Photo by the National Galleries of Scotland

ON THE COVER: Mary kneels before her sleeping babe, in Sandro Botticelli’s painting Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child (1481). Behind Jesus flowers a camellia bush with its lush yet short-lived blossoms, long a symbol of life’s brevity. The rocky wall at right may represent the cave in which Jesus, according to extrabiblical tradition, was born.

The inscription on the gilt frame borrows two lines from the Latin prayer Ave Maria: “Hail, Mary, full of grace…Mother of God, pray for us now.” In “The Favored One,” Ronald F. Hock explains how Mary came to be hailed as the Mother of God—a story hinted at in the Bible but only explored fully in one of the earliest Christian gospels to be excluded from the New Testament.