This Sunday we will hear Matthew 2:13-23, the passage that tells of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’s escape into Egypt when King Herod plotted to kill them. To accompany my painting, I offer this retelling of stories of the Flight Into Egypt, drawn from the apocryphal Gospel of pseudo-Matthew.
The Flight into Egypt, as told in The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
After the wise men had come from the East and visited Jesus and his family, King Herod heard rumors of the Messiah’s birth. He gathered the priests and wise men and asked them to tell him where Jesus had been born. Learning that it was in Bethlehem, he sent soldiers to the region with orders to kill all the male children who were two years of age or younger. But an angel appearred to Joseph in a dream and told him to rise and take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt before the sun rose. He woke them, and as they went they gathered other children, as many as they could, in the hopes of saving them. There were at least three boys and a girl with them as they traveled.
On their journey, they came to a cave, and Mary got down from the donkey she was riding on to rest and to nurse her baby. Suddenly a slew of dragons emerged from the cave, and the children who were traveling with the Holy Family cried out in great terror. But the infant Jesus climbed down from his mother’s lap and stood in front of the dragons, and the dragons fell to their knees and adored him.
Lions and panthers likewise adored him, and accompanied them on their journey, showing them the way and bowing their heads in submission, while wagging their tails with great reverence. They didn’t hurt the donkeys or the oxen that were part of the baggage train, and wolves came and joined the procession, and hurt nothing and no one.
As they crossed the desert, Mary was fatigued, and, seeing a palm tree, asked Joseph if they could rest in its shade. While they were resting, Mary looked up at the palm tree and said, “Joseph, look how laden with fruit it is. I wish it was possible to eat some of that fruit.”
Joseph said, “That tree is so tall that no one can reach the fruit. I’m more worried about water. Our water skins are almost empty.”
Jesus looked up from Mary’s lap and spoke to the palm tree. “O tree, bend your branches, and refresh us with your fruit.” Immediately the tree bent its top down to the very feet of the his mother, and they gathered fruit from it, and ate, and were refreshed. The tree remained bent, waiting for Jesus to order it to rise, and Jesus said, “Raise yourself, good tree, and be strong, and be a companion to the trees in paradise. And open from your roots that secret spring that has been nourishing you from deep within the earth, and let the waters flow, and let us drink.” The tree rose again into the sky, and water began to flow around its roots. It was clear and cool and sparkling, and the travelers rejoiced, and drank, and were satisfied.
After that they came to Egypt, and they stayed there until an angel came and told them that it was safe for them to return to Judea.
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I like how the donkey has a hallo. Composer John Adams set the story of the palm tree in part of his Christmas oratorio.