What do you notice that’s unusual about this image? How about the midwives!
Prior to Christmas I made reference to Ninian Smart’s seven dimensions of religion, noting that the narrative dimension typically trumps the material dimension in Christianity.
This may be contrasted with, say, Tarot based spirituality, where the symbols are considered more fundamental than any stories that become attached to them.
It is worth noting these differences between religions when it comes to critiquing religious art, art being a popular expression of the material dimension of religion.
This image hails from the Gallery of medieval art in Austria, Vienna, Austria. It includes some seemingly innocuous changes to the story. I say “seemingly” because the presence of the two extra women suggests a possible allusion to the Infancy Gospel of James, a pseudoepigraphical Gnostic text that introduces the idea that Jesus was born of light, not flesh, and that Salome and a midwife “checked” Mary after the birth to ensure she was ever virgin. Given the primacy of story in Christianity, changes to the stories illustrated by art have far greater significance for Christian art than the art of many alternative religions.