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When Time Stood Still

Tomorrow in my graduate seminar on the early Christian apocrypha we finish translating the Proto-Gospel of James (aka: the Protevangelium Jacobi). We have done about five or six chapters a week for each of the past few weeks; next week we begin to translate the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, another really great text.

In an earlier post I mentioned one of the most significant passages of the Proto-Gospel, where the midwife Salome doubts that a virgin had given birth (note: she does not doubt whether a virgin could have *conceived* [although no doubt she *would* have doubted it!]; what she doubts is that a woman could give *birth* and still have her hymen intact. That, obviously, would be impossible), and gives Mary a postpartum examination only to find that in fact she really is still a virgin (i.e., “intact”).

Immediately before that amazing scene is another that I find at least as entrancing. In it, Joseph himself describes – in the first person – what happened when the Son of God came into the world. This was such a cosmic event, that time stopped. And Joseph describes how, by explaining what he saw at that moment.


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Jesus’ Brothers?!? And the Proto-Gospel of James
The Gospel according to Mel



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 20, 2013

    Reminds me of Joshua making the sun stand still.
    It’s interesting that it describes Joseph as having sons prior to the birth of Jesus..

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    FrankJay71  October 21, 2013

    I don’t know if anyone else pointed this out, but that was actually an Outer Limits Episode, called The Premonition.
    The full episode is here.

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    donmax  October 21, 2013

    Speaking of time, some of your readers might like to learn about how it is typically measured, archeologically speaking, and how it can be misused by the *experts.* The link below is well worth the effort required. 🙂


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    Wilusa  October 21, 2013


    Say, am I right in thinking there was another tradition, in which Joseph wasn’t a widower, but was allowed to have two wives at once? Either because the mother of Jesus was a purely nominal “wife,” a young relative pledged to virginity for whom he was making a home, or because his older wife was the widow of a deceased brother, and any children he fathered by her were regarded legally as his brother’s. (In the latter scenario, it would have been assumed he was having sex with both women.)

    I also seem to remember that in this tradition (wherever I read about it), the mother of Jesus was attended at his birth by Joseph’s other wife, also named Mary, and their daughter Salome.

    And the coincidence of all those names led me to suspect the whole lot of names had been moved from the better-documented *end* of Jesus’s life story back to the beginning: Joseph (of Arimathea), Mary (Magdalene), and the other Mary and Salome who accompanied her in some versions of the “empty tomb” story.

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    EricBrown  October 21, 2013


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    gabilaranjeira  October 21, 2013

    I am not sure how I would describe this moment, but certainly whoever was the author of this account wanted to make sure that he didn’t need to explain it twice. There could no longer be any doubts regarding the holiness of Mary and of the conception and birth of The Son of God. The virginity of Mary, untouched even after the birth of Jesus, is no longer subject of debate: this is as virgin as it gets! On the same token, the attestation and importance of the birth of Jesus as the Son of God was also to be unquestionable: reality itself, as humans understand it and experience it, paused to witness and glorify that moment. “Got it?” could have been this final words.
    I just joined the blog today. This is all fascinating.

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 22, 2013

    When do scholars think the earliest book of the Old Testament was written? With regard to your book “Forged,” I assume that many Old Testament books were also ascribed to authors who did not write them?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 22, 2013

      There are huge debates about it. Was J in the 10th century or 6th (e.g.)? My view is that the 8th century prophets really were 8th century; they may be the oldest, though some parts of the Pentateuch are conceivably older.

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    Adam0685  October 22, 2013

    Generally, how do you interpret that passage? What was the author trying to say?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 22, 2013

      This was earth shattering — or rather, time-numbing — stuff, a moment like no other.

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    stephena  October 22, 2013

    As a fan of the Twilight Zone and Time Travel fiction in general, I’m fascinated by this. As a follower of Jesus, I’m horrified by this entire ‘proto-Gospel.’

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    Blackie  October 25, 2014

    This topic has enticed me for a great period of my days.. When I first came across Augustine’s view of time it was appealing for there was objective time made up of succession and duration and subjective time of our own psychological perception. Newton had the notion of absolute time as well as relative time but with Einstein time becomes wedded to space – so onto space-time. As well from Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, in which time slows down as velocity increases. (we know this from experiments that are done with atomic clocks.) With Karl Schwartzchild’s examination of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity – this led to singularity where we hypothesize that at the event horizon of a black hole – time stands still. This is one current scientific notion of time that may be “true” in our mathematical calculations that a positron is an electron moving backwards in time. So the Proto-Gospel of James seems easier to come to grips with – not withstanding the current quantum physics view of time. .

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