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Jesus the Superboy: A Blast From the Past

As is my wont, this time of year, I’ve been thinking about the stories of Jesus’ birth and early life for a few days now.  And just this instant I was looking at some old posts on the blog, from years ago — and this one turned up from 2013.  A matter of ongoing interest: if Jesus was the miracle working Son of God as an adult, what was he like as a kid?  We have stories about that from the early church.  Here’s the post, occasioned by some lectures I was giving:

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I just (now) flew into Washington D.C., to give four lectures tomorrow (count them, four) on “The Other Gospels” at the Smithsonian. Each lecture is about an hour, followed by 15 minutes of Q & A. It’ll be a grueling day.

I do these Smithsonian things once or twice a year on average. They’re great – 160 adults who have paid good money and devoted an entire day to hearing lectures on a topic important to them. It’s a terrific audience, wide-ranging, highly intelligent, educated, and curious — real a shift from teaching 19-year old college kids. I enjoy both kinds of audience very much – but (some) more things can be assumed in this setting and, well, the humor has to change. 🙂

I normally do these Smithsonian talks when a new book has come out, and so this is to be about the new edition of The Other Gospels that just appeared. I’ve decided that my lectures will be on four different Gospels/types of Gospels, and maybe I’ll blog a bit about them. The four topics are: Infancy Gospels (both Infancy Thomas – on which below – and the Proto-Gospel of James); the Coptic Gospel of Thomas; the Gospel of Peter; and the Pilate Gospels (Acts of Pilate; the Report of Pilate, and the Handing Over of Pilate). Many students of early Christianity are familiar with the first three on one level or another; very few know about the Pilate Gospels.

So, in the first lecture I start off with a crowd-favorite, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, an account of the (rather mischievous) (and totally miraculous) activities of Jesus starting as a five-year old, continuing up to the time that he was engaged in conversations with teachers of the Law in the Temple as a twelve-year old (the Gospel ends with this story which is simply borrowed from Luke 2).

There are all sorts of things about this book that scholars are interested in that I won’t be going into, principally because they are things that non-scholars, frankly, are *not* all that interested in, and it’s impossible, in my view, to *make* them interested in them because, well, they issues are detailed and scholarly and not at all sexy (such as the Greek manuscript tradition of the Gospel, the question of whether the Greek manuscripts or the Syriac or the Ethiopic represent the oldest form of the text, the question of whether the Gospel was known to Irenaeus and/or Origen, and, well, lots of other things).

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A Different Interpretation of the Mischievous Boy, Jesus
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Comments

  1. wostraub  December 9, 2016

    I see these “Blasts from the Past” as essentially news reports that happened to be circulating at the time they were current. I don’t know how on earth people could have believed them (like the Infancy Gospel), but I can’t help but compare them with today’s news. The “fake news” phenomenon (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) likely played a significant role in the 2016 election, and again I ask myself how people could believe such nonsense in a technological era when unlimited knowledge and facts (which can be had for free) can somehow be replaced by silly (and dangerous) unsubstantiated rumors. Have we made no progress at all over the past 2,000 years?

    BTW, I love your writing!

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  December 9, 2016

    Petulance is next to godliness.

  3. godspell  December 9, 2016

    Now I’m wondering if Jerome Bixby read the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. That’s an obscure reference, but I think many here will have seen the Twilight Zone episode based on his short story–

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_a_Good_Life

    If you gave a child unlimited godlike power, no good could ever come of it.

    What’s interesting to me about this is that in theses stories young Jesus has the power of a god, but not the wisdom to refrain from using it. But if he was God–not just a human given godlike powers–he would also have the knowledge, and it does seem that he is already gifted with greater knowledge than his elders.

    I don’t think children should be allowed to read this one. 😐

    PS: I’m quite sure the young Clark Kent never behaved in such a scandalous manner.

  4. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  December 9, 2016

    Jesus ” the super boy ” lol
    yes some teachers are hypocrites
    Yes, some where in history I do remember Jesus calling for Alpha with the universe in his eyes mainly when he is troubled or weaping… Like the painting of Jesus praying in the woods on a rock.. Alpha does stand for Jesus I recall..
    But who is Alpha..
    Random Post Bart! LOL
    Lets not a be an ignorant hypocritical Teacher Bart..
    And I watched you at Fresno City College.. I watch all of them.. I always will…

  5. Tempo1936  December 9, 2016

    Why didn’t Jesus write his gospel if it was the most important story ever told? Surely The creator of the universe could write.
    Most fundamentalist never consider this question .

    • Bart
      Bart  December 10, 2016

      My sense is that most would say that he was restricting himself to the conditions of his day and age. That’s a long-standing view within theology. As Paul says “Christ emptied himself” in order to become human, to accept the limitations of the human condition.

      • Hildore  December 11, 2016

        I have always wondered of what exactly did he “empty himself”, and where did he put that which he “emptied”?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 12, 2016

          It is usually taken to mean that he laid aside all the powers and prerogatives that were his as a divine being in order to become fully human.

  6. dankoh  December 10, 2016

    I think he was still a bit of a brat as an adult. In Mark 11, he is hungry and comes across a fig tree. But it’s the wrong season (in the hill country, anyway) for fruit, so the fig tree has none. In what sure sounds like a petulant fit, Jesus curses the fig tree – which dies, of course.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 12, 2016

      It is often thought that this is a parable for the nation of Israel, which will be withered because it has not born fruit.

      • dankoh  December 13, 2016

        Sounds like a after-the-fact justification to me. Jesus was a Jew preaching to other Jews, and expected the Jews to listen and follow him. (Speaking historically, of course, not theologically.)

  7. Gearyman  December 10, 2016

    I’d love to share this with my colleagues Bart, but please go over your posting and check the grammatical errors.

  8. SidDhartha1953  December 11, 2016

    Do you still lecture at the Smithsonian on occasion? Can you let us know when your next engagement is coming up? I’d love to be in the audience!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 12, 2016

      Yes, usually once a year. Nothing is scheduled just yet, but we’ll probably do something in conjunction with the next book when it gets published.

  9. drussell60  December 12, 2016

    All those vengeful things that super-boy Jesus allegedly did could explain why so many Christians (even today) fear Jesus, the “loving savior,” who will still punish them, or toss their bacon into hell for whatever. When I was very young I remember inappropriately laughing at a man who was walking funny (clearly an ignorant, childish response), and my die-hard fundamentalist father grabbed a hold of me and angrily said, “David! I would be careful because God may cause you to walk funny like that simply for laughing at that man!” Nuff said.

  10. Chuck  December 12, 2016

    At a recent gathering of biblical and archeological scholars, I spoke with a New Testament scholar following his lecture about his claim that Jesus was rabbinically trained and was familiar – could read and was conversant – in Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek. He said scholars who hold to a lesser view, i.e., Jesus was only conversant in Aramaic and not in either Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek, are stuck in a old mistaken 19th and early 20th century understanding and perspective. Please elucidate.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2016

      Elucidation: He wanted you to think he was right and that anyone who disagreed with him was out of date.

      • Chuck  December 14, 2016

        Time constraints between lectures didn’t allow him time to defend his comments – I wish more time had been available. I hope to contact him for defense of his position. Has this topic and your opinion on this issue been addressed in one of your books or previous blogs?

        • Chuck  December 14, 2016

          I found conversation on this topic in a July 2013 blog on “Jesus Literacy” – thanks

        • Bart
          Bart  December 15, 2016

          Not extensively. Jesus was a lower-class day laborer from a remote rural area of Galilee. People like that spoke Aramaic. They did not have the education to be able to read or speak Greek. You may want to read the books by Mark Chancey on Galilee in the days of Jesus, or the book by Catherine Hezser on Literacy in Roman Palestine.

  11. DavidBeaman  December 12, 2016

    You, sir, are a work-a-holic!

  12. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  February 10, 2017

    Bart I am back on the blog after being busy with school. I do want to praise you still on your hard work. Hard work with this blog is not being unnoticed or unappreciated, and I do try to read as much as possible. I would like to go off topic a bit, and state that I have been out of school for a while, but back and ready to take it on. Knowledge is power in my eyes, and you and I know that important individuals had the knowledge a long time ago. In the past I have made comments on your daily blogs with incorrect paragraph structure as well as simple punctuation errors that include; comma splices, fragments, ( oxford comma which I like to use ) and run on sentences. Bart please excuse my simple conjunctions when I write, since I am just commenting mostly when intoxicated and have the urge to write. I am back in school, and confidence I can go way past Graduate School. I may not Graduate from an Ivy League school, as it is too late to be accepted due to my background and decision making. I want to recognize that you are a teacher that is sixty one years old I believe and I am twenty seven and I am almost 100% confident that you have passion for knowledge and human history. When I have blogged in the past from what it seemed to be complaint nature when so much is going in the world, and with that I would like to apologize if you have ever felt I have wasted time. With this blog I do realize the hard work and dedication that goes into to it.

    Yes, you have a PhD from Princeton, but this blog is time consuming and it is greatly appreciated. I have sent personal emails due to impulsive actions maybe? I don’t know why I contacted you like have with the results of you emailing me to come to the blog. I do remember my interpretations of The Gospel Of Thomas and my unknown dialect as Elaine Pagels stated, and I don’t know what came over me. I do understand the art of writing and beautiful the knowledge is when it comes to the simple things such as Independent clauses and dependent clauses, and the fifteen something comma rules. This maybe is a random post, but I want to state that my logical reasoning is here with me. I have sent an email of me dancing to music and want to say what is normal? I have seen you doing interviews with guest drinking as they go on with the show. I Believe you are down to earth, and my dancing is my own religious freedom as a human. My dancing is inspired by Zeus, and I don’t go around dancing, but when I do I do think of Mount Olympus. I consider my self very professional and carry my self very well in the real world. This is a random post not specifically to any blog, but I want to say I do have so much more to say. I want to say when it comes to my belief, I believe in Zeus and want to apologize if I have offended anyone or you feel I have wasted your time. I am doing better than I have ever been doing and sometimes the saying take no coin and walk with God and every thing will fall into place. I guess I am saying I believe, but keep it to my self. You go out and speak logic and history to the world and I absolutely love it. I have had a glass of wine and I am currently listing to music as I write this. I would like to end this post by saying if you find some way to incorporate Zeus into your blog I would love to read what you have to say Mr leading authority of this planet.

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