The young Jesus bringing birds to life: three films that have depicted this tale from one of the apocryphal gospels

The young Jesus bringing birds to life: three films that have depicted this tale from one of the apocryphal gospels March 7, 2016

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The Infancy Gospel of Thomas — an apocryphal gospel that probably dates to the 2nd century AD — tells a story in which Jesus, at the age of five, makes twelve sparrows out of clay and then claps his hands and tells them to fly away. Although this story appears nowhere in the New Testament, some variation on it has appeared in at least three different films about Jesus, one of which is coming out later this week.

The earliest example that I know about is in A Child Called Jesus, an Italian TV-movie produced in 1987. In it, Jesus is seven years old and a friend of his is making a bird out of clay, so Jesus joins him, tosses his own clay bird in the air a couple times, and then says, “Now watch here.” He then opens his hands, and a bird flies out:

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It then turns out that there are repercussions for this miracle, as the friend’s mother accuses Jesus of teaching her son to steal birds from the marketplace.

A Child Called Jesus is the only film I can think of that shows Jesus actually turning a clay bird into a living bird, more or less like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas describes. The other two films I can think of show Jesus raising dead birds back to life.

One such film is Jesus, the 1999 TV-movie starring Jeremy Sisto. In the American version of this film — but, curiously, not the European version — Jesus’ mother Mary recalls how Jesus raised a bird from the dead in Egypt after his friends killed it:

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And now, The Young Messiah — opening this Friday — will also include a scene in which seven-year-old Jesus, living in Egypt, raises a dead bird back to life, this time in the presence of his cousins James and Salome, as per this bit from the trailer:

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Have any other films depicted this story? If so, please let me know in the comments.

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