Gospel of Pseudo-matthew

PSEUDO-MATTHEW, GOSPEL OF. A late Lat. compilation, based on the Protevangelium of James (q.v.), and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (q.v.), itself a source for the Gospel of the Birth of Mary (q.v.). The Liber de Infantia, or Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, is chiefly significant because it was the medium through which the stories from the older “infancy gospels” were known to the Middle Ages and inspired poets and artists from the 12th to the 15th cent. In the MSS it is prefaced by pretended letters to and from Jerome, designed to provide it with credentials by identifying it with the “Hebrew Gospel” to which Jerome frequently referred (see Gospel of Hebrews). The book was used by Hroswitha of Gandersheim in the 10th cent., but there is evidence that it was in existence in the middle of the 9th. In some MSS it is attributed (as also by Hroswitha) not to Matthew but to James.

The first seventeen chs. are based on the Protevangelium, but with considerable modification. The outline is the same, but only rarely is there exact reproduction, and there are numerous omissions and expansions. Abiathar the priest offers gifts that Mary may marry his son, but Mary refuses because she is vowed to virginity. Later Abiathar is the high priest who administers the water when Mary and Joseph are tried by ordeal. Again, when Joseph is charged with the care of Mary he stipulated that some other virgins should accompany her; they were entrusted with the making of the Temple veil, a motif here introduced without the explanation provided in the Protevangelium. One notable feature is that the ox and the ass at the manger were apparently first introduced into the nativity story in this document (Cullmann, NTAp, I, 410).

Chapters 18-24 deal with the sojourn in Egypt, two of the stories evidently designed to provide a fulfillment of OT prophecy (dragons; cf. Ps 148:7; wild beasts tame among the sheep, cf. Isa 11:6, 7; 65:25). Other miracles concern a palm tree that stoops to yield its fruit, and 365 idols that prostrates themselves when Mary enters with Jesus.

Finally, from ch. 25 to the end, the document is based on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, but there is a good deal of later amplification, some sections having no parallel in Thomas. The responsibility for cutting a beam too short is transferred from Joseph to his apprentice.


Translation in Ante-Nicene Christian Library, XVI (1870), 16ff.; summary in ANT, 70ff. See also Santos, Los evangelios apocrifos (Madrid, 1956), 189ff.; NTAp, I, 406, 410ff. (extracts); de Strycker, Protévangile de Jacques (1961), 41f.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)