By Catherine Bennett, Guardian UK

There can be little rest this Christmas for literalists who have just seen off the Church of England’s attempt to defy the women-suppressing message of the scriptures. In his new Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, a prequel to two other books about the Saviour, Pope Benedict XVI establishes that the role of donkeys is also subject to wilful over-representation by many modern Christians, who persist in honouring them in Nativity scenes. The star and shepherds, a multitude of the heavenly host and a stable – all these, he finds, are plausible. “In the area round Bethlehem, rocky caves had been used as stables since ancient times.” But the manger does not indicate the presence of donkeys, cows, sheep or any livestock whatsoever. “In the Gospel, there is no reference to animals at this point.”

If the Pope is inclined to forgive fanciful iconography in this respect, “no representation of the crib is complete without the ox and the ass,” we can surely expect something more from the punctilious Anglican laity. Having now witnessed their fervour, one pictures these purists, come Christmas, scanning parish churches for evidence of the donkey heresy and either confiscating the farm animals or, like their predecessors in the Reformation, vandalising the sentimental ornaments or smiting their heads off. As his holiness says: “With a text like the Bible, whose ultimate and fundamental author, according to our faith, is God himself, the question regarding the here and now of things past is undeniably included in the task of exegesis.” Read the full story here.