I wrote earlier that I am reading some of the “other” writings found about Jesus besides those that were accepted into the Canon that we now know as the New Testament. As I read, I am sometimes touched and other times dismayed. Some of the sayings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, for example, I really like. A few are slight variations of sayings reported in the canonical gospels.
As for being dismayed, I started reading this morning “The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ”. It is full of fanciful stories of the infant Jesus and his boyhood years. This is the book I referred to earlier that I’d seen in my Aunt Mary’s apartment (see my blog of October 29.). One legend has Mary giving the three wise men one of Jesus’ blankets. Later they tried to offer it to a pagan god and it survived the fire. Another time a blanket was used in a healing of a possessed child. There are also healings of leprosy with Jesus’ bath water. I feel a little like I am reading Grimm or Anderson.
One interesting thing I read in this piece and in an earlier one about Mary, is that when Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem, she went into labor before they actually arrived in the city and had to get her off her donkey quickly. They found a cave and while Mary continued her labor, Joseph ran off to find a midwife, which he did. I have always wondered about the story as it is told in the Bible. I had trouble imagining Joseph serving as midwife. I find this version a little more believable.
One may wonder why I am doing this. I can’t really say. I just find it fascinating. Before the cannon was created, there were lots of stories and letters floating around that were read and treasured by the people. Some may have reflected the religious context of people in a particular area. In other words, there was a tendency to interpret Jesus’ words and action according to what people already knew and experienced, including their religious experiences. What was accepted into the cannon is reflective mostly of Jewish understanding and Greek understanding, at least as I understand it. But I have asked my self, were the writings rejected 100% in error or is it possible that a piece was rejected because only portions were unacceptable. Is it possible, for example, that a saying in the Gospel of Thomas may have been closer to what Jesus said than the same in the cannonicals. Or, and I think this is very likely, the saying was differently applied as it was heard by different people.
Have you ever had the experience of having someone tell you that you said something that you can’t remember having said? This has happened to me many times. A person claims that whatever I said fit their situation in a way that they felt helped in some way. I may have a vague memory of saying something but with a different intent than they describe. If the words I spoke were helpful I don’t usually mess with their reporting whether they have anything to do with my intention or not. I figure God is at work here.
So reading all this stuff feels not so much like I am learning more about Jesus as learning about those who followed him. Meanwhile, I ask myself the question, “Who is Jesus for me?” That is the most important question, I guess, and these writings seem to prod me more and more toward the asking of it.