"This work is interesting, among other reasons, because it shows that this very early Christian community could cherish a little girl. Throughout history, the most endangered member of any human society is a newborn girl. In most traditional cultures, and some modern ones, there are social and financial advantages to a son, but a daughter is welcome only when enough sons precede her. In too many times and places a little girl has not been welcome at all, regarded as pointless trouble and a waste of food."
Funnily enough Susanne did a post just the other day from the book she's reading, African Notebook and one of the tidbits she shared was that in the society the author was working in daughters were considered great financial blessings. Because in order to get married the husband had to pay for his wife. And this wasn't like a lump sum payment or anything - he had to keep paying and paying without knowing what her actual price was. Just an interesting little dichotomy to all the cultures where girls were seen as burdens.
It's true though that even modern people sometimes value sons more than daughters. Why is that? Why is it that even in modern Christian families you can get told, upon the birth of a daughter that 'It's okay. Eventually you'll have boys.' Or in Muslim cultures, where parents will take on the appellation of mother or father to the first born. So Umm Fatima or Abu Fatima, for example. But then, sometimes, when they have a son, even if it's three or four children down the line they'll change it to the sons name. Is he suddenly the first born? His birth wiping out the importance and place of his elder sister? Why? The sexes are equal, or so we keep being told. Different, with different strengths and weaknesses to be sure, but equal. A man is not intrinsically worth more than a woman or vice versa.
"Yet in this nearly two-thousand-year-old story from the Middle East, we see a baby girl whose birth is greeted with a cry of exultation rather than disappointment. We are told how she took her first steps, and about the big first-birthday party her father threw for her, and how the neighborhood girls played with her."
-Did it really happen?
"Whatever we conclude about this story's historicity, its popularity shows us that very early Christians found it easy to believe that a little girl was worthy of love. That alone is refreshing, and the details that appear as the story unfolds are so charming that we feel a kinship with the story's first hearers across the centuries. When the three-year old Mary sits down on a Temple step and 'dances with her feet,' it's no wonder that all the house of Israel loved her.'"
And anyone who has ever seen a little kid sitting down for long can picture that, can't they? :)
As for the historicity of the story. Well, it contains miracles and wonders, but no more than any other part of the New Testament. Modern scholars tend to doubt everything, which does make them search for possibilities and meaning, which I generally think is what makes scholarship interesting and worth while. The early Christians believed everything in these stories without question. It's a hard mindset for modern people to get into, honestly. We're too used to everything being questionable.
Frederica claims, though, that the historical accuracy of these stories is actually beside the point. Their most valuable aspect is that they show how God used Mary to complete His plan. They are typological stories and they set up echoes with prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures.
One example she brings up is that the Protoevangelion/Gospel of Mary depicts Mary, as a child, going to the Temple and entering into the Holy of Holies. 'Doubt' would be a severe understatement of the reaction of scholars to this story. No one was allowed into the Holy of Holies except for the High Priest, and even he only entered once a year. The Holy of Holies was meant to house the Ark of the Covenant, but by the time Mary would have gone to the Temple, the Holy of Holies was empty, the Ark hidden away and lost to history.
But Mary is, typologically, tied to the Ark. She was a new 'Ark' for the new Covenant. She carried within her Christ. Similarly the Ark carried within it the promises of God to the Israelites - Aaron's rod, the jar of manna, the tablets with the Law written on them. When Moses built the Ark and the tent to house it the 'glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle' and later when the Temple was built and the Ark placed in the Holy of Holies 'the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord', overwhelming those present. When the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a son, he told her that 'the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.'