Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Family Trouble in the Infancy Gospels
Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
200 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm, 1 illus.
- ISBN: 9780812249507
- Published: October 2017
When Jesus was five he killed a boy, or so reports the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. A little boy had run into Jesus by accident, bumping him on the shoulder, and Jesus took offense: "Jesus was angry and said to him, 'You shall go no further on your way,' and instantly the boy fell down and died." A second story recounts how Jesus transformed mud into living birds, while yet another has Joseph telling Mary to keep Jesus in the house so that no one else gets hurt. What was life really like in the household of Joseph, Mary, and little Jesus? The canon of the New Testament provides few details, but ancient Christians, wanting to know more, would turn to the texts we know as the "Infancy Gospels."
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a collection of stories from the mid-second century C.E. describing events in the life of Jesus between the ages of five and twelve. The Proto-gospel of James, also dating from the second century, focuses on Mary and likewise includes episodes from her childhood. These gospels are often cast aside as marginal character sketches, designed to assure the faithful that signs of divine grace cropped up in the early years of both Mary and Jesus. Christopher A. Frilingos contends instead that the accounts are best viewed as meditations on family. Both gospels offer rich portrayals of household relationships at a time when ancient Christians were locked in a fierce debate about family—not only on the question of what a Christian family ought to look like but also on whether Christians should pursue family life at all.
Describing the conflicts of family life, the gospels present Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in moments of weakness and strength, reminding early Christians of the canyon separating human ignorance and divine knowledge. According to Frilingos, the depicted acts of love and courage performed in the face of great uncertainty taught early Christian readers the worth of human relationships.
A Note on Abbreviations
Chapter 1. Family Matters
Chapter 2. Made You Look
Chapter 3. Wanting What's Best
Chapter 4. Carnal Ignorance
Chapter 5. Parents Just Don't Understand
Afterword. Together Again
"A clever and delightful book. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph provides a fresh perspective on the infancy gospels by interpreting them instead as 'family gospels.' Reading them together as two family dramas as opposed to separate texts about Jesus or Mary, Christopher A. Frilingos wrestles with concepts such as the ancient household, fatherhood, education, and divine intervention that are frequently overlooked in scholarly research on these documents."—Caroline Schroeder, University of the Pacific
"For scholars of early Christian literature, the book models a thoughtful, grounded approach to reconsidering familiar texts and recovering their latent theological richness with the help of new questions . . . Frilingos articulates with exceptional clarity why it is essential to consider seriously the relationship between the Proto-Gospel, the Infancy Gospel, and the canonical Gospels . . . Frilingos's work may achieve for the family gospels the kind of revitalization recent decades have seen in studies of the ancient Greek and Latin novels and the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles."—The Journal of Religion
"The argument of this book is innovative and refreshing. And the book itself is an absolute pleasure to read. Alongside his survey of material from James and Thomas, Frilingos incorporates an impressive array of Greco-Roman sources, and the endnotes and bibliography show deep engagement with recent scholarship on Christian Apocrypha. This is a must-read for scholars of Christian Apocrypha in general and 'family gospels' in particular."—Chruch History and Religious Culture