As in some of the other images in this section, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 586 BCE by the Babylonians is conflated in the Gospel Book of Otto III (c. 998–1001 CE) with its later destruction in 70 CE by the Romans.
The iconography of Jerusalem is quite unique to this manuscript. In this particular image, Christ is seen mourning for Jerusalem in the top half of the image, and this is paired with a depiction in the bottom half of the page of Mary of Bethezuba's cannibalism of her infant child as reported by Josephus. In Josephus’ account of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, he describes the extent of the ravages of war on the city. Influenced by the biblical books of Ezekiel and Lamentations and by their descriptions of the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem centuries earlier, Josephus describes the plight of one particular Jewish woman, Mary of Bethezuba. Having lost her entire world to the Roman invaders and in a state of rage and desperate hunger, the woman decides to kill her son, roast him, and consume his flesh. By presenting Mary of Bethezuba’s infanticide beneath the figure of Christ, the artist implies that this horror of war was a fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of the city (Luke 19).
The Christian fascination with Mary of Bethezuba as a means of representing the fall of Jerusalem was unlikely to have been produced because of any sympathy for her extreme action. Indeed, in the Christian West the holy calendar included a specific day to celebrate Titus’ sack of Jerusalem. It is much more likely, therefore, that the image was intended as a parody of the sacrifice of a child, an idea that is core to Christian theology and its focus on the sacrifice of Jesus the Son. The Jewish Mary of Bethezuba was, for medieval Christians, a sinful negative type of a mother in crisis, to be contrasted with the more positive and hopeful Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. This image in the Gospel Book of Otto III, then, offers a strongly Christianised reading of the trauma of the destruction of Jerusalem.
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