Over the past few days I have been working on my syllabus for the graduate seminar I will be teaching this term, on Early Christian Apocrypha — that is, other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses that did not become part of the New Testament. As chance would have it, I was also just now browsing through some old blog posts, and came across this one, posted on this date seven years ago. It is about one of the most historically influential and downright interesting Gospels from outside the New Testament. In the Middle Ages, this book was sometimes *treated* as Scripture: it inspired a good deal of Christian art, for example, and provided people with “information” about Jesus’ birth and what happened before it.
So I thought I should post it again. Here it is:
In my graduate class on non-canonical Gospels, we typically analyze the Proto-Gospel of James (which scholars call the Protevangelium Jacobi — a Latin phrase that means “Proto-Gospel of James,” but sounds much cooler….). It is called the “proto” Gospel because it records events that (allegedly) took place before the accounts of the NT Gospels. Its overarching focus is on Mary, the mother of Jesus; it is interested in explaining who she was. Why was *she* the one who was chosen to bear the Son of God? What made her so special? How did she come into the world? What made her more holy than any other woman? Etc. These questions drive the narrative, and make it our earliest surviving instance of the adoration of Mary. On the legends found here was built an entire superstructure of Marian tradition. Most of the book deals with the question of how Mary was conceived (miraculously, but not virginally), what her early years were like (highly sanctified); her youth up to twelve (lived in the temple, fed every day by an angel), her betrothal to Joseph, an elderly widower with sons from a previous marriage, the discovery of her pregnancy and the “proof” that she (and Joseph) were both pure from any “sin” (such as, well, sex).
The book was originally ….
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