Arabic Infancy Gospel

Euangelium infantiae (arabice)

Standard abbreviation: Arab. Gos. Inf.

Other titles: Vie de Jésus en arabe, Das arabische Kindheitsevangelium

Clavis numbers: CANT 58; BHO 619.

Category: Infancy Gospels

Related literature: Armenian Infancy Gospel, Protevangelium of James, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, History of the Virgin (East Syriac).

Compiled by Tony Burke, York University (


The published versions of Arab. Gos. Inf. are of two forms: a manuscript at Oxford published by Heinrich Sike (=S) that includes much of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and another in Florence published by Provera (=L) that includes several stories from Jesus’ adulthood. L appears to be superior—for one, it accords better with the East Syriac History of the Virgin, which is believed to be the Arabic text’s antecedent. L opens with a prophecy of Zoroaster (said by the biblical Joshua to be Balaam) of a virgin who will give birth and an angel appearing in the form of a star. S begins with an incipit naming the text the “Gospel of the Infancy” (both S and L give the same title at the end of the work) and with a claim that the text was found in a book of Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest.  According to Caiaphas, Jesus poke while in the cradle, declaring himself to be the Son of God. These same details (a book of Caiaphas revealing Jesus’ self-declaration as an infant) appears in L ch. 36.

The narrative begins with the announcement of the census of Augustus and the resultant birth of Jesus in a cave near Bethlehem (2; a shortened paraphrase of Prot. Jas. 17–18). Joseph finds an old Hebrew woman to assist with the birth (3; cf. Prot. Jas. 19–20); whereas  in Prot. Jas. this woman is identified as Salome and her hand is made to whither as punishment for testing Mary’s virginity, here the old woman is healed of a pre-existing paralysis by touching the infant. Shepherds arrive to see the baby (4) and then the Magi (5–6; =S 7–8). The Magi return to their homeland with a swaddling band, which is cast into a fire and emerges intact. The text then retells the story of the Circumcision and Presentation of Jesus (7–8; S 5–6; cf. Luke 2:21–38), though here the circumcision takes place in the cave and the foreskin is placed in a vase of oil and this same vase was poured by Mary Magdalene on the head and feet of Jesus (as in Luke 7:37; John 2:2).

When Herod seeks to kill Jesus, the Holy Family flees to Egypt (9; cf. Matt 2:13–14). The bulk of the text (chs. 10–24; S 10–25) takes place there, with the family moving from city to city healing the sick and exorcising the demon possessed using the bathwater and swaddling bands of Jesus.  In one series of episodes (17–22), a young girl is cured of leprosy with Jesus’ bathwater and then accompanies the family. She in turn tells her story to the wife of a prince who has a son with leprosy; she comes to Mary and the boy is healed by the same method. Later, a man transformed by magic into a mule is returned to normal when Jesus is placed on his back; the young girl marries the man and leaves the company of the family.

On their travels they encounter two robbers, Titus and Dumachus. Titus asks Dumachus to let the family pass freely, and Mary blesses him for his kindness. Jesus then utters a prediction of their future meeting at his crucifixion (23). At this point, S inserts two local Egyptian legends (S 24-25): the family’s stay at Matarea (Heliopolis) where they rest beneath a sycamore tree and create a fountain of water, and a three-year residency in Memphis where “the Lord Jesus wrought very many miracles in Egypt, which are not found written either in the Gospel of the Infancy or in the Perfect Gospel.”

When an angel tells Joseph that Herod has died (cf. Matt 2:19–22), they return to Judea, first to Nazareth (24; =S 26), but the next series of events (25–42) seems to take place entirely in Bethlehem. There they encounter several figures known from the canonical Gospels: Mary the mother of Cleopas (John 19:25), whose son is saved from two attempts on his life from his father’s jealous other wife (27; =S 29); a boy, identified as Thomas (L) or Bartholomew (S), who is cured of leprosy; Judas Iscariot, who is possessed by Satan and strikes Jesus on his side, where one day he will be pierced by a spear (33; =S 35); and Simon the Canaanite/Zealot, who is cured of a snake bite (41; =S 42).

The Bethlehem childhood miracles includes variants of three stories that appear also in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas: he animates various clay animals (34; = S36; cf. Inf. Gos. Thom. 2), helps his father build a throne for a king (37–38; S 38–39; cf. Inf. Gos. Thom. 13), and restores a fallen boy to life (44; =S 42; cf. Inf. Gos. Thom. 9). Also of interest here is the story of Jesus and the Dyer (here named Salem), found also in Arm. Gos. Inf. 21 and the Paris manuscript of Inf. Gos. Thom. (35; =S 37) and the story of Jesus turning children into goats (39; =S 40).

Sike’s manuscript continues with a series of stories taken directly from Inf. Gos. Thom. (S 43, 45–53); likely the text did not originally contain this material. In their place L features a tale found also in the East Syriac History of the Virgin of Jesus encountering Nathaniel as a child (43; Hist. Virg. follows with a brief story of Jesus at 20 teaching in synagogues; L has a lacuna at this point). Then the text presents an expanded version of the Luke’s healing of the widow’s son at Nain (44-45; Luke 7:11–17); this version includes an epilogue in which people who witnessed the healing tell John the Baptist what occurred and he sends two disciples to Jesus (Matt 11:2-6//Luke 7:18–23). This segues into the baptism of Jesus (46; mentioned briefly in S 54), and then the miracle at Cana (47), the temptation in the wilderness (48; Hist. Virg. follows with brief mention of the raising of Jairus’s daughter but L again has a lacuna), the Passion (49), an account of Joseph of Arimathea witnessing the resurrected Jesus adapted from the Pilate Cycle literature and other resurrection accounts from the gospels (50), and finally the accounts of the assumption and Pentecost from Acts (51–54). A final chapter gives the name of the text (“Gospel of the Infancy” and an incipit of the scribe (L) or a doxology (S).


2.1 Art and Iconography

The Florence MS contains 54 miniatures of scenes from the text, some of them in color. Provera provides images of 16 of the illustrations; a more complete study was planned for 2012 by Massimo Bernabò but it has not yet appeared. According to Horn (“Apocryphal Gospels in Arabic,” 598 n. 66), some of the miniatures appear also in a Russian essay by M. E. K. Redin from 1895.


3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1 Arabic

S  Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodl. Or. 350, fols. 1r–34r (undated)

L  Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, codex orientalis 387 [32] (1299)

Provera, Mario E. Il Vangelo arabo dell’infanzia secondo il Ms. Laurenziano orientale (n. 387). Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1973 (Edition and translation of L).

Sike, Heinrich. Evangelium Infantiae; vel, Liber Apocryphus de Infantia Salvatoris; ex manuscripto edidit, ac Latina versione et notis illustravit Henricus Sike. Utrecht: Halman, 1697 (Editio princeps based on S).

Unpublished manuscripts:

Cairo, Coptic Museum, 702 (Graf 729; Macomber CMB 12-8), fols. 1r–49v (18th cent.)

Cairo, Coptic Museum, 6421(I) (Macomber CMB 8-5I), fols. 96r–97v (15th/16th cent.)

Cairo, Coptic Patriarchate (?), Graf 457, fols. 152v–172r (17th/18th cent.)

Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. Orient. 21, fols. 1v–26r (1650)

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hunt. donat. 199, fols. 94r–99v, 111r–126r (undated)

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Arabe 300, fols. 356r–379v (undated)

Vatican, Bibliotheca Apostolica, Sbath 391, pp. 496–538 (1604)

Mount Sinai, St. Catharine’s Monastery

153, 441, 508, 523, 531, 535, 556, 585

Porph. ar. 108

Porph. ar. 109

3.1.2 Garšūnī

V  Vatican, Biblioteca apostolica, syr. 159, fol. 98v–104r (1622/1623)

Peeters, Paul. Évangiles apocryphes. Vol. 2. Series ed. Charles Michel and Paul Peeters. Textes et documents pour l’étude historique du Christianisme 18. Paris: Librairie Alphonse Picard & Fils, 1914 (First mention of V but not published; translated into Italian in Erbetta).

Unpublished manuscripts:

Charfet, Syrian-Catholic Patriarchate, syr. 11/10-2

Charfet, Syrian-Catholic Patriarchate, syr. 11/16-2

Mardin, Church of the Forty Martyrs, 101 (Dolabani 54), pp. 143–150 (15th/16th cent. and 19th/20th cent.)

Mosul, Mar Behnam Monastery, MBM 386 (olim 214), fols. 33v–55r (1636)

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, syr. 232, fols. 304r–324r (17th cent.)

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, syr. 238, fols. 100v–115r (1474) (with portion in Arabic)

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, syr. 273, fols. 47v–67r (16th cent.)

3.1.3 Syriac

Arab. Gos. Inf. appears to be a translation from the East Syriac History of the Virgin or a common source. Editio princeps of this text published by Budge and additional manuscripts listed in Burke 2017 and Mimouni 1994.

Budge, Ernest  A. Wallis, ed. and trans. The History of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the History of the Likeness of Christ. 2 vols. London: Luzac & Co., 1899.

3.2 Modern Translations

3.2.1 English

Cowper, Benjamin Harris, ed. The Apocryphal Gospels and Other Documents Relating to the History of Christ. 4th ed. 1867. Reprint London: Frederic Norgate, 1874 (pp. 170–216).

Elliott, James Keith, ed. and trans. The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

James, Montague Rhodes. The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924; 2nd ed. 1953).

Walker, Alexander. Apocryphal Gospels, Acts and Revelations. The Ante-Nicene Christian Library 16. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1873. (pp. 100–24)

3.2.2 French

Genequand, Charles. “Vie de Jésus en Arabe.” Pages 207–38 in Écrits apocryphes chrétiens. Vol. 1. Edited by  François Bovon and Pierre Geoltrain. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade 442. Paris: Gallimard, 1997.

3.2.3 German

Cullmann, Oscar. “Kindheistevangelien,” in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher (eds.), Neutestamentliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung, bd. 1: Evangelien und Verwandtes (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1959), 272–311. English translation: “Infancy Gospels,” in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher (eds.), New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings, trans. Robert McL. Wilson, 3rd ed. (London: Luttersworth Press, 1963), 363–417.

__________. “Kindheistevangelien,” in Wilhelm Schneemelcher (ed.), Neutestamentliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung, bd. 1: Evangelien und Verwandtes, 6th ed. (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990), 330–72. English translation: “Infancy Gospels,” in Wilhelm Schneemelcher (ed.), New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings, trans. Robert McL. Wilson, Rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 414–69.

Josua, Maria and Friedman Eißler. “Das arabische Kindheitsevangelium.” Pages 963–82 in Antike christliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung. Bd. 1. Edited by Christoph Markschies and Jens Schröter. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012.

Schneider, Gerhard. Evangelia Infantiae Apocrypha: Apocryphe Kindheitsevangelien. Fontes Christiani 18. Freiburg: Herder, 1995 (pp. 173–95).

3.2.4 Italian

Erbetta, Mario, ed. and trans. Gli Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento. 3 vols. in 4. Turin: Marietti, 1966–1981 (vol. 1.2, pp. 100–23).

Moraldi, Luigi. Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento, 2 vols., Classici delle Religioni 24.5 (Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1971; 2nd ed. in 3 vols. 1994).

Voicu, Sever J. Vangelo arabo dell’infanzia di Gesù. Rome: Città Nuova, 2002.

3.2.5 Latin

Thilo, Johann Karl. Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti, t. 1. (Leipzig: Vogel, 1832).

Tischendorf, Constantin. Evangelia Apocrypha. 1863. 2nd ed. Leipzig: H. Mendelsohn, 1876 (pp. 181–209).

3.2.6 Spanish

Monferrer Sala, Juan Pedro. Textos apócrifos árabes cristianos. Madrid: Ed. Trotta, 2003 (pp. 48 and 153–82).

3.3 General Works

Davis, Stephen J. Christ Child : Cultural Memories of a Young Jesus, Synkrisis: Comparative Approaches to Early Christianity in Greco-Roman Culture (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2014).

Desreumaux, Alain. “Les apocryphes syriaques sur Jésus et sa famille,” in Muriel Debié, Alain Desreumaux, Christelle Jullien, and Florence Jullien (eds.), Les apocryphes syriaques, Études syriaques 2 (Paris: Geuthner, 2005), 51–69.

Gero, Stephen. “Apocryphal Gospels: A Survey of Textual and Literary Problems,” in Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase (eds.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 25.2.2 (New York: de Gruyter, 1988), 3969–96.

Hofmann, Rudolph A. Das Leben Jesu nach den Apokryphen im Zusammenhang aus den Quellen erzählt und wissenschaftlich untersucht (Leipzig: Friedrich Voigt, 1851).

Horn, Cornelia B. “Syriac and Arabic Perspectives on the Structural and Motif Parallels Regarding Jesus’ Childhood in Christian Apocrypha and Early Islamic Literature: The ‘Book of Mary,’ the Arabic Apocryphal Gospel of John, and the Qur’an,” Apocrypha 19 (2008), 267–91.

_________. “Apocryphal Gospels in Arabic, or Some Complications on the Road to Traditions about Jesus,” in Jörg Frey and Jens Schröter (eds.), Jesus in apokryphen Evangelienüberlieferungen, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 254 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 583–609.

_________. “Arabic Infancy Gospel,” in Hans-Josef Klauck et al. (eds.), Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, 17 vols. to date (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter, 2010–2018), 2: 589–92.

Mimouni, Simon Claude. “Vies de la Vierge. État de la question,” Apocrypha 5 (1994), 211–48. Reprinted in Simon Claude Mimouni, Les traditions anciennes sur la Dormition et l’Assomption de Marie: études littéraires, historiques et doctrinales, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 104 (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2011), 75–115.

Peeters, Paul. “A propos de l’Évangile arabe de l’Enfance: Le manuscrit de J. Golius,” Analecta Bollandiana 41 (1923), 132–34.