Parents might breathe easier knowing that even Jesus terrorized his parents as a child. The New Testament only relates one such story: Jesus gets lost in Jerusalem and Mary and Joseph take several days backtracking before finding him at the temple (Luke 2:41-52). Only the gospels of Luke and Matthew even have birth narratives, and they aren’t remotely similar! What happened to Jesus before his baptism, where all four gospels pick up the narrative?
Enter the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a non-biblical text that relates hair-raising stories of Jesus’s childhood. Jesus, the heavenly hellion, wreaks havoc, as children do, but his divine powers amplify his outbursts. For an extreme example, when another child hurriedly bumped into Jesus, he got angry and the boy dropped dead! The community complained about Jesus’s clumsiness, and Jesus had them blinded! This all leads to the picture here.
A certain Zeno was playing on the roof with Jesus. Commotion happened, and Zeno fell off and died. If you were an adult in the area and knew Jesus’s habit of striking children dead and blinding opponents, it would not be unreasonable to assume Jesus threw the boy off intentionally. The parents accused Jesus, but he maintained that it was an accident; Zeno tripped himself up. What is boy Jesus to do? What any divine child would, of course! He jumps off the roof and raises Zeno from the dead to ask, “Did I push you?” Zeno testifies that Jesus did not push him off the roof.
Stories like this are fascinating for many reasons. While this content may be troubling for some, the text insists on Jesus as the divine savior despite the unfortunate events. It is not a take-down piece, but a lively exploration of a biographical gap in Jesus’s life. Scholars may not read this text to find out whether or not the historical Jesus actually did any of these things as a child. Rather, we value these narratives as windows into ancient perspectives on who—and what—Jesus was.
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