The Boy Jesus Makes Live Birds from Clay

Circa 1120
Ceiling Panel
Church of St. Martin, Zillis, Switzerland

In the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Santos Otero, 124-133) five-year-old Jesus combines some rain puddles into a little pond to make clay, forms birds from the clay, then tells the birds to fly away. In the image, it would seem that the three brown tracks in the lower center represent the puddles. Two clay birds sit in the little pond, and one is flying away from Jesus' hand.

This is one of twenty-four ceiling panels that trace the life of Christ from the Nativity to the witness of John the Baptist. In the panels, towers with tile roofs designate specific locations known from scripture, or in this case from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which places the birds miracle in Nazareth.

The image represents two other boys, but in the narrative there is only one, who comes by and destroys the pond with a stick – whereupon Jesus strikes him dead.

The boy's moral immaturity is expressed not only in his vindictive reaction to the other boy but also in his making the birds on the Sabbath, placing his childish whims above love of God and neighbor. As the story progresses, he develops gradually into the salvific Jesus revered by the community for which the narrative was composed. There is substantial uncertainty among scholars regarding who that community might have been.

Even the title of the work is uncertain. It seems to be called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas most often, but Santos Otero calls it the Evangelio de Pseudo Tomás, "Gospel of Pseudo Thomas," in order to distinguish it more clearly from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

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Source: this page at Wikimedia Commons.