The 'Whole Bible' Homepage

The Infancy Gospel Of James

Alternate title: The Protovangelion

c. 150 C.E.

The majority of the Protovangelion ("primary gospel") is devoted not to the infancy of Christ, but rather the life of Mary. She is portrayed as not only a virgin but one who was a bastion of ritual purity her entire life. Much of the dogma responsible for the veneration of Mary can be traced to this document. In fact, its popularity is attested to by the numerous surviving ancient translations, the earliest dating back to the third century, and the early liturgical use of the gospel among some Eastern churches. Among the extracanonical traditions recorded in the gospel are the introduction of Joseph as a widower with several children who is merely Mary's guardian, the birth of Jesus in a cave, and the martyrdom of John the Baptist's father Zechariah during the slaughter of the infants.

The author identifies himself as James, presumably the brother of Jesus, and claims to have written shortly after the death of Herod in 4 B.C. This dating is unlikely, however, for the work betrays evidence of redactional passages from both Matthew and Luke. In addition to the canonical nativity accounts, the work borrows heavily from phrasing in the Septuagint. The most likely time of composition is the 2nd century, shortly before references to the work appear in other Christian writings, and when such "harmonies" of existing traditions were commonly recorded.