Sunday, May 10, 2015

Infancy Gospel of Thomas

When we were in Nazareth in March, I was touched by the thoughts of Jesus as a youth. I wondered what he was like, what he did for fun, whether he liked to explore, whether he liked to catch lizards and snakes? In other words, was he anything like me? Early Christians also wondered what Jesus was like as a youth and various pseudepigraphical accounts filled in some of those blanks left by the Gospels. The most popular account is known as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and it is attributed to "Thomas the Israelite." A translation of one account is here. The account finishes with the story in Luke where Jesus is in the temple at age 12, listening to and asking questions of the teachers (Luke 2:41-52). The Gospel of Luke was written about 80 to 85 CE, so the Gospel of Thomas is at least that old. The first likely quotation of it is by Irenaeus of Lyon around 185 CE. So most scholars believe it was written in the mid to late 2nd century. Some have suggested it was written in eastern Syria, where the Thomas traditions are located, and the original language was probably Syriac or Greek. 

Far from my own imaginations of Jesus as a youth, this young Jesus was a lot a bit of a bully and snotty brat, particularly early on, so I have a hard time relating to it, but it is very interesting and sometimes hilarious material. 

At age 5, Jesus was playing in a stream and collected the water into pools. By his word he could make the muddy water clear. From clay he molded 12 sparrows, but it was the Sabbath and an on-looker informed Joseph that Jesus was profaning the Sabbath. When Joseph arrived to scold him, "Jesus clapped His hands, and cried out to the sparrows...Off you go! And the sparrows flew, and went off crying." There goes the evidence.

The son of Annas the scribe took a willow branch and broke open the pools Jesus had created to hold the water. Jesus was angry and called him "wicked, impious and foolish." Jesus called for him to dry up like a tree without root, leaves or fruit and he died. Don't cross Jesus, he's got a temper.

A boy was running through Nazareth and ran into the shoulder of Jesus. The angry Jesus called out to him and he "fell down dead." The parents of the boy complained to Joseph about his child, that it was "impossible" to live with them in the village because "he is killing our children." Parents, don't let your kids play with Jesus. 

Joseph admonished Jesus that when he did these things "people suffer, and hate us, and persecute us [after all, two people have already died]." Jesus told his father he would remain silent for his father's sake, but he would still mete out punishment. So thereafter, those that accused Jesus were "struck blind." At least Joseph had the courage to take hold of Jesus' ear and pull it hard. His son was angry, but Joseph did not die or go blind, so there was progress. It is very apparent that many of the early Christians viewed Jesus in the way we would view a Marvel comic book character. He seemed to be using super powers. 

Zacchaeus, a teacher, offered to teach Jesus letters. He recited to Jesus Alpha through Omega and Jesus responded to him, "Thou who art ignorant of the nature of the Alpha, how canst thou teach others the Beta?" He called the teacher a hypocrite and questioned him about the first letter. Zacchaeus was overwhelmed and questioned his own teaching ability. "I, wretch that I am, am at a loss, bringing shame upon myself...Take him away...I cannot endure the sternness of his look; I cannot make out his meaning at all...I...have been conquered by a child. There is nothing for me but despondency and death..." No one "dared to make [Jesus] angry" fearing a curse or being maimed. 

But Jesus is learning and getting better. Jesus was playing with a boy on the roof of a home and the boy fell and was killed. Of course, the boys parents blamed Jesus, with good reason. Jesus "leaped down from the roof, and stood beside the body of the child, and cried with a loud voice...Zeno...stand up, and tell me; did I throw thee down? And he stood up immediately" and absolved Jesus, acknowledging that Jesus "hast raised me up." 

A boy was splitting wood and "cut the sole of his foot in two" with the axe and died from loss of blood. Jesus took hold of the foot and the boy came back to life and was cured immediately. Jesus told the boy, "Rise up now, split the wood, and remember me." 

This was all at age five! At age six Mary gave him a pitcher and sent him to draw water. Jesus bumped into someone and the pitcher broke. So Jesus "unfolded the cloak which He had on, and filled it with water, and carried it to His mother." He got a kiss for that. 

At age eight (he must have settled down a little bit), he was with Joseph sowing corn. Jesus sowed one grain and when it was reaped and threshed it made 100 kors (about 600 bushels). Jesus called on the poor and gave the corn to them. He is growing charitable. 

Joseph was a carpenter and primarily made ploughs and yokes. A rich man ordered a couch and Joseph cut one of the cross-pieces too short. Jesus instructed his father to put down the two pieces of wood on the floor. Then Jesus stood at one end and "took hold of the shorter piece of wood, and stretched it, and made it equal to the other." Jesus is now getting quite useful and resourceful.

But, there are still slip-ups. Joseph sought out another teacher to teach Jesus his letters. The teacher resolved to teach Jesus first Greek letters, then Hebrew. Similar to the first teacher, Jesus challenged him and the teacher "struck [Jesus] on the head." Jesus cursed the teacher and he fell to the ground on his face and died. When Jesus returned home, Joseph turned to Mary and said, "Do not let [Jesus] go outside of the door, because those that make him angry die." Good point. Jesus is lucky he's not in jail. 

Another teacher, a friend of Joseph, volunteered to have Jesus come to his school. Joseph said, "If thou has the courage, brother, take him with thee." I grasp a hint of resignation on the part of Joseph. Joseph's friend took Jesus with "fear and great agony" (this is a true friend), but this time Jesus "went along pleasantly" and "found a book lying on the reading-desk" and opened it up and started to speak. But he didn't read the letters, he "spoke by the Holy Spirit, and taught the law to those that were standing round." Joseph heard what was going on and "ran to the school." His friend asked Joseph to take Jesus home. Jesus heard this and "laughed" and then "cured" the previous teacher. Joseph took Jesus home.

Joseph sent his son James to gather wood and Jesus followed him. A viper bit James' hand and he was near death. Jesus "blew upon the bite and the pain ceased" and James was safe. The viper, on the other hand "burst." 

An infant of a neighbor "fell sick and died, and its mother wept sore." Jesus heard her and "ran in haste, and found the child dead, and touched his breast, and said: I say to thee, child, be not dead, but live, and be with thy mother." The infant "looked up and laughed." Jesus told the mother, "give it milk and remember me." Jesus is now starting to act and talk like he did as an adult. 

Jesus found "a man lying dead" at a house construction site. He took the dead man by the hand and told him, "arise, and go on with thy work." The man did and the crowd responded, "This child is from heaven, for he has saved many souls from death." Now the village people are singing a different tune.

The last scene is the scene from Luke. Jesus is 12 and he went with his parents to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. As they were going back home, Jesus went back to Jerusalem to talk with the teachers in the temple, which is where his parents founds him some time later. After some interchange, "Jesus rose up, and followed His mother, and was subject to His parents." And in a paraphrase of Luke 2:52, "Jesus advanced in wisdom, and stature, and grace." 

It is not the story I would have written for the young Jesus. I think the LDS culture tends to think of Jesus as more man than God, particularly at his young age. More approachable, more friendly, more even tempered. The Jesus painted by this portrayal is more in the line of a Greek god, a man with great power, but also very real faults and passions that oftentimes overruled his good sense. 

Another thing that strikes me is that this is almost all Joseph raising and trying to discipline the young Jesus. Where is Mary? She kisses Jesus when he's been good and brings her back water and he follows her when he leaves the temple at age 12, but nowhere is she shown disciplining Jesus or fretting about his antics. I suspect that it is all about her reputation that must be preserved. Mary is nigh unto a god in many traditions and Joseph disappears. Better to let Joseph take the humiliation and frustration for Jesus' antics and preserve all positives for Mary. 


  1. Some really interesting, crazy stories here--I'm hoping someone just had a vivid imagination.

  2. Great stories and I love your interpretations of Jesus' progress. Nice to know you were a nicer little boy than he was!