Origins of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas Tales

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by Neil Godfrey

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, dated to around the mid to later second century, strings together a series of pious and often shocking stories of the childhood of Jesus. He strikes teachers dead, brings to life clay birds, petulantly raises the dead to redeem his honour, and so forth. I have read here and there how some of these stories are taken from those of pagan gods but have not yet come across anything that addresses their origins or similarities to other stories in depth.

I did recently come across this passage:

Usually, apparent analogies in Indian childhood stories about Krishna and Buddha have been adduced. Scholars have also opted for Egyptian roots interpreting episodes in IGT as allegories of the Horus myth.3

3. Conrady, Ludwig. “Das Thomasevangelium: Ein wissenschaftlicher kritischer Versuch.” TSK 76 (1903) 377–459.

Aasgaard, Childhood of Jesus, p.87

I have since seen the same Conrady citation in a couple of other works, too.

I don’t read German but I have learned to extract information I want by various manuevers with online translators and dictionaries. So all I had to do was to find an online copy of Conrady’s article, no doubt sitting in the Internet Archive given that it goes back to 1903. And I was in luck. I found it there. But then my luck ran out. The text is that Gothic or Blackletter script. That means I cannot run it through any optical character recognition (OCR) tool available to me — which I need to be able to do in order to create a text that machine translators can read.

If anyone passing by does have a similar interest in what has been written about the origins of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and also has the means/equipment to be able to convert Gothic text into more “normal” text they can download the Conrady article that I have extracted from Internet Archive (archive.org) and enabled it to be shared via Google Drive: Conrady, Das Thomasevangelium. It’s a file of approx 3 MB. The article is nearly 90 pages.

Anyone who does manage to convert it to a normal text file is very welcome to send me a copy in the meantime.

Many thanks.


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10 thoughts on “Origins of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas Tales”

  1. I am appalled that a book from 2009 written by a scholar of religion in English would talk about Buddha and Krishna. It should be the Buddha or Gautama/Gotama Buddha, not simply Buddha. Such failure to use the proper terminology leaves open to me the possibility that the scholar knows little if anything about the Buddha. And if this be so, then why should I trust this scholar’s comparison of Jesus and the Buddha?

  2. Ehrman, Bart D. (2005). Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It Into the New Testament. pp. 57–58. ISBN 978-0-19-518250-7 :

    [Per The Infancy Gospel of Thomas] The text provides few clues to help us fix the time of its composition. Most scholars believe that such “infancy Gospels“ began to circulate during the first half of the second century. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas appears to have been one of the earliest.

    Brakke, David. The Great Courses: The Apocryphal Jesus Guidebook, p. 23:

    [The Infancy Gospel of Thomas] seems to have been popular in the Middle Ages, because we have manuscripts of it in Greek, Syriac, Latin, Georgian, Ethiopic, Slavonic, and Arabic. Paintings of the boy Jesus bringing clay birds to life decorate medieval churches…

    • Jesus breathing life/spirit/pneuma into objects/people is featured in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and may derive from Gnotic and Pagan concepts.

    Freke, Timothy; Gandy, Peter (2001). The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God?. ISBN 978-0-676-80657-1 :

    The Gnostics called those who identified with their body “Hylics,” because they were so utterly dead to spiritual things that they were like unconscious matter, or hyle Those who identified with their personality, or psyche, were known as “Psychics.” Those who identified with their Spirit were known as “Pneumatics,” which means “Spirituals.” Those who completely ceased to identify with any level of their separate identity and realized their true identity as the Christ or Universall Daemon experienced Gnosis. This mystical enlightenment transformed the initiate into a true Gnostic or Knower.

    In both Paganism and Christianity these levels of awareness were symbolically linked with the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire.

    1. What I’m looking for is the details. It is evident that there are borrowings from Jewish and non Jewish myths — no question — but I am looking for the micro details: what specific myths, the sources we have for these, what we know about their provenance, and the details of the influences, motifs, textual, etc.

      1. Aarde, Andries van (5 August 2016). “Die Heroïese Mite Van Die Kind-God Jesus in Die Kindheidsevangelie Van Tomas“. Acta Patristica et Byzantina. 14 (1): 266–302. doi:10.1080/10226486.2003.11745729

        [Per the Infancy Gospel of Thomas] why did the author feel inspired to compose the mighty (positive and negative) deeds of the child Jesus as if he is an adult? Could the inspiration lie in tales of gods, emperors, and philosophers who were portrayed as wonderworkers occasionally performing miracles in childhood? An answer is sought in the connection between the myth of the child-god and societal expectations of children in Hellenistic-Semitic and Greco-Roman literature.

        1. Does this article or source book have the information I am looking for? It was a citation in a work by Aarde that I am trying to track down because I understand it has the details he does not repeat in his own work discussing a different aspect of the borrowing from myths, such as motivation, cultural expectations, etc.

  3. I find it it funny that when it comes to the apocryphal books NT scholars are okay with pagan influences but not when it comes to the Gospels. I’m convinced that Luke was influenced by pagan childhood myths. There’s ancient Egyptian stories about a hero named Si-Osire where his mother and father are visited by a god or spirit in a dream and are told they will give birth to a son who shall be named Si-Osire and he will do great things. At the age of 12 Si-Osire goes to a temple and knows more than his teachers. The story also has the parable of the rich and poor man.

    There’s also myths about Pharoah’s mothers being impregnated by a god and being told they will give birth to the future king who will rule over Egypt.

    From Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume 3: The Late Period by Miriam Lichtheim:
    “H. Gressmann’s penetrating study, “Vom reichen Mann und armen Lazarus”, has made it plausible that the contrasting scenes of the richly buried nobleman who is tortured in the netherworld and the cursorily buried poor man who becomesan honored nobleman in the netherworld were genuinely Egyptian motifs that formed the basis for the parable of Jesus inLuke 16, 19-31, and for the related Jewish legends, preserved in many variants in Talmudic and medieval Jewish sources.”

    From https://www.ancient.eu/article/1054/the-tales-of-prince-setna/:
    “The stories have influenced many later writers and important works of literature. Herodotus cites Setna as the high priest Sethos in one of his best-known passages regarding the troops of the Assyrian king Sennacherib defeated by mice who gnaw through their equipment while they sleep (Histories II. 141). This passage is his version of the story told in the biblical book of II Kings 19:35 in which an angel of the Lord destroys the Assyrian army laying siege to Jerusalem.
    The sequence from Setna II in which Setna and his son Si-Osire travel to the underworld draws upon Greek mythology and influences later Christian scripture in the story of the rich and poor man in the afterlife.The contrast of the rich and poor man in life and death, later skillfully used by the author of the Book of Luke, illustrates the importance of the central value of ancient Egypt: observance of ma’at. There was nothing wrong, per se, in having riches. Pharaoh, after all, was quite wealthy and yet no one doubted the king would find himself justified in the afterlife and continue on to the Field of Reeds. The autobiographies and tomb inscriptions of plenty of wealthy ancient Egyptians, from different eras, express the same confidence.”

    From Chronicle of a Pharaoh: The Intimate Life of Amenhotep III by Joann Fletcher:
    “At Luxor we can follow the great king from his divine conception right through his life, and beyond. The story begins with Amun diplomatically taking the form of Tuthmosis to visit Mutemwia, who is asleep in the inner rooms of her palace. According to the inscriptions that accompany the temple reliefs, “She awoke on account of the aroma of the god and cried out before him … He went to her straight away, she rejoiced at the sight of his beauty, and love for him coursed through her body. The palace was flooded with the god’s aroma. “Words spoken by Mutemwia before the majesty of this great god Amun-Ra:How strong is your power! Your dew fills my body, and then the majesty of this god did all that he desired with her. Words spoken by Amun-Ra: `Amenhotep, ruler of Thebes, is the name of this child I have placed in your body … He shall exercise the beneficent kingship in this whole land, he shall rule the Two Lands like Ra forever.'” The sandstone reliefs depict the couple’s fingers touching briefly—and in this auspicious instant Amenhotep, son of Amun, is conceived.”

    1. Winternitz, Moriz (1996). A History of Indian Literature: Buddhist literature and Jaina literature. pp. 399–400, n. 1. ISBN 978-81-208-0265-0.

      As early as in 1762 the Augustine hermit Georgius pointed out that a similar story to that told of the five-year old Jesus and Zakchaios in the Gospel of St. Thomas, was told in Tibet about Buddha, see L. Conrady, Das Thomasevangelium (Thelog. Studien und Kritiken, Gotha 1903), p. 403 ff.

      Per Conrady (1903), “Another conjecture, finally, is to venture on the evidence of the undeniable testimony to the Buddha legend in our Gospel. The Augustinian hermit Georgius in his “alphabetum tibetanum” already pointed out that the Tibetan Xaca, ie the Buddha, related a similar story to that of the 5 year old Jesus in Zakchaios, but not only that the same or similar story of Buddha in the northern Indian tradition.”

      “It is well known that R. Sendel, in his Gospel of Jesus in his salutation to the Buddha-Saga and Buddha-Lebre, also led the not undisputed proof of the borrowing of Buddhist material in the Christian field, alas, unfortunately, touched the Apocrypha incidentally.”

      “But the fact that our story is really borrowed from there betrays the trait of the presumption of the second teacher, who is not altogether lacking in the first. For this is emphasized not only in that Buddha legend, but is, according to H. Kern’s remark, an ordinary “small mistake” of the Indian teachers, so it can not be transferred there, as the conventional assumption requires.”

      “This acquaintance with the Buddha legend above, we are entitled to relocate to Egypt, preferably to Alexandria. Because we also know from Indian embassies to Rome …”


      Eine andere Vermutung endlich sei mit dem Hinweise auf die in unserem Evangelium sich unleugbar bezeugende Bekanntschaft mit der Buddhalegende gewagt.

      Schon der Augustinereremit Georgius hat in seinem „alphabetum tibetanum” darauf aufmerksam gemacht, daß von dem tibetischen Xaca, d. i. Buddha, ein ähnliches erzählt wurde, wie von dem 5 jährigen Jesus bei Zakchaios, aber nicht nur, daß sich die gleiche oder doch ähnliche Geschichte von Buddha in der nördlichen indischen Überlieferung


      findet, es hat auch R. Sendel in seinem Evangelium von Jesu in seinem Berhaltnis zur Buddha-Sage und Buddha-Lebre bekanntlich den freilich nicht unbestrittenen Nachweis von der Entlehnung buddhistischer Stoffe auf christlichem Gebiete geführt, doch leider die Apokryphen nur nebenbei berührt.

      Daß aber unsere Geschichte wirklich von dorther entlehnt ist, verrät der Zug von der Anmaßung des zweiten Lehrers, die auch dem ersten nicht ganz fehlt.

      Denn dieses wird nicht nur in jener Buddhalegende hervorgehoben, sondern ist nach H. Kerns Bemerkung Hierzu ein gewöhnlicher „kleiner Fehler” der indischen Lehrer, kann also dorthin nicht übertragen sein, wie die herkömmliche Annahme verlangt.

      Diese Bekanntschaft mit der Buddhalegende ober sind wir berechtigt, nach Ägypten, vorzugsweise nach Alexandrien zu verlegen. Denn wissen wir auch von indischen Gesandtschaften nach Rom…

    2. • Conrady, Ludwig (1900). Die Quelle der Kanonischen Kindheitsgeschichte Jesus: ein Wissenschaftlicher Versuch. Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht.

      Thorburn, Thomas James (1916). The Mythical Interpretation of the Gospels: Critical Studies in the Historic Narratives. Scribner. pp. 34, n. 2:

      Conrady (Die Quelle der kanonischen Kindheitsgeschichte Jesu) derives the birth story of Jesus from the Isis–myth; that is, from Egyptian in preference to Babylonian, or Hellenistic, sources.

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