Five million Christian pilgrims travel each year to the grotto of Lourdes in southwestern France, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a peasant girl in 1858. The map of Rome is spotted with churches dedicated to the Queen of Heaven and Mother of God. The liturgical calendars of the Catholic and Orthodox churches devote more feast days to Mary than to any other saint.
Clearly, no woman has had more influence on Christian faith and practice than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Yet it would be extremely difficult to explain her tremendous role throughout history solely on the basis of what is said about her in the New Testament.
To learn how Mary came to fulfill this role, we must look outside the Bible. On the following pages, Ronald F. Hock of the University of Southern California explores the earliest Christian text to describe Mary’s life in detail—the Infancy Gospel of James. Although excluded from the Bible, this account has had enormous influence on later traditions.