Many of the chapters are accompanied by illuminations from an Ambrosian manuscript (L 58 sup.) of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. The manuscript is edited in facsimile by A.M. Ceriani and Angello Della Croce, Canonical Histories and Apocryphal Legends (1873). Select images from the manuscript are featured also in David R. Cartlidge and J. Keith Elliott, Art and the Christian Apocrypha (London/New York: Routledge, 2001).
Translation copyright 2009 Tony Burke. All rights reserved.
The Great Childhood Deeds of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
1 1 When the boy Jesus was five years old, he was playing at the ford of a rushing stream. And he gathered the disturbed water into pools and made them pure and excellent, commanding them by the character of his word alone and not by means of a deed.
2 Then, taking soft clay from the mud, he formed twelve sparrows. It was the Sabbath when he did these things, and many children were with him.
3 And a certain Jew, seeing the boy Jesus with the other children doing these things, went to his father Joseph and falsely accused the boy Jesus, saying that, on the Sabbath he made clay, which is not lawful, and fashioned twelve sparrows.
4 And Joseph came and rebuked him, saying, “Why are you doing these things on the Sabbath?” But Jesus, clapping his hands, commanded the birds with a shout in front of everyone and said, “Go, take flight, and remember me, living ones.” And the sparrows, taking flight, went away squawking.
5 When the Pharisee saw this he was amazed and reported it to all his friends.
2 1 And the son of Annas the scribe had come with Joseph. And taking a willow twig, he destroyed the pools and drained out the water which Jesus had gathered together. And he dried up their gatherings.
2 And Jesus, seeing what had happened, said to him, “Your fruit (shall be) without root and your shoot shall be dried up like a branch scorched by a strong wind.”
3 And instantly that child withered.
3 1 While he was going from there with his father Joseph, a child running tore into his shoulder. And Jesus said to him, “You shall no longer go our way.” And instantly he died. At once the people, seeing that he was dead, cried out and said, “Where was this boy born that his word becomes a deed?”
2 When they saw what had happened the parents of the dead boy blamed his father Joseph, saying, “Because you have this boy you cannot live with us in this village. If you wish to be here, teach him to bless and not to curse.”
4 1 And Joseph said to Jesus, “Why do you say such things? They suffer and hate us.” And the boy said to Joseph, “If the words of my Father were not wise, he would not know how to instruct children.” And again he said, “If these were children of the bridal chamber, they would not receive curses. These people shall receive their punishment.” Instantly, the ones accusing him were blinded.
2 But Joseph became angry and took hold of his ear and pulled hard.
3 And Jesus said to him, “It is enough for you to seek me and to find me. You have acted foolishly.”
5 1 A teacher named Zacchaeus was standing listening to Jesus saying these things to his father and he said, “Oh wicked boy!”
2 He said to Joseph, “Come, bring him, brother, so that he may learn to love those his own age, honour old age and revere elders, so that he may acquire a desire to be among children, also teaching them in return.”
3 But Joseph said to the teacher, “Who is able to restrain this child and teach him? Do not consider him to be a small cross brother.”
4 And the boy Jesus answered and said to the teacher, “These words which you have spoken, I am strange to them. For I am from outside of you, but I am within you on account of existing in this material excellence. But you, a man of the Law, do not know the Law.” And he said to Joseph, “When you were born, I existed and was standing beside you so that, Father, you may be taught a teaching by me which no other knows nor is able to teach. And as for the cross of which you have spoken, he shall bear it, whose it is. For when I am greatly exalted, I shall lay aside whatever mixture I have of your race. For you do not know where you are from; I alone know truly when you were born, and how much time you have to remain here.”
5 And those standing there were astonished and cried out aloud and said to him, “Oh, what a new and incredible wonder! Such words we have never known, not from the priests, nor the scribes, nor the Pharisees. Where is this boy from, who is five years old and says such things? Never have we seen such a thing.”
6 The boy answered them and said, “Why are you so amazed? Moreover, why do you not believe that the things that I said to you are true? When you were born and your fathers and your fathers’ fathers, I, who was created before this world, know accurately.”
7 And all the people listening were speechless, no longer able to speak to him. Approaching them, he skipped about and said, “I was playing with you because I know you are amazed by trifles and to the wise you are small.”
8 Now when they seemed to be comforted by the boy’s consolation, the teacher said to his father, “Come, bring him into the school and I shall teach him letters.” And the schoolmaster, flattering him, took him into the classroom. But Jesus was silent. And Zacchaeus wrote the alphabet for him and began to teach the letters. And he would repeat a letter to him frequently. But the boy did not answer him. Becoming irritated, the teacher struck him on the head. And the boy became angry and said to him, “A smith’s anvil, when struck, teaches whoever strikes it; it is not the anvil which is taught. I know the letters which you are teaching more accurately and far better than you. To me these things are like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal which do not represent the sound nor the glory nor the power of understanding.”
9 When the boy ceased from his anger he said by himself all the letters from alpha to omega with much care and clearly. Looking straight at the teacher he said, “Not knowing the alpha according to its nature, how can you teach another the beta? Hypocrite! If you know, first teach me the alpha and then I will trust you to speak of the beta.”
10 While many listened, he said to the teacher, “Listen, master, and understand the order of the first element. Pay close attention here how it has sharp lines and a middle stroke which you see pointing, crossing over, meeting, going out, drawn aside, elevated, dancing in chorus, [one word uncertain], in triple rhythm, two-cornered, of the same form, of the same thickness, of the same family, making to rise, balanced, of equal measure, of equal length — these are the lines of the alpha.”
6 1 And after the teacher heard such a description and such lines of the first letter Jesus had expressed he was puzzled about such teaching and his defense. And the teacher said, “Woe is me for I have brought shame down upon myself.
2 “Take this boy away from me, brother. This boy simply is not of this Earth; he can even tame fire. Perhaps this boy existed before the flood of Noah. What kind of womb bore him? What kind of mother reared him? I do not know. Woe is me, brother! He stupefies me. I cannot follow along in my mind. I have deceived myself, thrice unhappy as I am. I thought to gain a student and I am found having a master.
3 “I must be cast out and die or flee from this village on account of this boy. For I can no longer be seen in the presence of everyone, for I am an old man but I have been defeated by a very small boy. But what can I say or tell anyone concerning the lines of the first element which he proposed to me? Truly, friends, I do not know. For I understand neither the beginning nor the end.
4 “This child is something great thing, either a god or an angel or whatever else I might say — I do not know.”
7 1 The boy Jesus laughed and said, “Now let the barren bear fruit and the blind see the fruit of judgement.”
2 And instantly all those who had fallen under his curses were restored. And no-one dared to make him angry from that time on.
8 1 And again, after many days, Jesus was playing with other children on a certain roof of an upstairs room. And one of the children fell and died. The other children, seeing this, went to their homes. And they left Jesus alone.
2 The parents of the dead child came and accused Jesus saying, “You knocked down our child.” But Jesus said, “I did not knock him down.”
3 And while they were raging and shouting, Jesus came down from the roof and stood beside the body and cried out in a loud voice saying, “Zeno, Zeno—for this was his name—rise and say if I knocked you down.” And he rose and said, “No, Lord.” When they saw, they were amazed and the parents of the child praised God for these wonders.
9 1 And the boy Jesus was about six years old and he was sent by his mother Mary to fill a water jar. But there was a great crowd at the water cistern, and the pitcher was jostled and broke.
2 Then Jesus spread out the cloak he was wearing, filled it with water and brought it to his mother. And his mother was amazed and kept in her heart all she had seen.
11 1 And he was about eight years old. And when his father, a carpenter, was making ploughs and yokes, he received a bed from a certain rich man so that he might make it exceedingly great and suitable. And since one of the required pieces was shorter and he did not have a measure, Joseph was distressed, not knowing what to do. The boy came to his father and said, “Put down the two pieces of wood and align them from your end.”
2 Joseph did just as Jesus said to him. And the boy stood at the other end and took hold of the short piece of wood and stretched it. And he made it equal to the other piece of wood. And he said to his father, “Do not be distressed but do what you wish.” And Joseph embraced and kissed him saying, “Blessed am I for God gave me this boy.”
12 1 And Joseph saw his prudence and understanding and wished him not to be unacquainted with letters. So he handed him over to another schoolmaster. And the schoolmaster said, “Say, alpha.”
2 But the boy said, “First tell me what is the beta and I will tell you what the alpha is.” Becoming irritated, the teacher struck him. And Jesus cursed him and the teacher fell and died.
3 And the boy went home to his parents. And Joseph called his mother and commanded her, “Do not let him out of the house so that those who make him angry may not die.”
13 1 And after some days, again another teacher said to his father Joseph, “Come, brother, give him to me into the classroom so that with flattery I might be able to teach him letters.”
2 And going into the school he found a book lying on the lectern. And taking it, he did not read what was written in it but, opening his mouth, he quoted such terrifying words that the teacher sitting opposite listened to everything gladly and encouraged him so that he might say more, and the crowd standing there were astonished at his holy words.
3 And Joseph quickly ran to the school suspecting this teacher was no longer inexperienced and that he may have suffered. But the teacher said to Joseph, “You did not deliver a disciple to me, but a teacher.”
4 And Joseph took the boy and led him away to his house.
14 1 And Joseph sent James into the forest to gather sticks. Jesus also went with him. And while they were gathering the sticks, an abominable snake bit James on his hand.
2 And as he sprawled out on the ground and lay dying, the boy Jesus ran to James and did nothing but blow on the bite and immediately the bite was healed. And the snake was destroyed.
15 1 And when Jesus was twelve years old his parents went as usual to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. But as they started to turn back, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know, assuming him to be in the group of travelers.
2 They went a day’s journey and they looked for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And those listening to him were amazed how he questioned the elders and explained the main points of the law and the riddles and the parables of the prophets.
3 And his mother said to him, “Child, why did you do this to us? Look, we have been searching for you in great anxiety and distress.” Jesus said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
4 And the scribes and the Pharisees said to Mary, “Are you the mother of this child?” And she said, “I am.” And they said to her, “Blessed are you, because the Lord God has blessed the fruit of your womb. For such present wisdom and glory of virtue we have never seen nor heard.”
5 And Jesus rose from there and followed his mother and was obedient to his parents. And she treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in grace before God and men. To whom be the glory forever, amen.