Bad Jesus

8 Feb

I grew up in a time when “juniorized” versions of popular (cartoon) characters were almost more common than their adult originals. From the Star Wars laden, delightful Muppet Babies to the terribly bland A Pup Named Scooby Doo, beloved, earnest, and admirable characters became even more adorable when transformed into younger versions of themselves. The formula seems logical: the innocence, naivete, and lack of power in childhood allows for slightly different (and easily pumped out) stories about characters with already well-defined personalities.

Not so with the tales of baby Jesus in the ancient world. In the beginning of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, five-year-old Jesus is a murderous, vengeful bully–think Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son–with superpowers. While Jesus plays at building clay sparrows and creating pools of water beside a stream, a scribe’s son takes a tree branch and disperses the water he collected. In response, Jesus drains the kid of his youth: “the child withered up completely,” and his parents “bemoaned his lost youth.”

Lest this seem like the worst kind of overreaction, Jesus quickly tops this perverse poetic justice. While taking a walk in the village, another child accidentally knocks into Jesus’ shoulder. Jesus strikes him down dead, exclaiming “You shall not go further on your way.” When the murdered child’s parents tell Joseph to control his kid, Jesus makes the parents blind by uttering the words, “these people shall bear their punishment.”

Although Jesus clearly shows the immediate connection between his words and deeds, he doesn’t scare his (foster) father; Joseph pulls Jesus’ ear angrily when he hears about these atrocities. Jesus talks back to his dad (“Do not vex me”), and then a teacher, Zacchaeus, steps in and volunteers to educate him (and thus subdue him). The attempt fails, of course, and Zacchaeus is terrified of the intellectual and terrible powers of Jesus, a whiz at the intricacies and esoteric meanings of the alphabet as well as murderous rampages.

Unlike Caulkin in The Good Son, however, Jesus grows out of his vicious beginnings, and only gradually at that. It takes time, but he does heal everyone he murdered or maimed with a word. He also starts performing other kinds of miracles–bringing water to his mother with his shirt, helping his father magically stretch out some boards for a bed, healing a guy’s foot–but not before maiming and killing a few more people along the way.

It’s refreshing to see this level humanity in the five-year-old God’s son. He starts out immensely intelligent and powerful, but he had to grow “in wisdom and stature and grace.”

Take that, Kermit.

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