The Proto-evangelium of James [PEJ] is usually only considered in relation to its marian themes. However, over the past 20 years there had been a growing tendency among scholars (e.g. W.L. Petersen in New Testament Studies 36(1990)512-34, the late G. Stanton in many places after that, J.H. Wood in NTS 51(2005)579-95, and S. Gathercole in NTS 57(2010)114-44) to speculate on the existence of gospel harmony – or some text effecting a harmony – that was in use before Justin, or even before the Gospel of Thomas, that would explain some of the vagaries of gospel transmission / reception in the second century This paper will argue that in the PEJ we have a text that is far more clearly a harmony, for the infancy narratives, than any other text from the period. If this is accepted, it has several implications for how we view the reception and use of the four gospels in the second century:
- We can see the issues that were seen as in need of exegesis/explanation in the early to mid-second century from the way that the harmonisation in PEJ is carried out (this is important even if one does not accept that a harmony qua tale existed).
- We can see the forms an actual act of harmonisation in the second century took, which can help clarify the notion of harmony used for studies of texts such as the Gospel of Thomas, and as a background to Justin and Tatian.
- We have in the act of harmonisation a test case for the notion of ‘secondary orality’ which can clarify the value of that notion in studying the reception of the gospels in the second century.