In This Article Infancy Gospel of Thomas

  • General Overviews

Biblical Studies Infancy Gospel of Thomas
by
Robert Cousland
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0274

Introduction

The so-called Infancy Gospel of Thomas (IGT) or Paidika is an apocryphal document that narrates episodes from Jesus’ youth from the age of five up until his twelfth year. With the exception of the Temple narrative based on Luke 2:41–52, the episodes are not found in the New Testament. While the deeds attributed to the youthful Jesus—such as healing—sometimes foreshadow those of the adult Jesus, they also include a number of curses and punishment miracles, where Jesus kills or harms those who thwart him. These punishment miracles tend to taper off as Jesus matures, but it is disputed among scholars whether this change reflects a transformation on the part of Jesus or on those around him. Also open to question is whether the IGT’s early audiences would have considered its picture of a punitive Jesus “unchristian” or whether this verdict reflects modern sensibilities. Whatever the case, the IGT proved to be highly popular with ancient audiences, and it was quickly disseminated across the empire and throughout the Christian world thereafter. Although scholars are not unanimous about its date, provenance, or original language, many would postulate that it was written in Greek sometime in the 2nd century CE in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire. Our earliest manuscripts are Syriac and Latin and date from the 5th or 6th century, but later forms of the IGT are attested in a host of other languages, including Greek, Slavonic, Ethiopian, Irish, Georgian, Latin, and Arabic. These versions show considerable variation within the narratives themselves. The earliest recensions tend to be shorter, and not all episodes are found in all versions. The version most commonly translated into modern languages is Tischendorf’s Greek A text, but it is based on late manuscripts that differ significantly from earlier versions of the IGT. It should also be kept in mind that the IGT’s associations with Thomas are tenuous at best; he is only mentioned in versions of the IGT dating from after the 8th or 9th centuries. Long-standing confusion between the IGT and the Gospel of Thomas has led some scholars to suppose that it might have gnostic features. Recent scholarship, however, has largely rejected this theory. It is now generally supposed that the work is proto-orthodox and was probably intended for the edification and entertainment of members—adults and children alike—of the emergent Christian church.

General Overviews

Recent years have seen the appearance of a number of instructive accounts of the IGT. The most recent is that of Bockmuehl 2017, which expresses some bemusement about the features of the work. Hartenstein 2010 (cited under Bibliography and Reference Works) is a useful overview in German. Attridge 1992 offers a comparable evaluation in English. Burke 2008 reminds readers that the IGT is not uniform and that it appears in a wide array of linguistic and textual traditions, while Foster 2009 and Klauck 2003 focus on the subject matter of the IGT. Although dated in several respects, Vielhauer 1975 still contains some interesting perspectives. Lapham 2003 is representative of views that are no longer generally held, while Kurzmann-Penz 2018 offers a state-of-the-art consideration of the IGT’s audience.

  • Attridge, H. “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” In The Complete Gospels. Annotated Scholars Version. Edited by R. J. Miller, 368–379. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge, 1992.

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    Offers a brief introduction, translation, and notes based on Tischendorf’s Greek A version. Attridge rejects notions that the IGT was heterodox.

  • Bockmuehl, M. Ancient Apocryphal Gospels. 72–80. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2017.

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    A much-needed and up-to-date commentary on the apocryphal gospels by a leading New Testament scholar. It devotes nine pages to the IGT, emphasizing its incongruous depictions of Jesus and “morally vacuous” (p. 77) handling of miracles.

  • Burke, Tony. “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” In The Non-Canonical Gospels. Edited by P. Foster, 126–138. London: T & T Clark, 2008.

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    Burke’s chapter is especially concerned with illustrating the complicated transmission history of the IGT and its origins. Only then does he consider the genre and meaning of the text, rounding out his discussion with a brief account of recent advances in the study of the IGT.

  • Foster, Paul, ed. The Apocryphal Gospels. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780199236947.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Foster’s insightful introduction differs from some of the others listed here in relating and interacting with the episodes of the IGT. In doing so, he touches on issues such as the work’s supercessionism, its uncongenial depictions of Jesus, and its emphasis on education.

  • Klauck, H. -J. Apocryphal Gospels. London: T & T Clark, 2003.

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    Klauck offers a concise but perceptive summary and discussion of the IGT. He acknowledges the problematic picture of Jesus that it presents for a modern audience, but remarks that “we must bear in mind the cultural expectations and literary conventions which helped to generate such a picture of Jesus’ character” (p. 77). He accepts the possibility that the text was later edited to remove gnostic features.

  • Kurzmann-Penz, Isolde. Zur literarischen Fiktion von Kindheit. Überlegungen zu den apokryphen Kindheitsevangelien Jesu in Rahmen der antiken Biographie. 74–81. Potsdamer Altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge 66. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2018.

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    Kurzmann-Penz offers valuable insights into the question of the IGT’s audience, featuring up-to-date assessment of its likely readership, as well as consideration of the recent proposals by Aasgaard 2010 (cited under Full-Length Studies) and Kaiser 2010 (cited under Jesus as Child) about whether it was written for children or the children’s parents. She concludes that the IGT was used for instructing children in Christian households and that its harsh portrayal of Jesus would not have seemed scandalous to them.

  • Lapham, F. An Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha. London: T & T Clark, 2003.

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    Lapham advances the minority view that the IGT originated in or around Edessa because of its alleged Thomasine origins and that the work is characterized throughout by docetic Gnosticism.

  • Vielhauer, P., ed. Geschichte der urchristlichen Literatur. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1975.

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    A brief encapsulation of the features of the IGT. Vielhauer rejects any notion of development in the character of Jesus. He opines that the IGT’s miracles are alien to the New Testament and that its representations of Jesus are closer to the notion of the “divine man” (theios anêr).

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