THROBERT'S THEATRE of THINKOLOGIZING!
12 August 2009
When Alien Baby Jesus Attacks!or, "Is the Χ in ΙΧΘΥΣ short for Xenomorph?"
or, "A totally silly yet perfectly serious defense of the apocryphal 'Infancy Gospels' from early Christianity"
Well-read Protestants know that the Roman Catholic version of the Bible is 14 books longer than the editions that all those schismatic Christians use. These 14 books, which the RCC takes to be part of the canonical Old Testament, are collectively termed The Apocrypha. (One of the best-known of these Apocryphal works is the Book of Judith, whose deadly she-mantis stunt with poor old Holofernes would inspire countless Western painters, including Gustav ''Your wife was just showing us her'' Klimt.)
Anyway, there's a whole 'nother set of Apocryphal books relating to the "New Testament" period of Christianity. Some of these are dubious epistles attributed to Paul and other early Apostles, and others are "pseudo-Gospels" purportedly describing the life and career of Mr. Jesus H. Christ -- but in either case, even the Catholic Church, along with nearly all other Christian denominations, reject these as authentically inspired parts of the canonical New Testament.
Some of these works are disqualified from the Canon because textual and manuscript evidence proves that they were written many hundreds of years after the time when the Son of God allegedly beamed down to Earth and became flesh. Others were roughly contemporary with the canonical NT, but at a theological level are overtly shaped by Gnosticism, which mainstream Christianity rejects as heretical. And a few books -- like the Gospels of the Infancy that I'll be discussing below -- may have been excluded from the Canon just because they is so DANG weird!
The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour has a story of a guy who got turned into a mule by a wicked witch, until Mary and Jesus come a-truckin' up and change him back. And Thomas the Israelite's account of Jesus's childhood makes the kid sound like -- well, to be blunt, like a lethal biological hybrid from an unnatural mating between a human girl and some hideous invisible sky-creature calling itself "Yahweh," though its real name might've been "Q*bert of Tau Ceti IV."
It's no wonder, then, that Christians don't accept these Infancy Gospels as authentically inspired, but in a way, that's too bad -- because on a closer reading, it becomes evident why anonymous writers of the early Church felt it necessary to flesh out the missing years of Jesus' biography in the New Testament. In fact, the authors of these Apocryphal works showed such remarkable insight into the human condition that if I weren't an
Okay, let's put JC's life story in rough sequence, based on the New Testament and those Apocryphal accounts:
2. When he gets a little older, we get to see a toddler-aged Li'l Jesus hanging out with cute Muppet Babies versions of his future Apostles and other Gospel characters, including Li'l Judas and Li'l Simon the Canaanite. (Arab. Ch. 35)
Unfortunately, Li'l Jesus has turned into a obnoxious young twerp (in the manner of most children) and goes around putting the hoodoo on people for the most trivial offenses, as when he causes a Li'l Pharisee to fall down dead after the poor kid stomps on a clay fish-pond that Jesus made as an Arts 'n' Crafts project. (Thom. Lat. Ch. 4) Plus, he sasses back to his teacher, and then promptly makes the poor dude shrivel up and die when the man tries to apply a little discipline to a misbehaving pupil.
By the way, parallel events happen in John Wyndham's classic sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos -- filmed and re-filmed as The Village of the Damned: a bunch of women in a small British town turn up pregnant without explanation (hmmm!); kids get a little older and start zapping people dead, sometimes for trivial reasons; turns out that all the weird children with superhuman powers had fathers not of this Earth (hmmm!). Of course, the parallelism should not be taken too far -- after all, the half-alien kids in Wyndham's book work their deadly mischief when they're well past the excuse of being only toddlers!
Anyway, going back to the Infancy Gospels: Li'l Jesus and his telekinetic killing spree eventually come to the attention of his parents. Stepfather Joseph, ever the perceptive one, comments to Mary, "Do not let him go outside of the door, because those that make him angry die" (Thom. Gk 1. Ch. 14), thereby revealing this to be a very early draft of that Twilight Zone episode about the kid who would wish people into the cornfield. But a little later -- presumably after reaching the "age of wisdom" -- Jesus finally repents and undoes all of his "black magic," which includes bringing all the zapped-dead people back to life (Thom. Lat. Ch. 6) -- which is more or less exactly what happens in Joe Dante's happy-ending remake of "It's a Good Life" in the 1983 movie version of The Twilight Zone!
3. Later, Jesus is nicer to the teachers (even though the good rabbis are a bit confused and even overwhelmed by this gifted-track student), but the boy is perhaps unnecessarily sassy to poor Joseph and Mary when they come a-lookin' for him (Luke 2:43-49)
4. Fast-forward a couple decades, and Jesus is using his powers for fun frathouse hijinks, like turning water into wine for the wedding at Cana. However, he's just a BIT of an asshole to his mom (again): "What have I to do with thee, woman?!" (John 2:1-11)
5. The guy just gets nicer and nicer, using his supernatural abilities to heal people right and left, and interceding when some folks are about to throw rocks at a hooker (John 8 3:7). But even Jesus -- who might've been the super-brainy Son of God, but evidently wasn't granted perfect wisdom and omniscience by the Father -- slips up now and then. For instance, when he thoughtlessly imitates the ways of the average Galilean Jew in that era by uttering a racist slur to a Syrophoenician woman who only wants him to heal her sick daughter: "What, you want that I should give the children's bread to the dogs?" Rather than acting all put-upon, though, she snaps back with a bit of self-deprecating wordplay -- "Hey, even us dogs should get to eat what falls from the children's table" -- and Jesus is so impressed at her insight and faith (and maybe just a trifle humbled by her sassy wit, too) that he sends some good voodoo her way after all. (Mark 7:25-30)
6. Jesus finally cashes in the last of his "magic" to help other people -- in fact, all of mankind -- even though this particular "spell" requires the sacrifice of his own life (Luke 22:37). And unlike the little boy who casually zapped his playmates dead if they so much as looked at him funny, Jesus is a total mensch at age 33. The guy even has the class to say "Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34) -- as well he should, since he himself used to make little "whoopsies" from time to time, like temporarily murdering innocent people way back in kindergarten, when he had not yet gained wisdom.
In other words, when the four canonical Gospels are taken together with the apocryphal Infancy Gospels, the entire life of Jesus can be read as a Bildungsroman whose take-home message is: "Everyone, let's all imitate the example of Jesus by learning to grow the fuck up and always use our God-given talents to make other people's lives better, not worse, Amen."
[Note: This is an update of an essay that I originally posted in March 2002 -- now much better edited and with improved linkage. -- ed.