More Christian Apocrypha Updates 4: The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Syriac)

[This is the latest in a series of posts on texts to be featured in New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures edited by Brent Landau and I. The material here is incorporated also into the information on the texts provided on my More Christian Apocrypha page].

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is well-known; it's sometimes shocking portrayal of the young Jesus cursing the townspeople of Nazareth has contributed to its popularity. The text is featured prominently also in the various Christian Apocrypha collections and commentaries. So why include it in MNTA? One of our guiding principles in selecting texts for inclusion is to consider texts that need significant updating due to new manuscript discoveries and new determinations of the text's original form. Inf. Gos. Thom. is seen most often in its Greek and Latin forms, both of which are relatively late. The Syriac form, on the other hand, has very early material evidence (two MSS are from the 5th/6th centuries) and is believed to reflect well the original form of the text—most notably, it lacks ch. 1, with the text's attribution to Thomas, and the beneficent miracles of chs. 10, 17, and 18; ch. six is also lengthier, with a dialogue between Jesus and his teacher that is absent in many of the Greek MSS. Despite the obvious value of the Syriac tradition, there has been little effort to update the text since its initial publication in 1865.

The Syriac tradition is divided into three forms: Sa (comprising the two early MSS—British Library, Add. 14484 (5th c.) and Göttingen Universitätsbibliothek, Syr. 10 [5th/6th c.]—and another two—Vatican, Biblioteca apostolica, syr. 159 [1622/1623] and Mingana, Syr. 105 [1832/1833]—that supply sections missing in the earlier MSS), Sw (14 MSS, and another four in Garshuni, of a West Syriac Life of Mary collection containing Inf. Gos. Thom., Prot. Jas., and other texts), and Se (three MSS of the East Syriac History of the Virgin incorporating much of Inf. Gos. Thom.). An initial discussion of these sources can be found in my article in Hugoye (“The Infancy Gospel of Thomas from an Unpublished Syriac Manuscript. Introduction, Text, Translation, and Notes,” Hugoye 16.2 [2013]: 225-99), which contains also an edition of Vatican, Biblioteca apostolica, syr. 159. A critical edition of all three recensions is in progress (hopefully I will have that at the press early in 2015).

Of particular interest about the Syriac Inf. Gos. Thom. is that it illustrates much better than the Greek text that the author does not regard Jesus' curses as a defect in his behavior that is in need of rehabilitation. Many previous commentators have observed in the gospel a progression in Jesus' personality—i.e., over the course of the text he transforms from a miracleworker who curses to one who blesses. With the absence of chs. 10, 17, and 18, however, this progression is much less observable. Indeed, rehabilitating Jesus seems to be a preoccupation of copyists and translators of the text, not its original author and audience.

There are other versions of Inf. Gos. Thom. that need to be given more attention—including a Georgian MS that has never been translated into English and an Ethiopic tradition that has appeared in an edition and French translation but needs updating (the edition draws on four MSS but there are over 20 additional MSS that should be examined). Perhaps we will include these in a future volume of MNTA.

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