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.
Some Modern Scholars Believe The Gospel Was A Work Of Satire
Though the gospel is an apocryphal text, scholars have tried many approaches to reconcile the Jesus of the Bible with the impulsive and aggressive Jesus of the Infancy Gospel. These approaches position the text as Old Testament-influenced, Greco-Roman in nature, or simply a particular splinter of Gnosticism.
Theologian James Waddell believes a non-Christian wrote the gospel as a satirical attack. He points out that the Infancy Gospel's writer appears to know or care little about Jewish traditions in the time of Jesus's life. This would likely indicate either a Greek author or a Jewish writer who has yet to convert or become influenced by Christianity.
Secondly, Waddell posits that tensions between the new Christians and traditional Jewish people would have risen, as Christians appeared to relax the sometimes strict commandments of Judaism. Christianity was still considered a sect of Judaism, and the bold changes to the faith advocated by figures like St. Paul would no doubt have rankled orthodox Jewish people.
Therefore, the numerous transgressions of Jesus, including slaying, breaking the Sabbath, and refusing to honor his elders, would have served to "poke the satiric finger in the eye of those who would elevate Jesus to the status of divinity by making a 'divine' Jesus out to be no better than a pagan god."
Many Of Jesus's Acts In The Infancy Gospel Get Referred To In The Quran
Jesus is a major prophet in the Quran, appearing around 35 times. A number of these appearances echo stories of Jesus that derive not only from the Bible but from Gnostic texts, including the Infancy Gospels.
The story of Jesus breathing life into the clay birds, for example, gets echoed by the Quran in the passage that reads, "I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I make for you out of clay the figure of a bird; then I breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave."
The Author Wrote The Gospel Two Or Three Centuries After The Events It Depicts
The New Testament, like the Old Testament, is a loose collection of religious scrolls and stories. It took ecumenical councils, religious schisms, collapsing empires, and hundreds of years of theology to form the modern canon. Scholars disagree on the precise composition dates of the New Testament's books, but they generally agree that it began with the Epistles of St. Paul around 30 CE.
In the first and second centuries, an oral tradition informed the writers of the gospels, which became known as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Because the Infancy Gospel heavily references canonical gospels, some believe its earliest possible composition date may be 80 CE. It was presumably written no later than 185 CE, because the influential church father Irenaeus referenced it in a text. Even this date, however, is suspect, as these stories likely got passed down for years as part of an oral tradition, and Irenaeus may have been referencing the stories, not the written gospel.
The Gospel Were Perhaps Banned When Christianity Became The Roman Empire's State Religion
The Gnostics often get referred to as a group of mystics who believed that physical matter was evil, and therefore the spirit of Christ would not have its own physical. In reality, the movement was a large and diverse collection of philosophical and cosmological viewpoints. While their rejection of matter was a core tenet, many other schismatic beliefs led them into theological conflicts with Orthodox Christianity.
The early church fathers waged constant theological opposition to the Gnostics and other heretics, refuting them in letters and sermons. The power and influence of Gnostics fell quite abruptly after the conversion of Constantine.
Christian bishops found power within the bureaucratic structure of the Roman Empire, using it to ban certain sects of Christianity and the books that upheld the beliefs. Among the banned literature may have been the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.