Thursday, 21 August 2014

Birth of the Divine Child as a Universal Theme

Janamashtami led me to reflect on the universality of the theme of the birth of the Divine Child. 

Jewish Story

 A similar story is told in the Old testament of the Jewish Bible about the birth of Moses.  At that time, the Jews were enslaved in Egypt.  They slaved day and night to build Pharoah’s pyramids.  Starved, beaten, they laboured in the hot sun, making bricks of straw and mud, hauling heavy materials and obeying the commands of cruel overlords.  If any fault was found, they could be whipped and punished in many ways.  They prayed and yearned for deliverance from this slavery.
At that time, a priest foretold that a Hebrew boy would one day kill him.  As it was, the Egyptians were already concerned about the growing population of Jews, that one day they might rise up and become politically powerful. The prophecy persisted and the rumour spread that the Hebrews were waiting for a Messianic deliverer.  Pharoah then ordered them to be treated even more ruthlessly. Finally, in response to the prophecy of the oracle, he ordered that every Hebrew boy be killed – be thrown into the Nile river.  Girls could be spared.

A woman from the Jewish tribe of Levi named Jochebed, gave birth to a son and hid him for three months.  When she realized that the danger was too great – that he might be discovered and killed, she made a small basket out of papyrus and pitch and floated the basket in the reeds of the Nile river.  His sister, Miriam, watched the basket from a distance to see what was happening to it. In time, the Pharoah’s sister was seen wading into the Nile. 
She spotted the basket and sent her servant to fetch the basket. When she discovered the child, he was crying and she felt sorry for him. She was also secretly delighted – as if the gods had granted her wish for a child, so she kept him as her own.  Realizing that he was a Hebrew child, she asked her servant to find a Hebrew woman to nurse him.  Thus Jochebed was brought and given the child to nurse until he was weaned.  The child was named Moses – “one whom I have drawn from the water.”  She raised him in the palace as an Egyptian prince.  

Christian Story

The universal theme is repeated in the New Testament of the Christian faith.  When Jesus was born, the Magi who came to honour him, asked King Herod who was the Roman-appointed ruler at the time, where they could find the King of the Jews.  Fearing that he could lose his throne to a King of the Jews,  he ordered that all young male children of the Hebrews be killed. This assault on the male children of the Hebrews is often called The Massacre of the Innocents and is depicted as such in art.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.  Many stories are told about their flight and sacred sites are found along the way. After some time, upon hearing of the death of King Herod, the holy family returns to Israel.

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