Read the Protevangelium of James This Christmas

Earlier this year, Logos published a two-volume set on the Greek Apocryphal Gospels, including material on various papyri and parchment fragments, as well as agrapha. One volume is subtitled Introductions and Translations. It has . . . wait for it . . . introductions to and English translations of the included material. The other volume is subtitled Texts and Transcriptions. This includes the Greek text of all included material, assembled from various sources or freshly transcribed, and ready for your Greek reading pleasure.

Since the Christmas season is upon us, I especially wanted to point out one of the larger works included. You may have heard of it—it’s called The Protevangelium of James (Prot. Jas.), sometimes also called The Proto-Gospel of James. For you folks looking to expand your Greek a bit, I find that the Greek of Prot. Jas. is fairly readable. It has mostly familiar vocabulary but in a different setting, and it is interspersed with new vocabulary you may have never seen before.

Prot. Jas. includes the whole back-story of Mary, starting with her parents, Anna and Joachim. They were unable to have children, but desired it greatly—sort of like the story of Hannah, who eventually became the mother of Samuel.

This proto-gospel gives the story of Mary’s life through Jesus’ birth. It attempts to answer all sorts of questions about Mary, Jesus, and even John the Baptist. For example, have you ever wondered how John the Baptist escaped Herod’s purging of the infants? Jesus and his family famously went to Egypt, but what about John and his mom, Elizabeth?

Even more interesting for Christmas, Prot. Jas. gives an alternate account of the birth of Jesus—in a cave, with a Hebrew midwife arriving shortly after, and an account of the miraculous preservation of Mary’s virginity during and after birth. (Parents, please read it yourself before thinking of sharing with younger children.)

One of my favorite parts, however, is Anna’s song mourning her childlessness in §3.1–3. It’s my favorite because it portrays Anna as positively human. It displays the raw emotion of a woman dealing with infertility. I challenge you to share it with any woman who has struggled with this and not have it elicit emotion. Anna’s husband, Joachim, struggles similarly and retreats to the woods for a personal time of prayer and mourning, his grief is so great (§1.2–4). These are real emotions that the author of Prot. Jas. conveys, and they are comforting to many who read them and struggle with similar situations.

This Christmas season, why not expand your horizons a bit and read one of the noncanonical accounts of Christ’s birth. Learn more of the traditions later ascribed to his grandparents, Anna and Joachim, and learn a little about traditions later ascribed to his relatives (Elizabeth and Zecharias) as well.

Add the Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha to your Logos library, and start reading The Protevangelium of James today!

Written by
Rick Brannan

Rick Brannan is a Data Wrangler for Faithlife. He manages a team that creates and maintains linguistic databases and other analyses of the Hebrew Bible, the Greek New Testament, the Septuagint, and writings of the Second Temple era. He resides in Bellingham with his wife, Amy, their daughter, Ella, and their son, Lucas.

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Written by Rick Brannan
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