Exegetical extras: the SuperJesus

Exegetical extras are interesting facts about or alternative interpretations of a particular Scripture passage. They’re here for interest value or to stretch our thinking… Exegetical extras will be posted whenever I come across something interesting.

When you think about the story of Jesus as a boy in the temple, it’s pretty amazing (see Luke 2:41-52) even for a mature 12 year old! But it’s the only story we get about Jesus between birth and the age of thirty. Other than that – silence. This led to a trend in the third and fourth centuries of making up “gospels” about Jesus’ boyhood – a bit like fan fiction. Some of these are quite hilarious.

For example, there’s the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy. It rewrites the story in Luke 2 so that the boy Jesus is lecturing (not listening to and questioning!) the religious leaders on the Law, the mysteries of the Prophets, astronomy, medicine, physics and metaphysics. Take a look:

Inf 51-52: And a philosopher who was there present, a skilful astronomer, asked the Lord Jesus whether He had studied astronomy. And the Lord Jesus answered him, and explained the number of the spheres, and of the heavenly bodies, their natures and operations; their opposition; their aspect, triangular, square, and sextile; their course, direct and retrograde; the twenty-fourths, and sixtieths of twenty-fourths; and other things beyond the reach of reason. There was also among those philosophers one very skilled in treating of natural science, and he asked the Lord Jesus whether He had studied medicine. And He, in reply, explained to him physics and metaphysics, hyperphysics and hypophysics, the powers likewise and humours of the body, and the effects of the same; also the number of members and bones, of veins, arteries, and nerves…

This pseudo-gospel also claims to record Jesus’ first words, as a new-born baby no less:

Inf 1. ‘when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world.’

If I were Mary, I’d be saying ‘right, well that means you can feed yourself at 2am from now on’.

SuperJesusIt’s not the only story of Jesus as a child, however. In the centuries after the gospels were written, dozens of stories circulated – clearly speculation over how the son of God would have behaved growing up. Most of them are pretty wild…showing Jesus as a sort of ‘SuperBoy’, flying around, performing miracles, putting his teachers to shame, and punishing his parents’ neighbours when they were evil. One story has him putting strips cloth in a vat of purple dye and pulling out different colours each time – like a bad Vegas magic show. Another has him stretching a piece of wood for his father in the workshop so it would fit the bed they were building (see The Passion of the Christ).

My favourite is this one, from Thomas’ Gospel of Infancy:

The son of Annas the scholar, standing there with Jesus, took a willow branch and drained the water Jesus had collected. Jesus, however, saw what had happened and became angry, saying to him, “Curse you, you irreverent fool! What harm did the ponds of water do to you? From this moment you, too, will dry up like a tree, and you’ll never produce leaves or root or bear fruit.” In an instant the boy had completely withered away. …The parents of the boy who had withered away picked him up and were carrying him out, sad because he was so young. And they came to Joseph and accused him: “It’s your fault – your boy did this.”

It’s clear that the writers of these alleged gospels thought that no-one ever took Jesus’ lunch money…and lived.

I don’t know if you ever speculate on what Jesus would have been like as a kid. Can you imagine being in his class at school? You’d feel sorry for the poor teacher.

‘Can someone other than Jesus answer this question…’

‘If you’re eating lollies in class, Jesus, I hope you brought enough for everyone!’  Yep , 5 redskins and 2 chupa-chups – that should just about do it.

‘Who do you think you are, God’s gift to humanity?’

But we don’t get any of that in the gospels. It’s a testament to the authenticity of Luke’s Jesus-as-a-boy-in-the-temple story that it isn’t over-the-top like many of the others from later centuries; that it isn’t a particularly miraculous event as was common in these kind of stories about famous people in Graeco-Roman writings. It’s yet another pointer to the authenticity of the gospel accounts, that they resisted this temptation.

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