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Bill Thayer

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Why is This Happening to Me?

43"And why is this happening to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

Gospel according to Luke, ch. 1 (my translation)​1

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St. Luke's gospel starts with the story of Elisabeth, an old childless woman, being told she will conceive and have a child, although she's well past the age for it; her husband, logically, doesn't believe it — whereupon he is promptly struck dumb. That's unsettling enough, but then Elisabeth really does become pregnant; now her cousin Mary shows up to be with her and maybe help with the housework: by making it "official", this can only confirm her unease.

There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that either of the women is poor. Maitani (or, less assertively, the sculptors who worked for him on the panels of Orvieto cathedral in the first quarter of the 14c) chose to give each of them a servant: Elisabeth's opens the door-curtain, and Mary's carries what must be money, tied in a cloth. Travelling, then as now, is dangerous: in an emergency, that purse looks like it could double as a weapon.


my translation: Unfortunately, all four of the modern English versions I have at hand make the same unwarranted leap of interpretation:

Revised Standard Version:

And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Revised English Bible, New English Bible:

Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?

New American Bible:

But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

The original Greek merely has:

καὶ πόθεν μοι τοῦτο ἲνα ἔλθῃ ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ κυρίου μου πρὸς ἐμέ;

and it is followed by the Vulgate, here equally good:

et unde hoc mihi ut veniat mater Domini mei ad me?

The King James version, as often, is a good solid translation too, but quite literally follows the elliptical Greek and may not be generally understood 400 years later:

"And whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

One thing is certain, though: Elizabeth does not wonder who she is, nor does she put herself down. She is puzzled; she raises up Mary and her unborn child, which is something quite different. 
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Page updated: 17 Jun 08