The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: Syriac

The Syriac text of IGT (Syr) is found in several interrelated compilations of Lives of Mary:

1. The earliest of these lives is extant in two manuscripts which compile the Protevangelium of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and the Assumption of the Virgin. The first publication of the IGT material from one of these manuscripts (London, British Library, Add. 14484 of the sixth century) came in 1865 by William Wright (Contributions to the Apocryphal Literature of the New Testament. London: Williams & Norgate, 1865, pp. 11-16 [text], 6-11 [translation]). The second manuscript (Göttingen, Universitätsbibliothek, Syr. 10 of the fifth or sixth century) was collated against Wright’s manuscript by W. Baars and J. Heldermann (“Neue Materielen zum Text und zur Interpretation des Kindheitsevangeliums des Pseudo-Thomas.” Oriens Christianus 77 [1993]: 191-226; 78 [1994]: 1-32). A third witness of this type is found in Vatican, Syr. 159 (dated 1622/1623), which I presented in a diplomatic edition in “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas from an Unpublished Syriac Manuscript. Introduction, Text, Translation, and Notes,” Hugoye: Journal for Syriac Studies 16.2 (2013): 225–99. IGT is here appended to (but not incorporated into) the Arabic Infancy Gospel in Garshuni. My critical edition (The Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Syriac Tradition. Gorgias Eastern Christian Studies 48. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2017) includes features all three of these manuscripts with two very similar to the Vatican manuscript and one additional witness with a text similar to the fifth/sixth-century manuscripts.

2. The West Syriac Life of Mary: this compilation features the Protevangelium of James, the Vision of Theophilus, IGT, and the 6 Books Dormition of the Virgin. Some manuscripts of this type, and of the East Syriac History of the Virgin (see below), are listed by Anton Baumstark (Geschichte der syrischen Literatur mit Ausschluss der christlich-palästinensischen Texte. Bonn: A. Marcus & E. Webers Verlag, 1922, p. 69 n. 12 and 99 n. 4) and by S. C. Mimouni (“Les Vies de la Vierge; État de la question,” Apocrypha 5 [1994]: 239-243). These and a number of additional manuscripts are described inThe Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Syriac Tradition). The West Syriac Life of Mary is extant also in Garshuni.

3. The East Syriac History of the Virgin: this compilation includes the Protevangelium of James, material incorporated also in the Arabic Infancy Gospel, IGT, episodes from the canonical gospels, the Assumption of the Virgin, and other miracles. The entire text was published from two manuscripts by E. A. Wallis Budge in 1899, though the IGT material was extant in only one of the manuscripts (a personal copy commissioned by Budge but based on a 13/14th century original). Three additional Hist. Vir. manuscripts also contain the IGT material. A new critical edition of this portion of the text is featured in The Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Syriac Tradition.

The Syriac tradition also spawned several offspring: the aforementioned Arabic Infancy Gospel, the Armenian Infancy Gospel (both likely related to Hist. Vir.), the Georgian version of IGT, and a rarely-discussed Arabic version of IGT (published in a new edition by Slavomír ?éplö based on two manuscripts in The Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Syriac Tradition, pp. 229-43.

The translation of the Syriac Inf. Gos. Thom. given below is excerpted from “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Syriac)” (New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Edited by Tony Burke and Brent Landau. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016, pp. 52–68). It is based on the four of the five principal manuscripts of the independently-transmitted text of the gospel (the fifth, though used in The Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Syriac Tradition, had not yet been noted). The West Syriac and East Syriac compilations are employed when required to adjudicate between readings in the other manuscripts. Chapter and verse divisions follow the standard numbering of Tischendorf’s Greek A text except chapter six which is significantly longer in the Syriac and other versions.


The Childhood of Our Lord Jesus

2 1Now when the boy Jesus Christ was five years old, he was playing at the ford of streams of water. And he was catching and confining the waters and directing them in channels and making them enter into pools. He was making the waters become pure and bright. 2He took soft clay from the wet ground and molded twelve birds. It was the Sabbath and many children were with him.
3But one of the Jews saw him with the children making these things. He went to his father Joseph and incited him against Jesus, and said to him, “On the Sabbath he molded clay and fashioned birds, something that is not lawful on the Sabbath.”
4Joseph came and rebuked him, and said to him, “Why are you making these things on the Sabbath?” Then Jesus clapped his hands and made the birds fly away before these things that he said. And he said, “Go, fly, and be mindful of me, living ones.” And these birds went away, twittering. 5But when that Pharisee saw (this) he was amazed and went and told his friends.

3 1The son of Hann?n the scribe also was with Jesus. He took a willow branch and leaked out and broke down the pools and let the waters escape that Jesus had gathered together, and dried up their pools.  2When he saw what had happened, Jesus said to him, “Without root shall be your shoot and your fruit shall dry up like a branch that is broken by the wind and is no more.” 3Suddenly, that boy withered.

4 1Again Jesus was going with his father, and a boy (was) running and struck him on the shoulder. Jesus said to him, “You shall not go on your way.” And suddenly he fell down and died. Those who saw him cried out and said, “From where was this boy born, that all his words are a deed?” 2The family of that boy who died approached Joseph his father and were blaming him and saying to him, “As long as you have this boy you cannot dwell with us in the village, unless you teach him to bless.”

5 1Joseph approached the boy and was lecturing him and saying to him, “Why do you do these things? For what reason do you say these things? These (people) suffer and hate us.” Jesus said, “If the words of my Father were not wise, he would not know (how) to instruct children.” He spoke again, “If these were children of the bedchamber, they would not be receiving a curse. These shall not see their torment.” At that moment, those who were accusing him were blinded.
2Joseph became angry and seized (him) by his ear and pulled it hard.
3Jesus answered and said to him, “It is enough for you, that you should be seeking me and finding me; for you have acted ignorantly.”

6 1A teacher, whose name was Zacchaeus, heard him speaking with his father and said, “O wicked boy!”  2He said to Joseph, “How long will you not wish to hand over this boy, so that he may learn to love children his age and honor old age and to be in awe of elders, in order that the love of children may be with him and, moreover, so that he may teach them?” 2aJoseph said, “Who is able to teach a boy like this? Do you not think that he deserves a small cross?”
2bJesus answered and said to him, “Teacher, these words that you have now spoken and these names that you name, I am a stranger to them; for I am outside of you, yet I dwell among you. Honor of the flesh I have not. You (live) by the law and by the law you remain. For when you were born, I was. But you think that you are my father. You shall learn from me that teaching that no one else knows nor is able to teach. As for that cross you mentioned, the one to whom it belongs shall bear it. For when I am greatly exalted I shall lay aside what is mixed in your race. For you do not know where I was born nor where you are from; for I alone know you truly—when you were born and how much time you have to remain here.”
2cWhen they heard, they were amazed and cried out greatly and said, “O wonderful sight and sound! Words like these we have never heard anyone speak—neither the priests, nor the scribes, nor the Pharisees. Where was this one born, who is five years old and speaks such words? Such a one has never been seen among us.” 2dJesus answered and said to them, “You wonder about me and you do not believe me concerning what I have said to you. I said that I know when you were born; and I have even more to say to you.”
2eWhen they heard (these words), they were silent and unable to speak. He approached them again and said, laughing, “I laughed at you because you marvel at trifles and you are becoming small in your mind.”
2fWhen they were comforted a little, Zacchaeus the teacher said to the father of Jesus, “Bring him to me and I will teach him what is proper for him to learn.” He coaxed him and made him go into the school. Yet, going in, he was silent. But Zacchaeus the scribe was beginning to teach him (starting) from Aleph, and repeating to him many times the whole alphabet. He said to him that he should answer and speak after him, but he was silent. Then the scribe was angry and struck him with his hand upon his head. And Jesus said, “The smith’s anvil, when struck repeatedly, may be instructed, yet is unfeeling. I can say those things spoken by you like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. These do not reply with any sound nor do they have the power of knowledge and understanding.”
3Then Jesus said all the letters from Aleph to Tau with much wisdom. He answered again and said, “Those who do not know the Aleph, how do they teach the Beth? Hypocrites! Teach what is the Aleph and then I will believe you concerning the Beth.” 4Then Jesus began to inquire concerning the form of each character. He began with the letters. Concerning the first, why it has many angles and characters, pointed, thick and prostrate and projected and extended; their summits gathered together and sharp and ornamented and erect and squared and inverted; and transformed and folded over and bent at their sides, and fixed in a triangle and crowned and clothed in life.

7 1Then Zacchaeus the scribe, amazed and astonished on account of all these names and the greatness of his speech, cried out and said, “I have brought this <matter> on myself. 2Take him away from me, I beg of you. It is not right for this one to be this (way) on the Earth; truly this one is worthy of a great cross. He is able to even set fire to fire. And I think that this one was born before the flood of Noah. What womb carried this one? Or what mother reared this one? For I cannot bear this one. I am in a great stupor because of him; and I am out of my mind. Wretched am I to think I had acquired a student; and, although I considered him a student, he was my teacher.
3“O my friends! I cannot bear it. I am fleeing from the village; I cannot look upon him. By a little child I, an old man, am defeated. But what can I, who was defeated, say? How, even from the beginning, I did not understand a thing this one was saying. Have mercy on me! I am dying. My soul is clearly before my eyes because of the order of his voice and the beauty of his words. 4This one is something great—either a god, or an angel, or what I should say I do not know.”

8 1Then the boy Jesus laughed and said, “Let those in whom there is no fruit, produce fruit; and let the blind see the living fruit of judgment.” 2Those who had fallen under his curse came alive and rose up. No one was daring to anger him again.

9 1One time, on the day of the Sabbath, Jesus was playing with children on a roof. One of the children fell and died. When those other children saw (what had happened), they ran away, and Jesus remained alone. 2The family of the one who was dead seized him and said to him, “You threw the boy down.” And Jesus said, “I did not throw him down.” They were accusing him.
3Then he came down to the dead one and said in a loud voice, “Zeno, Zeno”—for thus indeed was his name—“did I throw you down?” Immediately, he leaped up and stood and said to him, “No, my Lord.” 4All of them were amazed. Even the boy’s parents were praising God for this wonder that had happened.

11 1Again, when Jesus was seven years old, his mother sent him to fill water. And in the press of a great crowd, his pitcher struck (against something) and was broken. 2Then Jesus spread out the cloak with which he was covered and he collected and brought (home) that water. His mother Mary was astonished and she was keeping in her heart all that she was seeing.

12 1Once again Jesus was playing. He sowed one measure of wheat. 2And he harvested 100 cors and gave them to the people of the village.

13 1Jesus was eight years old. Joseph was a carpenter and made nothing else but ploughs and yokes. A man had ordered from him a bed of six cubits. One plank did not have the (proper) length on one side, for it was shorter than the other. The boy Jesus said to his father, “Take hold of the end of the one shorter than the other.” 2Jesus took the length of the wood and pulled and stretched it and made it equal to its other. Jesus said to Joseph his father, “Do henceforth what you wish.”

14 1When Joseph saw his intelligence, he wished to teach him writing, and he brought him to the school. The scribe said to him, “Say Aleph.” And Jesus said <it>. Again the scribe added that he should say Beth. 2Jesus said to him, “Tell me first what Aleph is, and then I will tell you about Beth.” The scribe was furious and struck him, and immediately (the scribe) fell down and died.
3Jesus went back to his family. Joseph called Mary his mother and spoke to her and commanded her not to permit him to go out of the house, so that those who strike him will not die.

15 1But another scribe said to Joseph, “Hand him over to me. I will teach him by flattery.” 2Jesus entered the school. He took a scroll and was reading, not what was written, but he opened his mouth and spoke in the spirit, so that that scribe sat with him on the ground and beseeched him. Great crowds, hearing his words, assembled and stood there. Jesus thus opened his mouth and was speaking, so that all who arrived and stood there might be amazed and astonished.
3When Joseph heard, he ran <and> came because he was afraid lest the scribe also would die. The scribe said to Joseph, “You have delivered to me not a student but a master.” 4And Joseph took him and led him back to his home.

16 1Again Joseph had sent his son James to gather sticks. Jesus was going with him. While they were gathering sticks, a deadly viper bit James on his hand. 2When Jesus came near to him, he did to him nothing more than stretch out his hand and blow on the bite. And it was healed, the viper died, and James lived.

19 1 When Jesus was twelve years old, they had gone to Jerusalem, as it was custom for Joseph and Mary to go to the festival of Passover. When they had made Passover, they returned to their home. When they had turned to come <home>, Jesus remained in Jerusalem. Neither Joseph nor Mary his mother knew <it>, but they thought that he was with their companions.
2When they came to the rendezvous of that day, they were seeking him among their kinsfolk and among those whom he knew. When they did not find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem and were seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, and listening to them and questioning them. All those hearing were astonished at him, because he was silencing those teachers, for he was expounding to them the parables of the prophets and the mysteries and allegories of the law.
3His mother said to him, “My son, why have you done this to us so? We were distressed and anxious and searching for you. Jesus answered and said, “Why were you searching for me? Do you not know that it is fitting for me to be in my Father’s house?” 4The scribes and the Pharisees answered and said to Mary, “Are you the mother of this boy? The Lord has blessed you in your fruit, for the glory of wisdom such as this in children we have neither seen nor heard that anyone has spoken.
5He rose and went with them and was obedient to his parents. But his mother was preserving all these words in her heart. Jesus was excelling and growing in wisdom and stature and grace before God and before men.

<Here> ends the Childhood of our Lord Jesus.