Stories of Jesus’ Childhood

by: Mormon Heretic

December 13, 2010

The child Jesus causes clay sparrows to come to life and fly away.

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 what 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.

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

  • Even in the cradle Jesus could talk and proclaims that he is the Son of God to Mary.
  • Following his circumcision, either the foreskin or the navel string was saved in an alabaster box by a druggist.  Years later, this ointment was used to anoint him when Mary (the sinner) cleaned his feet with her hair.  (This story has a high yuck factor.)
  • Swaddling clothes are given to the Wise Men, followers of the Zoroastrian religion.  Zoroastrians have a holy fire, and toss the swaddling clothes into the fire.  The clothes do not burn, and the Wise Men rejoice.
  • The holy family escapes to Egypt following Herod’s decree.  Soon after their arrival in Egypt, some of Jesus swaddling clothes fall on a possessed boy.  At that moment, demons fly out of the boy’s mouth and he is cured.
  • A man is turned into a mule by a sorcerer.  The man’s sisters tell Mary, who puts the baby Jesus on the back of the mule.  Instantly, the mule turns back into a man.
  • While travelling through Egpyt, Joseph and Mary travel through a place known for robbers.  Two robbers (Titus and Damachus) discuss robbing the holy family, but Titus asks Damachus not to rob them.  Jesus and Mary prophesy that these two robbers will hang on the cross with Jesus in 30 years, and Titus will go into paradise before Jesus.
  • Following Herod’s death, the holy family returns to Israel.  Two wives of a man fight over child.  One woman tries to kill son of other woman.  Mary prophecies that the evil wife will die.  She falls in a well.
  • Leprous woman is healed by washing in Christ’s bathwater.  Leprous princess is healed by same method.
  • The child Judas Iscariot (possessed by the devil and has a reputation for biting) tries to bite Jesus.  He can’t succeed, but instead hits Jesus.  Jesus heals Judas of the devil.
  • Seven year old Jesus plays with other boys, and makes clay animals.  Jesus causes the animals to walk, fly, and eat.  The boys tell their parents, who warn that Jesus is a sorcerer.
  • Jesus is apparently a bit of a vandal, and throws a bunch of linens at a shop in the fire.  The store owner is upset, so Jesus retrieves them from the fire unharmed.
  • Joseph spends 2 years making a throne for the king of Jerusalem.  It is too small, so Jesus miraculously enlarges the throne.
  • 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.
  • A serpent bites Simon the Canaanite as a boy.  Jesus causes the serpent to suck back the poison, and then the serpent bursts.  Simon is cured.
  • James is bitten by viper and cured.  Jesus is accused of throwing boy off roof.  Jesus causes dead boy to live and the boy acquits Jesus.
  • Jesus makes some clay sparrows near in a fish-pool on the Sabbath.  Then Jesus causes the sparrows to fly.  The son of Hanani the Jew chastises Jesus for doing this on the Sabbath, and destroys the fish-pool.  Jesus prophecies that the boy will vanish like the fish-pool, and the child dies immediately.
  • Jesus is sent to school to learn the alphabet, but teaches the schoolmaster.  When a second teacher asks Jesus the alphabet, Jesus asks a question.  The teacher raises his hand to whip Jesus for insubordination, and then falls dead.
  • At 12 years old, Jesus teaches in the temple about astronomy and many other subjects.
  • Jesus begins concealing his miracles.  He is baptized at age 30.

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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17 Responses to Stories of Jesus’ Childhood

  1. hawkgrrrl on December 13, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    I really enjoyed reading this gnostic gospel a year ago when I was reading some of the “rejected” books. It’s fascinating stuff. I’m not sure what to make of these stories, though. When viewed side-by-side with NT stories, they are more “fantastical” and capricious and yet, in a way, more human. So, maybe there’s a good reason we aren’t told much about Jesus’ childhood . . . or maybe these stories just reflect a sensationalized and superstitious version of Jesus’ life. I do find it interesting that so many of the stories also involve fire. The LDS Jesus in particular is described in association with fire (D&C descriptions as well as 3 Nephi).

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  2. Thomas on December 13, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    The gnostic gospels always remind me of unauthorized fanfiction.

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  3. mh on December 13, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    I wonderif we had not been exposed to the stories of jesus walking on water, feeding the 5000, etc. would we consider these fantastic miracles as unbelievable?

    it appears to me that these gnostic gospels treat jesus more like neptune and hercules, weilding godly powers more capriciously than the sinless person that the biblical gospels claim.

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  4. Thomas on December 13, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    “Capriciously”? Unbeliever.

    Neptune’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. What appears to be caprice in Neptune’s clobbering Ulysses’ crew, is simply Neptune’s justice operating in a manner our limited mortal minds are unable to understand.

    I’ve struggled long and hard to reconcile myself with Neptune’s justice, which seems to involve unfairly selective targeting of yours truly for epic surf when I have a deadline, and long flat spells when I could take time off. But it’s not for me to question these things.

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  5. zillah on December 13, 2010 at 9:43 PM

    you left off some of the best ones! jesus decides to slide down a sunbeam, kids follow suit and break their necks, mary has to convince jesus to heal them. jesus decides to go mountain-hopping, other children follow, etc. the jews of his village decide to shut their children up in an oven to protect them from jesus, so he turns them into pigs…

    these apocryphal stories were popular in early christianity, then sort of disappeared until they resurfaced with a vengeance in the latter part of the middle ages as part of the general movement towards greater emphasis on the humanity of christ and mary. these stories were popular ways of filling in the “missing years”, and were were translated into latin and vernacular languages (including middle english, long before the 17th century), illustrated, and included in all sorts of manuscripts. (the stories i mentioned above first show up in the old french versions.) i actually taught these to my catholic students the other week, and they were horrified and deeply disturbed.

    i think that a lot of our natural aversion comes from the fact that we’re not accustomed to hearing these stories. how often do we gloss over the massacres in the old testament, the fact that elijah called down bears to devour those who mocked him, that God lets satan do whatever he wants to job? the stories throughout the scriptures are deeply strange and profoundly unsettling.

    anyway, if you want more pictures, you can see some here: http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/view/all/what/MS.+Selden+Supra+38,+pt.+1

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  6. Bored in Vernal on December 13, 2010 at 9:52 PM

    Zillah, you are awesome, and the pics are a treasure. It’s good to see you around here — what are you trying to get out of doing now?? :)

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  7. zillah on December 13, 2010 at 10:43 PM

    oh, a paper on medieval depictions of the tree of jesse. procrastinating is so much more productive and interesting. :)

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  8. Mike S on December 14, 2010 at 1:57 AM

    There are a lot of theories of what Christ did during this time. There are a lot of similarities between Christ’s teachings and Hindu/Buddhist teachings. There are some suggestions that Christ spend the “undocumented years” in India and Tibet studying some of these teachings. Interesting to think about.

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  9. hawkgrrrl on December 14, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    Mike S – a great read (humorous literature, though) is Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Childhood Pal of Christ. In that book, Jesus does journey to find the wise men and learn their secrets, in the process absorbing many Eastern principles.

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  10. MH on December 14, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    Zillah, those stories must be in another infancy gospel–they definitely weren’t in the one I referenced here. Interesting pictures–I wish I could read Latin.

    Mike, I have heard that Jesus visited India. That’s a very interesting link–thanks. I’ve always found it interesting that Gandhi loved Christ’s teachings.

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  11. zillah on December 14, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    mh: as the original apocryphal infancy gospels circulated throughout the middle ages, they accreted more and more stories whose sources aren’t traceable, which is interesting in itself.

    that particular manuscript is actually in old french, but even if one knew old french, it’s still incredibly difficult to read, thanks to medieval scribes’ stubborn refusal to clearly distinguish their m’s, u’s, n’s, and v’s (and basically any other letter).

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  12. TH on December 14, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    Interesting, MH.

    I haven’t read that gospel although I have read a number of other gnostic gospels that didn’t make the canonized cut, like Gospel of Thomas or Gospel of Judas.

    From what little I know about gnosticism, gnosticism belives in duality with good and evil fighting. It associates the physical with evil. Gnosticism also places a lot of emphasis on secret or mystery knowledge. My guess is that the gospel is written in some sort of symbolic code. As to what that code means…your guess is as good as mine.

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  13. mh on December 14, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    yes, gnostics believe in a good dog and a bad god. the bad god’s name is jehovah. (i forget the good god’s name.)

    I’ve heard that gnosticism is an umbrella term, like protestants. gnostic beliefs vary, just like protestants, so what one gnostic believes, another might not.

    but I can’t figure out what the gnostic message of misusing godly powers should be. but these stories do seem to fit better with greek and roman mythology, so perhaps they are an attempt to appeal to audiences more familiar with capricious gods. certainly the god of the old testament is a bit capricious too-asking for genocide, asking for abraham to kill isaac, and proclaiming to be a jealous god (as others have mentioned.)

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  14. cowboy on December 19, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    This topic is timely in an interesting way. A few day’s ago a friend of mine sent me a link to a youtube video of old footage of Glen Danzig trying to explain Jesus’s childhood from the gnostic gospels. Glenn is the singer of a band called Danzig, which generally focuses on satanic themes. Admittedly in high school my friend and I were somewhat fans of his music. We had a an english teacher who seemed fairly familiar with “old” literary concepts, so we would routinely approach her with Danzig lyrics, to see if she could give us some perspective on what his songs were about. She admitted to us that she was very disturbed by the lyrics, and yet so intrigued at the same time that she asked us to bring her more lyrics because she wanted to read them.

    Anyway, fast forward more than ten years later and my friend finds this video of Danzig struggling his way through trying to explain Jesus’s sinister childhood from a book he clearly hasn’t read, but perhaps just flipped through. We decided mabey Danzig wasn’t as smart as we thought – I guess that bodes poorly for our English teacher. Not a week later here on Wheatandtares we have a post telling the same stories, albeit from a much more informed position.

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  15. Angela Curtis on January 25, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    I regret not travelling more within my state. There are some great zoos and state parks I’d like to check out.

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  16. Angela Curtis on January 25, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    I am so sorry I accidentally wrote this on the wrong site.

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  17. Dave Mowers on May 23, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    Jesus Christ is an amalgamation of all the Western and Asiatic traditional folktale, mythology and religious characters historicized to appear real. Hidden in every part of the myth are snippets of Greek and Asian mythology. If they included these additional texts it would clearly show it, such as Jesus creating animals from clay and breathing life into them which is the tale of Prometheus and Athena creating mankind. It is clear that Jesus is ritualizing the Greek myth of man’s creation and adding the Celtic or Scandinavian morality peril concept to it by using the soul of the child to imbue lifeforce into the birds. It even contains the odd lacuna-style inconsistencies such as why the boy is necessary in the first place, he is there to provide the life force for the clay figurines, or that Jesus absentmindedly creates these things without realizing they cannot stay alive without life force (I.E. breathing in the life by Athena) and then must kill the boy. Either you see that or you must come to the conclusion that Jesus intended to kill that child the entire time which is classic Greek god immorality behavior where humans are treated as no more than animals themselves by the gods and therefore subject to the will of the gods; Jesus in this instance being a god himself or descended from God.

    That provides him the moral high ground to murder any other humans as he himself is not one of them which is exactly a despicable trait lamented over by early Greek historians when writing about mythology. To wit, I suggest early Christian compilers of the Bible also found to be anathemic when trying to use the actions of Jesus to teach morality. It would show that in some instances, when one person has more wealth, power or social status than another, it is then therefore normal to act amorally towards the lesser person even as far as murdering them on a whim if ritual demands it. You can see the dilemma both in use and in acknowledgement of Biblical story as another form of mythology by allowing these texts to be included.

    Ironically American capitalism and democracy managed to adopt this very position, that in social matters, wealth, intelligence or class equals a higher status above others so much so that you are not subject to the full, if any, ramifications of the law and in some instances, such as when business or money is concerned; you can legally rob a poorer or less intelligent person to increase your personal wealth because you are more Christian than they. It is why the men who caused the recession claim to be doing, “God’s Work.” Just like the child Jesus they are more divine than you and untouchable because of their closer affinity to the Lord. Our country is the ritualized enactment of ancient mythology and it is evil.

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