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ratives contributed, more than their critics would like to admit, to the total Christian world-view.

On the level of story, the apocryphal Acts, together with the infancy gospels and the Protevangelium of James (the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus),[29] constitute a world of discourse complementary to and filling the many gaps left blank in the Gospels. Officially recognized or not, it was this body of material on which later generations of preachers dwelt so often and so lovingly, and indeed we can sometimes detect the gentle exasperation that nearer-contemporaries evidently also felt when the details they would have liked—the upbringing of the Virgin, for instance—are simply omitted from the Gospel stories. Countless extant later homilies draw their material from this source. In the Protevangelium we find a tender portrait of Mary as a little girl, in contrast to the laconic references to her in the canonical Gospels: she walked at only six months old, and when her parents placed her on the altar to be brought up thereafter in the Temple, "she danced for joy with her feet," and her parents knew, because the child made no attempt to cling to them, that it was God's work. After this she lived in the Temple until she was twelve years old, "nurtured like a dove" and fed by an angel.[30]

As a subject of discourse, the Virgin Mary provided congenial opportunities for Christian writers. A very different rhetoric of the Virgin had developed by the fourth century, by which time

[29] For the latter, see James, Apocryphal New Testament, 38-49; Hennecke-Schneemelcher 1:374-88. Generally, R. E. Brown et al., eds., Mary in the New Testament (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1978), 243 ff.; H. Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion (London: Sheed & Ward, 1963-65; repr. 1985), 35 ff. M. Van Esbroeck, "Les textes littéraires sur l'Assomption avant le Xe siècle," in Bovon et al., eds., Les Actes apocryphes, 265-86, gives a detailed conspectus of the surviving texts, and thus an invaluable insight into the diffusion of one of the Marian themes.

[30] Hennecke-Schneemelcher 1:374-75; cf. 493.

Figure 6.

The adolescent Virgin tended by angels. G. de Crayer. Seventeenth century. (Photograph: Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique)

Figure 6.

The adolescent Virgin tended by angels. G. de Crayer. Seventeenth century. (Photograph: Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique)

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