One of the many things I kept on and on about during my trip to Israel were the various accounts of the Childhood and adolescence of Jesus.
Am a big fan of there being a Jesus version of Smallville knocking about. I ran the risk of being almost slightly heretical by saying “Jesus didn’t get his special powers till he was 30”- which plays with the idea of Jesus being fully man yet fully God. (I don’t actually believe Jesus had special powers but using that phrase makes it easier to link Jesus to Superman and Smallville.)
There’s a few stories I adore that crop up from this period. Am having trouble finding the one about Jesus and the Dragon. I need to dig out my copy of El Nino (also by John Adams) and read the booklet as it mentions the source material in there. (I think I lent it to Quaker Mark…)
Anyway… here’s two stories of Jesus’ childhood. (And they’re both very cool. Well… I like them anyway. They’re from the infancy gospel of Thomas)
One day Jesus is stuck for something to do on the Sabbath, the day is warm and he sits in the shade of a tree. He’s idly playing with some dirt and clay. He sits and carefully molds clay pigeons. This being the holy rest day of the week there are some people who object. Jesus hears their objections, claps his hands and the pigeons fly away.
Later after the Clay Pigeon occurrence Jesus is making other things around his home town. He one day creates a small pool of water where there was no water before. One of Jesus’ friends come along and kicks the water away. Jesus gets angry and calls him an “insolent, godless dunderhead” and paralyzes him.
And again after the Pigeons and the Paralyzing one of Jesus’ friends bumps into his shoulder, Jesus becomes exasperated and kills the child by cursing him. When his parents complain about this to Joseph, Jesus smites them blind. When his mother, Mary, complains to Jesus about the killing and the cursing Jesus rolls his eyes at his mother and raises his friend from the dead and lifts the blindness.
I love these stories. I know they’re not canonical and they veer into dangerous theological territory but I like the magical qualities. It’s almost as if Salman Rushdie got hold of the Jesus story and threw in some interesting episodes to give you more back story. The Bible is strangely silent about the childhood of Jesus beyond the odd episode where Jesus goes missing and is found teaching in the Synagogue. I used to always think that Jesus sounded a bit prissy in that story. I like the emotions at work in the various stories, the human at work in the divine and vice versa. The Clay Pigeon story could end with Jesus saying “What Pigeons? I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m just sat here. Get lost”.
During our trip we talked about the teenage Jesus. (And it turned out there was a church dedicated to the adolescent Jesus but it was shut when we went to visit it) I offered my own stories about Jesus having friends he played with, girls he tried to impress and chores he had to do. Too often we think of Jesus meek and mild or Jesus on the cross… I like the idea of Jesus the spotty youth, Jesus the clumsy teenager. And in a way the divine learning something of the human that could only be gained by experience. (Which in turn suggests that perhaps God didn’t know everything in the first place and I get burnt at the stake for heresy- again)
Clay pigeons, paralysis, death and blindness. Symbolic acts that only exist of and for themselves. They don’t point the way to anything, don’t announce the kingdom of God but demonstrate a saviour wrestling with his own humanity in ways we can understand.