I will expound a theme, hold forth on the lessons of the past, PSALMS 78:2 (THE ISRAEL BIBLE)



JUNE 16, 2024

Home » Newly Deciphered Manuscript Identified as Earliest Account Of Jesus’ Childhood

 A1,600-year-old manuscript sat in a library, overlooked and neglected for decades, but has recently been deciphered and discovered to be the earliest known account of Jesus’ childhood. Researchers believe the papyrus manuscript fragment was made in Egypt in the 4th or 5th century when the country was a Christian society. The clumsy handwriting with irregular lines indicates it was a writing exercise in a school or monastery. The fragment, which measures around 11 x 5 centimeters, contains a total of thirteen lines in Greek letters, around 10 letters per line, copied from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas that tells episodes of the childhood of Jesus. Until now, a codex from the 11th century was the oldest known Greek version of the Gospel of Thomas, probably written in the 2nd century CE.  The apocryphal text was not officially included in the New Testament, as some early Christian writers doubted its accuracy.

Papyrologists Dr Lajos Berkes from the Institute for Christianity and Antiquity at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), and Prof Gabriel Nocchi Macedo from the University of Liège, Belgium, Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky State and University Library, identified the true nature of the papyrus. “It was thought to be part of an everyday document, such as a private letter or a shopping list because the handwriting seems so clumsy,” Berkes said in a media release. “We first noticed the word Jesus in the text. Then, by comparing it with numerous other digitized papyri, we deciphered it letter by letter and quickly realized that it could not be an everyday document.”, using other key terms such as ‘crowing’ or ‘branch,’ which the papyrologists searched in other early Christian texts, they recognized that it was a copy of the Infancy Gospel According to Thomas. 

The few words in the fragment show that the text describes the beginning of the ‘vivification of the sparrows’, an episode from Jesus’ childhood that is considered the “second miracle” in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. According to the account, Jesus plays at the ford of a rushing stream and molds twelve sparrows from the soft clay he finds in the mud. When his father, Joseph, rebukes him and asks why he is doing such things on the holy Sabbath, the five-year-old Jesus claps his hands and brings the clay figures to life. “From the comparison with already known manuscripts of this Gospel, we know that our text is the earliest. It follows the original text, which, according to the current state of research, was written in the 2nd century [CE].”

“The fragment is of extraordinary interest for research,” Berkes added. “On the one hand, because we were able to date it to the 4th to 5th century, making it the earliest known copy. On the other hand, because we were able to gain new insights into the transmission of the text.” “Our findings on this late antique Greek copy of the work confirm the current assessment that the Infancy Gospel, according to Thomas, was originally written in Greek,” says Gabriel Nocchi Macedo from the University of Liège.