Melbourne, Aug 9 : Jesus may have played cricket as a child, says an ancient Armenian manuscript, which suggests that the game is much more older than previously believed.
Long before the English launched cricket some 300 years ago, similar games were being played as early as the 8th century in the Punjab region, Derek Birley writes in his Social History of English Cricket.
But an Armenian scholar says there is good reason to believe that similar games were played in the Middle East long before that time.
Dr Abraham Terian, recently a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities, points to a rare manuscript as his source.
Terian notes that in the Armenian Gospel of the Infancy, translated into Armenian in the 6th century from a much older lost Syriac original, a passage tells of Jesus playing what may well be the precursor of cricket, with a club and ball.
Terian discovered the manuscript more than a decade ago at the Saint James Armenian Monastery in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Oxford University Press has published his English translation of the book.
He says he has now identified the same passage in a couple of other manuscripts of the same gospel of which some 40 copies exist in various archival collections in Europe and the Middle East, including the oldest copy now in Yerevan, the capital of the Armenian Republic.
The latter manuscript is dated 1239, whereas the undated Jerusalem manuscript is considerably later.
Quoting from his Armenian source, Terian says the gospel relates how Jesus, at the age of nine, had been apprenticed to a master dyer named Israel in Tiberias, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
"Jesus is instructed to watch Israel's house and not leave the place while the master goes away on a tour to collect clothes to be dyed. But no sooner has Israel left the house, than Jesus runs out with the boys,'' The Daily Telegraph quoted Terian, as saying.
"The most amazing part of the story of the nine-year-old Jesus playing a form of cricket with the boys at the sea shore, is that he would go on playing the game on water, over the sea waves," he added.
He gives the following translation: "He (Jesus) would take the boys to the seashore and, carrying the playing ball and the club, he would go over the waves of the sea as though he was playing on a frozen surface, hitting the playing ball.
"And watching him, the boys would scream and say: 'Watch the child Jesus, what he does over the waves of the sea!' Many would gather there and, watching him, would be amazed.''
Terian said that the story echoes allusions to Jesus' walking on the Sea of Galilee, as told in the gospels.
"But the apocryphal story shows that for a ball game even Jesus would forget work and would go to have fun with the boys!'' he said.