Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew

The early apocrypha filled in some of the gaps in the Gospels. Remember that the Protovangelium of James harmonized the early stories about Jesus and his family found in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Some of the later apocrypha filled in even more gaps, synthesized earlier accounts and added embellishments. The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew is a perfect example of those points and very fun to read, particularly having just read the Protovangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The text of Pseudo-Matthew is here. Pseudo-Matthew uses the Protovengelium of James, in an edited form, sometimes adding to and changing the facts, then adds an account of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, then uses the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, adding to and changing facts, and ties them together into one coherent account. 

Pseudo-Matthew starts with letters between the Bishops Comatius and Heliodorus asking Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin (known as the Vulgate), to translate a Hebrew document they found that was written by Matthew, the author of one of the gospels. Jerome pronounced the writings "doubtful," but said that "the sacred nativity of St. Mary was preceded by great miracles, and succeeded by the greatest; and so...they can be believed and read without damaging their faith or imperiling their souls." The underlying document was most certainly not written by Matthew and it is very unlikely that Jerome wrote the letters attributed to him. Scholars believe that Pseudo-Matthew was written about 600 to 625 CE, much later than the earlier documents it relied upon (Jerome died in 384). 

In Pseudo-Matthew, compared to the Protovangelium, Joachim is not only rich, but we learn he started to herd his own sheep at the age of 15 and divided his lambs, sheep and wool into three portions: one portion for widows, orphans, strangers and the poor; another portion for those that worshiped God; and the other portion for his family. When Joachim was 20 he married Anna, the daughter of Achar, of the tribe of Judah and the family of David (this gives Jesus a lineage to David through Mary, which arguably is not otherwise found in the Bible). They were married for 20 years and were without children. 

Joachim, grieving because of lack of children, went into the mountains (instead of the desert) to tend his flocks with his shepherds and stayed for five months (instead of 40 days). An angel, who "appeared [as] a young man," asked Joachim why he didn't return to Anna. Joachim responds that he's been married to her for 20 years and has no children, so "Here then will I remain with my sheep." The angel informed Joachim that he appeared earlier that day to Anna and that she has conceived a daughter (not just a child) from Joachim's seed and that the daughter "will be in the temple of God, and the Holy Spirit shall abide in her; and her blessedness shall be greater than that of all the holy women" (here the child's future service is directed by the angel instead of it being Mary's promise to God). Joachim invited the angel into his tent, but the angel responded, "my food is invisible, and my drink cannot be seen by a mortal." The angel suggests Joachim offer a burnt-offering to the Lord instead. 

Joachim started back to Jerusalem and it took him 30 days. As he got near, the angel appeared to Anna and told her to go to the Golden Gate and meet Joachim there. When she saw him coming with his sheep, she "ran to him and hung on his neck." 
The Golden Gate, centered above (now blocked up), with a view of the Kidron Valley below.
The Golden Gate as viewed from the Garden of Gethsemane with the Dome of the rock in the background to its left. 
After nine months, Mary was born and Anna weaned her in her third year. Then they took Mary to the temple and placed her with the community of virgins. Mary "went up the fifteen steps so swiftly, that she did not look back at all; nor did for her parents." 
The Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem is just north of the Temple Mount. It is built on the spot that the Crusader's identified as the home of Joachim and Anna, the parents of Mary the virgin.
Beneath the Church of St. Anne is a crypt which is identified as the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. Picture from 
Mary spoke perfectly, "spent her the praises of God" and "was not reckoned a young infant, but as it were a grown-up person of thirty years old." Mary was beautiful, glorious and occupied herself "constantly with her wool-work." She prayed from the morning to the third hour, and again from the ninth hour until the angel appeared who fed her. She only ate food given to her by an angel, the food she got from the priests she fed to the poor. From the third to the ninth hour she wove. She was never angry and did not speak evil. She was often seen speaking with angels. (This is very different from her son, Jesus, per the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, who killed people when he was angry, and took some time to mature and grow out of a bratty phase.) 

Abiathar the priest wanted Mary as a wife for his son. Others kept telling her that "God is worshiped in children and adored in posterity...But Mary answered:...God is worshiped in chastity..." Mary was resolved not to "know a man at all." 

When Mary reached age 14 (instead of 12), the Pharisees said it was custom that no woman of that age should reside in the temple (contrasted to the high priest praying to know what to do with her). Normally virgins of that age were given in marriage, but Abiathar (not Zacharias), the high priest said that Mary had found a new order of life, to remain a virgin. All Israelite men with no wives were invited (not just widowers) to the temple. Lots were cast to determine who Mary would be entrusted to (instead of married to). On the first go round, Joseph's rod was not initially considered "because he was an old man," but no one was selected. So they did it again and Joseph was selected when a "dove whiter than snow" emerged from his rod and "flew toward the heavens" (instead of to the top of Joseph's head). After being selected, Joseph "bashfully" spoke to them, saying: "I am an old man, and have children; why do you hand over to me this infant, who is younger than my grandsons?" (Joseph is painted as timid and much older. A man like that would have no interest in marital relations.) 

Mary was given five virgins for "consolation," so Joseph took home not only Mary, but five additional virgins, named Rebecca, Sephora, Susanna, Abigea and Cael. (They are witnesses able to confirm that Mary remained a virgin. There is no mention of Mary's visit to Elizabeth.) 

Meanwhile, Joseph was "house-building, in the districts by the sea-shore" (he is very far away) and "after nine months he came back to his house, and found Mary pregnant." (Increasing the time from six months to nine months means Joseph was not even in the same city at the time Mary got pregnant.) Mary has five virgin witnesses to verify that "no man has touched her...We have watched over her..." Mary defends herself in front of the people who question her virginity: "I have not known man; but I am known by Him to whom from my earliest years I have devoted myself. And this vow I made to my God from my infancy, that I should remain unspotted in Him who created me, and as long as I shall live, will I remain unpolluted." 

The time for enrollment [census] came, ordered by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because he and his family belonged to the tribe of Judah and the house of David. (In the Protovangelium, the enrollment was limited to Bethlehem, leaving the impression that Joseph was from Bethlehem.) As they were traveling, Mary saw two people in front of her, one weeping and one rejoicing. Joseph could not see them and did not believe her. However, an angel appeared and explained that one was the "Jews weeping, because they have departed from their God," and the other was the "Gentiles rejoicing, because they have now been added and made near to the Lord." Then the angel ordered Mary's "beast to stand," and had her get off and "go into a recess under a cavern, in which there never was light, but always darkness..." (Joseph was not specifically accompanied by two sons, one of whom led Mary's ass.) But as Mary entered the "light from God so shone in the cave" that it was as bright as the sixth hour of the day, both day and night. 

Joseph [went] away to seek midwives" and while he was gone, "Mary brought forth a son, and the angels surrounded Him when He was being born. And as soon as He was born, He stood upon His feet, and the angels adored Him..." (No midwife was present to report on the virgin birth and no miraculous light to signify the virgin birth. Jesus doesn't need help here, he's able to walk immediately.) Joseph returned with two midwives, Zelomi (not previously named) and Salome, and found Mary with "the infant." Salome stayed outside while Zelomi made "an examination" of Mary. Zelomi exclaimed, It has never been heard or thought of, that any one should have her breasts full of milk, and that the birth of a son should show his mother to be a virgin. But there was no spilling of blood in his birth, no pain in bringing him forth." (In the Protovangelium the first midwife had no need for an exam because she was present at the birth.) Salome then came in and did an examination (but not as descriptive, no thrust of the finger). When Salome had "withdrawn her hand from handling [Mary], [the hand] dried up, and through excess of pain she began to weep bitterly..." (the hand did not burn as if on fire). But the touch of her hand to Jesus instantly cured her.

The third day after the birth, Mary "went forth out of the cave" and entered a "stable," placing Jesus in "the stall" where an ox and ass adored him. On the sixth day, they "entered Bethlehem" and on the eighth day Jesus was named and circumcised. It is not clear if Jesus was circumcised in Bethlehem or at the temple in Jerusalem, or twice, once in each place. In the temple, Symeon, who was 112 years old, saw Jesus and cried out. He'd been promised he would live until "he had seen Christ."

After two years, the Magi arrived in Bethlehem to see the infant. The Holy Family was in a house, not a cave or stable. (This two year wait makes more sense of Herod's order to kill all infants two years old and younger, but it requires the star to be visible for two years.)

Joseph and Mary flee to "Egypt by way of the desert" and we get some new stories about the two year old Jesus not found in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. A cave was found where they stayed with three boys and a girl, apparently Joseph's children by a prior marriage. Then there "came forth from the cave many dragons" and Jesus left Mary's bosom "and stood on His feet before the dragons; and they adored Jesus." Jesus then told his parents, "Do not be afraid, and do not consider me to be a little child; for I am and always have been perfect; and all the beasts of the forest must needs be tame before me." From that time on, "lions and panthers...accompanied them in the desert" showing them the way, bowing their heads and showing "submission by wagging their tails." The third day they stopped in the shade of a palm tree and Mary looked up to see it full of fruit. Jesus said, "O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit." Then "the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit." Jesus then blessed the palm that from then forward, "all who conquer in any contest" will "have attained the palm of victory."

Later, Joseph complained of the "boiling heat" and suggested they "go by the sea-shore" so they can "rest in the cities on the coast." Jesus says, "Fear not, Joseph, I will shorten the way for you." They then looked ahead and saw the "mountains and cities of Egypt" and what would have taken 30 days is done in one day. They went to the region of Hermopolis to a city called Sotinen and entered a temple with 355 idols. When Mary and Jesus entered "the idols prostrated themselves on the ground,...lying on their faces shattered and broken to pieces...plainly show[ing the idols] were nothing." 

An angel told Joseph to return "to the land of Judah, for they are dead who sought the child's life." They arrive in Galilee (the Infancy Gospel mentions no place) and Jesus is age four (instead of five). The remainder of Pseudo-Matthew uses the Infancy Gospel of Thomas as a source.

Jesus made "seven pools of clay" in the "bed of the [River] Jordan" (instead of an unspecified number of pools in a mountain stream). One of the boys Jesus was playing with (not specified as a son of Annas) "shut the passages which supplied the pools with water, and overthrew what Jesus had built up." Jesus cried out, "Woe unto thee, thou son of death, thou son of Satan! Dost thou destroy the works which I have wrought? And immediately he who had done this died." Joseph "said privately to Mary: I dare not speak to Him," so Mary did and was told by Jesus, the boy "deserved death, because he scattered the works that I had made." (Mary is part of the story and participates in dealing with the young Jesus brat.) So Jesus, "not wishing to grieve His mother...kicked the hinder parts of the dead boy...and "he who had been dead rose up, and went away. And Jesus, by the word of His power, brought water into the pools by the aqueduct." (Jesus reverses the homicide, but he is far from perfect, and does not measure up to Mary's youth).

The story of the fashioning of the 12 sparrows out of clay from the pool is similar, but Jesus tells the sparrows, "Go and fly through the earth, and through all the world, and live."

There is a second story about pools, and this time the boy who broke down the dams and aqueduct Jesus had made was the son of Annas, and he dies. So Joseph, trembling, "took hold of Jesus" and took him home. As they went, a boy from the other direction ran into Jesus' shoulder and Jesus caused the boy to fall dead. (Jesus' anger is justified to a greater extent by identifying the boy as "a worker of iniquity" who intentionally ran into Jesus "wishing to make sport of Him." At least we feel less sorry for him.) The people were in an "uproar" and Joseph feared "violence." So "Jesus seized the dead boy by the ear, and lifted him the sight of all" and spoke "to him like a father to his son." The boy's "spirit came back to him, and he revived" and all "wondered." (In the Infancy Gospel, Joseph pulled the ear of Jesus and the dead boy was not brought back to life. Pseudo-Matthew softens this boy terror, but is it enough?).  

Jesus meets the "Jewish schoolmaster" Zachyas (not Zacchaeus) and tells him, "I am a stranger to your law-courts," but "I was before the law" and since you think "no one is equal to you in learning," I will teach you. "I alone know when you were born, and how long your life on earth will be." Later Zachyas asks Joseph and Mary to let him hand over Jesus to "master Levi" who will "teach him his letters and instruct him." Jesus "began to ask [Levi] the names of the letters one by one, and said: Let the master of the law tell us what the first letter is, or why it has many triangles, gradate, subacute, mediate, obduced, produced, erect, prostrate, curvistrate." Levi was "thunderstruck."

Joseph and Mary "departed" with Jesus to Nazareth and they stayed there. The same incident of the boy falling from the roof and dying, then being brought back to life occurs, except it is noted that another child pushed the boy off the roof. (The story of Jesus healing the young man who died after splitting his foot with an ax is missing.) The story of Jesus using a cloak to carry water after the pitcher is broken is pretty much the same. Then Jesus took "a little wheat from His mother's barn" and he reaped three kors. (Joseph is removed from this incident and Mary inserted, and the yield is significantly reduced from 100 kors which was obtained from one grain). Jesus gave the corn to his "acquaintances" (instead of to the poor).

A new story is given of Jesus at age 8 going to the River Jordan near Jericho. Jesus walked into a cave with a lioness and her nursing cubs and was unhurt. Then Jesus crossed the Jordan with the lions, the water "divided on the right hand and on the left." After the dragons, lions and panthers in Egypt at age two, this particular incident seems tame.

The incident of the lengthening of the piece of wood for Joseph is similar, but expanded. We learn that Joseph not only did ploughs and yokes, but also "implements of husbandry and wooden beds."

The two additional incidents with the teachers are similar. The first teacher still dies, but Joseph does not bring him back to life. Joseph and Mary are "asked by the people that Jesus should be taught His letters" (they are not seeking this for him). The second time, Joseph and Mary let him go to school only because of fear of the people, "overbearing princes" and "threats of the priests." They know that Jesus "could learn nothing from man, because He had perfect knowledge from God only." The second teacher (that survived the encounter) "fell to the ground and adored" Jesus (instead of asking Joseph to take him home).

Then we get some more completely new material. The Holy Family moves to Capernaum because of "malice" from their "adversaries." A rich man, also named Joseph, died and is "lying dead in his couch." Jesus hears the mourning and instructs his father to take a handkerchief and "put it on the face of the dead man, and say to him: Christ heal thee; and immediately the dead man will be healed, and will rise from his couch." Joseph did as instructed and the "man rose from his bed and asked who Jesus was."

They left Capernaum and went back to Bethlehem where they lived in Joseph's house. Joseph asked his "first-born son James" to go "into the vegetable garden to gather vegetables for the purpose of making broth" (instead of to gather wood). The viper incident is then similar: James is healed by Jesus and the serpent dies.

(The last incident from the Infancy Gospel, Jesus conversing with the teachers in the temple, is removed). The last scene is a feast with Mary, Joseph and "his sons, James, Joseph, and Judah," Simeon and his two daughters, and Mary's sister "Mary of Cleophas." Jesus "sanctified and blessed them, and He was the first to begin to eat and drink..." It concludes, "when Jesus slept, whether by day or by night, the brightness of God shone upon Him."

The most interesting piece of this last incident is that Mary of Cleophas is identified as the sister of Mary "whom the Lord God had given to her father Cleophas and her mother Anna, because they had offered Mary the mother of Jesus to the Lord." She was given the same name of Mary "for the consolation of her parents." Where is Joachim, how does Cleophas get inserted as Mary's father? Well, apparently there is a theme of "Holy Kinship" which has Anna conceive three Mary's through three different husbands: Joachim, Cleophas and Salome. One Mary, the virgin, married Joseph and bore Jesus. Another Mary married Alpheus and bore James the Less [an apostle], Joseph the Just (or Joses), Simon [an apostle] and Jude [an apostle], identified as brothers of Jesus in Mark and Matthew. They are often viewed as children of Joseph by a prior marriage, but in this light, are cousins of Jesus through his Aunt Mary. The third Mary married Zebedee and bore James the Greater and John [both apostles]. This genealogy makes five of the twelve apostles cousins of Jesus. This same genealogy treats Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, as the daughter of Hismeria, the sister of Anne, which also makes John the Baptist a cousin of Jesus.

All of this extra-Biblical information created lots of fodder for use by artists and makes much of it hard to interpret for those of us not steeped in this sort of background. 


  1. I'm beginning to understand why so little is said about the life of the young Jesus if this is what scholars had to draw from in putting together the Gospels. Fun stories. I can imagine what kind of reaction we might get if we taught some of these stories to primary children!

  2. I've never thought of Joseph as an older man, as indicated in both these accounts. I've been drawn in by the church pictures, showing him as a 20 something. It makes sense he'd be older.