Today we have a question from frequent question-asker Chris Sims, who apparently wants me to get yelled at on the internet today:
Dear Unca Benito,
Earlier today, my friend Dave wrote about something he called the “Young Jesus Chronicles” ( http://www.daveexmachina.com/wordpress/?p=5882 ) and in addition to inventing the phrase “Dial H For Holy,” he told us about how Jesus used his super-powers to get this kid out of a tower. I’ve heard of other lost Jesus stories from people like Glenn Danzig. What can you tell me about them?
Okay, so: A few brief words about biblical canon:
The Bible that is considered canon (mostly) without dispute among Christian denominations is made up of a total of 66 books—39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Some denominations accept what are known as deuterocanonical books (i.e., books of a secondary canon) that are not considered as important as the primary canon, but still orthodox and of some value. The best known collection of such books is known as the Apocrypha, which includes the story of the Maccabees, literature’s earliest locked room mystery, and a for real dragon. If your Sunday school was not that exciting, you probably went to a denomination that did not accept the Apocrypha as canon.
The primary canon of the New Testament is 27 books: four gospels, one book of acts of the apostles, 21 epistles (letters), and one apocalypse. However, these books had to be specifically named as canon because there was a TON of material out there that the church fathers did not consider suitable for canon.
There was a pretty good idea within the church of what was acceptable for the Bible by the mid-300s, but the orthodox NT wasn’t, like, Facebook official until the Second Council of Trullan in 692. The complete biblical canon, OT and all, didn’t get officially defined until the SIXTEENTH CENTURY.
What I’m saying is, there was time for A VARY LARAGE amount of writings about Jesus to emerge.
Most of these were rejected for containing material that was considered counter to orthodox Christian beliefs. The primary cause of this was an inclusion of a philosophy known as Gnosticism, which was a very popular variation on Christian beliefs that was ultimately crushed as heresy. Another reason some books didn’t make the canon is that Jesus does a bunch of murders in them.
Let’s take a look at what Dave said on his site, for those who didn’t bother to click the link:
“This tells the story of the little boy who wanted to play with Kid Jesus, but his dad didn’t want him to, so dad locks the boy in a tower. Kid Jesus, though, dials H for Holy and phases his friend through the stone walls! Yes, this and other works like it detailed the Young Jesus Chronicles…early fan-fiction!”
The earliest Christians were not super concerned with the events of Jesus’s life before his ministry. This is why it took so long for Christmas to become a thing (you may not know this: it took a while for Christmas to become a thing), and it’s also why the earliest of the four canonical gospels, Mark (you may not know this: Mark is the earliest gospel; they are not printed in chronological order or anything), does not include any information about Jesus prior to the beginning of his ministry when he is baptized by John the Baptist. These early Christians were laser focused on the death and resurrection, and most importantly, when Jesus was coming back.
By the end of the first century, Christians start to realize Jesus maybe isn’t coming back just yet, so they start to ask themselves, “Hey, I wonder what Jesus’s secret origin is?” And that is why the other two synoptic gospels (Matthew and Luke; look: there…there’s a lot of stuff to know about the Bible, okay? Maybe you should Google some of this stuff.) begin with accounts of Jesus’s birth, such as you might have heard Linus say at you of a Christmas.
However, if you have read the gospels yourself, you might have noticed that these stories cut from Jesus’s birth to a single incident when he is twelve and then straight to his adulthood. Christians in the second century certainly noticed this. And so a new genre was born: the infancy gospel.
The two most influential infancy gospels were the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the Gospel(s) of Thomas or the Acts of Thomas) and the Infancy Gospel of James (which is actually about Mary). These were the earliest, and basically every subsequent infancy gospel is a variation or combination of these two works, with the most popular later one being the Infancy Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which is both a combination and a variation of Thomas and James.
Here’s the thing about the Infancy Gospel of Thomas:
It is crazy.
Here are some things that actually happen in a book that could have ended up in the Bible:
1) A five-year-old Jesus makes a bunch of sparrows out of mud and then makes them come alive when he is reprimanded for working on the Sabbath.
2) Another boy drains the puddle Jesus was playing in, so Jesus causes him to dry up like a mummy and then blow away as dust.
3) A boy running through a crowd bumps into young Jesus, so Jesus kills him immediately, with magic.
4) Some people in town tell Joseph (Jesus’s stepfather) about Jesus, you know, murdering some kids, and Jesus strikes all these people blind.
5) Joseph yanks Jesus’s ear as punishment for murder, and Jesus cold tells Joseph to his face, “Don’t you know that I don’t really belong to you? Don’t make me upset.”
6) He schools his teacher on the mysteries of the alphabet (no murder this time).
7) When another child Jesus is playing with falls off a roof, Jesus raises him from the dead to escape from the—let’s be honest here, completely justified—suspicion of murder.
8) He heals the foot of a man who chopped it off while cutting wood.
9) At age six, Jesus accidentally breaks a pitcher, so carries all the water home in his cloak (cloth is porous, you see, so this is a miracle).
10) He sowed one measure of grain but managed to reap one hundred measures. He gave this extra grain to the people of the village. This is at age eight.
11) When Joseph accidentally cuts a board too short, Jesus stretches the short board until it matches the other one.
12) Jesus embarrasses another teacher, but this time the teacher makes the mistake of smacking Jesus’s head in exasperation. Jesus killed him with God bullets.
13) A snake bites Jesus’s brother James, so Jesus explodes the snake with his mind.
14) Jesus raises a baby from the dead and emphasizes the importance of breast-feeding.
15) Jesus raises from the dead a construction worker who fell from a building.
You might have noticed that the story of the child locked in the tower is not included here. Dave saw this story as part of a display of the Tring Tiles, a series of 14th century ceramic tiles that illustrate stories from Jesus’s childhood in a sort of early comic strip.
This tile tells about a child who is locked away from Jesus by his father who, you know, looked around and noticed Jesus was killing the other kids. Little did he know a giant novelty key was nowhere near enough to stop Problem Child Jesus.
Not sure why Dave thought this was the craziest one; another details a story in which terrified parents hide their children from Jesus in the oven. When Jesus asks what’s in the oven, they say “pigs.” Jesus out of spite actually turns the kids into pigs.
Most of the stories on the Tring Tiles come from either Thomas or Pseudo-Matthew, but nobody really knows where these two incidents come from, but they clearly had some popularity in the 14th century.
In conclusion, birth control should be outlawed so that we can all have clans of children just like the young Jesus.