Continuing my Easter theme of reading esoteric scripture, I’m reviewing the Arabic Infancy Gospel of Our Savior. Infancy gospels are a genre of religious writing that speculate about the childhood of Jesus, sort of like a New Testament Superboy.
Woven around canonical events like Jesus’ birth, his family’s persecution by Herod and the episode at the Temple, the first half of this infancy gospel revolves around medical issues, such as leprosy or psychosis, being cured by a close proximity to the young deity. Christian scripture’s reliance on disease, disability and mental illness as an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his awesomeness becomes worrisome in this text. In these stories, disabled people are merely problems for Jesus to fix. If I were editing the original manuscript, I’d suggest that the author be more creative in thinking of situations that Jesus could use his miracles to solve. Bushfires come to mind, if they have those in the Middle East, or maybe summoning rain to break a drought.
To the author’s credit, Jesus’ wondrous works become wilder after his family move to Nazereth. Between the ages of five and seven, Jesus makes birds from clay, stretches a throne that Joseph made too small, and rescues a woman who was stalked by Satan in the form of a dragon. Some of his activities are what you’d expect from a young boy with godlike powers, such as killing a peer and resurrecting him, mixing up all the chemicals in a dyer’s shop before separating them again, and getting all the local kids to call him king. After his little display of theological savantism at the temple, his parents don’t let him out in public for a very long time, if I’m reading the text right. Jesus goes through two scholars, stumping each by being a precocious smart aleck about the Greek alphabet. The first is stunned and the second states that Jesus is older than Noah. I think this was meant to be funny.
What I like about this infancy gospel is that it gives Joseph, surely the patron saint of cuckolds, more agency than any other text I’ve seen him in. During the early half in which Jesus is merely a talking baby, Joseph is practically the protagonist.
I think that it’s a great shame this infancy gospel and others like it are apocryphal. Think of the Christmas cards or renaissance art we could’ve had! That said, the lack of quotation marks may make this text too difficult to bother with for some, and its depiction of a young Jesus, at times reminiscent of the Jerome Bixby story It’s a Good Life, may prove disturbing for devout Christians. I’d recommend this book mainly for theological scholars and anyone interested in the history of early Christianity.