Infancy Gospel of Thomas

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Not to be confused with Gospel of Thomas.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a pseudepigraphical gospel about the childhood of Jesus that is believed to date to the 2nd century. It was part of a popular genre of biblical work, written to satisfy a hunger among early Christians for more miraculous and anecdotal stories of the childhood of Jesus than the Gospel of Luke provided. Later references by Hippolytus of Rome and Origen of Alexandria to a Gospel of Thomas are more likely to be referring to this Infancy Gospel than to the wholly different Gospel of Thomas with which it is sometimes confused. It would appear to be unrelated to the Canonical Gospels.

Author[edit]

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a work attributed to "Thomas the Israelite" (in a medieval Latin version).[citation needed] Some people believe that this Thomas is referring to Judas Thomas, who was Jesus’ brother. If that was true, it would mean that the author was a reliable source. However, there are also people who believe it is unlikely that Judas Thomas had any connection to the text. Whoever its initial author was, he seems not to have known much of Jewish life besides what he could learn from the Gospel of Luke, which the text seems to refer to directly in ch. 19; Sabbath and Passover observances are mentioned.

Dating[edit]

The first known probable quotation of its text is from Irenaeus of Lyon, ca 185. The earliest possible date of authorship is in the 80s A.D., the approximate date of the Gospel of Luke, from which the author of the Infancy Gospel borrowed the story of Jesus in the temple at age twelve (see Infancy 19:1-12 and Luke 2:41-52). Scholars generally agree on a date in the mid- to late-2nd century A.D. There are two 2nd century documents, the Epistula Apostolorum and Irenaeus' Adversus haereses, which refer to a story of Jesus' tutor telling him, "Say beta," and him replying, "First tell me the meaning of alpha." It is generally agreed that there was at least some period of oral transmission of the text, either wholly or as several different stories before it was first redacted and transcribed, and it is thus entirely possible that both of these documents and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas all refer to the oral versions of this story.

Manuscript tradition[edit]

It is unknown whether the original language of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was Greek or Syriac. The few surviving Greek manuscripts provide no clues themselves, since none of them date before the 13th century, while the earliest authorities, according to the editor and translator Montague Rhodes James, are a much abbreviated 6th century Syriac version, and a Latin palimpsest of the 5th or 6th century, which has never been fully translated and can be found in Vienna. There are many different manuscripts, translations, shortened versions, alternates, and parallels with slight nuance differences. James found that their large number makes the accounting of which text was which very difficult. This number of texts and versions reflects the great popularity of the work during the High Middle Ages.

Content[edit]

The text describes the life of the child Jesus, with fanciful, and sometimes malevolent, supernatural events, comparable to the trickster nature of the god-child in many a Greek myth. One of the episodes involves Jesus making clay birds, which he then proceeds to bring to life, an act also attributed to Jesus in Quran 5:110,[1] although Jesus's age at the time of the event is not specified in the Quran. In another episode, a child disperses water that Jesus has collected. Jesus, aged one, then curses him, which causes the child's body to wither into a corpse. Another child dies when Jesus curses him when he apparently accidentally bumps into Jesus, throws a stone at Jesus, or punches Jesus (depending on the translation).

When Joseph and Mary's neighbors complain, they are miraculously struck blind by Jesus. However, later in the text, he does end up healing all the people he had previously inflicted. Mary and Joseph start to worry about Jesus’ behavior, so they find multiple teachers to help Jesus’ behavior. Jesus then starts receiving lessons, but arrogantly tries to teach the teachers instead, upsetting the teachers who suspect supernatural origins. Jesus is amused by this suspicion, which he confirms.

However, the text portrays the good side of childhood Jesus, as well. For example, he resurrects a friend who is killed when he falls from a roof, and heals another who cuts his foot with an axe. In addition to healing acts, there are also instances of Jesus performing other miraculous works. For example, there is a story where he is sowing wheat with his father and he sows a single grain that ends up producing a hundred large bushels of wheat. He then calls all the poor people in the town to give them to wheat. Also, there is a story where Jesus lengthens a piece of wood for one of his father’s carpeting jobs.

Although the miracles seem quite randomly inserted into the text, there are three miracles before, and three after, each of the sets of lessons. The structure of the story is essentially:

  • Bringing life to a dried fish (this is only present in later texts)
  • (First group)
    • 3 Miracles - Breathes life into birds fashioned from clay, curses a boy, who then becomes a corpse, curses a boy who falls dead and his parents become blind
    • Attempt to teach Jesus which fails, with Jesus doing the teaching
    • 3 Miracles - Reverses his earlier acts, resurrects a friend who fell from a roof, heals a man who chopped his foot with an axe.[2]
  • (Second group)
    • 3 Miracles - Carries water on cloth, produces a feast from a single grain, stretches a beam of wood to help his father finish constructing a bed
    • Attempts to teach Jesus, which fail, with Jesus doing the teaching
    • 3 Miracles - Heals James from snake poison, resurrects a child who died of illness, resurrects a man who died in a construction accident
  • The incident in the temple parallels with a story from the canonical Bible in Luke 2: 41-52.

List of Mischievous Works of Child Jesus[edit]

  • Curses: There are multiple moments where Jesus is caught cursing people for upsetting him, sometimes causing them to die. For example, Jesus curses/kills the Son of Annas because he scattered water that Jesus had collected. In addition, Jesus curses a boy who accidently banged into his shoulder while running. Consequently, many people came to Mary and Joseph complaining about Jesus’ behavior. When Jesus was confronted with this by his parents, he was aggravated and the people who once accused him became blind instantly.
  • Teachers: As Jesus was growing up, Joseph and Mary wanted to make sure he was educated so they hired multiple teachers over time. However, almost every time, Jesus shows arrogance to the teachers which causes them to all fear him and quit.

List of Good Works of Child Jesus[edit]

  • Clay Sparrows: Jesus is found forming fake sparrows out of mud on the Sabbath Day, by a Jew walking past. After reporting the news to Joseph, both men walk back to the scene. Joseph begins to question Jesus about his behavior, when Jesus starts clapping and says, “Be gone!” which causes the mud sparrows to become alive.
  • Healing: There are many times where Jesus uses his divine powers to heal others. For example, Jesus is found healing Zenon, a boy who fell from a roof, after being accused of pushing down. In addition, he is found healing a serious injury for a man who dropped an axe on his foot. Also, he raised a man from the dead who had fallen while building a house.
  • Broken Jug: Mary sends Jesus with a jug to fill up with water. However, on the way there, Jesus accidently breaks the jug. In order to compensate, Jesus uses his cloak as a way to carry water back to his mother.
  • Sowing Wheat: Jesus and Joseph go to a field to sow wheat. Jesus sows only one grain of wheat and a hundred large bushels are produced.
  • Lengthening Wood: Joseph comes across a problem during one of his carpeting jobs, as the piece of wood he needs is too short. Jesus tells him to lay both pieces of wood down next to each other, and Joseph listens. Jesus then takes a hold of the shorter piece and pulls it to be as long as the other piece.
  • James: Joseph send James, Jesus’ brother, out to get wood and Jesus followed. While collecting wood, James was bit by a snake and started dying. Jesus breathed on the bite which caused James to be healed and the snake to be destroyed.
  • Weeping Mother: Jesus heard a mother in his town crying and realized her baby had died. He touched the baby and said “…do not die, but live…” and the baby opened its eyes.

Syriac Infancy Gospel[edit]

The Syriac Infancy Gospel (Injilu 't Tufuliyyah), translated from a Coptic original, gives some parallels to the episodes "recorded in the book of Josephus the Chief Priest, who was in the time of Christ."[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Barnstone, Willis (ed.). The Other Bible, Harper Collins, 1984, pp. 398–403. ISBN 0-06-250031-7

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kate Zebiri of the University of London (Spring 2000). "Contemporary Muslim Understanding of the Miracles of Jesus" (PDF). The Muslim World (Hartford Seminary's Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations) 90: 74. Retrieved 2010-01-04. In the Qur'an, the miracles of Jesus are described in two passages: 3:49 and 5:110. Qur'an 3:49 attributes the following words to Jesus: I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you of clay, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God's permission 
  2. ^ Gospel of Thomas Greek Text A(Archive), Wesley Center Online, Northwest Nazarene University

External links[edit]