The New Testament's account of Mary and Joseph fleeing with the infant Jesus to Egypt to avoid Herod slaughtering the child is brief and without much in the way of detail.
13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him."
14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.
15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called My Son."
Not much to go on.
But it turns out that around the year 400, the patriarch of Alexandria had a vision. It's called the Vision of Theophilus, and as James Cowan reports in his new book Fleeing Herod: A Journey Through Coptic Egypt with the Holy Family, the Christian Coptic Church in Egypt reveres this document and places great stock in it.
Cown, author and novelist, draws heavily on that ancient document -- related to Theophilus by Mary -- along with more modern sources to try to travel the road from Bethlehem to Egypt that the holy family might have traveled nearly 2,000 years ago.
It's an intriguing journey that begins with a blessing from the Coptic pope (the one who died last year). And it's a journey in which the author struggles with how much of the story is myth, how much real history and how much a mix of the two.
I won't go into detail about the journey Cowan takes, but here is what he says of such a pilgrimage:
"All of the elements of this story are steeped in our struggle for freedom and t;he incomprehensible privilege of encountering the divine. It is we who make this journey each and every day of our lives, even if we pretend otherwise. It is we who travel into exile as soon as we begin to acknowledge the limitations of the material world, and of our capacity to transform it."
This book is an intriguing combination of history, geography, meditation and faith. It would be a wonderful choice for a church book club in the next Advent season.
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THE INTERNET AS MUSLIM LIBERATOR
In thinking about how the Internet helps to enable violent extremism that grows out of a misguided version of Islam, let's also remember, the author of this piece tells us, that the web also can liberate Muslims from "the dark, stinking and suffocating dungeons of religious dogmatism and intolerance." Good advice.
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P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read it, click here.