In my previous post I gave some of the early chapters from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. It seems like a pretty straightforward and entertaining set of early legends about the boy Jesus. But it turns out the scholarship on the text is complicated. Here is how I describe some of it in the edition I co-authored with my colleague Zlatko Pleše, The Other Gospels. I have omitted here some of the more technical discussion (mainly about manuscripts in other ancient languages, that are so different from one another that we are not sure even what the Gospel was originally called); but this should give you a taste of some of the key issues scholars wrestle with.
The so-called Infancy Gospel of Thomas presents some of the most intractable textual and historical problems of the entire corpus of early Christian literature. On the most basic level, we do not know the scope and contents of the original version of the book, if we can even speak about an “original.” This Gospel, in its various forms, presents a number of self-contained narratives about the young Jesus, between the ages of five and twelve. It was probably written originally in Greek. But the Greek manuscripts that contain the account differ radically from one another, with entire chapters missing from some witnesses and present in others. Of the fourteen Greek manuscripts that attest the Gospel, fully eight have never been published or made available to scholarly scrutiny. Moreover, these manuscripts are all very late — most of them from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, well over a millennium removed from the earliest attested form of the text. We do have, on the other hand, earlier manuscripts in other languages (Syriac, Latin, Georgian, Ethiopic, Slavonic, etc.)
When was the first account of these “childhood deeds” written? Any…
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