Lying naked in a manger in a Northern Hemisphere winter meant baby Jesus would have certainly suffered from hypothermia, say Australian researchers.
They analysed how Jesus appeared in nativity paintings, compared with what the temperature would have been on 25 December, publishing their research in this week’s Medical Journal of Australia.
Neonatologist Dr Tieh-Hee Koh from Townsville Hospital in Northern Queensland and his co-researcher Marion Koh, wife and mother, wrote:
"As we are experienced in looking after sick newborn babies, we have been impressed every year by the fact that, in depictions of the nativity scene on Christmas cards we receive, the newborn Jesus is almost always naked."
They said they were concerned as the temperature in Bethlehem was probably 7°C on 25 December, yet keeping babies warm was a basic principle of looking after newborn babies.
Their review of 20 paintings by Old Masters at London’s National Gallery showed Jesus was naked or only scantily clothed in 90% of them.
The baby Jesus looked large for a newborn in 55% of the paintings, but premature in 10%.
He had a halo in 40% of paintings and was placed on the floor in 60% of paintings.
So, they concluded Jesus was probably hypothermic at birth, and very much so if also premature.
"[One explanation] more symbolic than pragmatic, is that he was born into this world without any earthly possessions," the authors wrote.
"In a similar vein, to the unscientifically inclined the halo and the pedigree of Jesus’ birth might suggest a neutral thermal zone, making the ambient temperature irrelevant." [Source]
Usually we get some really dumb articles at this time of year, but this paper in a medical journal is beyond parody. Maybe next year they will analyze icons and Byzantine art and come to the conclusions that the majority of saints had strange birth defects because of their distorted physical proportions.