Recently Discovered Papyrus Details a 5-Year-Old Jesus

It's a brief, 'clumsy' letter, but researchers say it's oldest known copy of gospel about Jesus as a child
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2024 10:20 AM CDT
'Clumsy' Letter Is Actually a Papyrus About Young Jesus
A portion of the ancient manuscript is shown here.   (Humboldt University)

Experts in ancient documents have discovered the oldest known copy of a gospel detailing Jesus' childhood, text originally written some 200 years after his death. The manuscript itself, a passage from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which lies outside the accepted canon of Scripture, is dated to the fourth or fifth century, per a release. It was largely ignored in a university library in Hamburg, Germany, for decades, assumed to be a regular old letter due to its "clumsy writing," reports the Washington Post. But then papyrologists noticed it contained the word "Jesus." They decoded it "letter by letter and quickly realized that it could not be an everyday document," Lajos Berkes of Humboldt University in Berlin tells the Post.

The story tells of a 5-year-old Jesus molding clay he found in a muddy stream into the shape of sparrows. When his father, Joseph, rebukes him for doing this on the Sabbath, Jesus claps his hands and the sparrows come to life. It's the "earliest manuscript record that attests the childhood of Jesus in detail," says Macquarie University papyrologist Michael Zellmann-Rohrer, who wasn't involved in the research. The playful scene, the claim of Jesus creating life, and "the texture of the relationship between Jesus and Joseph" adds "significantly to the picture of the childhood of Jesus that we get from the canonical Gospels," says Zellmann-Rohrer.

The release notes that the document features 13 lines of text, with around 10 letters per line, per CBS News. Up until this discovery, an 11th-century codex was the oldest known Greek version of this particular gospel. It is "of extraordinary interest for research," offering "new insights into the transmission of the text," says Berkes. It also confirms the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was originally written in Greek, per the Post. Researchers believe the text was created as an exercise at a school or monastery, hence the "clumsy" style. (More Jesus Christ stories.)

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