A Word in Edgewise

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Other “Christianities”

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Gnostics were not the only sects to produce Gospels and accounts of Jesus’ life.  There are texts and traditions produced by other Christianities in the first to the fourth centuries AD. Christ enthroned

With the ancient world filled with stories of the births and adventures of semi-divine beings like Hercules and Apollonius of Tyana, it is little wonder that early Christians wanted to know more about Jesus.  So infancy Gospels were conceived and legends were born to answer fundamental questions like: Where did Jesus come from? Who were Jesus’ parents? Did Jesus possess power and wisdom even as a child? The two most famous accounts are the Protoevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.  In the NT Jesus’ parents serve an important but subsidiary role.  The infancy gospels are dedicated to raising their profile. The Protoevangelium of James, for example, is actually about the nativity of Mary and her remarkable life before she was chosen to give birth to Jesus.  While there is some overlap with NT accounts, there are details added about her parents (Joachim and Anna), her upbringing in the temple, her betrothal to Joseph and her virginal birth.  The Infancy Gospel of Thomas focuses on the miraculous deeds performed by Jesus between ages 5 and 12.  Initially Jesus used his powers to curse and cause injury to others. But after being warned by villagers to control little Jesus or move, Joseph takes Jesus aside and trains him to use his power for good rather than harm.  This was apparently a popular account among many Christians because scholars have discovered numerous copies of it in various languages. 

After the fall of Jerusalem (AD 70) Jewish Christianities flourished in places like Pella until the fourth century AD.  The dominate sects were the Ebionites, Nazoreans, and Elkasaites.  Though most of their Gospels are lost, fragments of their Gospels are contained in the writings of church leaders like Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Jewish Christianities typically held to a low Christology, that is, they did not believe in the deity of Jesus and thought God adopted the man Jesus as His Son.  Other features included esteem for the Jerusalem church and the family of Jesus, an apocalyptic orientation, a staunch anti-Paulinism, and an affirmation that Christians must continue to observe Jewish law.

The Jesus of these other Christianties was eventually rejected by what became orthodox Christianity. Over time these movements died off and the literature they produced was no longer copied and transmitted to the next generation.  That is why the historical record about them is so fragmentary.

 

 

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