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Imagining the FetusThe Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture$
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Jane Marie Law and Vanessa R. Sasson

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195380040

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195380040.001.0001

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The Leaping Child: Imagining the Unborn in Early Christian Literature

The Leaping Child: Imagining the Unborn in Early Christian Literature

(p.157) The Leaping Child: Imagining the Unborn in Early Christian Literature
Imagining the Fetus

Catherine Playoust

Ellen Bradshaw Aitken

Oxford University Press

Christian literature of the first and second centuries CE contains few references to unborn children; where they are found, however, the unborn become an important rhetorical site for constructing relationships between competing religious groups. The Gospel of Matthew’s genealogy for the unborn Jesus provides him with a rich and contended heritage that displays his destiny as well as his origin. In the Gospel of Luke, the narrative of the joyful recognition of the unborn Jesus in Mary’s womb by the unborn John the Baptist establishes not only the relationship between Jesus and John as adults but also the place of John’s disciples within the Christian movement. The second-century Protevangelium of James tells of Mary’s perception of “two peoples” in her womb, one lamenting and the other rejoicing; these “peoples” signify divergent social and religious responses to Jesus. The practices of joy and lamentation as projected onto the unborn provide a means for negotiating religious differences and shaping a genealogy of religious origins.

Keywords:   Gospel of Luke; Gospel of Matthew, Protevangelium of James, Jewish-Christian relations, infancy narratives, lamentation, joy, unborn Jesus, John the Baptist, Virgin Mary, early Christian self-definition, religious competition

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