise God that when you were evil, He set His love on you. Praise God that those people for whom you are not thankful are a perfect reminder of the mercy shown to you by an infinitely loving God.
2. Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! –Psalms 139:23-24
Thank God that only He can change the hearts of difficult people. And then pray that He would start with your heart. The truth is, we can all be a difficult, selfish, complaining wretch. What often annoys you about others is a vice you struggle with. How often do you find yourself complaining? How often are you quick to speak and slow to listen? How often do you have to be “right” as opposed to loving? Praise God for difficult people who often expose your own sin and weakness. And praise God that He is faithful to forgive and transform those who trust Him and submit to Him.
Now that you have examined your own heart and exposed your heart to the cutting and healing work of the Holy Spirit, you are ready to pray for God to expose the hearts and motives of those difficult people. You are now ready to pray for the supernatural work of God to change them.
3. And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. -Colossians 3:14-15
Thank God that these people are being used to make you more and more like Jesus.
Difficult people are used by God to produce patience. Difficult people are used by God to take you to the end of your own strength; to take you to your need for supernatural love, patience, and forbearance.
And, according to Colossians 3, the supernatural patience, love, and forbearance that comes from the Holy Spirit can and will produce peace, joy, and thankfulness.
The more God uses people to produce patience, love, joy, and peace in you, the more grace you will experience as He makes you more and more like Jesus. Praise God that these difficult people are part of God’s plan to bring you peace and joy.
This Thanksgiving consider starting a new tradition. Bring the most difficult people in your life before the Father. You and your family will always have to deal with difficult people. Embrace the work of God being done in your own hearts through them. And then, by God’s love, mercy, and grace produced in you, find ways to embrace them in prayer and service. Those difficult people may just be the greatest hidden blessings of God in your life.
Brad Russell is the husband of Jo Anny, father to Chesed and Charisa, and is Lead Pastor of Old Powhatan Baptist Church in Powhatan, VA. He has served in rural, suburban, urban, and overseas ministry settings for over two decades. He blogs at pastorbradrussell.com. You can also find him on Twitter @pastorbradopbc.
9 November 2016 – 13:59 GRAHAM PHILLIPS
On October 25th this year, the Vatican released a document that had remained in its secret archives for seven hundred years. It is the report of the official Church investigation into the activities of the Knights Templar in the early fourteenth century.
In October 1306, these crusader knights were found guilty of idolatry, blasphemy, and heresy, and their order was dissolved. Some were burned at the stake, others imprisoned, and most were stripped of their assets.
Astonishingly, this extraordinary document reveals how the Vatican enquiry found no evidence of wrongdoing. It was the Pope himself, Clement V, who directly intervened and declared the Templars heretics. The report appears to show that the pontiff was after their wealth, said to include priceless treasures once housed in the temple of Jerusalem and lost when the city was sacked in ancient times.
But despite the arrest and torture of leading Templars, and the wholesale seizure of their lands, nothing of this fabled hoard was ever found. Most historians doubt the existence of the Templar treasure.
However, my research suggests that one of the ancient relics they are said to have possessed may have been hidden in central Britain.
In the heart of England, close to Stratford-upon-Avon, famous as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, is the village of Temple Herdewyke, named after the Templars who once resided there. After the Third Crusade in the late twelfth century, these Templars returned from the Holy Land to build a chapel to house certain holy relics they claimed to have found. Many crusaders came home with items purportedly associated with early Judaism and Christianity, and with characters and events in the Bible, but the Temple Herdewyke knights are said to have discovered the most famous biblical artifact of all: the Ark of the Covenant. At least, according to local legend!
They certainly claimed to have found what appear to have been considered hallowed relics at the time.
Contemporary records of land and property holdings reveal that in 1192 the chapel housed certain objets sacrés – “sacred objects” – which the Templars had acquired in the Holy Land, including a large golden chest. This is exactly what the Ark of the Covenant was said to be.
According to the Old Testament, it was a large golden box, made to contain the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, lost when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 587 BC.
Although the Templars were rounded up in 1306, some evaded capture. Six hundred years later, a British historian suggested that they managed to survive in secret at Temple Herdewyke until 1350, when they were wiped out by the Black Death.
Jacob Cove-Jones, who lived in the area, not only believed they possessed the lost Ark, he also claimed to have discovered its secret hiding place. Having fallen out with fellow scholars for ridiculing his work, Cove-Jones refused to reveal his findings.
He intended to carry out an excavation of his own, but sadly it never transpired. In 1906 he contracted tuberculosis and decided to take his secret to the grave. Well, almost! Knowing he had only a short time to live, the eccentric historian left behind a bizarre epitaph. He designed a stained-glass window that he commissioned to be made and installed in a new church that was being built close to his home in the village of Langley.
Astonishingly, on his deathbed he announced that the window contained a series of clues to lead to where he was sure the Ark was hidden.
Most dismissed him as a crank, while others who attempted to crack the code gave up without success. I personally remain to be convinced that this Victorian scholar really did know where the Ark was hidden or, for that matter, whether the Templars ever discovered the Ark at all.
Nevertheless, Jacob Cove-Jones certainly seems to have believed it, and went to a great deal of trouble to leave his cryptic message. It was, I decided, likely that the window did hold clues to lead to something; if that was actually the lost Ark remains to be seen. It was certainly worth investigating this century-old Edwardian mystery.
Clues in the Epiphany Window
Completed in 1906, the year Cove Jones’s died, Langley chapel is one of the smallest churches in England, and the window in question is set into a side wall. Called the Epiphany Window, it depicts the three Wise Men visiting the baby Jesus on Epiphany, the twelfth night of Christmas between January 5 and 6. Matthew’s Gospel relates how three mystics from the East followed a miraculous star that led them to Bethlehem where Christ was born. According to Christian tradition, the Wise Men ultimately found Jesus when a rooster uncharacteristically crowed at midnight on top of the building where the child slept. The window scene shows the Wise Men holding their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, praising the baby held in his mother’s arms, while above them is the crowing rooster and the wondrous star.
Strangely, the stained-glass window did not depict the Ark. Why the Nativity, I wondered? The Wise Men were said to have found the baby Jesus by following a star. Might a star be Jacob Cove-Jones’s vital clue? Was the seeker being told to follow a star?
The Ark of the Covenant is indeed associated with stars: two of them, to be precise. The Bible describes the Ark as having figurines of two angels on its lid. They were said to depict the archangels Michael and Gabriel that, according to Hebrew tradition, were represented in the sky by the stars Benetnash and Mizar, the tail stars of what we now called the Big Dipper.
The stained-glass window did in fact appear to show two stars, one overlaid on the other, and right next to this design were the letters B and M, the very initials of these stars. If these celestial bodies were to somehow indicate the location of the hidden Ark, I needed to know both when and from where to observe them.
Does the Pheonix Point the Way?
The specific day, I decided, was revealed by the event portrayed in the window: Epiphany, on the twelfth night of Christmas. And the precise time was revealed by the rooster next to the star. It is said to have crowed at midnight. The location, it seemed, was indicated by two pertinent images in the scene. Between the letters B and M was depicted the fire bird, the phoenix, rising from the flames, and on top of a hill overlooking Temple Herdewyke there is a peculiar round tower called the Phoenix Beacon.
The central image in the Epiphany Window and the Phoenix Beacon it appears to represent. (Photography © by Graham Phillips)
In fact, the central image in the stained-glass window bears a striking resemblance to the tower, with its distinctive conical roof and castellated walls. It is represented as a container held by one of the figures, and upon it was another depiction of the phoenix, and the Latin words, “come and adore.” I was certain that Cove-Jones intended his seeker to observe the stars at 12 p.m. on Epiphany night, from the position of the tower. At that exact time, the two stars are low in the sky and, when viewed from the Phoenix Beacon, are pointing almost directly downwards to the foot of a hill on the horizon, specifically to a little village called Chapel Green.
Chapel Green is named after a medieval chapel that once stood there, but all that remains today is a Victorian drinking fountain standing beside the road. Dating from Cove-Jones’s time, it is a red-brick, rectangular structure, inlaid with an arched niche. It closely resembles a red-brick arch depicted in the window scene, right below the star design.
Convinced that this was exactly where the clues in the Epiphany Window were intended to lead, I organized a geophysics survey of the area, but although we discovered evidence of the original chapel, nothing made of gold or resembling the Ark appeared to be there.
Tragically, in 1949 the lane was widened and the ruins of the centuries-old chapel were destroyed. Perhaps the workmen involved had dug up whatever was there to be found. If it was the lost Ark, they kept it quiet.
At present, I am trying to discover who the workmen were, so I can trace their living relatives. Maybe – just maybe – someone in central England still knows the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant. The vessel famously described by Indiana Jones as “a radio for talking to God.”
A fuller account of this investigation can be found on Graham Phillips’ website: http://www.grahamphillips.net/ark/ark1.html
And in his book The Templars and the Ark of the Covenant.
Top Image: The Ark of the Covenant, as described in the Bible. (Picture from the cover of The Templars and the Ark of the Covenant by Graham Phillips, published by Inner Traditions • Bear & Company)
By Graham Phillips
* David Willey, 2007. “Vatican archive yields Templar secrets” BBC.co.uk [Online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7044741.stm
* David Van Biema, 2007. “The Vatican and the Knights Templar” TIME.com [Online] Available at: http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1674980,00.html
* Peter Popham, 2007. “How the Vatican destroyed the Knights Templar” Independent.co.uk [Online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/how-the-vatican-destroyed-the-knights-templar-395360.html
* Malcolm Moore, 2007. “Vatican paper set to clear Knights Templar” Telegraph.co.uk [Online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1565252/Vatican-paper-set-to-clear-Knights-Templar.html
Looking at my son one morning, gazing at his cellphone, I was reminded of a term that was popular in my day: navel-gazing. Now, when I checked the Urban Dictionary, it gave me today’s definition, without mentioning its origin. So, I will add it here:
Engaging in self-absorbed behavior, often to the point of being narcissistic.
“If she would stop navel-gazing, she would realize the light had turned green.” #self-absorbed #narcissistic #not humble #snooty #selfish by bryanr01 January 17, 2007
WORD ORIGIN: navel-gazing: During the 1960s and 1970s, yoga was becoming very popular in the United States, with young people. But all oldsters could see was youth wasting their time gazing at their navels, jabbing at one of the favorite meditational poses, the Lotus.
Aleppo, Angel, Annunciation, Aramaic, Bethlehem, Bible, c. 1500s, carol, cherry, Christ, Christianity, Christmas, Church, Crusades, England, English Midlands, faith, Family, God, Gospel, Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, History, Holy Land, hymn, Infancy Gospel of James, Jerusalem, Jesus, Joseph, literature, liturgy, Luke 2:4–5:, Mary, Matthew 1:20, Medieval, Middle East, Mystery Plays, Nativity, Sura 19.22–25, Syriac, tree
Mary Joan Winn Leith • 10/11/2016
JOSEPH was an old man,
And an old man was he,
When he wedded Mary
In the land of Galilee.
Joseph and Mary walk’d
Through an orchard good,
Where was cherries and berries
So red as any blood.
O then bespoke Mary,
So meek and so mild,
‘Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,
For I am with child.’
O then bespoke Joseph
With words so unkind,
‘Let him pluck thee a cherry
That brought thee with child.’
Then bow’d down the highest tree
Unto our Lady’s hand:
Then she said, ‘See, Joseph,
I have cherries at command!’
‘O eat your cherries, Mary,
O eat your cherries now;
O eat your cherries, Mary,
That grow upon the bough.’
—The Cherry Tree Carol (c. 1500)
Ever since I first discovered it in college, the “Cherry Tree Carol” has been one of my favorites. Its surprisingly risqué story line shines an unexpected light on the familiar Christmas Journey to Bethlehem from Luke 2:4–5: Joseph walking alongside the donkey and Mary, very pregnant, perched on its back. Creatively building on gospel narrative, the song fills in the gaps of the brief Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. How endearing and wholly human, that Joseph might have had trouble fully coming to terms with his wife’s mysterious pregnancy despite the angel’s reassurances (“…do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”) in Matthew 1:20! Mary and Joseph in the cherry orchard recalls, of course, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There, trouble with fruit led to big trouble for humanity, trouble that the baby in Mary’s womb will set right. In this somewhat feminist counter-story, a man is put in his place by a woman—with God’s full cooperation!
Mosaic of the Journey to Bethlehem from the Chora Church in Istanbul.
A visit to YouTube will yield an assortment of lovely performances, including a version discovered in Appalachia. While the Cherry Tree Carol blooms in cyberspace, however, its roots go deep and wide: from medieval England back to the 12th-century Crusader kingdoms and ultimately to early Christian communities of the Middle East who worshipped in Syriac, a liturgical (religious) form of Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Adherents of Syriac Christianity include a range of different denominations, but they have lived in the Middle East for 2,000 years. Today, facing the twin threats of ISIS and the Syrian civil war, the future of these ancient communities is in doubt. The beleaguered Syrian city of Aleppo in particular (see the Google city map) is home to many churches, from Syriac-speaking to Evangelical, whose congregations may never recover. Syriac Christianity, in particular, has generally flown under the radar of mainstream scholarship, although this is beginning to change. It now appears that the Cherry Tree Carol’s distinctive take on Joseph’s outspokenness at Mary’s pregnancy can be traced back to a unique feature of Syriac liturgy, one still operative in churches (if they survive) today, the dialogue hymn.
Churches in Aleppo, Syria
Like many carols, the “original” version of the Cherry Tree Carol comes from the Middle Ages. It appears in a set of Bible-based “Mystery Plays,” known today as the “N-Town Plays,” that were performed in the English Midlands around 1500. The Middle Ages may be the quintessential Christmas setting (yule logs, holly and ivy, wassailing!), but the inspiration for the magical fruit tree and Joseph’s bitterness is even older. Scholars generally identify the carol’s prototype in a ninth-century bestseller, the “Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew,” in which a date palm bows to Mary. This story, however, is set after Jesus is born, during the Flight to Egypt, and it is the infant Jesus who commands the tree to “bend thy branches and refresh my mother with thy fruit” when Mary grows faint. Variations on the miraculous fruit tree motif appear in a wide variety of sources, from Greek mythology to the Qur’an’s account of Mary and the birth of Jesus in Sura 19.22–25. On the other hand, nowhere in “Pseudo-Matthew” does Joseph utter a harsh word to Mary, not even when he finds Mary pregnant; Mary’s virgin companions, not Mary, face Joseph’s interrogation until the angel shows up to calm him down.
The most striking aspect of the Cherry Tree Carol is that Joseph is so disrespectful to the Virgin Mary. In the N-Town “Nativity” play, Joseph is quick to apologize, and the play passes on to its main subject, the birth of Jesus. Joseph’s bad attitude, however, is the sole topic of another N-Town play, “Joseph’s Doubt,” that was performed right after the “Annunciation” and before the “Nativity.” The play seems to have been popular; the two other leading medieval mystery play cycles, the York Mystery plays and the Wakefield Plays, also include versions. “Joseph’s Doubt” devotes 135 astonishing lines to back-and-forth between a distressed and angry Joseph and his increasingly anguished wife. Joseph’s scorn is unrelenting: “God’s child? You lie! God never played thus with a maiden! … All men will despise me and say, ‘Old cuckold,’ thy bow is bent.” Hearing of the angel’s visit to Mary, Joseph scoffs, “An angel? Alas for shame. You sin by blaming it on an angel … it was some boy began this game.” Helpless, Mary prays to God and the angel appears to set Joseph straight, at which point he apologizes abjectly, “I realize now I have acted amiss; I know I was never worthy to be your husband. I shall amend my ways and follow your example from now on, and serve you hand and foot.”
In the Bible, faced with Mary’s interesting condition, “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). No histrionics here. Joseph is rather more upset in the second-century apocryphal “Infancy Gospel of James”: “[H]e smote his face, and cast himself down upon the ground on sackcloth and wept bitterly,” demanding of Mary, “‘Why have you done this? … Why have you humbled your soul?’ But she wept bitterly, saying, ‘I am pure and I know not a man.’”Around the fifth century, however, this story line expanded into a full-fledged drama in the form of a Syriac Christian dialogue hymn sung in church by twin choirs—one singing the part of Joseph; the other, Mary—as part of the Christmas liturgy. One published version runs to well over 100 lines of dialogue. Joseph’s words often recall the later medieval “Joseph’s Doubt” plays, but in this Syriac drama, Mary holds her own and does not falter. She even proves herself an adept Biblical scholar: “You have gone astray, Joseph; take and read for yourself in Isaiah it is written all about me, how a virgin shall bear fruit.”1
How did a Syriac drama find its way to the medieval English Midlands? The likely answer is with Crusaders returning from the Holy Land in the 12th and 13th centuries. During the Crusades, relations between Western (“Latin”) Christians and Middle Eastern Christians began badly. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the Crusaders (the “Latins”) considered the indigenous Christians (Syriac and Orthodox) to be citizens of secondary status—no better in their eyes than Muslims or Jews. This view evolved as the Latins came to know the various indigenous Christian groups, particularly those from northern Syria whose leaders took care to make their interests known to the new rulers. Much productive interaction occurred between Latin, Orthodox (“Greek”) and Syriac Christians (with Muslims, too, but that is another story). Art historian Lucy-Ann Hunt has described the Crusaders’ growing “concern with language, rites, and customs” of the indigenous Christians and “sympathetic reception and transmission of eastern works of art.”2
How appropriate, since this is a Christmas blog, that some of the best evidence for cooperation between Crusaders and local Christians comes from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem! The Church was famously founded in the fourth century by Constantine and his mother Helena, but the existing wall mosaics and some of the barely visible column frescoes date to the 12th century. This is when the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenos forged an alliance with King Amalric of Jerusalem and sponsored a new decorative program in the Church of the Nativity. Interestingly, trilingual (Latin, Greek, Syriac) inscriptions in the church attest to both Byzantine-trained and local Christian artists. Furthermore, as Hunt notes, “While the Orthodox and Latin were the predominant communities, the ‘Monophysites’ [i.e., local Christians] were also represented at the Church of the Nativity.”3These days, Crusaders have a deservedly clouded reputation, but perhaps for one brief shining moment at Christmas in the Church of the Nativity they acquitted themselves as one would wish with open ears and hearts. I like to imagine “Latin” Crusaders hearing the Syriac Joseph and Mary dialogue performed at Christmas in the Church of the Nativity. Captivated by the hymn, they adopted and adapted it to become part of the developing English Mystery play tradition, a tradition we can thank for the Cherry Tree Carol.
Mary Joan Winn Leith is chair of the department of religious studies at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. At Stonehill, she teaches courses on the Bible and the religion, history and culture of the Ancient Near East and Greece. In addition, she offers a popular course on the Virgin Mary. Leith is a regular Biblical Views columnist for Biblical Archaeology Review.
1. Sebastian Brock, “A Dialogue Between Joseph and Mary From the Christian Orient,” Logos: Cylchgrawn Diwinyddol Cymru (The Welsh Theological Review) 1.3 (1992), pp. 4–11.
2. Lucy-Ann Hunt, “Art and Colonialism: The Mosaics of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (1169) and the Problem of ‘Crusader Art,’” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 45 (1991), p. 72.
3. Hunt, “Art and Colonialism,” p. 77.
Sura 19, “Maryam”: Lines 22–34 include the palm tree episode.