Upson-Saia on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

Jesus in IGT or Chucky from Child's Play? (Source: mezcotoyz.com)

Jesus in IGT or Chucky from Child's Play? (Source: mezcotoyz.com)

Last week in class we discussed the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (IGT). One of the points that has been made this semester is how often ancient biographical depictions of great figures aimed for a static presentation of their character: great people were great from birth to death. Yet IGT presents Jesus as quite the hell-raiser as a child. In fact, he's Chucky from Child's Play. This may potentially say something quite negative about Jesus, but curiously the gospel was preserved by some Christians, so they must have found value in it, but why? 

I proposed that maybe this document contained some slander toward Jesus. Dr. Dupertuis, who was guiding this particular lecture/discussion was going in that direction, and he informed the class (and me) that this is precisely the point made in Kristi Upson-Saia's "Holy Child or Holy Terror? Understanding Jesus' Anger in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas," Church History 82/1 (March 2013), 1-39. In gist, Upson-Saia examines this gospel in light of the attitudes of ancients toward anger. Upson-Saia contrasts her hypothesis with that of other scholars saying (p. 6):

...some scholars argue that stories of an angry and volatile young Jesus would not be troubling to ancient readers given the plethora of mischievous deities and heroes found in Greco-Roman and Jewish history, other scholars concede that these stories might have indeed been shocking, but that the shocking nature of the stories was an essential element of demonstrating Jesus’ comprehensive power or of keeping IGTs young audience in line. Although these are plausible theories, I am not convinced that they entirely capture the experience of early Christian readers.

She provides four reasons for disagreement with current scholarly opinions (pp. 6-7): (1) early Christians were critical of the depiction of Roman deities and their wishy-washy moods, so it doesn't make sense that they'd mimic these gods in this regard when depicting a young Jesus; (2) while these narratives may be paired with those of the adult Jesus from other gospels, they pairing alone doesn't explain why readers would have any level of comfort with these particular depictions; (3) she finds the pairings made by scholars to be inconsistent; (4) the negative reactions to the boy Jesus found in this gospel are not explained by these proposals, so clearly we need to find a way to explain why these stories were preserved even if  they caused concern to their Christian readers.

Then Upson-Saia presents evidence that suggests uniformity of disdain for anger and childishness by Greco-Roman philosophers and moralists (save Aristotle). In doing so, she sheds light on those sections of IGT where the child Jesus is presented as acting uncontrollably. In her opinion, IGT is attempt to capture and distill negatives images of Jesus by packaging them with positive ones. This new form of intertextuality would alter how these negative stories were read giving them a new and different meaning. I won't say much more about the article here because a summary doesn't replace reading the article itself allowing one to draw conclusions based solely on the the author's actual argument. My goal here, for those interested in this gospel, is to draw attention to what I think is a thesis with a lot of explanatory power, especially considering IGT's somewhat confusing portrayal of the child Jesus.