This coming week in my graduate seminar we will be discussing the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Do you know it? Fantastic book! I often get asked which non-canonical book would I include in the New Testament if I were given the choice. I sometimes mischievously answer, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
“Mischievously” is an appropriate term. This is a set of legendary stories about Jesus as a child, starting when he was five and going up to twelve, ending with the story found (only) in Luke’s Gospel about Jesus as a twelve-year old in the Temple discussing the Law with Jewish teachers (the unknown author of Infancy Thomas got the story from Luke). Many of the stories do seem to portray him in a mischievous light, especially to modern readers. Is this Jesus the Super Brat? Many readers (especially the first time through) think so. Others argue there are more serious things going on.
There were probably a number of reasons for someone to write this book. In part, of course, it was to satisfy curiosity – If Jesus was the miracle working Son of God as an adult, what was he like as a kid? Partly possibly it was for Christian entertainment (as we find today: Christian novels, Christian rock, and so on). But maybe there were other things. See what you think.
I’ve included only the first bit of the Gospel here to titillate. As you will see (in case you wondered) this Gospel has no relation to the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (the so-called “Gnostic” Gospel discovered near Nag Hammadi Egypt in 1945), except that the same person allegedly wrote it, Jesus’ brother Judas Thomas. It’s hard to know when it was actually produced, but usually it is dated to the mid second century. You can find a full translation with an introduction in the book I co-produced with my colleague Zlatko Pleše, The Other Gospels.
So, this is how it starts.
Tales of the Israelite Philosopher Thomas, Concerning the Childhood Activities of the Lord
(The Infancy Gospel of Thomas)
I, Thomas the Israelite, make this report to all of you, my brothers among the Gentiles, that you may know the magnificent childhood activities of our Lord Jesus Christ — all that he did after being born in our country. The beginning is as follows:
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