In 1945, a pair of Egyptian brothers in Nag Hammadi - an area on the lower Nile - uncovered the initial set of Gnostic gospels about Jesus. Over the next 15 years, more scrolls turned up at the site, where researchers discovered a set of codices comprising the largest identified collection of extra-Biblical Christian documents. There were over 50 texts, most of which were Gnostic gospels removed from the original Bible, remaining hidden since the church's infancy.
Long before the religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, the early church was divided over Christianity's basic tenets and beliefs. Factions with differing beliefs bickered and occasionally tussled over the nature of God, His relationship with humanity, and how people should worship Him. Of all the branches, the Gnostics were considered one of the greatest perils to Orthodox Christianity.
Many Gnostic documents were lost during the subsequent power struggle between the differing theologies. Since then, much of the Bible has changed, including how Jesus is depicted. Thus, Gnostic beliefs remained a mystery, but the collection at Nag Hammadi revealed new information about early Christianity.
One of the most shocking texts from the Nag Hammadi site is called the Infancy Gospel Of Thomas, which contains a record about Jesus's childhood. This gospel portrayed the young prophet as someone unfamiliar to even the most devoted of Christians: Jesus punishes people for no reason and shows no respect for his parents. While the Infancy Gospel is not a canonical part of the New Testament, it is a fascinating glimpse into what some early Christians believed might have constituted Jesus's childhood.
Jesus Goes Missing For Three Days And His Parents Panic
As Jesus grows older in the Infancy Gospel, he does not act out as often. His later miracles involve resurrecting people, including a sickly child and a builder, but he continues to be antagonistic toward his parents. When Jesus is 12 years old, his parents go to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, as was the custom at the time.
On their return home, they find Jesus has gone missing. Over three days, they search for him and eventually see him lecturing a group of elders in the Temple at Jerusalem.
When his mother confronts him, saying that they were worried sick, Jesus responds, "Why seek ye me? Know ye not that I must be in my Father's house?"
Jesus Reverses All Of The Damage He Did To Prove His Power
Jesus's first three miracles involve offing two children, blinding two adults, and humiliating an older man. Joseph continually laments that his son's actions have caused the entire town to hold them in contempt. However, after ridiculing schoolteacher Zacchaeus, Jesus abruptly reverses all the damage he has done:
And as the [Jewish people] were counseling Zacchaeus, the young child laughed greatly and said: "Now let those bear fruit that were barren and let them see that were blind in heart. I am come from above that I may curse them, and call them to the things that are above, even as he commanded which hath sent me for your sakes."
And when the young child ceased speaking, immediately all they were made whole which had come under his curse. And no man after that durst provoke him, lest he should curse him, and he should be maimed.
Jesus performs this feat as a show of his great capabilities.
The Gospel May Be Intended To Show Jesus's Innate Divinity
According to Bart Ehrman, a scholar who specializes in studying the New Testament, storytellers of this time didn't share tales to show a character meeting challenges and growing as a person. Instead, stories would focus on characters whose traits were persistent throughout time - if a person were born with certain traits, these remained a part of them throughout their life.
For early Christians, there was virtually no difference between Jesus as a baby and an adult. Therefore, the author may not have intended these stories to demonstrate how Jesus was once impetuous but grew into a wise leader. Rather, Jesus appears to be a man given divine understanding from birth - whatever Jesus did was right, because it was Jesus doing it.
Roman Expectations Of Masculinity May Have Influenced This Portrayal Of Jesus
Why does there exist a contradictory story of the antagonistic boy Jesus who becomes the peaceful healer? Perhaps the text's author endeavored to model what Romans would have considered masculine virtues. Roman masculinity revolved in large part around the concept of virtus.
Virtus had many meanings that changed throughout the long life of the empire, influenced by its interactions with the people it conquered - particularly the Greeks. At the time of the gospel's writing, virtus increasingly applied specifically to military achievements. Roman masculinity meant domination of enemies and the ability to solicit total obedience from women, children, and foreigners.
Some scholars ask contemporary readers to consider the Infancy Gospel in this context. The concept of virtus may influence Jesus's disobedience and disrespect towards his father. To become the ultimate man in Roman society meant to be under no one's authority; Jesus cannot obey his father or his teachers because he is above all other men.