Carnal and the Crane, The [Child 55]

DESCRIPTION: A carnal (crow) and a crane discuss various stories of Jesus, such as the roasted cock that crowed, the miraculous harvest of grain, and the adoration of the animals. (These accounts often became separated in tradition.)
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE:
KEYWORDS: bird Jesus religious carol
HISTORICAL REFERENCES:
4 B.C.E. -- Death of Herod the Great, whose actions motivated much of the plot of this song
FOUND IN: Britain(England(West,South))
REFERENCES (12 citations):
Child 55, "The Carnal and the Crane" (1 text)
Bronson 55, "The Carnal and the Crane" (3 versions)
BronsonSinging 55, "The Carnal and the Crane" (2 versions: #1, #2)
Leather, pp. 188-189, "The Carnal and the Crane" (1 text, 1 tune)
VaughanWilliams/Palmer, #43, "The Carnal and the Crane" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
BroadwoodCarols, pp. 74-75, "King Pharaoh [Gypsy Christmas Carol]" (1 text plus a "restored version," 1 tune)
Rickert, pp. 91-95, "The Carnal and the Crane" (1 text)
Wells, pp. 186-187, "King Herod and the Cock" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2}
OBB 102, "The Carnal and the Crane" (1 text)
OBC 53, "The Carnal and the Crane"; 54; "King Herod and the Cock"; 55, "The Miraculous Harvest" (3 texts, 3 tunes) {#53=Bronson's #1; compare #3; #55=Bronson's #3; this melody is said to be the English hymnal tune "Capel"}
DT 55, PHARMKNG* PHARMKN2*
ADDITIONAL: Jon Raven, _The Urban and Industrial Songs of the Black Country and Birmingham_, Broadside, 1977, pp. 169-170, "Herod and the Cock" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #306
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Saint Stephen and Herod" (plot)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
Herod and the Cock
King Pharim
NOTES: Child refers to this ballad as being "fixed in its present incoherent and corrupted form by print." Incoherent it generally is -- there is no actual plot, just an introduction and a series of stories. But it is worth noting that Child's version (a conflation of three printed texts) is longer than any of the dozen or so traditional versions, and of his printed sources, "c" is significantly shorter than the others. There appears little chance of reconstructing the original. We can only look at the sources of what still exists.
The rough outline of Child's thirty stanza version would be as follows:
I. The singer overhears a crane instruct a carnal (crow) about Jesus
II. Jesus was born in a manger, between an ox and ass
III. The mother of Jesus was a virgin, "Conceived by the Holy Ghost."
IV. Jesus slept in a manger, not a golden cradle nor silken sheets
V. The Wise Men met King Herod, who declared that, if their story is true, the roasted cock in the dish would crow. It did.
VI. Herod ordered the massacre of children under two, causing Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to flee to Egypt
VII. They halted along the way because Mary was weary, and the wild animals came to adore them; the lion, which comes first, is declared the king.
VIII. The family met "an husbandman" sowing his grain, and Jesus caused the grain to miraculously grow to maturity. The husbandman tells Herod that Jesus came by as the seed was sown, causing Herod's men to turn back because Jesus had (they assume) passed by nine months earlier
IX. For the sake of the massacred innocents of Bethlehem, hearers are told not to "forbid" or "deny" little ones.
Of these sections of the song, III, V, VII, and VIII are entirely non-Biblical -- and they constitute almost two-thirds of the song. Indeed, they represent more than two-thirds if we omit the introductory verses about the crane and crow.
INCIDENT II, that Jesus was laid in a manger, is canonical; Luke 2:7, 12, 16 refer to the baby in the manger. The ox and ass beside him are not Biblical (neither the word "ox" nor the word "ass" appears in the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke) -- but obviously perfectly possible. The mention of the animals here is probably derived from the Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew; and indirectly from Isaiah 1:3 and the Greek (mis)translation of Habbakuk 3:2. Chapter XIV of Pseudo-Matthew not only mentions the animals but describes them as worshipping Jesus (Cartlidge/Dungan, pp. 27-28; Barnstone, pp. 395-396).
INCIDENT III, that "the mother of Jesus [was] conceived by the Holy Ghost," is the beginning of the purely non-Biblical material. The Bible says nothing -- nothing! -- about the parents of Mary. (To be sure, some people have claimed that the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23-38 is in fact a genealogy of Mary. But this is absurd -- not only does the genealogy say that it is the genealogy of Jesus, not of Mary, but Luke 1:36 calls Mary a kinswoman of Elizabeth, and Luke 1:5 says that Elizabeth was of the Aaronite priesthood. So Mary presumably is also an Aaronite.)
So where did the claim that Mary was born of the Holy Spirit come from?
From a non-canonical gospel, that's where. To be specific, the Protevangelium Jacobi, or Infancy Gospel of James (called the Proto-Gospel of James by Ehrman; I have never seen this name elsewhere).
There is significant dispute about this book. I have six translations (Barnstone, Cartlidge/Dungan, CompleteGospels, Ehrman, FunkEtAl, Hone), and they have three different chapter-and-verse systems (this even though Barnstone doesn't even give chapter numbers). Hone knew a suggestion that the book was composed in Hebrew, the only scholar cited by Jordan who allows this possibility is Wake (Jordan, p. 6). Jordan, p. 1, discusses the possibility that the book is by James the brother of Jesus, or James son of Zebedee, or the "other" James of Mark 15:40 (said to be the author in the Gelasian Decree of c. 495 C.E.) -- but goes on to note that the author does not seem to know Palestinian geography. Barnstone, p. 385, quotes Ron Cameron to the effect that the Protevangelium is full of allusions to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The weight of evidence for a Greek original frankly appears overwhelming.
Jordan on p. 2 cites three scholars who thought it might be from the first century -- but goes on to note nine others who date it to the late second century (which still makes it early for an apocryphal gospel). I can add that CompleteGospels, p. 381, dates it to the middle of the second century. Ehrman, p. 63, says it is mentioned by Origen and possibly alluded to by Clement of Alexandria, meaning that it was probably circulating by 150 C.E. Barnstone, p. 384, says that the book can hardly have been written before 150 C.E. (and adds on pp. 383-384 that Jerome, translator of the Vulgate, condemned it). FunkEtAl, p. xvii, follow Cameron in dating it roughly 150-225 C.E. Harnack proposed to date it to the fourth century (Jordan, p. 6), but this late date can be set aside; the latest possible date is the end of the third century, since Papyrus Bodmer V, found in Egypt and forming the basis for Cartlidge/Dungan, is dated paleographically to around 300 C.E. This seems, however, to be the only early copy; the other manuscripts cited in Tischendorf's nineteenth century Greek edition are all tenth century or later (Jordan, p. 3).
Barnstone, p. 384, notes manuscripts in Greek, Syriac (Aramaic), Armenian, Ethiopic (proto-Amharic), Georgian, and Old Church Slavonic. Jordan, p. 6. also mentions a Sahidic Coptic text -- but says the majority of manuscripts are in Greek or Slavonic. In 1980, de Strycker counted 140 Greek manuscripts (Jordan, p. 6) -- an amazing number for a non-canonical work. Even more amazing, parts of it turn up in Greek lectionaries.
Interestingly, Barnstone, pp. 384-385, says that "No Latin manuscript survived the early condemnation of the book in the west." However, much of the Protevangelium's content was preserved in the Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew, which is in Latin, so the material could have been passed on to European singers that way.
It should be noted that the Catholic Church accepts much of the material which follows, on the basis that, although not found in the Bible, it was revealed by saints (Englebert, p. 35). His whole account is from the Venerable Maria de Agreda, but it seems to parallel the tale of the Protevangelium.
The book begins with the story of the birth of Mary. Mary's mother is Anna (an interesting name, since Anna is the Greek form of Hannah, and in 1 Samuel 1, Hannah is barren until she visits the temple and prays for a child; in due time, she bore Samuel). Anna is married to Joachim. We are told that both are righteous and chaste, and both are ashamed at the fact that they have no children. Finally, Joachim goes out into the desert to pray about it, while Anna prays at home.
While they are separated, an angel appears to each. It promises Anna that she will have a daughter. But it is the annunciation to Joachim which is really interesting. I'm going to cite all five translations, with their page number and their chapter/verse number if they have one:
Hone, p. 26, 4:4 -- "The Lord God hath heard thy prayer, make haste and go hence, for behold Anna thy wife shall conceive."
FunkEtAl, p. 266, 4:2 -- "Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down; behold, your wife Anna has conceived [shall conceive]."
CompleteGospels, pp. 384-385, 4:4 -- "Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Get down from there. Look, your wife Anna is pregnant."
Barnstone, p. 386, "Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God heard your prayer. Go down from here; for behold, your wife Anna is pregnant."
Cartlidge/Dungan, p. 11, 4:4 -- "Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God heard your prayer. Go down from here; for behold, your wife Anna is pregnant."
Ehrman, p. 65, 4:2 -- "Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down from here, for see, your wife Anna has conceived a child."
The difference between "to be(come) pregnant" and "to conceive" is translational. The difference in verb tenses is not; as FunkEtAl implies (and CompleteGospels says in a note on p. 385), the manuscripts differ on whether Anna *already is* or *will become* pregnant.. Greek tenses do not correspond exactly to English, but the Greek future indicative corresponds pretty closely to the English future tense. The future tense of Hone and [FunkEtAl] is a description of something to happen after the present. The present tense of FunkEtAl (non-bracketed), CompleteGospels, Barnstone, and Cartlidge/Dungan indicates that Anna is already pregnant. And, since Joachim has been in the wilderness for weeks, he is not the father -- implying that the Holy Spirit is.
As to which is the superior reading, I note that the modern editions all say "is pregnant." This includes Cartlidge/Dungan, which is directly translated from the oldest manuscript, Bodmer Papyrus V. The probability is high that "is pregnant" is the original reading.
It should be noted that none of this bears any real connection to Hebrew law. Virginity is valued, of course, but not celibacy. Once Mary and Joseph were betrothed, there was no reason for them not to sleep together. Indeed, having children approached the status of duty. But there were a number of early Christian sects (all of them, of course, extinct) which believed sex to be evil. Evidently our author was of that school. The obsession with virginity continues throughout the Protevangelium:
At the age of three, Mary is consigned to the Temple, where she stays until she reaches menarche at age 12 (CompleteGospels, p. 387; Hone, p. 28, Ehrmam p. 66, etc.). Since menstruation is ritually impure, she then has to leave. By lot, Joseph is assigned to be her husband (CompleteGospels, p. 387; Hone, p. 29, etc.) -- even though, in this account, he is already old and has children (the source of the "Joseph was an old man" item in "The Cherry-Tree Carol" [Child 54]) and is afraid of being a laughing-stock. But he is convinced to accept Mary as his wife.
Then Mary gets pregnant. (Ehrman, p. 67, etc. The language here resembles that in Luke regarding the Annuniation.)
Of course, there is no reason under Jewish law why she shouldn't be pregnant; she is betrothed. But that's too simple for our author, since he and we know that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. So he contrives to have Mary's virginity tested, claiming that she and Joseph had been separated for months. And, yes, she's still a virgin (CompleteGospels, p. 391; Hone, p. 32, etc.) And, after Jesus is born, a woman named Salome checks -- and, yes, Mary is still a virgin (CompleteGospels, p. 393; Hone, p. 34; Ehrman, p. 70, etc.)
Of course, the mere fact that an extra-canonical book with a radical view of sexuality said that Mary, like Jesus, was born of a virgin didn't make it church doctrine. Other than the Protevangelium, I don't know of any other early Church Father who even discusses the matter.
Still, veneration of "Saint Anne," the mother of Jesus, began early; LindahlEtAl, p. 16, reports that the Roman Emperor Justinian dedicated a church to her.
The subject of Mary's origin began to be an issue around the turn of the second millennium C.E., but was then still a matter of debate. Bettenson, p. 271, notes that St. Anselm (1033-1109), for instance, believed Mary was born in sin. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) believed her to have been born in sin but to have lived a sanctified life. Duns Scottus (died 1308) believed in the full-blown Immaculate Conception. In 1483, the Pope had to caution both sides not to go too far, since the matter was not settled.
The Catholic Church finally made its decision in 1854. In that year -- before Papal Infallibility, we might note -- "[Pope] Pius IX on his sole authority... [issued] the Definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, welcomed by the Archbishop of Trani because it made her 'the complement of the Trinity and above all our co-redemptress.' No Protestant could accept such blatant Mariolatry" (Christie-Murray, p. 198).
The actual statement, on p. 271 of Bettenson, reads in part, "we [i.e. Pius IX] with the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and with our own, do declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the Virgin Mary was, in the first instant of her conception, preserved untouched by any taint of original guilt, by a singular grace of Almighty God, in consideration of the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in consideration of the merits of Christ Jesus the savior of mankind." This was on pain of "lawful penalties if [those who disagree] shall dare signify, by word or writing or any other external means, what they shall think in their hearts."
I have to add that, ten years later the Church would declare that science said what the Pope said, not what the facts said (Article II of the Syllabus of Errors of 1864; Bettenson, p. 272).
Pius IX of course made his declaration long after the "Carnal" was written (and by doing it the way he did it, made dead sure that no non-Catholic could even consider the Immaculate Conception). But even before his pronouncement, the doctrine -- with its complete lack of Biblical foundation -- was dead in Protestant circles. This would seem to imply that the "Carnal" is either a Catholic product or predates the Reformation. On its face, the former would seem more likely -- but this is far from sure. There was a famous compilation of tales, the "Golden Legend," which contains much of this material. William Caxton published an English edition in 1483, and it contains the story of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Since the Golden Legend was in print in English before the Bible, it might have inspired something.
We might incidentally note that Broadwood writes away this item in her "restored" text, changing the reading "Whether the blessed Virgin Mary Sprung from an Holy Ghost" to "Is Jesus sprung of Mary And of the Holy Ghost?" This is sound Anglican doctrine, so it might make the text more suitable for churches -- but I really doubt that the text was corrupt at the point where Broadwood proposed to emend it.
INCIDENT IV, in terms of Biblical content, is equivalent to Incident II: Basically Biblical, but embroidered.
INCIDENT V, the wise men meeting Herod and declaring the birth of the Savior, starts with a Biblical story; the coming of the Magi (a word far better translated "Astrologers" or "Diviners" than "Wise Men"), who saw a star in the eastern sky and came to Herod (Matthew 2:1-7). But Matthew makes no mention of roasted cocks -- instead, Herod tries to trick the Magi into finding the pretender for him. Nor can we blame this on the Protevangelium; it has a miracle in which Elizabeth and John the Baptist are saved from Herod (Ehrman, p. 71), but no roasted fowl. The tale of the cock proves to have a very complex history. (Witness the fact that the device is used in three different ballads in diverse ways: In this one, in "Saint Stephen and Herod" [Child 22], and in "The Wife of Usher's Well" [Child 79]).
Tales of birds speaking are, of course, quite common, and a French medieval play tells of a crow declarins "Christus natus est," i.e. "Christ is born" (Mercantante/Dow, p. 239). But that is a living bird.
We first find a roasted cock coming to life, according to Nagy, p. 7, in the Acts of Peter, in which, at the Last Supper, Jesus orders the cock to follow Judas out as he goes into the night to betray Jesus (an incident building on John 13:26-30). The bird follows, reports on Judas's activities, and is rewarded by being sent to Heaven. (The Acts of Peter liked this sort of thing; Peter also brought a dried fish to life, according to Nagy, p. 21).
Rickert, p. 155, on the other hand, gives another version "related about 1200 by Vincent of Beauvaise, who, however, tells it of two men at a dinner-table, one of whom, carving a fowl, said that he would do it so thoroughly that not Peter nor our Lord Himself could put it together again. Whereupon the cock was feathered and crowed, and both men became lepers."
The problems with this are myriad (and I'm not talking about whether miracles happen or not, since the authors of these pieces had no doubts on that score). For starters, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke date the Last Supper to Passover day, in which case the meal would have had lamb, not a cock. But even if one accepts that the Last Supper took place on Passover Eve, as in John, there is no sign in that gospel that a bird was served. Plus, according to Barnstone, p. 426, the Acts of Peter is an Encratite work (that is, it holds to the view that all sexual activity is sinful), and it seems to have originated in the east; it is little quoted in the west. Nagy, p. 14, reports that Melchisedech Thevenot (d. 1692) brought back the tale from Coptic oral tradition.
The first version of the roasted cock crowing a message is often stated to go back to the Gospel of Nicodemus (also known, after what is probably its oldest section, as the Acts of Pilate). Judas, having betrayed Jesus, was fearful that Jesus would rise again and prepared to hang himself. His wife assured him that that would no more happen than that the cock would crow three times. The cock, of course, then did its thing. The Gospel of Matthew says that Judas did hang himself (27:4), although Acts gives him a different ending (1:18).
The Gospel of Nicodemus is variously dated; Hone, who gives a full translation, on p. 63 mentions scholars who thought it from the third century. Barnstone (who quotes only snippets), declares on p. 359, that it is from the third or fourth century. Sisam, p. 171, dates it to the fourth century. Nagy, p. 8, says it is from the early fifth century with some material from earlier dates; this seems to be based on the date of the earliest manuscript (Nagy, p. 9). FunkEtAl, p. xvi, claims "The original AcPil was probably written in Greek sometime during II/III CE" (i.e. probably around 200 C.E.), but this is the date of only a portion of the work (and not the relevant portion); the whole came later. Versions exist in both Greek and Latin, with Latin texts apparently the more common.
This contradictory dating is somewhat peculiar, since the work contains an internal date. Funk, p. 305, and Barnstone, p. 362, both translate the prologue to the Acts (omitted, oddly, from Hone's translation). This says that the whole was assembled by one Ananias in the "eighteenth year of the reign of our emperor Flavius Theodosius," Since Theodosius I "the Great" reigned only 16 years (379-395 C.E.), this must be his grandson Theodosius II (reigned 408-450 C. E.), making the year 426 C.E. This is confirmed be the fact that the eighteenth year of Theodosius is listed as being the ninth indiction. The indictions were a fifteen year cycle created in the reign of Diocletian (abdicated 305), and the ninth indiction corresponds to the year 426 (roughly; the indictions did not run from January to January but from a time in mid-fall).
Whoever put together the work in 426 didn't know his history. He cites earlier records with four date pegs:
* The nineteenth year of the Emperor Tiberias
* The nineteenth year of Herod King of Galilee
* The high priesthood of Caiaphas
* The fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad
It is worth noting that the only date in the New Testament is in Luke 3:1, the fifteenth year of Tiberias. That is 29 C.E., implying that Jesus was crucified in 30 C.E. So the nineteenth year of Tiberias (33 C.E.) is a chronologically possible year for Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to testify about the crucifixion (which is the primary content of Nicodemus).
Joseph Caiaphas was High Priest from 18-36 C.E. (according to a whole bunch of data in Josephus which I won't bother to cite). He thus was High Priest during Pontius Pilate's entire tenure of office as procurator, probably being retired when Pilate was recalled. So this dating too is possible. But:
Herod Antipas became King (actually Tetrarch) of Galilee on the death of his father Herod the Great in 4 B.C.E. (Josephus/Marcus/Wikgren, p. 459; this is Antiquities XVII.188-191, or XVII.viii.1 in the pre-Loeb numbering). Thus Herod the Tetrarch's nineteenth year was 15/16 C.E. -- *before* the Crucifixion!
The Olympic Era began in 776 B.C.E., and each Olympiad was four years long. Thus the year 1 C.E. was the first year of the 195th Olympiad. The fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad would be 28 CE -- another date before the Crucifixion!
Thus, although our four pegs are within twenty years, no two of the three precise pegs points to the same year! One error of this sort might be brain cramp or scribal error; two such strongly implies forgery.
Nonetheless, the number of copies shows that people were reading Nicodemus in the Middle Ages. The whole breaks up into three basic parts: The passion of Jesus, accounts of the resurrection by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and the Harrowing of Hell. According to Nagy, p. 9, the Harrowing of Hell is a second century tale appended to the others in perhaps the fifth century.
The Gospel of Nicodemus is well-known in the west; there are two translations into Middle English, one poetic and one prose. Hulme knew of four manuscripts of the verse translation, all from the fifteenth century (Hulme, p. xv), which are distinct enough to imply a significantly earlier original., and nine manuscripts of the prose translation (Hulme, p. xxxii), although only four of these apparently originally contained the whole thing (Hulme, p. xxxiii). These may be different translations; the earliest English text goes back to the twelfth century. And we find English works based on the Nicodemus book; Sisam, p. 171, observes that the York play of the Harrowing of Hell (found in a manuscript of c. 1450) is founded on the Gospel of Nicodemus.
But as best I can tell from a search of Hulme, the tale of Judas and the cock was never found in the English versions of Nicodemus. Nor, based on the section heads, is it found in the text translated by Hone. Nagy, pp. 13-14, declares that it is not found in the Latin versions, nor in the "A" family of the Greek text -- nor in most of the "B" manuscripts; her best estimate (based on incomplete published data) is that only two of thirty "B" group manuscripts contain it. However, Constantin von Tischendorf, the greatest scholar of Biblical and related manuscripts ever to live, had a text of the Judas tale in his version of the Gospel of Nicodemus (Nagy, pp. 15-16).
Child, in his notes on "Saint Stephen and Herod" [Child 22], says that the "ultimate source of the miracle of the reanimated cock is an interpolation in two late Greek manuscripts of the so-called Gospel of Nicodemus." But, as the above demonstrates, this can hardly be true, since the story would not be known in Western Europe. The ballad versions must come from some other, Western, source (perhaps one of the many analogs of Child 22 which Child mention), with the Coptic version perhaps being the source of the inserion into the handful of Gospel of Nicodemus texts which have it.
Nagy, the most recent scholar of the problem known to me, seems not to have a clear opinion on the source of this legend as found in the English ballads. I rather suspect a floating folklore motif, perhaps derived from a French tale; this would explain how the same miracle managed to occur in three different settings.
INCIDENT VI. The flight into Egypt. Herod is looking for Jesus, so the Holy Family heads for Egypt. This is straight out of Matthew (2:15-17). This is somewhat problematic historically (Egypt was a sort of closed colony of Rome, so it would be hard for anyone to get there, and Josephus never mentions such a massacre; the whole thing seems just to be a way for "Matthew" to get in another Bible citation and set up a parallel between Moses and Jesus). But at least the story is canonical.
INCIDENT VII. The Adoration of the Beasts. Here again the likely source is the Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew, mentioned above under Incidents II and III. In the Adoration, we are dependent entirely upon Pseudo-Matthew. There is some disagreement about this book. Cartlidge/Dungan, p. 27,. thinks it might be from the third or fourth century. Barnstone, p. 394, says eighth or ninth century -- one of the widest gaps in dating I can ever recall. The Cartlidge/Dungan dating may be due to the fact that it claims to have been translated into Latin by Jerome, who also translated the Vulgate (the official Bible of the Catholic Church), and who was almost the only Christian scholar of the first millennium to understand Hebrew. But it is evident that he did not in fact create the Latin version, which to my semi-trained self seems to be from about the sixth or seventh century.
It is at least agreed that the book is in (and was likely composed in) Latin, and is largely based upon the Protevangelium Jacobi, but with some additional material, including the Adoration.
Joseph, Jesus, Mary, and their attendants (e.g. Joseph's earlier sons) rest during their flight to Egypt. They are resting by a cave when dragons (yes, dragons) come out of the cave. Jesus gets out of Mary's lap and stands before them; the dragons halt and worship him. Lions and leopards then show up and follow them (Pseudo-Matthew, chapters XVIII and XIX; Cartlidge/Dungan, pp. 29-30; Barnstone, pp. 396).
Why a procession of dragons, lions, and leopards are not sufficient to keep Herod away is never explained.
INCIDENT VIII. The Miraculous Harvest is a favorite of illustrators. The infant Jesus, who is still fleeing Herod, tells a farmer who is sowing grain to stop; the grain miraculously matures, and the farmer begins to harvest it. Herod's soldiers arrive, are told Jesus passed when the grain was sown, and turn back.
This tale is not found even in the apocryphal gospels, according to James, p. xli, the earliest illustration of this is "on a thirteenth-century cope of English work now at Anagni."
The idea of a "miraculous harvest" might have a vague New Testament root; the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-8 and parallels) refers to the sower harvesting thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold. At this period, a typical harvest is said to have been sevenfold, and an excellent one was tenfold; thus the sower did harvest miraculously. But not instantly. The story gets even more exaggerated in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas -- here the eight-year-old Jesus himself sows one seed of grain and gets back a hundred measures (Thomas 12:1-2; FunkEtAl, p. 251; Cartlidge/Dungan, p. 39; Barnstone, p. 401; CompleteGospels, p. 376 says Jesus sowed one "measure" of grain instead of a single seed; Ehrman, p. 61, says he sowed one grain and harvested a hundred "large bushels"). But here again it happens only after the crop has had a full season to grow. The idea of the instant harvest may simply have been an extension of the phrase "Miraculous Harvest" -- but it is definitely an extension.
INCIDENT IX: Derived from Matthew19:14 and parallels -- although the motivation is different; in the Gospels, the disciples are trying to keep the children from being healed by Jesus, and there is no mention of the Massacre of the Innocents. (The Massacre of the Innocents, in fact, is mentioned only in Matthew, Chapter 2; there is no hint of it anywhere else in the Bible.)
A FINAL OBSERVATION: There is one other irony about the ballad as found in tradition. Although Child's text correctly refers to the King who tries to kill Jesus as "Herod," in many of the traditional texts this becomes "Pharaoh," "King Pharaoh," or "King Pharim." The confusion is perhaps understandable -- the names are somewhat similar, and Pharaoh oppressed Moses and the Israelites in the Old Testament.
By the time Herod was born, native Egyptian kings had ceased to rule Egypt; the people in charge were the Macedonian dynasty of the Ptolemies. The title "Pharaoh" was extinct, but if anyone could be called Pharaoh, it would be the Ptolemaic monarch.
And the Ptolemaic monarch, in 40 B.C.E. when Herod became monarch of Judea, was none other than Cleopatra (officially Cleopatra VII). And Cleopatra and Herod hated each others' guts. Herod once advised Mark Antony that the way to gain control in Rome was to kill Cleopatra (Josephus/Marcus/Wikgren, p. 91; Antiquities XV.191=XV.vi.1 in the older editions), and Cleopatra tried to deprive Herod of his throne (Josephus/Thackeray, p. 169; Jewish War I.361= I.xviii.4 in the older editions). Herod, although he had initially supported Antony (who had helped establish him on the throne) in the Civil Wars, eventually turned against Antony, and did so early enough to make peace with Octavian and retain his throne. No doubt his treatment at the hands of Cleopatra made his betrayal easier for him.
To be sure, the source for Josephus's comments is the history of Nicolas of Damascus (Tarn/Griffith, p. 276), and Nicolas was a servant of Herod's, so we are probably getting mostly Herod's side. But the modern sources I checked all seem to think Herod's and Cleopatra's mutual loathing was real. To call Herod "Pharaoh" would be very insulting to him. - RBW
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