The New Testament Gospels can be studied like any other piece of literature, since they are, of course, literary texts.  And so over the years scholars have applied a number of literary approaches to unpack the meanings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.   But in a number of ways these books are different from most literature we encounter otherwise, for example, from antiquity, the writings of Homer or Virgil, or, from the modern world, Dickens, Virginia Woolf, or, well, J. K. Rowling.  These authors and their works are very different from each other, of course.  But the books they write are fiction.  The Gospels are different.

They do, of course, contain numerous fictional elements, and they certainly can be studied following the same literary methods one would use for other texts (on the basic level, looking for plot, subplot, theme, character development etc etc.).   But they are, in addition, historical texts, more like historical fiction, I suppose, but not designed to be “fiction” probably — designed to be history but (whether wittingly or not) constructed they way “stories” are, i.e., fiction.   But stories that are are describing real historical figures (at least *some* are historical): Jesus, his disciples, Herod, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, and so on.

For that reason they can be studied not only as literature but also as historical sources that can provide actual information about happened in the past, as it has been described from another time and place.

These are two different enterprises:  studying a Gospel as literature is not the same as plumbing it for historical information, thought the two approaches do overlap in places.

But the Gospels are historical in yet another sense   These historical narratives were produced by authors living in later times and in different contexts and who were heavily shaped by their own backgrounds and contexts.  And so in some ways the Gospels can be studied not only as literary texts, and not only also  as historical sources of information about what they are describing, but also for insights they provide into the historical situations in which they were produced.  In some ways they are as helpful for understanding the historical situation of the time they are being written in as for understanding the historical situation they are being written about.

And even more than that….

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