The Childhood of Jesus: Decoding the Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas

By Reidar Aasgaard

A new interpretation of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, revealing new insights into the genre, cultural context and theology of this under-appreciated document.

ISBN: 9780227173541


The Childhood of Jesus provides an in-depth analysis of the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas, an ancient tale about Jesus’s boyhood years that narrates his play with other children, miraculous deeds, first visits to school, and conflicts with his teachers. The gospel ends with a retelling of the New Testament story of Jesus as a twelve year old in the temple. Originating in second-century, Greek-speaking Christianity, it was quickly translated into other languages, including Latin and Syriac, and enjoyed widespread popularity in the Middle Ages, when it was included as part of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.

Aasgaard presents the history of research history and analyses its story, transmission, narrative world and values, theology, views of gender and childhood, social setting, and audience – much of which has not been previously treated. He sees the Infancy Gospel of Thomas as reflecting oral storytelling, and possessing far more narrative qualities than has been previously assumed. He situates the story within rural Christianity among the common people, with the social and cultural ideas and values characteristic of such a milieu, and argues that it can even be considered the first Christian children’s story. Far from being heretical, as has often been claimed, the gospel’s theology mirrors mainstream thinking rooted in biblical tradition, particularly in the Johannine and Lukan traditions. Jesus is portrayed as a divine figure but also as a true-to-life child of late antiquity.

The volume includes the Greek text of the gospel with an English translation, as well as extensive appendices, among them surveys of its historical evidence, variants in the stories, and other ancient infancy gospels.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 298

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Reidar Aasgaard is Project Leader in the Norwegian Bible Society and has earned a doctorate in New Testament/Early Christianity. He is the author of My Beloved Brothers and Sisters (2004) and has published a study edition of the New Testament as well as Norwegian translations of Augustine.



1. The History of Research
2. Oral/Written Tradition
3. Narrative and Literary Features
4. Daily Life and Social Relations
5. Cultural Concepts and Values
6. Jesus as a Child
7. Jesus from Boy to Man
8. Intertextuality – Reflections of the Bible
9. Strange Sayings
10. Main Theological Issues
11. A Popular Tale from Early Rural Christianity
12. Christianity’s First Children’s Story
13. Conclusions

1. Greek Text
2. English Translation
3. The Structure of Ga/Gb/Gd
4. Designations of Individual Episodes
5. Survey of Greek Variants and the Versions
6. Survey of IGT Evidence by Century
7. Survey of Early Christian Infancy Stories

Index of Biblical Writings
Index of Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Index of Ancient Authors and Writings


Endorsements and Reviews

Although the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has long been enjoyed by readers interested in the Gospels that did not make it into the New Testament, there has been a dearth of scholarship on most of the pressing textual, historical, and theological issues it raises. Reidar Aasgaard has done the scholarly world a real service by presenting a full, interesting, and informed discussion of all these major questions. Scholars will now turn to this study before any other when they want to explore the Infancy Gospel and its traditions.
Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This thorough and outstanding volume addresses a wide range of historical, literary, and theological questions about the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and offers a fresh interpretation of this baffling text. A highly valuable resource for those interested in biblical studies, early Christianity, the history of childhood, and religious understandings of children.
Marcia J. Bunge, Professor of Humanities and Theology, Valparaiso University

Informed by current research on orality and narrative structure, Aasgard not only furthers our understanding of the content of the document itself including its theology and ethics, but also breaks new ground in reconstructing its social setting and audience … Drawing upon his extensive expertise, Aasgaard also argues that the document was intended for early Christian children and contributes substantially to the emergence of the investigation of children and childhood as a key interdisciplinary subfield within early Christian studies.
Margaret Y. MacDonald, Professor of Religious Studies, St Francis Xavier University

The book is an outcome of a three-year research project on children in antiquity and early Christianity, says Aasgaard, and much of the material has been presented at various conferences, but apparently not published before. Agreeing with scholars through the ages that the gospel has no reliable information about the actual childhood of Jesus, he argues that it should be studied and valued for other reasons. He shows how it reflects thinking and practice regarding childhood in the culture, and how the gospel writer used and changed aspects to convey theological and ideological messages. His topics include the oral and written tradition, daily life and social relations, Jesus from boy to man, strange sayings, and Christianity’s first children’s story.
Reference & Research Book News, October 2011

… the Infancy Gospel of Thomas [has] not received any sort of systematic treatment. Aasgaard seeks to redress this situation with The Childhood of Jesus, and in doing so he demonstrates that Infancy Gospel of Thomas is far more sophisticated and historically valuable than previous scholarship has recognized … This systematic and fair-minded treatment of Infancy Gospel of Thomas not only fills a void in gospel studies, but should stimulate further research on this much-neglected gospel.
Daniel Frayer-Griggs, in Theological Book Review, Vol 23, No 2