Aasgaard, Reidar. “Uncovering Children’s Culture in Late Antiquity: The Testimony of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” In Children in Late Christianity, edited by C.B. Horn and R.R. Phenix, 1-27. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.
To continue my research on theology of childhood, I read the article of R. Aasgaard, a further step towards knowing more about Jesus’ childhood and how early Christianity looked at children and their education. As Burke made clear (see previous post), the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (IGT, second century) is an acceptable source for gaining more knowledge.
Several researchers have discussed this apocryphal gospel. The story starts with Jesus playing at a brook and ends with the story of Jesus in the Temple, a narrative we also find in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:41-52). The IGT consists of miracle stories, but also contains some problematic elements, e.g. Jesus curses two children and a teacher to die.
Aasgaard asks what the function of the story could be. He rejects the oft-mentioned argument that it was written because people were curious about the gap in the canonical gospels between Jesus’ birth and his adulthood. But, Aasgaard argues, the IGT does not fill the even bigger gap between the narrative in which Jesus, aged twelve, stayed behind in the Temple and his public life.
Aasgaard is of the opinion that the first public of the IGT “are likely to have been Early Christian children” (p. 18). He defends his point of view by analyzing the IGT, looking for internal evidence in “its format, structure, setting, characters and cast, events, social-cultural values, and theology” (p. 19). He reaches the conclusion that children could recognize their own daily life in what happens to Jesus (p. 22). Even when the stories might be offensive for adults, Aasgaard argues that they quite likely give a voice to children’s experiences.
Since my interest is in knowing more about theology of childhood, I want to have a look at Aasgaard’s interpretation of theology in the IGT. He states that the IGT focuses on one topic, namely Christology, in the form of a narrative and dialogues which are easy to remember. “Thus, in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, theology is formulated in a way appealing to children, or stated pointedly, as a theology for children” (p. 23). This looks interesting enough, but it is not further elaborated in this article. He refers to Chapter 10 of his book The Childhood of Jesus.
In my next blog post, I will present the article of Chris Frilingos, also referred to by Burke.