Syriac Infancy Gospel

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The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, painting by Paris Bordone, c. 1530. In 2015, the French art historian Anne Corneloup claimed that it illustrated a specific episode from the Syriac Infancy Gospel.[1]

The Syriac Infancy Gospel, also known as the Arabic Infancy Gospel, is a New Testament apocryphal writing concerning the infancy of Jesus. It may have been compiled as early as the sixth century, and was partly based on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and Protevangelium of James. There are only two surviving manuscripts dating from 1299 AD and the 15th/16th century in Arabic.[2][3][4] They were copied in the area of northern Iraq and show influence from the Quran.[5][6]


It consists of three parts:

  1. The birth of Jesus – based on the Protevangelium of James
  2. Miracles during the Flight into Egypt – seemingly based on nothing more than local traditions
  3. The miracles of Jesus as a boy – based on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

It contains a number of embellishments on the earlier text, however, including a diaper (of Jesus) that heals people, sweat (of Jesus) that turns into balm, curing leprosy, and dyeing cloth varied colours using only indigo dye. It also claims earlier encounters for Jesus with Judas Iscariot, and with the thieves with whom he is later crucified, as well as being one of the earliest documents.


Although this Gospel is thought to have originated from Syriac sources dating back to the fifth or sixth century,[7] it has become known to European readers by way of an Arabic version published by Henry Sike in 1697 together with a Latin translation.[8] The preface to the William Hone translation states that "It was received by the Gnostics, a sect of Christians in the second century..."[9] The earliest known mention of the Gospel was by Isho'dad of Merv, a ninth-century Syrian church father, in his biblical commentary concerning the Gospel of Matthew. The narrative of the Arabic Infancy Gospel, particularly the second part concerning the miracles in Egypt, can also be found in the Quran. Some critical scholarship claim its presence in the Qu'ran may be due to the influence the Gospel had among the Arabs. It is not known for certain that the Gospel was present in the Hejaz, but it can be seen as likely.[10] However, according to Islamic scholars the Gospel was translated into Arabic in the post-Islamic period due to the difficulty that 16th century Europeans would have in translating early Arabic's defective script into Latin as well as the extreme rarity of written texts in Pre-Islamic Arabia.[11] Most recent research in the field of Islamic studies by Sydney Griffith et al. (2013), David D. Grafton (2014), Clair Wilde (2014) & ML Hjälm et al. (2016 & 2017) assert that "all one can say about the possibility of a pre-Islamic, Christian version of the Gospel in Arabic is that no sure sign of its actual existence has yet emerged."[12][13][14][15][16] Additionally ML Hjälm in her most recent research (2017) inserts that "manuscripts containing translations of the gospels are encountered no earlier than the year 873".[17]

Quranic parallels[edit]

One parallel story between an Infancy Gospel and the Quran is found in the Arabic Gospel Of The Infancy Of The Savior and Surah 19:29–34, where the story of Jesus speaking as a baby in the cradle is narrated.

The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Savior:

v2 "He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world."[18]

Abdullah Yusuf Ali The Quran

Surah 19:29–34

"But she pointed to the babe. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?" He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.[19]

Zoroastrian connection[edit]

The third chapter of this Gospel covers the story of the wise men of the East, which, in some respects, closely follows the version of the story from Matthew. Unlike Matthew, however, this account cites Zoradascht (Zoroaster) as the source of the prophecy that motivated the wise men to seek the infant Jesus.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roy, Alain (June 2017). De Giotto à Goya. Peintures italiennes et espagnoles du musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg. Musées de la ville de Strasbourg. p. 129. ISBN 978-2-35125-151-5.
  2. ^ Wittka, Gerd. "Die Weihnachtsverkundigung in den apokryphen Kindheitsevangelien". 3.2.1 Genese des Evangeliums: "Es liegt in zwei arabischen Handschriften vor" translation: "There are two handwritten manuscripts in arabic"
  3. ^ "Arabic Infancy Gospel // 3.1. Manuscripts". MS 2: Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, codex orientalis 387 [32], fols. 2r–48v (from the year 1299 AD)
  4. ^ "Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodl. Or. 350". Date: estimated 15th/16th century
  5. ^ Schneider, Gerhard (1995). Evangelia infantiae apokrypha – Apokryphe Kindheitsevangelien. Freiburg. pp. See p. 53 and following.
  6. ^ Wittka, Gerd. "Die Weihnachtsverkündigung in den apokryphen Kindheitsevangelien". 3.2.1 Genese des Evangeliums: "Die verschiedenen Handschriften wurden wohl im Raum des heutigen türkischen Kurdistans und des Nordiraks verfaßt und sind gekennzeichnet durch Einflüsse des Korans" //transl. "The several handwritings were composed in the land of (modern day) turkish Kurdistan and northern Iraq and show Influences from the Quran"
  7. ^ Elliott, J.K. (1993). The Apocryphal New Testament : A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation. Oxford University Press, UK. ISBN 9780191520327.
  8. ^ Henry Sike (1697). Evangelium infantiae, vel Liber apocryphus de infantia Servatoris ex manuscripto edidit, ac latina versione et notis illustravit Henricus Sike. apud Franciscum Halmam, Guiljelmum vande Water.
  9. ^ Hone, William. "The Apocryphal Books of the New Testament". Gebbie & Co., 1890. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  10. ^ The Other Bible, Willis Barnstone, HarperSanFrancisco, P.407
  11. ^ "Is The Bible Really The Source Of The Qur'an?". Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  12. ^ Sidney H Griffith, "The Gospel In Arabic: An Enquiry Into Its Appearance In The First Abbasid Century", Oriens Christianus, Volume 69, p. 166. "All one can say about the possibility of a pre-Islamic, Christian version of the Gospel in Arabic is that no sure sign of its actual existence has yet emerged.
  13. ^ Grafton, David D (2014). The identity and witness of Arab pre-Islamic Arab Christianity: The Arabic language and the Bible. Christianity [...] did not penetrate into the lives of the Arabs primarily because the monks did not translate the Bible into the vernacular and inculcate Arab culture with biblical values and tradition. Trimingham's argument serves as an example of the Western Protestant assumptions outlined in the introduction of this article. It is clear that the earliest Arabic biblical texts can only be dated to the 9th century at the earliest, that is after the coming of Islam.
  14. ^ Sidney H. Griffith, The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam. Jews, Christians and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World, Princeton University Press, 2013, pp242- 247 ff.
  15. ^ The Arabic Bible before Islam – Clare Wilde on Sidney H. Griffith's The Bible in Arabic. June 2014.
  16. ^ Hjälm, ML (2017). Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition: The Bible in Arabic Among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Brill. 2017. ISBN 9789004347168.
  17. ^ Hjälm, ML (2017). Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition, The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims (Biblia Arabica) (English and Arabic ed.). Brill. 2017. ISBN 9789004347168. By contrast, manuscripts containing translations of the gospels are encountered no earlier then the year 873 (Ms. Sinai. N.F. parch. 14 & 16)
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-12-05. Retrieved 2010-11-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ Hone, William. "The Apocryphal Books of the New Testament". Gebbie & Co., Publishers, Philadelphia. Retrieved 26 January 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963
  • Elliott, James K. The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

External links[edit]