The sparrow nest in the scenes of Anna's lament, for instance, serves as a point of confluence for two biblical references that I think very much typify Anna's experience. Psalm 84/5 (“How lovely is your dwelling place,” itself quite relevant) includes the lines “even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God.” This association with offspring and proximity to the divine is quite evocative. Likewise, the association in Proverbs 26:2 between sparrows and undeserved censure: “Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest.” Both Joachim and Anna are convinced that they have been cursed by barrenness, yet are in fact made special by this inability to conceive (a point made explicitly in the Golden Legend, “when [God] closes a woman's womb, he does this in order to open it miraculously later on... delayed conceptions and infertile childbearing are usually all the more wonderful!"). It seems to me that the sparrows use biblical associations to foreshadow both the appearance of offspring and the denial of a curse.
If that seems like a stretch, the Golden Legend rendition of Mary and Joseph's betrothal contains most unambiguous vocabulary. The priest sets up the test to determine Mary's husbands with explicit reference to the Isaiah prophecy concerning the blooming of a rod from the house of David. Joseph, in the process of seeking Mary's husband, “brought his branch forward, it flowered at once, and a dove came from heaven and perched upon it.” Given the opening of the Golden Legend text, which traces Joseph's descent from David, could this be anything other than a physical foreshadowing of the allegorical fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the advent of the Messiah? We mentioned in class that the earlier accounts seem to use Joseph's anger and incomprehension as a tool to elevate Mary. This later account seems to me to be rehabilitating Joseph, employing the very familiar image of the Holy Spirit/dove and blooming branch from the line of David to cast some reflected glory back onto Joseph.
Mary's weaving the veil of the temple is another important element of this vocabulary-- it bookends the entire Christological narrative cycle. Mary weaves the veil immediately before the Annunciation, and the veil of the temple is torn at the death of Jesus. (Incidentally, I think something could also be said about the changing colors of the veil in the accounts. The earlier texts allot Mary the purple, and her fellow virgins tease her for its royal connotations, allowing the angel to rebuke them and affirm Mary's role as “virgin queen.” The later accounts give Mary the white, which might reflect a shift in emphasis-- she is not a queen who happens to be a virgin, she is a virgin, elevated to queenship on account of her eternal virginity.)
“genf” notes that “My mind is particularly drawn to another great image of a joyful woman, Miriam, dancing with her tambourines, which is not particularly relevant, but perhaps an example of the ways in which women in the Bible seem to be able to express great joy in and because of God.” I quite agree, and I think that the association is in fact very relevant. I too thought immediately of the other dancing Miriam, and think that perhaps the effect is intentional. Mary seems to me to be evoking many important biblical women, starting (as we will see next week) with Eve (we saw this in Joseph's fears that he is a new Adam, and that the new Eve was duped like her predecessor), but also Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, Miriam, etc. This I think is also deliberate, to cast Mary as the culmination, or perhaps synechdochic representation, of all these women, the one who can be all mothers because she bore the one through whom everything came to be.
On a slightly different tack of transferred meaning and biblical resonance, I think there is also something interesting to be said about the slightly differing sequence of events around Anna's pregnancy. In the Protoevangelium, Joachim and Anna are visited separately, and told only that they will conceive a child. In Golden Legend version, the angel comes to Anna and Joachim, separately, and foretells to each the entire narrative-- Anna, in a noble company of biblical barren women, will bear Mary, who will in turn bear Jesus. In possession of all these spoilers, they meet at the gate and are “sure they were to have a child.” Only then is Mary conceived. In the Old English Nativity of Mary, however, it seems to me that the author has arranged the sequence so as to have an internal resonance and parallel with Mary's experience: Joachim leaves Anna in distress, only to be told that she has already conceived a daughter, and that he will return to find her pregnant. His return journey is lengthy enough that in sum, he has been gone from Anna for six months, just as in the Protoevangelium Joseph returns to find Mary six months pregnant. I think there is a transference of qualities occurring here, or at least an argument to explain why Mary is worthy of bearing a sinless being. Her own birth is perhaps elevated by structural association with the birth of her Son.
I feel like these examples could be endless-- the young Jesus encountering snakes and lions, his concern with the alphabet and its first letter, Mary's feeding by the angels, etc. Though perhaps non-canonical, these texts participate extensively in the economy of biblical language.