Gospel of James

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The Gospel of James, also known as the Infancy Gospel of James or the Protoevangelium of James, is an apocryphal Gospel probably written about AD 150. It is the oldest source to assert the virginity of Mary not only prior to but during (and after) the birth of Jesus.[1]


Authorship and date

The document presents itself as written by James: "I, James, wrote this history in Jerusalem."-XXV[2] Thus the purported author is James the Just, whom the text claims is a son of Joseph from a prior marriage, and thus a stepbrother of Jesus.

Scholars have established that, based on the style of the language and the fact that the author is apparently not aware of contemporary Jewish customs while James the Just certainly was, the work is pseudepigraphical (not written by the person it is attributed to).[3] It apparently embellishes what is told of events surrounding Mary, prior to and at the moment of Jesus' birth, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

The consensus is that it was actually composed some time in the 2nd century AD. The first mention of it is by Origen of Alexandria in the early third century, who says the text, like that of a "Gospel of Peter", was of dubious, recent appearance and shared with that book the claim that the 'brethren of the Lord' were sons of Joseph by a former wife.[4]

Manuscript tradition

Some indication of the popularity of the Infancy Gospel of James may be drawn from the fact that about one hundred and thirty Greek manuscripts containing it have survived. The Gospel of James was translated into Syriac, Ethiopic, Coptic, Georgian, Old Slavonic, Armenian, Arabic, Irish and Latin. Though no early Latin versions are known, it was relegated to the apocrypha in the Gelasian decretal, so it must have been known in the West. As with the canonical gospels, the vast majority of the manuscripts come from the tenth century or later. The earliest known manuscript of the text, a papyrus dating to the third or early fourth century, was found in 1958; it is kept in the Bodmer Library, Geneva (Papyrus Bodmer 5). Of the surviving Greek manuscripts, the fullest text is a tenth century codex in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Paris 1454).


The Gospel of James is one of several surviving Infancy Gospels that give an idea of the miracle literature that was created to satisfy the hunger of early Christians for more detail about the early life of their Saviour. In Greek such an infancy gospel was termed a protevangelion, a "pre-Gospel" narrating events of Jesus' life before those recorded in the four canonical gospels. Such a work was intended to be "apologetic, doctrinal, or simply to satisfy one's curiosity".[5] The literary genre that these works represent shows stylistic features that suggest dates in the second century and later. Other infancy gospels in this tradition include The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (based on the Protoevangelium of James and on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas), and the so-called Arabic Infancy Gospel; all of which were regarded by the Church as apocryphal.

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