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12th Jun 2024

Details of Jesus’ childhood revealed in 2000-year old manuscript

Simon Kelly

Jesus Christ manuscript

The find has been hailed as ‘extraordinary’.

A small scrap of manuscript once considered to be insignificant has been revealed to be the earliest-known account of Jesus Christ’s childhood.

The fragment of papyrus spent decades in a library in Hamburg, Germany before two experts examined it closer.

Dr Lajos Berkes and Prof Gabriel Nocchi Macedo said in a statement that at first they thought the scrap with barely legible writing on it was an “everyday document such as a private letter or a shopping list, because the handwriting seems so clumsy.”

However, when they took a closer look, they found the word “Jesus” in the text.

“We deciphered it letter by letter and quickly realised that it could not be an everyday document,” he said.

Painting by Carl Bloch (Getty Images)

Details of Jesus’ childhood revealed in 2000-year old manuscript

The manuscript, which is 11 x 5cm in size, was then discovered to actually be from the 4th or 5th century and is the earliest surviving copy of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

“The fragment is of extraordinary interest for research,” Berkes said in the statement.

The text contains a total of 13 lines in Greek letters and originates from late antique Egypt and describes the “vivification of the sparrows” – an episode from Jesus’ childhood from the Gospel of Thomas.

According to the statement, the story involves Jesus playing at the ford of a rushing stream and moulds twelve sparrows from the soft clay he finds in the mud.

When his father Joseph rebukes him and asks why he is doing such things on the holy Sabbath, the five-year-old Jesus claps his hands and brings the clay figures to life.

It is believed the original text was written in the 2nd century and, before the new discovery, the oldest known version was an 11th-century codex.

“Our findings on this late antique Greek copy of the work confirm the current assessment that the Infancy Gospel according to Thomas was originally written in Greek,” said Gabriel Nocchi Macedo.

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Jesus Christ