This is a guest blog post from Sharon Betsworth (Wimblerly School of Religion, Oklahoma City University). Sharon's first book The Reign of God is Such as These was published in our Library of New Testament Studies in 2010, as was reviewed by JSNT as '... and excellent, enjoyably, and important study'.
We are delighted to have Sharon's new book Children in Early Christian Narratives also within LNTS, and freshly published. See below for Sharon's thoughts on writing and researching the book, and her future research.
'I had a great time writing Children in Early Christian Narratives. The book examines the role of children in the New Testament Gospels and two non-canonical works, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and Protevangelium of James. The idea for Children in Early Christian Narratives came out of the process of turning my dissertation into my first book, The Reign of God is Such as These: A Socio-Literary Analysis of Daughters in the Gospel of Mark (T&T Clark, 2010). I thought of that book as an extension of my interest in women in the Gospels, but before it was even published, I realized I was working in the nascent field of children in the biblical world. I also realized that just as the women’s stories in the Gospels have often been the lesser known stories, so too do few readers “see” the children in the Gospels. For my first book, I did a good deal of research into the lives of adolescent girls in the ancient world. I began focusing on children more specifically in 2009, when I prepared a paper for the Contextual Biblical Interpretation section of the Society of Biblical Literature on “The Child in Matthew 2.”
As I have researched the stories of children in the Gospels, I have become very interested in the lives children in the ancient world. Often times, the view that children were “nobodies” in the ancient world is the primary perspective from which scholars interpret the narratives containing children in the Gospels. But the status of children in the ancient world is more complex than this position suggests. In my book, I discuss the ideology of the paterfamilias and various child-rearing practices that lead some modern people to the conclusion that children were not valued in the ancient world. I also examine the views of elite male writers who often contrast the man they desired to be with the child who they do not want to be. These views of children in the ancient world are countered by evidence that exists demonstrating that children were valued by their families. While I was doing my research, I found it especially interesting to note how similar childhood in the ancient world is to childhood in the 21st century; at the same time children’s lives today are very different from the lives of ancient youngsters.
I especially enjoyed researching and writing the chapters on the two non-canonical Gospels, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (IGT) and Protevangelium of James (Pros. Jas). I had not previously worked with either text. IGT contains stories of Jesus’ childhood, while Pros. Jas tellsabout the conception and birth of his mother, Mary, and her childhood through the time she gives birth to Jesus. While a fair amount of scholarly work has been done on the IGT and most recently on children and childhood in IGT, there is less scholarship on the Prot. Jas. There is very little scholarship on either Gospel from a feminist perspective, which is a perspective that I utilize throughout my book.
I would especially like readers of my book to understand how integral children are to each Gospel’s narrative. The children’s stories are easy to overlook; it is easy to not see the children. Yet in the canonical Gospels, children’s interactions with Jesus contribute significantly to each Gospel’s overall themes and portrayal of Jesus. The non-canonical Gospels demonstrate how important the early church understood the childhood of Jesus and of Mary to be.
As I continue working in the field of children in the Gospels, I plan on editing a volume on children in the biblical world more broadly. I hope to collect papers which reflect a variety of methodologies for examining children throughout the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Deuterocanonical books, New Testament and Christian Apocrypha. Of course, I will continue research and write on passages related to children in the New Testament. I had barely finished the book before I found more angles from which to explore a number of Gospel texts!'