Christ Child

Christ Child: Cultural Memories of a Young Jesus

Stephen J. Davis
Dale B. Martin
L. L. Welborn
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 432
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Christ Child
    Book Description:

    Little is known about the early childhood of Jesus Christ. But in the decades after his death, stories began circulating about his origins. One collection of such tales was the so-called Infancy Gospel of Thomas, known in antiquity as thePaidikaor "Childhood Deeds" of Jesus. In it, Jesus not only performs miracles while at play (such as turning clay birds into live sparrows) but also gets enmeshed in a series of interpersonal conflicts and curses to death children and teachers who rub him the wrong way. How would early readers have made sense of this young Jesus?In this highly innovative book, Stephen Davis draws on current theories about how human communities construe the past to answer this question. He explores how ancient readers would have used texts, images, places, and other key reference points from their own social world to understand the Christ child's curious actions. He then shows how the figure of a young Jesus was later picked up and exploited in the context of medieval Jewish-Christian and Christian-Muslim encounters. Challenging many scholarly assumptions, Davis adds a crucial dimension to the story of how Christian history was created.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-20660-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. Part One: Methods and Approaches
    • 1 Cultural Memories of a Young Jesus
      (pp. 3-19)

      In a Yale University course I taught entitled “Memory, Culture, and Religion,” I opened the class by asking students to identify their very first memories from childhood. The response was overwhelming: some shared memories of a favorite toy or keepsake; others an early image of their mother or a sibling; still others a landmark event in the life of their family. As the students reminisced, what was striking was the way that their memories of childhood almost invariably turned out to have been mediated and determinatively shaped by subsequent circumstances, relationships, and activities, and especially by different kinds of communal...

    • 2 Texts and Readers
      (pp. 20-44)

      In his study of the relationship between texts and readers, Stanley Fish famously posed the question, “Is there a text in this class?”¹ For my purposes in this second chapter, I might rephrase the question slightly: Is there in fact a “text” in this book, and if so, what is it? In putting it in these terms (scare quotes and all), I mean to query our everyday conceptions of “texts” as singular, stable, clearly bounded pieces of writing, held together in our minds by the ascription of identifiable titles and genres, as well as by our strongly held notions of...

  5. Part Two: Graeco-Roman Sites of Memory
    • 3 Bird-Watching
      (pp. 47-63)

      When I was a child I thought my father possessed some kind of secret wisdom about the ways of birds. In southeastern Pennsylvania, we would often hear sparrows, robins, blue jays, cardinals, and the occasional oriole, but what got him most excited were the varied vocalizations of the mockingbirds. Before I knew it, he would be tweeting or warbling out a response that mimicked (albeit with a marked human accent) the fluctuating tones and rhythms of their jesting calls. On other occasions, Dad would look up at the sky to spy a solitary hawk floating on an air current high...

    • 4 Cursing
      (pp. 64-91)

      Some of my own most vivid memories from childhood include conflicts on the playground. I remember wrestling on the ground with my best friend, Mark Ashley, after a hotly contested tetherball match. I remember punching another friend, Mike McMinn, in the stomach after he had gotten up in my face, gloating after his team scored a touchdown in touch football. Then I recall running away as fast as I could, with Mike chasing me around the swing, hurling a string of curses in my direction. Fortunately, I outran him—and the dire effects of his words—until he and I...

    • 5 Learning Letters
      (pp. 92-126)

      When I think back to my own early school days, there are certain images that immediately come to mind—the physical spaces and paraphernalia, interactions with teachers and landmark lessons, and of course traumatic events involving conflict or discipline. I remember hard wooden desks and chairs, dusty blackboards, and no. 2 pencils that constantly needed sharpening. In kindergarten, I recall struggling in vain to write my letters neatly on the page. Those penmanship lessons never took: I still cannot hold a ballpoint correctly, and my handwriting is terrible. In first grade, I recall feeling a sense of triumph after I...

  6. Part Three: Christian-Jewish-Muslim Encounters
    • 6 Jews and Christians
      (pp. 129-160)

      In part 2 of this book, I focused on what thePaidikawould have communicated to a Graeco-Roman readership about the childhood of Jesus. I now turn to the question of the work’s history of interpretation, not only among later Christian readers, but also among Jewish and Muslim communities of reception. ThePaidikastories were taken up as both shared and contested “sites of memory” for Christians, Jews, and Muslims in a range of cultural encounters. In the process, the stories were often transformed in the context of translation and scribal emendation, scientific and philosophical exchange, and pilgrimage travel related...

    • 7 Muslims and Christians
      (pp. 161-192)

      In the often fraught encounters between ancient Christians and Jews, the childhood of Jesus was a contested site of memory. For Jewish polemicists, his formative years marked the beginning of a wayward turn toward magic and misbehavior, while for Christian apologists and scribes it was a period that presaged a miraculous and redemptive adulthood and served as early proof of his identity as the Messiah. When it comes to early medieval cultural encounters between Muslims and Christians, however, the situation proves to be much different.

      In the Arabic-speaking world, thePaidikastories sponsored a more collaborative and complementary history of...

  7. Epilogue: Reimagining a Young Jesus
    (pp. 193-198)

    In this book, we have traversed a historical landscape populated by “sites of memory” related to thePaidikaof Jesus. Putting ourselves in the place of early Graeco-Roman readers and hearers of these tales, we made stops in homes and ritual spaces where ceramic toys and figurines littered the floors and lined the shelves, where the chirpings and songs of domesticated birds and of children playing (or praying) reached our ears. Continuing on, we paid visits to athletic stadiums and philosophical academies where competitions of body and soul took place, and to elementary school classrooms where alphabetic instruction opened the...

  8. Appendix A: The Greek Paidika
    (pp. 199-204)
  9. Appendix B: The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, Chapters 36–53
    (pp. 205-210)
  10. Appendix C: Jesus and the Birds in St. Martin’s Church, Zillis, Switzerland
    (pp. 211-220)
  11. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 221-222)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 223-334)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-408)
  14. Index
    (pp. 409-417)