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Infancy Gospel of Thomas

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The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a pseudepigraphical gospel about the childhood of Jesus that dates to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. 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.

Author

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a work attributed to "Thomas the Israelite" (in a medieval Latin version). The biblical Thomas (or Judas Thomas, Didymos Judas Thomas, etc.) is very unlikely to have had anything to do with the text, though some scholars believe it was a gentile. 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

The first known probable quotation in its text is from Irenaeus of Lyon, ca 185, which sets a latest possible date of authorship. The earliest possible date is in the 80s A.D., 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 AD, since 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 texts and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas all refer to the oral versions of this story.

Manuscript tradition

Scholars disagree whether the original language of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was Greek or Syriac, based on the finding or lack of badly-translated Greek or Syriac vocabulary or idiom. The few surviving Greek manuscripts provide no clues in themselves, for none of them date before the 13th century (James), 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 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 James found that they have prevented an easy accounting of which text is which. This number of texts and versions reflect the work's widespread popularity into the High Middle Ages.

Content

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 Qur'an 5:110;[1] although in the Quran it is not attributed to him as a child, nor as an adult. In another episode, a child disperses water that Jesus has collected, Jesus 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. 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 apparent cruelty. Subsequently he resurrects a friend who is killed when he falls from a roof, and heals 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 is 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, aged twelve, teaches in the temple.

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 [1]
  • (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
  • Incident in the temple paralleling Luke

It is also seen in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas that from the age of five years old until the age of twelve, the young Jesus had killed at least three people, two children and one adult teacher. They were not brought back to life.

Syriac Infancy Gospel

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."

Further reading

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

References

  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. http://macdonald.hartsem.edu/articles/zebiriarticle.pdf. 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". 

External links

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This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.



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