After growing up in the Presbyterian church, I became fascinated in college by the Gnostic Gospels – a collection of writings from the 2nd to 4th centuries about aspects of Jesus’ life that aren’t included in Bible we used in Sunday school.
So I was particularly intrigued when Jeff Burks passed me this passage from The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. (Read the full text here.) It was one I hadn’t read in college. This one was translated by M.R. James and appears in the popular “The Apocryphal New Testament” (Clarendon Press, 1924).
It is, quite frankly, the earliest account we have of the mythical board stretcher. Here’s the text:
XIII. 1 Now his father was a carpenter and made at that time ploughs and yokes. And there was required of him a bed by a certain rich man, that he should make it for him. And whereas one beam, that which is called the shifting one was too short and Joseph knew not what to do, the young child Jesus said to his father Joseph: Lay down the two pieces of wood and make them even at the end next unto thee (MSS. at the middle part). And Joseph did as the young child said unto him. And Jesus stood at the other end and took hold upon the shorter beam and stretched it and made it equal with the other. And his father Joseph saw it and marvelled: and he embraced the young child and kissed him, saying: Happy am I for that God hath given me this young child.
The image is from “Canonical histories and apocryphal legends relating to the New Testament represented in drawings with a Latin text.” Edited by Antonio Maria Ceriani, 1873.
— Christopher Schwarz