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Stories about Jesus’ Childhood

Ever wondered what kind of a child Jesus was?  Well, The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ tells us that Jesus was part healer, part genius, part brat.  It starts out with some interesting stories about happened to the holy family in Egypt (following Herod’s edict to kill all boys age 2 and under), and then goes on to tell that Jesus often miraculously killed adults and children that ticked him off.  This gospel has some interesting stories, and some really weird stories— definitely not the sort of Jesus most Christians would expect to see.

The gospel was translated into English and published by Professor Henry Pike in 1697 in Cambridge.  It dates to at least the 3rd century.  The gospel is a Gnostic gospel, so the portrayals of Jesus are quite different than traditional Christians would expect to see.  Frankly, some of the things in this gospel are just plain weird.

This gospel is a bit longer than some of the other gospels.  For this post, I’ve quoted some stories, and given short summaries of some of the others.  As you can see, Jesus could speak even in the cradle.

Chapter 1

2 [Caiaphus] relates that Jesus spake even when he was in the cradle, and said to his mother;

3  Mary, I am Jesus the Son of God…

Chapter 2

1  And when the time of his circumcision was come, namely, the eighth day, on which the law commanded the child to be circumcised, they circumcised him in a cave.

2  And the old Hebrew woman took the foreskin (others say she took the navel-string), and preserved it in an alabaster-box of old oil of spikenard.

3  And she had a son who was a druggist, to whom she said, Take heed thou sell not this alabaster box of spikenard-ointment, although thou shouldst be offered three hundred pence for it.

4  Now this is that alabaster box which Mary the sinner procured, and poured forth the ointment out of it upon the head and the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, and wiped if off with the hairs of her head.

Ok, I don’t know about you, but I think that is really gross.

Chapter 3

1  And it came to pass, when the Lord Jesus was born at Bethlehem, a city of Judaea, in the time of Herod the King; this wise men came from the East to Jerusalem, according to the prophecy of Zoradascht [footnote says Zoroaster— I blogged about Zoroastrianism a few years ago] and brought with them offerings; namely gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and worshipped him, and offered to him their gifts.

2  Then the Lady Mary took one of his swaddling clothes in which the infant was wrapped, and gave it to them instead of a blessing, which they received from her as a most noble present.

5  But they produced the swaddling cloth which St. Mary had given to them, on account whereof they kept a feast.

6  And having, according to the custom of their country, made a fire, they worshiped it.

7  And casting the swaddling cloth into it, and kept it.

8  And when the fire was put out, they took forth the swaddling cloth unhurt, as much as if the fire had not touched it.

9  Then they began to kiss it, and put it upon their heads and their eyes, saying, This is certainly an undoubted truth, and it is really surprising that the fire could not burn it, and consume it.

10  Then they took it, and with the greatest respect laid it up among their treasures.

Chapter 4

1  Now Herod, perceiving that the wise men did delay, and not return to him, called together the priests and wise men…

3  But an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in his sleep, and said, Arise, take the child and his mother, and go into Egypt as soon as the cock crows.  So he arose and went.

6  And now he drew near to a great city, in which there was an idol, to which the other idols and gods of Egypt brought their offerings and vows.

8  This priest had a son three years old, who was possessed with a great multitude of devils, who uttered many strange things, and when the devils seized him, walked about naked with his clothes torn, throwing stones at those whom he saw.

10  And all the magistrates and priests of the idols assembled before that idol, and made inquiry there, saying, What means all this consternation, and dread, which has fallen upon all our country?

11  The idol answered them, The unknown God is come hither, who is truly God; nor is there any one besides him, who is worthy of divine worship; for he is truly the Son of God.

13  And at the same instant this idol fell down, and at his fall the inhabitants of Egypt besides others, ran together.

14  But the son of the priest, when his usual disorder came upon him, going into the inn, found there Joseph and St. Mary, whom all the rest had left behind and forsook.

15  And when the Lady St. Mary had washed the swaddling clothes of the Lord Christ, and hanged them out to dry upon a post, the boy possessed with the devil took down one of them, and put it upon his head.

16  And presently the devils began to come out of his mouth, and fly away in the shape of crows and serpents.

17  From that time, the boy was healed by the power of the Lord Christ, and he began to sing praises, and give thanks to the Lord who had healed him.

Chapter 5

1  Now Joseph and Mary, when they heard that the idol was fallen down and destroyed, were seized upon with fear and trembling…

3  They went therefore hence to the secret places of robbers, who robbers travelers as they pass by…

4  The thieves upon their coming heard a great noise, such as the noise of a king with a great army and many horses, and the trumpets sounding as his departure from his own city; at which they were so affrighted as to leave all their booty behind them, and fly away in haste.

5 Where is that king, the noise of whose approach the robbers heard, and left us, so that we are now come off safe?

6  Joseph answered, He will come after us.

Chapter 6

[Jesus heals naked woman possessed of devils.  He also cures a bride made dumb by sorcerer, a leprous woman is cured by washing in Jesus’ bathwater, a leprous prince is also cured in same manner.]

Chapter 7

[a man who could not enjoy his wife, freed from his disorder]

11  It was now winter-time, and the girl went into the parlour where these women were, and found them weeping and lamenting, as before

12  By them stood a mule, covered over with silk, and an ebony collar hanging down from his neck, whom they kissed, and were feeding.

13  But when the girl said, How handsome, ladies that mule is!  They replied with tears, and said, This mule, which you see, was our brother, born of this same mother as we.

14  For when our father died, and left us a very large estate, and we had only this brother, and we endeavored to procure him a suitable match, and though he should be married as other men, some giddy and jealous woman bewitched him without our knowledge.

15  And we, one night, a little before day, while the doors of the house were all fast shut, saw this our brother was changed into a mule, such as you now see him to be;

16  And we, in the melancholy condition in which you see us, have applied to all the wise men, magicians, and diviners in the world, but they have been of no service to us.

21  As soon as the women had heard the girl’s discourse, they hastened away to the Lady St. Mary…¦

22  And said, O our Lady St. Mary, pity your handmaids for we have no head of our family, no one older than us; no father, or brother to go in and out before us.

23  But this mule, which you see, was our brother, which some woman by witchcraft have brought into this condition which you see; we therefore entreat you to compassionate us.

24  Hereupon St. Mary was grieved at their case, and taking the Lord Jesus, put him upon the back of the mule.

25  And said to her son, O Jesus Christ, restore (or heal) according to thy extraordinary power this mule, and grant him to have again the shape of a man and a rational creature, as he had formerly.

26  This was scarce said by the Lady St. Mary, but the mule immediately passed into a human form, and became a young man without any deformity.

27  Then he and his mother and the sisters worshiped the Lady St. Mary, and lifting the child upon their heads, they kissed him, and said, Blessed is thy mother, O Jesus, O Saviour of the world!  Blessed are the eyes which are so happy as to see they.

Chapter 8

1  In their journey from hence they came into a desert country, and were told it was infested with robbers; so Joseph and St. Mary prepared to pass through it in the night.

2  And as they were going along, behold they saw two robbers asleep in the road, and with them a great number of robbers, who were their confederates, also asleep.

3  The names of these two were Titus and Damachus; and Titus said to Damachus, I beseech thee let those persons go along quietly, that our company may not perceive anything of them;

4  But Damachus refusing, Titus again said, I will give thee forty groats, and as a pledge take my girdle, which he gave them before he had done speaking, that he might not open his mouth, or make a noise.

5  When Lady St. Mary saw the kindness which this robber did show them, she said to him, The Lord God will receive thee to his right hand, and grant the pardon of thy sins.

6  Then the Lord Jesus answered, and said to his mother, When thirty years are expired, O mother, the Jews will crucify me at Jerusalem.

7  And these two thieves shall be with me at the same time upon the cross, Titus on my right hand, and Dumachus on my left, and from that time Titus shall go before me into paradise;

8  And when she had said, God forbid this should be thy lot, O my son, they went on to a city in which were several idols; which, as soon as they came near to it, was turned into hills of sand.

12  Thence they proceeded to Memphis, and saw Pharaoh, and abode three years in Egypt.

13  And the Lord Jesus did very many miracles in Egypt, which are neither to be found in the Gospel of the Infancy or the Gospel of Perfection.

[After Herod dies, they return to Israel.]

Chapter 9

[sick children cured by water wherein Christ was washed]

Chapter 10

[Two wives of a man fight over child.  One woman tries to kill son of other woman.  Mary prophecies that evil woman will die.  She falls in a well.]

Chapter 11

[Bartholomew lies on Christ’s bed and is healed]

Chapter 12

[Leprous woman healed by washing in Christ’s bathwater.  Leprous princess is healed by same method.]

Chapter 13

[Girl possessed by Satan is healed by Christ’s swaddling clothes.]

Chapter 14

1  Another woman likewise lived there, whose son was possessed by Satan.

2  This boy, named Judas, as often as Satan seized him, was inclined to bite all that were present; and if he found no one else near him, he would bite his own hands and other parts.

5  Then Judas, who was possessed, came and sat down at the right hand of Jesus.

6  When Satan was acting upon him as usual, he went about to bite the Lord Jesus.

7  And because he could not do it, he struck Jesus on the right side, so that he cried out.

8  And in the same moment Satan went out of the boy, and ran away like a mad dog.

9  This same boy who struck Jesus, and out of whom Satan went in the form of a dog, was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him to the Jews.

10  And that same side, on which Judas struck him, the Jews pierced with a spear.

Chapter 15

1  And when the Lord Jesus was seven years of age, he was on a certain day with other boys his companions about the same age.

2  Who when they were at play made clay into several shapes, namely asses, oxen, birds, and other figures,

3  Each boasting of his own work, and endeavoring to exceed the rest.

4  Then the Lord Jesus said to the boys, I will command these figures which I have made to walk.

5  And immediately they moved, and when he commanded them to return, they returned.

6  He had also made the figures of birds and sparrows, which when he commanded to fly, did fly, and when he commanded to stand still, did stand still; and if he gave them meat and drink, they did eat and drink.

7  When at length the boys went away, and related these things to their parents, their fathers said to them, Take heed, children for the future, of his company, for he is a sorcerer; shun and avoid him, and from henceforth never play with him.

8-15 [Jesus throws a bunch of linens at a shop in the fire.  The store owner is upset, so Jesus retrieves them from the fire unharmed.]

Chapter 16

[Joseph spends 2 years making a throne for the king of Jerusalem.  It is too small, so Jesus miraculously enlarges the throne.]

Chapter 17

[Jesus plays hide and seek with some boys.  Some women throw the boys into a furnace, but Jesus transforms them into baby goats— kids.  Then Jesus transforms them back into boys, unharmed by the furnace.]

Chapter 18

[Serpent bites Simon the Canaanite as a boy.  Jesus causes serpent to suck back the poison, and then the serpent bursts.  Simon is cured.]

Chapter 19

[James is bitten by viper and cured.  Jesus accused of throwing boy off roof.  Jesus causes dead boy to live and the boy acquits Jesus.  Pitcher breaks, and Jesus restores water to pitcher.]

16  Again on another day the Lord Jesus was with some boys by a river and they drew water out of the river by little channels, and made little fish-pools.

17  But the Lord Jesus had made twelve sparrows, and placed them about his pool on each side, three on a side.

18  But it was the Sabbath day, and the son of Hanani a Jew came by, and saw them making these things, and said, Do ye thus make figures of clay on the Sabbath?  And he ran to them and broke down the fish-pools.

19  But when the Lord Jesus clapped his hands over the sparrows which he had made, the flew away chirping.

20  At length the son of Hanani coming to the fish-pool of Jesus to destroy it, the water vanished away, and the Lord Jesus said to him,

21  In like manner as this water has vanished, so shall thy life vanish; and presently the boy died.

22  Another time, when the Lord Jesus was coming home in the evening with Joseph, he met a boy, who ran so hard against him, that he threw him down;

23  To whom the Lord Jesus said, As thou hast thrown me down, so shalt thou fall, nor ever rise.

24  And that moment the boy fell down and died.

Chapter 20

[Jesus sent to school to learn the alphabet, but teaches the schoolmaster, then he is sent to another teacher…

13  They brought him then to a more learned master, who when he saw him, said, say Aleph.

14  And when he had said Aleph, the master bade him pronounce Beth; to which the Lord Jesus replied, Tell me first the meaning of the letter Aleph, and then I will pronounce Beth.

15  But this master, when he lift up his hand to whip him, had his hand presently withered, and he died.

16  Then said Joseph to St. Mary, henceforth we will not allow him to go out of the house; for every one who displeases him is killed.

Chapter 21

[At 12 years old, Jesus teaches in the temple about astronomy and many other subjects.]

Chapter 22

[Jesus begins concealing his miracles.  He is baptized at age 30.]

In reviewing my next post, I decided to add some information concerning a very similar gospel titled, Thomas’s Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ.  This gospel is just a fragment containing just over 3 chapters.  Chapter 1 discusses te4h same incident where Jesus animates clay sparrows on the Sabbath Day, along with another story of Jesus clearing water after the rain.  Chapter 2 discusses a boy withering after tearing down Jesus’ fish pool, and Jesus mostly restoring him to health, with the warning,

6 – Then Jesus at the request of all who were present did heal him, leaving only some small member to continue withered, that they might take warning.

Jesus goes on to blind some accusers.  When people complain,

18 – And when they say this action of Christ, Joseph arose, and plucked him by the ear, at which the boy was angry and said to him, Be easy;

In Chapter 3, Jesus astonishes a schoolmaster again with the alphabet.  Chapter 4 is just 2 verses, and appears to tell the same tale as Jesus in the dyer’s shop, though the rest of the book is missing.  As far as background, this is the only background given.

The original in Greek, from which this translation is made, will be found printed by Cotelerius, in his notes on the constitutions of the Apostles, from a MS, in the French King’s Library, No. 2279–It is attributed to Thomas, and conjectured to have originally been connected with the Gospel of Mary.

So what do you make of these stories?  Obviously, some of these are a bit outlandish–humans are turned into animals and back; Jesus kills people that ticked him off.  Jesus seems a bit capricious in some of these stories.

There are some strange stories in the New Testament as well.  What do you make of some of the more outlandish stories in the New Testament–Jesus walking on water, turning water to wine?  Do you think these more accepted New Testament stories could be just as outlandish as the stories in this gospel?

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6 comments on “Stories about Jesus’ Childhood

  1. Who is the supposed author of the first infancy gospel of Jesus Christ? You mentioned it was traced back to the 3rd century. I found it interesting that Mary was addressed as Saint Mary…obviously an anachronism. Are all the Infancy gospels of Jesus, this outlandish? There is so little about Jesus childhood in the canon. It would be nice to embrace some of this stuff if it were more believable.

  2. That’s a good question. The introduction only states that this is a Gnostic gospel. The introduction discusses early Christian fathers that referenced the gospel (Eusebius, Athanasius, John Chrysostum, Epiphanius, Justin Martyr to name a few), as well as Mohammad.

    I’m only aware of these 2 gospels, so I don’t know about any others. When I first started reading the gospel, I thought the stories were pretty cool. But when I got to the man turned into a mule story, I realized that this was just a weird gospel. (I was willing to suspend belief at the foreskin story at first, chalking that up to some weird ancient custom…..)

  3. This form of “knowledge” gospel is the kind of thing that gives Gnosticism its bad name. The author was interested in a power relationship. Can we imagine if the idea of miracles that took hold was about performing them for personal gain or for petty revenge?

  4. If you characterize an Infancy Gospel as one that covers the Christ Child, then the following would be considered Infancy Gospels:

    Syriac Infancy Gospel
    History of Joseph the Carpenter
    Life of John the Baptist

    I have only read the History of Joseph the Carpenter and find it problematic.
    I will read the other 2 soon.

  5. […] Here is a summary of some of the more unusual stories in this gospel.  (For more details, see a longer version of this post.) […]

  6. […] are many Christian stories not contained in the Bible.  For example, I have reviewed the First Infancy Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of the Birth of Mary, and the Gospel of Judas (to name a few).  These writings are […]

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