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Posted February 23, 2010

Book: The Infancy Gospels of Jesus: Apocryphal Tales from the Childhoods of Mary and Jesus
Translations and Annotation by Stevan Davies
Skylight Paths, Woodstock, Vermont. 2009. Pp. 141

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The three principal infancy gospels — the Infancy Gospel of James, the Gospel of the Infancy, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas – are accounts of the births and early lives of Mary the Virgin Mother, and Jesus. Originating in the second through fifth centuries, these apocryphal stories are fictions but nevertheless of great historical interest in terms of the beliefs and storytelling of early Christians, for they are the sources of well-known Christian legends as well as of some of Christianity’s beloved heroes and heroines.

This fascinating and accessible exploration of formative influential narratives takes you deep into the early Christian religious thinking that provides the basis for Mary’s biography, ideas about her purity, as well as the prayers, feasts, and iconic representations that celebrate her life. These extraordinary folk-tales also provide some shocking imagery of the young Jesus, the incarnation of God — equally human and divine — as he learns to control his supernatural powers and apply them for good.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Mary’s Parents: Saint Joachim and Saint Anne

As tales were told, sometimes there characters came to life in Christian tradition. Mary’s parents are never mentioned in the Bible, however, through the influence of the Gospel of James, where Mary’s parents are given names Joachim and Anne, these two legendary persons came to be honored in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In Hebrew the name of Mary’s mother would have been “Hannan,” in Greek it is “Anna,” and in English it is “Anne.” So, in this book, we will use “Anne” for her name. Today, in the Orthodox churches, Joachim and Anne have Sept. 9 as their feast day; in the Roman Catholic churches the date is July 26. Saint Anne is said to be the patroness of women in labor and Saint Joachim is known as the patron of grandparents.

Mary’s early life needed to be located somewhere, and so traditions arose placing Mary’s birth and infancy in the capital of Judea, Jerusalem, where Anne and Joachim supposedly made their home. Her girlhood, though, was not spent at home. According to the Gospel of James, she was admitted into the Jerusalem Temple, where she lived, fed by angels of God, until puberty.

Today, in the Old City of Jerusalem, if you walk down the Via Dolorosa toward the Lion’s Gate, with the sacred area of the Dome of the Rock on your right and the Muslim residential quarter on your left, you’ll notice a stone doorway with the words “BIRTH PLACE of the VIRGIN MARY” painted above it. God inside and a polite man will escort you down flights of stairs carved in stone and through a series of grottos. He will tell you that this was the ancient home of Saints Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents. On the rugged stone walls of the grottos you will see icons in the Orthodox Christian style telling the story of Mary’s birth and depicting the day that Mary was delivered to the care of the high priest of the Temple of Jerusalem, which would have been located about a thousand feet to the south of this point.

Table of Contents:

The Gospel of James

Joachim and Anne: the gift of Mary

Mary: the story of her birth

Mary: Raised in blessing and purity

Joseph: Mary’s protector

Mary: miraculous conception

Joseph and Mary: accused and tested

Mary and Joseph: the Christmas story

The Magi: in search of a King

Herod: the murder of Zechariah

The Gospel of the Infancy

A cave, not a stable: the Nativity story

A sinful Mary and the anointing of Christ

Jesus in the temple

The Magi and Herod: varying views of Jesus

Into Egypt: the Holy Family in flight

Exorcising a deaf and dumb demon

The bridegroom mule: a brother restored

Bandits: in them Jesus sees his destiny

Balsams in his path: the Holy Child returns

The co-wife’s punishment

Satan’s bite: the young Judas Iscariot

Divine mischief: the boy Jesus at play

The king, Christ and a snake

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas

The introduction to the Gospel of Thomas

Clay sparrows: a dark miracle

The vengeful boy: Christ in conflict

The young healer explores his powers

Divine carpenter: Jesus adjusts his elder’s mistakes

The pupil teaches his teacher

The miraculous physician

In the house of my Father: Jesus in the temple