Protevangelium of James
JAMES, PROTEVANGELIUM OF. The oldest and most famous of the infancy gospels, this document is significant (a) for its evidence of the extent to which devotion to Mary had already developed by the time of its composition, and (b) for its influence on later developments in the history of Mariology. With the Infancyit formed the basis on which the later infancy gospels were constructed (e.g., the Arabic and Armenian infancy gospels, the , etc.); most of them incorporate considerable parts of its contents along with material drawn from other sources.
The infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke carry the story of Jesus back to His birth and to the birth of His forerunner,
The document is marked by evident use of OT motifs, esp. from the story of Samuel, and by equally clear use of the canonical gospels. There are quotations from the infancy narratives of both Matthew and Luke, and several passages are written in imitation of the canticles in Luke. The book therefore presupposes the canonical gospels, although it makes free use of the material drawn from them, and may at some points supplement this material from oral tradition (e.g., in placing the birth in a cave). There is a strong element of the miraculous in the description of Mary’s childhood and upbringing, but the tone of the work is on the whole comparatively restrained. The author was not familiar with Jewish customs, and was prob. neither a Jew nor a Jewish Christian. For example, Joachim’s childlessness is made to debar him from presenting his offering; Mary is brought up within the Temple; the altar seems to be thought of as indoors. On the other hand, there is nothing specifically heretical in the book, although it was later to be condemned in the W. It was clearly written for the glorification of Mary, the Jewish slanders relating to thebeing refuted by implication, and testimony provided for Mary’s subsequent virginity by outside witnesses.
The oldest MS is the Papyrus Bodmer V, published in 1958 and dated by its editor to the 3rd cent. (de Strycker 14, n. 3 corrects to the first half of the 4th). Most of the other Gr. MSS are comparatively late, from the 10th cent. and after. No complete Lat. MS has survived, but there are ancient Lat. texts which incorporate portions, and there is evidence that a Lat. VS was once current (Biblica 43 , 57ff.). In addition, there are VSS in Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic, Georgian, and other languages, not to mention the various paraphrases and adaptations based upon the work. The MS tradition has been exhaustively examined by de Strycker, who concludes that it shows a remarkable homogeneity and continuity (374f.). Even the Bodmer Papyrus, however, already shows numerous errors, although most of them are superficial and it remains by far the most faithful witness.
The title “Protevangelium” owes its established position to Postel and Neander, who in the 16th cent. were the first to publish the text. The Bodmer Papyrus has the unusual double title “Birth of Mary. Revelation of James,” of which the second part is almost certainly wrong (two Apocalypses of James, q.v., in thelibrary have no connection whatever with the present work, nor has the Apocryphon of James, which also has sometimes been called an ). Later Gr. MSS usually have “Story,” “History” or “Account,” and a statement of the contents, without mention of James; but as noted above the final paragraph affirms that the book was written by James. Origen refers to a “ ” for the view that Jesus’ “brothers” were Joseph’s sons by a previous marriage. The James in question is commonly identified with the Lord’s brother, not the son of Zebedee; but some authorities simply speak of James without further identification.
The Bodmer Papyrus is proof that the document by the early 4th cent. had been in existence long enough for errors to creep into the text. How much earlier it can be placed depends on our assessment of patristic evidence. Origen apparently knew it, although he gives a different account of the death of Zacharias. It is also possible that the work was known to a.d. 150, but this does not mean that the book itself was already in existence. The use of the canonical gospels points to a period when they were already fairly well established, although oral tradition was still available. This suggests a date in the latter half of the 2nd cent., but there are also problems relating to the composition and integrity of the work.. On the other hand, while there are links with Justin in the reference to the cave and to the Davidic descent of Mary, these are not sufficient to justify the claim that Justin knew the book. The materials from which it is composed may have been current about
Three points in particular have given rise to doubts concerning the unity of the work: (a) the first-person passage in
Following earlier scholars, Harnack distinguished three documents incorporated into the work as we have it; a Nativity of Mary (
In the most recent study, de Strycker claims that the Bodmer text is not an original VS later to be expanded but an abridgement that presupposes the longer VS. He rejects Harnack’s three-document theory and argues for the unity of the book, although admitting that there are certain redactional anomalies.
NTAp. I. 370ff.; de Strycker, La forme la plus ancienne du Protévangile de Jacques (1961); Smid, Protevangelium Jacobi: A Commentary (1965).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
See APOCRYPHAL GOSPELS, III, 1, (a).