The Devil and Joseph

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Using this Romanian icon in yesterday’s post, we pointed out two figures who do not usually appear in Western portrayals of the Nativity: Salome and the midwife. Elsewhere in the illustration we can see those characters who are more familiar to us: the Magi journeying to Bethlehem, an angel announcing the birth to the shepherds, Mary, the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, and the ox and the ass. In the lower left is Joseph — but who is the mysterious dude talking to him? That would be the Devil.

What is the Evil One doing in a picture of the birth of Jesus? He is there to tempt Joseph to doubt the story of Mary’s virgin delivery. Joseph, we know, was initially troubled by his betrothed’s news of her pregnancy but was reassured in a vision. Here, again, he has to overcome his suspicions and live a life of faith.

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