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The Apocryphal New Testament Easy to use collection of English translations of the New Testament Apocrypha.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas

J. K. Elliott

Although various manuscripts contain collections of some infancy stories known now as the Gospel of Thomas, the superscriptions seem to avoid describing the work as a gospel. The usual designation is ‘paidika’ i.e. ‘childhood events’, and this form could be the oldest. This could represent a deliberate attempt to differentiate these stories from the full ‘biographical’ canonical Gospels. These childhood events fill in gaps left in the canonical Gospels, and they take their cue from the story of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve in Luke 2. The episodes in Thomas tell of Jesus at various ages prior to twelve.

The different forms in which infancy stories about Jesus have been preserved suggest that there was a continuing oral development of such episodes even after the first written accounts were circulating. Indeed the very existence of written accounts may have encouraged the development of other such accounts. The so‐called Infancy Gospel of Thomas appears in various guises but must not be confused with the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas in Coptic (q.v.). Following the example of M. R. James and Tischendorf, three versions are given here, translated from the texts by Tischendorf: Greek A, Greek B, and Latin.

Among the stories in the Thomas material, the episode of the dyer found in part in Paris manuscript 239 of Infancy Thomas finds a place also in the Armenian Infancy Gospel 21 and in the Arabic Infancy Gospel 37, and a variant of it even occurs in the Gnostic Gospel of Philip. 1 The story appears below under Arabic Infancy Gospel. The free movement of such stories is also evidenced in the story of Jesus and the schoolmaster found three times in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Greek A and Latin, and also in the second‐century anti‐Gnostic work, the Epistula Apostolorum 4, as well as in Pseudo‐Matthew 31 and 38, and the Arabic Infancy Gospel 49.

The theological teaching of these stories is minimal. The main thrust of the episodes is to stress in a crudely sensational way the miraculous powers of Jesus. Although they follow in the tradition found in the canonical Gospels, where Jesus is alleged to raise the dead, to pass through closed doors, to walk on water, and to still a storm at sea, the miracles in Thomas are often capricious and even destructive. Jesus is an enfant terrible who seldom acts in a Christian way! A reaction to this picture of Jesus as a ruthless infant prodigy may be seen in the differing picture of him in the History of Joseph the Carpenter (q.v.). Nevertheless, the vivid story‐telling of the episodes creates a sequence of memorable incidents.

The earliest form of Infancy Thomas seems to be the Syriac, but the tradition seems to go back to a Greek model: the Greek alphabet figures in one story. Wright's Syriac text is based on a fifth‐century manuscript that is close to Greek A (despite its being one thousand years older), and especially to the form of Greek A found in Paris 239. There are also links with the Vienna palimpsest in Latin. Peeters (Évangiles apocryphes, ii) tried to argue that all forms of Infancy Thomas, Greek and Latin, and the Armenian and Arabic expansions, go back ultimately to a Syriac original, but we should be wary of this and perhaps we ought to draw a sharp distinction between the direct traditions (Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Ethiopic, Wright's Syriac) and the infancy gospels in Armenian and Arabic. In favour of Peeters's view, however, is the argument that the later attribution of authorship to Thomas may indicate an East Syrian provenance, which is where most of the Thomas literature seems to have originated. More recently Gero has left the question of the language of the prototype open. Certainly there seems to have been a ninth‐century Greek tradition from which Greek A, Greek B, Tischendorf's Latin, the Slavonic, and the Paris and the Athens Greek manuscripts developed, but whether that Greek is descended from an earlier Greek form of the text or from a Syriac original is not clear. Independent of that ninth‐century Greek tradition there seems to have been a Syriac tradition, the text of which is close to that of Wright's manuscript.

Pseudo‐Matthew part 2 seems to have been developed from the Greek tradition, and it is from Pseudo‐Matthew that these stories gained the widest circulation in the West, especially in later Latin versions, and also in Provençal, Old French, and Anglo‐Saxon.

It is obvious from Gero's sketch and the above summary that the precise interrelationship of the different Greek and versional infancy narratives needs careful scholarly investigation and ultimately demands a critical edition of the text(s). In the meantime, the infancy stories represent the encapsulating in writing at various points in history of a developing cycle of oral tradition. As with many of the canonical Gospel pericopae, many of the episodes in the Infancy Gospel are self‐contained and only loosely connected with one another, thus facilitating changes. The changes in this tradition need not have been only in the direction of growth. It has been suggested that a shorter form of the infancy narratives, such as is found in Greek B, may in fact have been a deliberately shortened form of an originally longer document. In other words, the shorter versions may have been expurgated texts to render them suitable for the orthodox.

The Gnostic nature and origin of the infancy narratives is seen by some to exist not only in the stories themselves in which Jesus the Wunderkind is possessed of complete knowledge and wisdom and power ab initio and thus as a Gnostic revealer, but also in the reaction of early fathers to a Gospel of Thomas that seems to approximate to our Infancy Gospel. Their statements suggest a book of Gnostic origin that was adopted by the Naassenes and then popular with the Manichaeans. Cyril of Jerusalem (died 386), Catecheses 4. 36 and 6. 31 (PG 33. 500, 593), connects the Manichaeans with a Gospel of Thomas and notes that Thomas was one of the disciples of Manes. Hippolytus, Haer. 5. 7. 20 (Wendland, p. 83), refers to a Gospel of Thomas telling an episode (not actually in our Gospel of Thomas) of Jesus at the age of seven. The second Council of Nicaea in 787 condemned a Gospel of Thomas.

The book of Thomas referred to by the patristic writers may be Infancy Thomas in some form. If the Stichometry of Nicephorus refers to Infancy Thomas then it is known there in a much longer form, as a book of 1300 stichoi.

Attribution of authorship to Thomas possibly goes back to Origen, Hom. I on Luke (Rauer, GCS 49 (35), p. 5), who is aware of a Gospel of Thomas, but whether or not he is referring to our Infancy Gospel of Thomas is debatable. The infancy stories are attributed to Thomas in the titles of the Dresden, Sinai, and Bologna manuscripts. Authorship is attributed to James by the Athens manuscript. He is not named in the Paris fragment or in the Syriac, Georgian, or Ethiopic. The Vienna palimpsest lacks both the beginning and the end.

The titles of this work in the various forms include: ‘The Account of Thomas the Israelite Philosopher concerning the childhood of the Lord’, ‘The Childhood of Jesus according to Thomas’, ‘The Book of the holy apostle Thomas concerning the life and childhood of the Lord’, ‘The Childhood of our Lord Jesus (Christ)’.

History of the Printed Text

Tischendorf's Greek A is the longest version and is based on two manuscripts both of the fifteenth century: one in Bologna (Univ. 2702), the other in Dresden (1187). Mingarelli's text had been based on the Bologna manuscript; Thilo added to this the Dresden manuscript and a fragment containing chapters 1–2 then in Vienna (and edited by Lambecius (see Tischendorf, EA, p. xliii)) but now lost. Athos Vatopedi 37 is unedited but is said to resemble Greek A. The fifteenth‐sixteenth century Paris 239 containing chapters 1–7, edited originally by Cotelerius (and translated into English by M. R. James), is cited in Tischendorf's apparatus to the text of his Greek A. Delatte's publication of the Athens manuscript of the Greek came after Tischendorf's day. This manuscript shows links with the Latin, especially in Latin 1–3. Both this fragment and the Latin try to provide a link with PJ: the Athens manuscript even attributes the authorship of both to James.

Tischendorf's Greek B was first edited by him from a fourteenth‐fifteenth century manuscript he had discovered on Mount Sinai. It is shorter than his A text, with significant changes, such as the reversal in the order of the miracles in chapters 2 and 3, and the abridgement of chapter 7. The schoolmaster incident (and indeed other stories) bring it closer to Pseudo‐Matthew than to the versions elsewhere in Thomas. At other places the wording of B is identical with that of A. A close textual and literary study of these two, and other versions, of Thomas needs to be undertaken along the lines of the study of the interrelationship of the canonical Gospels before its complicated history can be understood. S. Gero has pointed a way forward in his article in NovT 13.

Tischendorf's Latin is from a Vatican manuscript (Vat. Reg. 648). He was also aware of the fragmentary fifth‐century Vienna palimpsest in Latin (Vindob. 563). Although Tischendorf's Latin resembles his Greek A, his version of Jesus the scholar is closer to Pseudo‐Matthew 31–2.

Following the example of de Santos Otero, only the first three chapters of the Latin, which provide material not found in the Greek or Syriac, are reproduced below. These chapters concern the Holy Family in Egypt, and they provide a link with the end of the Protevangelium of James. The stories set in Egypt differ from those in Pseudo‐Matthew, the Arabic, and the Armenian. This link either encouraged the eventual merger of PJ with Thomas, as is the case in some of the apparently derivative apocryphal works such as Pseudo‐Matthew and the Armenian infancy stories, or else is itself influenced by narratives already in existence that linked the birth and infancy narratives. Wright's Syriac manuscript contains PJ followed by Thomas, and both show links with Pseudo‐Matthew. The blending of PJ and Thomas can also be seen in the later Latin of, say, Arundel 404 or the Liber de Infantia Salvatoris (Paris 11867).

My translations are based on Tischendorf's editions.



  • Fabricius, i. 159–67 (Greek with Latin trans.).

  • G. L. Mingarelli, Nuova raccolta d'opuscoli scientifici e filologici, xii (Venice, 1764), 73–155 (with Latin trans.).

  • Jones, ii. 273–9 (with Eng. trans.).

  • Thilo, i, pp. lxxiii‐xci, 275–315 (and Latin version).

  • Giles, i (Greek text).

  • Tischendorf, EA, pp. 140–63 (Greek A, B).

  • A. Delatte, Anecdota Atheniensia i (Bibliothèque de la faculté de philosophie et lettres de l'Université de Liège 36; Paris and Liège, 1927), 264–71 (= Athens MS bibl. nat. gr. 355). [See M. R. James JTS 30 (1929), 51–4.]


Aland13 prints Greek A of Infancy Thomas 19. 1–5 together with the Latin version of the Arabic Infancy Gospel 50–3 alongside Luke 2: 41–52 (Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve). Also shown in Huck‐Greeven13.


  • Tischendorf, EA 164–80.

  • G. Philippart, ‘Fragments palimpsestes latins du Vindobonensis 563 (ve siècle ?): Évangile selon S. Matthieu, Évangile de Nicodème, Évangile de l'Enfance selon Thomas’, Anal. Boll. 90 (1972), 391–411.


  • Wright, Contributions 6–11 (Eng. trans.); repr. in E. A. Wallis. Budge, The History of the Blessed Virgin, i (London, 1899; repr. New York, 1976), 217–22 (= Luzac's Semitic Text and Translation Society 4 and 5).


  • S. Grébaut, PO 12.4 (Paris, 1919), 565–6, 625–42; PO 14 (1921), 775–840; PO xvii (1923), 787–854 (with French trans.).

  • V. Arras and L. van Rompay, ‘Les manuscrits éthiopiens des “Miracles de Jesus” ’, Anal. Boll. 93 (1975), 133–46.

  • G. Gero, ‘The Ta’āmra ’Īyasūs: A Study of Textual and Source‐Critical Problems’, in T. Beyene (ed.), Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies 1984, i (Addis Ababa and Frankfurt, 1988), 165–70.

A version of Infancy Thomas is found in the majority of Ethiopic manuscripts of the Miracles of Jesus based on Arabic, but these have close links to the Syriac and to the now lost Greek Vorlage of Infancy Thomas. Many Ethiopic manuscripts survive.


  • L. Melikset‐Bekov, in Hristianskil Vostok 6.3 (Tbilisi, 1922), 315–20 (Tiflis MS.); and cf. N. Marr, ibid. 343–7 .

  • G. Garitte, ‘Le fragment géorgien de l’évangile de Thomas', RHE 51 (1956), 513–20 (Latin trans.).


  • A. Popov, [An Account of Manuscripts of the Books of the Church Seal of the Library of A. I. Chludov] (Moscow, 1872), 320–5 (in Russian).

  • de Santos Otero, Altslav. Apok. i. 49–54.

  • S. Novaković, [‘The Apocrypha of a Serbian‐Cyrillic Collection of the Fourteenth Century’], Starine, 8 (1876), 48–55 (in Serbo‐Croat).

  • P. A. Lavrov, [‘Apocryphal Texts’], in Sbornik otdelenija russkago jazyka i slovesnosti Imperistorskoj Akademii Nauk, 67 (1899), 111–18 (Sofia MS. 69) (in Russian).

  • M. N. Sperasky, [‘Slavic Apocryphal Gospels’, in The Work of the 8th Archaeological Conference in Moscow, 1890], ii (Moscow, 1895), 73–92, 137–43 (in Russian).

  • A. de Santos Otero, Das Kirchenslavische Evangelium des Thomas (Berlin, 1967) (= Patristische Texte und Studien 6) (Slavonic text in German trans. with Greek retroversion and commentary). 2 See reviews by H. G. Lunt, Slavonic and East European Journal (1968), 488–90; J. Schutz, ByzZ. 62 (1969), 94–5; M. van Esbroeck, Anal. Boll. 87 (1969), 261–3.

  • N. G. Bonwetsch, in A. von Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius, i (Leipzig, 1893), 910.

  • W. Lüdtke, ‘Die slavischen Texte des Thomas‐Evangeliums', ByzNGrJ. 6 (1927), 490–508.

  • P. Peeters, Évangiles apocryphes, ii. L’Évangile de l'enfance (Paris, 1914), Introduction, esp. section iii. (= Textes et documents, ed. H. Hemmer and P. Lejay 18).

  • L. Conrady, ‘Das Thomasevangelium: Ein wissenschaftlicher kritischer Versuch’, ThStKr 76 (1903), 377–459.

  • S. Gero, ‘The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: A Study of the Textual and Literary Problems’, NovT 13 (1971), 46–80.


  • A. Fuchs and F. Weissengruber (with C. Eckmair), Die griechischen Apokryphen zum Neuen Testament, iii. Konkordanz zum Thomasevangelium: Version A und B (Linz, 1978) (= Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt B4).

Modern Translations (Of Greek a Unless Otherwise Stated)


  • Hone, 60–2 (Cotelerius’ fragment).

  • Cowper, 128–69, 448–56 (Greek A, B, Latin, and Wright's Syriac).

  • Walker, 78–99 (Greek A, B, Latin).

  • James, 49–65 (Greek A, B, Latin).

  • Hennecke3, i. 392–400 (Greek A, Syriac chs. 6–8).

  • Hennecke5, i. 439–53.

  • D. L. Cartlidge, in Cartlidge and Dungan, 92–7.

  • C. Taylor, The Oxyrhynchus Logia (Oxford, 1899), Appendix I (Greek B).


  • Migne, Dictionnaire, i, cols. 1137–56 (Greek A, Latin).

  • Michel, i. pp. xxiii–xxxii, 161–89.

  • Éac, 191–204.

And see P. Peeters, Évangiles apocryphes, ii (Paris, 1914), 289–310, Appendice: ‘Jésus à l’école de Zachée d'après les rédactions syriaque, latine et slavonne de pseudo‐Thomas'.


  • K. F. Borberg, Bibliothek der neutestamentlichen Apokryphen gesammelt übersetzt und erlǎutert (Stuttgart, 1841), 57–84.

  • Clemens, ii. 59–88.

  • Hennecke1, 63–73 (A. Meyer); cf. Handbuch pp. 132–42.

  • Michaelis, 99–111.

  • J. Walterscheid, Das Leben Jesu nach den neutestamentlichen Apokryphen (Düsseldorf, 1953), 25–33.

  • Hennecke3, i. 290–9 (O. Cullmann) (Greek A, Syriac chs. 6–8).

  • Hennecke5, i. 349–61 (O. Cullmann) (Greek A, with Slavonic variants added by A. de Santos Otero, and Syriac chs. 6–8).


  • Bonaccorsi, i, pp. xxiii–xxiv, 110–52 (Greek A).

  • Erbetta, i, 2, 78–101 (Greek A and B, Latin).

  • Moraldi, i. 247–79 (Greek A and B, Latin).


  • González‐Blanco, ii. 5–41.

  • de Santos Otero, 285–306 (Greek A, Latin chs. 1–3).


  • M. Herbert and M. McNamara, Irish Biblical Apocrypha (Edinburgh, 1989), 44–7 (sample of an Irish verse adaptation of Infancy Thomas).


  • R. A. Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu nach den Apokrypha in Zusammenhang aus den Quellen erzählt und wissenschaftlich untersucht (Leipzig, 1851), 144–65.

  • Variot, 44–50, 197–232.

  • W. Bauer, Das Leben Jesu im Zeitalter der neutestamentlichen Apokryphen (Tübingen, 1909), 87–100.

  • M. McNamara, ‘Notes on the Irish Gospel of Thomas’, ITQ 38 (1971), 42–66.

  • B. Bagatti, ‘Nota sul Vangelo di Tommaso Israelite’, Euntes Docet 29 (Rome, 1976), 482–9.

  • J. Noret, ‘Pour une édition de l’évangile de l'Enfance selon Thomas', Anal. Boll. 90 (1972), 412.

  • S. Voicu, ‘Notes sur l'histoire du texte de l'Histoire de l'enfance de Jésus’, Apocrypha: Le champ des Apocryphes, ii (1991), 119–32.


1 The story appears below under Arabic Infancy Gospel.

2 See reviews by H. G. Lunt, Slavonic and East European Journal (1968), 488–90; J. Schutz, ByzZ. 62 (1969), 94–5; M. van Esbroeck, Anal. Boll. 87 (1969), 261–3.

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