If you thought the kid from The Omen was bad, try the gospel of Jesus’ infancy.
Just in case you’re worried that the title is clickbait, I’ll assure you right now- it isn’t. Stick with it and we will get to the bit where villagers try to kick the Lord and Saviour out because, and I quote, he ‘slays our children’…
As the recently released movie ‘The Prodigy’ demonstrates, the horror trope of the creepy kid is one that Hollywood just loves to play with. There is something about the idea of the innocence of youth being corrupted by supernatural forces that horror writers and filmmakers just can’t seem to get enough of. Indeed, the story of a child, often gifted or privileged, who beneath the sweet ‘butter-wouldn’t- melt’ veneer of youth, hides a dark secret or some otherworldly power has a long history within the horror genre.
Whether it’s classics like The Omen in which the young Damien’s cherubic smile is twisted for the audience into a vision of malevolent mirth, or more recent examples like Esther in 2009’s Orphan, from the undeniably creepy tots in Village of the Damned to the Children of the Corn it’s clear that in horror, the kids aren’t ‘alright’.
What is interesting however, is that this trope, of a child wielding extraordinary and dangerous power, is far older than Hollywood and even finds its way into religious literature, with the child chosen to play the ‘Damien’ role being quite the interesting casting choice…
In the canonical accounts of Jesus’ life he basically jumps from being in a manger to being baptised in his early thirties in one fell swoop. Some gospels actually skip his childhood altogether and just jump in at the baptism. The only snippet we get of his youth is when he impresses everyone in The Temple after ditching his parents to do some sightseeing by himself (imagine how worried Mary and Joseph must have been, I mean, not only have you lost your Son but you’ve lost God’s son. That’s some pretty serious carelessness right there). For those of you who may have wondered what Jesus got up to in the years not mentioned in the four New Testament gospels, I have some bad news for you.
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with The Gospel of Thomas, which is an oft talked about but entirely different text) details the early life of The Nazarene and to be frank, he was a bit of a handful. The text itself is considered an apocryphal gospel, i.e. one of many accounts of Jesus’ life which were not included in the final group of books that comprised the bible. In it, Jesus is found getting to grips with the enormous power he possesses. In one story, which interestingly, is also told of Jesus (known as Isa) in the Qu’ran, the youthful son of a carpenter forms birds from clay, only to have them come to life and fly away. So far, so good. Though, even in that example Jesus was making these birds on the Sabbath, which was technically a sin…
Unfortunately, some of the other stories are a little more sinister in tone and characterise Jesus as a kid you really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, or let your kids play with for that matter. In one extract a child ‘disperses waters’ that Jesus had gathered up. Jesus then ‘ ‘got wroth’ which is an awesome old school way of saying got petulantly pissed. In retaliation for this ‘water displacement’ our hero, in what some might consider to be a bit of an overreaction calls the other child ‘evil and ungodly’ and proceeds to ‘wither’ him.
Basically, Jesus said to him “Behold, now also you shalt be withered like a tree, and shalt not bear leaves, neither root, nor fruit” and in what is a deliciously creepy line, the boy “ withered up wholly”. Damn. I can understand how anyone might look ‘ungodly’ compared to Jesus, but when we’re working out who is evil in this exchange, withered boy comes off rather well. Jesus- not so much.
Following this and having seemingly gotten a taste for bad-assery, Jesus, (showing none of the ‘turn the other cheek’ pacifism of his later life), reacts to a boy bumping his shoulder by killing him dead. Yes you read that right- dead. Jesus’ actual ‘killer’ line to the boy, is ‘You shalt not finish thy course.’ at which, the child obediently falls dead. If that’s not an Omen-esque way for a child to murder another child I don’t know what is.
The villagers, somewhat perturbed by the young lad’s action, as you would be, complain to Joseph and attempt to kick the whole family out of their village ‘You that hast such a child canst not dwell with us in the village’ because, and this is quite the reason for kicking a kid out of town, ‘ He slays our children’. Yep, that’ll do it. Of course Jesus does not take their snitching lying down, his logic being that you can’t see wrongdoing if you can’t see- “ they that accused him were smitten with blindness”. That’s that sorted then.
Throughout all of this, a rather put upon Joseph attempts to chastise Jesus and in fact at one point twists his ear as punishment, which in itself is an act requiring balls of steel (I mean, what’s he supposed to do, bend God incarnate over his knee and spank him?). After a few failed attempts to send ‘brat Jesus’ to school however, he gives up and referring to Jesus as if he was either Bruce Banner or a werewolf, tells Mary to keep him inside. You know, in case he gets angry and kills someone. “Let him not forth without the door, for all they die that provoke him to wrath”.
In conclusion, it must be stated that Jesus does do a fair bit of good in this text, bringing a child back to life, (a child that funnily enough, he was also accused of killing in the first place, but hey). He also cures James of a snake bite and makes the serpent responsible ‘burst’, which although not necessarily ‘good’ per say is pretty cool.
It should also be emphasised that this is an ‘apocryphal’ gospel, meaning it didn’t make the cut for inclusion in the bible proper. As the books that did make it into the New Testament were most likely compiled over a long period of time and chosen by virtue of the fact that they were the most popular and widely read, its likely that these stories of ‘Jesus the heavenly teenybopper from Hell’ were less widely known.
However, considering the content it’s also unsurprising to find that one of the most prominent translations of this text is by M.R.James, a scholar who is probably better known for his other work- as a horror writer.
The text of The Infancy Gospel of Thomas can be easily found and read online for free.
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