Infancy Gospel of Thomas

From Academic Kids

fr:Évangile de l'enfance de Thomas fi:Tuomaan lapsuusevankeliumi

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a non-canonical Christian text from the mid-2nd century AD that was part of a popular genre of the 2nd and 3rd centuries -- a miracle literature of Infancy gospels that was both entertaining and inspirational, written to satisfy a hunger for more miraculous and anecdotal stories of the childhood of Jesus than the Gospel of Luke provided. Later references by Hippolytus and Origen 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.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is, like many such texts, an pseudepigraphical work, for it claims within itself to have been written by "Thomas the Israelite" (in a Latin version). An historical Thomas (or Judas Thomas, Didymos Judas Thomas, etc.) is very unlikely to have had anything to do with the text: whomever its ultimate author was, he seems not to have known anything of Jewish life except for the Passover observance, and certainly had a completed Gospel of Luke to refer to. The first known quote from its text is from Irenaeus of Lyon, ca 185, which sets a latest possible date of authorship.

Scholars disagree whether the original language of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was Greek or Syriac. The few surviving Greek manuscripts are all late, while the earliest authorities are a much abbreviated 6th century Syriac version, and a Latin palimpsest at Vienna of the 5th or 6th century, which has never been deciphered in full. There is such an unanalysed welter of manuscripts, translations, shortened versions, alternates and parallels, that they have prevented an easy accounting of which text is which. This number of texts and versions reflect the work's widespread popularity during its day.

The text describes the life of Jesus after the age of about 5, and is heavily filled with fanciful supernatural events. One of the episodes involves Jesus making clay birds, which he then proceeds to bring to life, an act also attributed to Jesus in the Qur'an, thus indicating the text may have had substantial influence on tradition. In another, a child disperses water that Jesus has collected, so Jesus makes the child's body wither into a corpse, and another child is killed by Jesus when he accidentally bumps into him.

Obviously such behaviour annoyed Joseph and Mary's neighbours, so they complain, but are struck blind by Jesus. Jesus then starts receiving lessons, but arrogantly tries to teach the teacher instead, upsetting the teacher who suspects supernatural origins. Jesus is amused by this suspicion, which he confirms, and revokes all his earlier cruelty. Subsequently he heals a friend who is killed when he falls from a roof, and another who cuts his foot with an axe.

After various other demonstrations of supernatural ability, new teachers try to teach Jesus, but he proceeds to explain the law to them instead. There are another set of miracles in which Jesus heals his brother who is bitten by a snake, and two others who have died from different causes. Finally, the text recounts the episode in Luke in which Jesus is 12 and teaches in the temple.

Although the miracles seem quite randomly inserted into the text, there are infact 3 miracles before, and 3 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)
  • 3 Miracles - Life into (12) clay birds, turning a boy into a corpse, striking a boy dead and his parents blind
  • Attempt to teach Jesus which fails, with Jesus doing the teaching
  • 3 Miracles - Reverse his earlier acts, resurrect friend who fell, heal man who chopped his foot with an axe
  • 3 Miracles - Carry water on cloth, produce a feast from a single grain, stretch a beam of wood
  • Attempt to teach Jesus which fails, with Jesus doing the teaching
  • 3 Miracles - Heal James from snake poison, resurrect a child who died of illness, resurrect a man who died in a construction accident
  • Incident in the temple from Luke

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