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From Boy to Man in Antiquity: Jesus in the Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas

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This article presents a survey of research on childhood in antiquity and describes briefly the position of children in late antiquity and early Christianity. Special attention is given to the relationship between childhood and gender, with a focus on boyhood. The article analyses the apocryphal infancy Gospel of Thomas, which tells the childhood story of Jesus from age five to twelve. This brief story, which consists of miracle stories and discourses, originated in Greek in the 2nd century CE and became widely popular. The article shows that its depiction of Jesus conforms to current ideas of gender, gender relations, and gender socialisation. A central claim in the article is that boys were not expected to show the same degree of self-restraint as were adult males, but that as children they were allowed to behave more emotionally and unpredictably. Rather than being literarily inferior or theologically aberrant, the infancy of Gospel of Thomas in its depiction of Jesus gives a lively and credible glimpse into the world and development of a late antiquity or early Christianity male child on his way from boyhood to male adult life. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

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									                 From Boy to Man in Antiquity:
                    Jesus in the Apocryphal
                   Infancy Gospel of Thomas
                                       REIDAR AASGAARD
                                       University of Oslo


     This article presents a survey of research on childhood in antiquity and de-
     scribes briefly the position of children in late antiquity and early Christianity.
     Special attention is given to the relationship between childhood and gender,
     with a focus on boyhood. The article analyses the apocryphal Infancy Gospel
     of Thomas, which tells the childhood story of Jesus from age five to twelve.
     This brief story, which consists of miracle stories and discourses, originated
     in Greek in the 2nd century CE and became widely popular. The article shows
     that its depiction of Jesus conforms to current ideas of gender, gender relations,
     and gender socialisation. A central claim in the article is that boys were not ex-
     pected to show the same degree of self-restraint as were adult males, but that
     as children they were allowed to behave more emotionally and unpredictably.
     Rather than being literarily inferior or theologically aberrant, the Infancy of
     Gospel of Thomas in its depiction of Jesus gives a lively and credible glimpse
     into the world and development of a late antiquity or early Christianity male
     child on his way from boyhood to male adult life.

     Keywords: boyhood, childhood, early Christianity, Jesus, theology, apocrypha,
     infancy, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, gender


      What was it like growing up as a boy almost two thousand years ago in the era of
Greco-Roman antiquity and early Christianity? What were the basic living conditions
for a young boy? What was his place and role in the family and society? What kind of
prospects would he have had for his future? What ideas were associated with boyhood
at that time?
      There are, of course, no easy answers to these questions, and we are faced with a
number of challenges in trying to answer them. One problem is the limited number and
fragmentary character of the sources. Another is that they usually reflect elite settings.
It is also problematic to speak of one specific kind of childhood in antiquity, since chil-

      Reidar Aasgaard, University of Oslo.
      Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Reidar Aasgaard, IFIKK, Faculty of
Humanities, University of Oslo, P.O.Box 1020, Blindern, NO-0315, Oslo, Norway. Electronic mail:
reidar.aasgaard@ifikk.uio.no

THYMOS: Journal of Boyhood Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 2009, 3-20.
© 2009 by the Men’s Studies Press, LLC. All rights reserved. http://www.mensstudies.com
thy.0301.3/$14.00 • DOI: 10.3149/thy.0301.3 • Url: http://dx.doi.org/10.3149/thy.0301.3      Θ
                                                  3
AASGAARD


dren’s lives would differ a great deal depending on the cultural and geographical set-
ting. For example, growing up as a Jewish peasant boy in Palestine was quite different
fr
								
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