Notes on The Infancy Gospel of James, pt. 1 (introduction)

The Infancy Gospel of James (aka The Protevangelion of James) is a rather strange early Christian text that purports to be written by a certain “James” shortly after the death of Herod. It has influenced the theology and especially the hymnography of the early Church. It is interesting not only because it gives information not found in the New Testament, but also because it seems to be an example of early Christian pseudepigrapha.

 

Approach

In reading the text I was struck with a number of passages, detailed below I am not an expert on this text, nor have I tried to investigate the significant amount of scholarly treatments of the text. Instead I have done a quick reading of the text, noted some points of interest, and briefly explored those issues in the text.

While there are dozens of points of interest in this text, I’ll limit my comments to the most basic issues. My interest in the text primarily deals with the timeline of Mary’s life and in comparison to the existence of the Herodian Temple. But before that can be examined, a look at the text is in order. We will break up the text into a number of posts for the sake of convenience.

 

The Text

English translations can be found easily, and I have primarily used the Roberts-Donaldson translation out of convenience rather than confidence. “Early Christian Writings” provides 3 different English translations and 1 Greek text. The Greek text can be found here, as well as a Greek text with English lexical notes by Eric B. Sowell.

 

Dating

The text is generally dated 130-160 CE by scholars, although there seems to be little rationale for this dating. “Early Christian Writings” states:

“The author claims to be James, the stepbrother of Jesus. The author cannot have actually been James because the author seems to be dependent upon Matthew and Luke. Only Matthew tells us about the massacre of the infants arranged by Herod, while only Luke tells us about the birth of John to Elizabeth. Concerning the question of how John escaped Herod’s wrath, Hock argues that the author “answered this question by having Zechariah choose death rather than tell of John’s whereabouts and by having Elizabeth flee to the hills with John.” Since James’ death at the hands of Ananias occured in 62 CE and since the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were composed later, the Infancy Gospel of James must be pseudonymous.”

This is clearly an assertion based on the dating of Matthew and Luke, the dating of which are a matter of contention. We can add to this that Matthew and Mark could have gotten material from James! At this point we will keep the issues of dating and authorship wide open.

 

Reception

While we hear mention of this text in the 3rd century, at no point does it seem to have been treated as Scripture. It rather seems to have been a “tolerated” text, used for information rather than devotion. We can infer from this that it was not thought to have actually been written by James the Just, and conclude that the mixed reception that the text has received speaks volumes about how the claimed authorship was viewed.

In my next post we will look at selections from the text itself.

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