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The (Ancient) Genre of the Gospels

In this thread I’ve been talking about how I conceived of my New Testament textbook, some 20 years ago now, as a rigorously historical introduction.   I’ve  been stressing that one of the ways it is historical is that it takes seriously the Greco-Roman milieu out of which it arose, and that one of the key implications is that one needs to read the NT books in light of the ancient genres which they employ.   My argument in the book (and in general!) is that if you misunderstand how the ancient genre works, you will misunderstand the book.   The Gospels, I argue, are written as Greco-Roman biographies.   Here is an excerpt where I describe what that means and why it matters, again from the first edition of my textbook. *********************************************************  We have numerous examples of Greco-Roman biographies, many of them written by some of the most famous authors of Roman antiquity, for instance, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Tacitus.  One of the ways to understand how this genre "worked" is to contrast it with the way modern biographies [...]

2020-04-03T16:32:25-04:00September 26th, 2014|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|

Placing the New Testament in Its Own Historical Context

In my previous post I began to discuss how I chose, back in the mid 1990s, to conceptualize my New Testament textbook, not as a theological/interpretive introduction to the NT, or as a literary introduction, but as a rigorously historical introduction.  Among other things, that meant treating the books of the New Testament as *some* of the early Christian wriitngs, which needed to be discussed in relation to other early Christian writings produced at about the same time.   In this post I’ll talk about one other feature of a more historical approach to the New Testament. Almost all the other introductory textbooks available at the time, as I indicated yesterday, began with a kind of obligatory appendix on the “background” to the New Testament – information on the historical, political, social, and religious matrix out of which the New Testament sprang (first the Greco-Roman context and then Jewish).   Once all *that* was over with,  these textbooks typically moved to talk about the writings of the New Tesatment without incorporating any insights from the world in [...]

2020-04-03T16:32:36-04:00September 25th, 2014|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|

The Gospels as Biographies

In my last post I indicated that among the different ways to study the Gospels, one is what I call the “literary-historical” approach. This approach determines the literary genre of a writing, and then sees how that genre “worked” in its own historical context (as opposed to how a similar genre make work today). The Gospels of the NT are widely seen as examples of ancient biography. So it would help to know how biographies worked in Greek and Roman antiquity. There are numerous examples of biographies from the Greco-Roman world, many of them by some of the most famous authors of the Roman literary scene, such as Plutarch, Suetonius, and Tacitus. As I indicated in my previous post, and need to stress here, these biographies, understood in their own historical context, are different from the biographies we read today. Understanding the differences can be key to recognizing the way any particular ancient biography “worked,” including the Christian examples such as Mark (and the other Gospels). As I contrast ancient with modern biographies here, it [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:25-04:00February 17th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|
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