A nativity wordcloud for the Protevangelium of James

This week’s seminar (Wednesday, 17th December) and wordcloud explore how the story of the nativity developed after Matthew and Luke wrote their accounts. It is within these later writings that we can begin to see the beginning of a merging together (or harmonising) of Matthew and Luke’s stories, an emphasising of certain themes and also the introduction of some of the elements that are so familiar to us from our Christmas cards and nativity plays.

This week’s wordcloud is of a piece of early Christian writing that many may not have heard about: the Protevangelium of James (Prot. Jas.), sometimes called the Infancy Gospel of James.

Prot. of James wordle
Wordcloud for Protevangelium of James 11-22 (click to enlarge)

The text has been taken from Chapter 11 (the Annunciation to Mary) to chapter 22 (the Slaughter of the Innocents). It is 2,476 words long and so is roughly the same length as Luke’s account. The text is based on the Roberts-Donaldson translation which can be found on the Early Christian Writings site.

Luke wordle
Luke’s account of the Nativity (click to enlarge)
Wordle for Matthew
Matthew’s account of the Nativity (click to enlarge)

Cick here to view wordclouds in Worcloud Gallery

EQUAL BILLING

In previous weeks we have explored how both Matthew and Luke use their accounts of Jesus’ birth to provide important narrative and theological/Christological cues for the reader. In other words, they are telling us this story so that we might better understand and be prepared for what is coming next. It is fair to say that the later or apocryphal writings (like the Prot. Jas.) tend to do the reverse. They assume that the reader is familiar with New Testament Gospels and seek to look backward, answering the questions that the earlier accounts raised… and, if our seminars are any reflection on this, are still being raised!

Comparing this week’s wordcloud with those of Matthew and Luke, one of the most immediate features is the prominence given to both Mary and Joseph in the Prot. Jas., underlining the way this text harmonises the New Testament accounts. Although Elizabeth still appears (much smaller) there is no sign of Zechariah whose importance to the story is more concerned with his role as high priest and who is killed by Herod following the birth of Jesus (ch. 23).

A further sign of harmonisation is the appearance of both royal terminology (Matthew) and that of the temple (Luke). The text retains Matthew’s story of Herod, the Magi, the star and the slaughter. However, it is Luke’s account of the annunciation to Mary by Gabriel (who is now also described as an archangel) that is included, rather than Matthew’s version featuring Joseph. In fact, Joseph doesn’t discover Mary’s pregnancy until she is in her sixth month (ch. 13).

There are a couple of words which some readers might be surprised about; Salome, midwife and cave (more about them later!). We can also note the first introduction of the perennial nativity play favourite, the donkey (top left).

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A Nativity wordcloud for Luke

The second of our Newman Advent Seminars (10th December 2014) will be exploring the nativity story from Luke’s perspective. We will be asking what was his contribution to the story with which we are so familiar from our Christmas cards and school nativity plays? Would he view the developments of ‘his’ story as positive or negative?

Alongside the seminars, we are creating a series of nativity wordclouds that, in a very visual way, display key words in each account; the most common being the most prominently displayed. This week, we are featuring the nativity according to Luke (click to enlarge).

Luke wordle
Luke’s account of the Nativity

 

The text used for the wordcloud is taken from the NRSV and covers Luke 1:5-2:52. This means the total number of words (2,450) is almost twice that used for last week’s Matthew wordcloud (see below). Although the Nativity story does not really begin until Luke 2:1, most of chapter 1 (excluding the preface; vv. 1-4) has also been included as it contains not only the account of the Annunciation (vv. 26-38), but (like Matthew’s genealogy) important theological and thematic cues that set the scene for the actual birth story.

As we noted last week in the wordcloud for Matthew’s account, care needs to be taken as translation issues, as well as other factors, can skew one’s reading. Nevertheless, as a bit of fun, wordclouds can be useful in pointing to general characteristics and identify possible avenues of exploration.

Wordle for Matthew
Matthew’s account of the Nativity
SOME DISTINCTLY LUCAN THEMES?

A quick comparison between the wordclouds of Matthew and Luke reveals a greater prominence to women’s names in Luke. Interestingly, although Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father) is fairly prominent, Joseph is much smaller (bottom right-hand corner beside ‘came’). Other interesting features is the fairly prominent use of ‘womb’ (κοιλία – which can also refer to ‘belly’ or ‘stomach’) which also might suggest the foregrounding of women and the part they play in this story (compare this with Matthew’s account). Both ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ feature strongly as does the characteristically Lucan ‘Spirit’ and ‘angel’.

Scanning the wordcloud reveals many more words that are typically associated with the ‘Christmas story’; ‘praising’, ‘festival’ , ‘peace’, ‘joy’ and even the perennial Christmas feature, ‘relatives’!!

CHRISTMAS AND THE TEMPLE

One of the questions we will asking on Wednesday concerns the place of the Temple in the nativity story (and the wider writings of Luke in his Gospel and Acts). Take some time to see how many words associated with the Temple and priesthood you can find in the wordcloud.

Come to the seminar on Wednesday (Newman University, 7.00pm) and explore with us some of these themes and more. Everyone is welcome and refreshments are provided. For more details click here.

ANOTHER WORDCLOUD NEXT WEEK

Next week we will be presenting one more nativity wordcloud, but this time it will not be from the New Testament, but from an important, but later Christian development of the Christmas story.

Wordcloud produced using wordle.net