Taylor Halverson: New Testament insights: The gospels as ancient biographies | Deseret News
University of Chicago. The Gospels of the New Testament were written in a period of .. These Greek and Roman biographies of the ancient period, from the fourth the personality, the relationships of the man, we may classify the work as . Although the implied readership of the ancient biography is a topic which might repay investigation, it seems unlikely that anyone would expect a bios to address . The New Testament Gospels fall short of the rigor of the historical writing of their time. ) explains, "Greco-Roman biographies were addressed to a social and For anyone who reads ancient Greek, the difference in quality between a.
And regardless of what we might ultimately conclude the Gospels actually are, IMHO leaving out the scholarly apparatus makes total sense on the hypothesis that they were intended as biographies for mass consumption. Unlike the evangelists, Plutarch frequently drops in casual hints that he is indeed relying upon sources for his narrative, either oral or written.
Among the many remarkable things that are related of Furius Camillus. During his censorship one very good act of his is recorded. It is said that the prince of the Tuscans was at that very time at sacrifice. But this may look like a fable. Other wonders of the like nature, drops of sweat seen to stand on statues, groans heard from them, the figures seen to turn round and to close their eyes, are recorded by many ancient historians; and we ourselves could relate divers wonderful things, which we have been told by men of our own time, that are not lightly to be rejected; but to give too easy credit to such things, or wholly to disbelieve them, is equally dangerous.
The Gauls are of the Celtic race, and are reported to have been compelled by their numbers to leave their country. He that first brought wine among them and was the chief instigator of their coming into Italy is said to have been one Aruns.
The question of unlucky days, whether we should consider any to be so, and whether Heraclitus did well in upbraiding Hesiod for distinguishing them into fortunate and unfortunate, as ignorant that the nature of every day is the same, I have examined in another place. But when he introduces a detail from the Trojan war Plutarch changes tack and introduces sources to back up a claim that might otherwise be questioned for its provenance in the world of gods and mythical heroes.
I am not ignorant, that.
One could reckon up several that have had variety of fortune on the same day. But I have discussed this more accurately in my Roman Questions.
As I explained above, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio are not simply copying each other, whereas the Gospels are heavily dependent upon each other for information. This does not entail that the Pagan miracles are true, but it does show that they were not invented by these historians and most likely derive from an earlier common source I think that most of these stories go back to roughly contemporary claims about miracles when Galba and Vespasian became emperors, which I elaborate on further in my paper " The Propaganda of Accession of the Roman Emperor Galba ".
In contrast, since the Gospels copy from each other, many of their miracles can very easily have no earlier source, and when one earlier gospel author invented a miracle, a later gospel could merely pass it along in a game of telephone.
The Gospels and Ancient Biographies
Likewise, an additional point is that virtually no serious Classical scholar that I am aware of argues that historians can use Pagan texts to prove miracles.
As I explain in my essay, " History and the Paranormal ," professional historians normally bracket such claims as philosophical and theological questions that extend beyond the scope of ordinary historical inquiry.
It should also be noted that classics and New Testament Studies deal with the same historical period, working with the same languages, and using the same historical methodology. If Classicists are not in the business of seeking to prove miracles using ancient texts, then this provides a good outside model for the limitations of New Testament Studies. As such, I think it is completely fair to bracket the supernatural claims in the Gospels as matters that extend beyond the scope of history.
Conclusion The main point to take away from my analysis of the criteria above is that the Gospels certainly do not measure up to the high historiography and historical biographies of antiquity. Many of my classics professors who specialize in such texts, when they read the Gospels, comment on how much more rudimentary and story-like their narratives are compared to the researched and analytical characteristics of historical writing.
Even Luke only has a few brief lines at the beginning that mimic historical prose, before jumping into pure hagiography like the other Gospels. Ancient historical texts are some of my favorite works from antiquity for their sophisticated writing style, elaborate research, and intellectual rigor in investigating past events. I cannot say the same for the Gospels, although I do think they provide interesting symbolism and allegories as novelistic texts, and are also complex works of religious scripture.
After analyzing the Gospels under the historiographical criteria that I discuss above, however, they must be placed in a different literary genre than the actual historical works of antiquity. A final note about modern historical criticism is that such authors of ancient historical prose, who demonstrate their research, have independent corroboration, discuss their methodology, and reach conclusions through critical investigation, should generally be trusted, until proven otherwise.
In contrast, ancient novelistic and religious texts, such as the Gospels, that are packed full of legends and religious propaganda, should not be given the benefit of the doubt, until there is good reason for overcoming their overall unreliability in order to trust a specific detail. I do think that there are some precious kernels of truth in the Gospels, but given their overall lack of critical analysis and the creative liberties taken by their authors, I do not think that we can take many of their stories at face value.
To be sure, historiography and biography were not the same genre in antiquity, as the former was based on the history of a broader period or event, while the latter was based on the life of an individual.
Nevertheless, the two can both be sufficiently described as "historical writing," especially since many of the narrative conventions between the two are similar. Plutarch in his Parallel Livesfor example, compares his source material and makes historical judgements in a manner very similar to Dionysius of Halicarnassus in his Roman Antiquitieseven if Plutarch wrote historical biographies while Dionysius wrote a Roman history.
It should be noted, however, that not all Greco-Roman biographies in antiquity were historical biographies—of the sort of Plutarch and Suetonius—since there were also many less critical biographical texts—such as the Alexander Romance and the Life of Aesop —which would include far more novelistic and mythical elements.
On this point, see my essay " Greek Popular Biography: Previously the word had been used in Greek philosophical literature to refer to scientific inquiry.
Rather than derive his knowledge of the past from divine inspiration, Herodotus instead conducts an "inquiry" into past events through the critical use of sources. For further discussion on this point, see my essay " History and the Divine Sphere: Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides.
The Literary Genre of the Acts of the Apostles. The Gospel of Mark and the Jewish Novel. The comparison of the Gospels to the ancient novel is often contrasted with the comparison to Greco-Roman biographies. It should be noted, however, that there was a great diversity of biographical literature in antiquity, which means that not all Greco-Roman biographies are similar in terms of their style and methodology.
There is a great diversity within each of the two groups, the four gospels and the ten ancient biographies; and it is this very diversity, we should note, that makes it possible always to find a parallel in one or several of the ten Lives for each feature occurring in one or more of the gospels.
What is proven is that the investigated features of the gospels are not unique in ancient biographical literature; but no control group is established to show which features may be regarded as significantly typical of this literature. This article does not dispute the comparison of the Gospels to Greco-Roman biographies, due to the fact that there were many novelistic biographies in antiquity—such as the Alexander Romance and the Life of Aesop —which overlapped with both the ancient novel and the Greco-Roman bios.
Because of this, the Gospels can still be categorized as ancient novelistic writing while still having biographical elements.
I have also made a similar comparison to another ancient biographical novelistic biography— The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod —in my essay " The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod and the Gospels: For example, Plutarch's Life of Alexander does not a list of sources at the beginning of the biography; however, as J.
Powell in " The Sources of Plutarch's Alexander " p. Furthermore, Plutarch also cites named authorities in his other biographies. Likewise, even when ancient historians do not identify many of their written sources by name, they often discuss their sources anonymously. For example, the historian Tacitus identifies few of his written sources by name in his Annals, with the notable exception of Pliny the Elder in Annals 1. For example, Tacitus uses formulas like quidam tradidere "some have related," Annals 1.
In Tacitus' Histories, as well, the author cites several contradicting opinions, about events which had taken place only 30 years prior to the text's composition c.
As Classicist Clarence Mendell Tacitus: The Man and His Workp. Very frequently they do not, and there were no footnotes in antiquity. Nevertheless, the critical analysis of sources was a key feature of historical prose that goes all the way back to Herodotus, who was the first to introduce the genre.
But unlike that narrator, the Herodotean narrator has no Muses to help him, and at times he admits that he does not know something, gives more than one motive for a character's actions, and reaches the 'borders' of his story and is unable to tell what lies outside them As such, discussion of sources and methodology is considerably more present in ancient historical works, who owe their influence to Herodotus, compared to the canonical Gospels in which it is virtually absent, reflecting a difference in style and genre.
For a discussion of how Matthew's genealogy of Jesus Matthew 1: The allusion is further drawn by the legendary patriarch Joseph's journey to Egypt. The influence of the Old Testament on the Gospels can even be seen in their source materials, which must have been produced prior to their composition. In fact, through the literary convention known as Midrash, in which New Testament characters and episodes are designed to mimic Old Testament characters and episodes, we can tell that whole sections of the Gospels' narratives are derived from imitation of earlier literature.
For example, there are two sets of miracle collections used in the Gospel of Mark, both of which are designed to model Jesus after Moses. Symes " Jesus' Miracles and Religious Myth " explains: Gospel stories about Jesus' miracles are a type of Midrash i. Among the many miracles in Mark's original narrative, there are two sets of five miracles each. Each set begins with a sea-crossing miracle and ends with a miraculous feeding.
He uses this literary construct so his readers will recall the role of Moses leading his people through water towards the promised land, and feeding them with manna from heaven. Jesus does something similar.
And with each water and feeding miracle, there is one exorcism and two healing miracles that are to remind readers of the works of the prophets Elijah and Elisha and how Jesus surpasses them.
The parallels between events in Jesus' life to those in the lives of Moses, Elijah and Elisha and others are too close for a coincidence. This points more to constructing religious myths in the gospel for theological reasons, than to reporting historical facts.
Scholar William Telford discusses these miracle collections further in Interpretation of Mark p. But we can tell further that these miracles were themselves based on parallels with the Old Testament, such as the alleged miracles of Moses. That speaks strongly in favor of the hypothesis of legendary development, since we can tell that stories about Jesus were being made up to parallel him with Old Testament figures.
It should also be noted that these are pre-Gospel traditions, meaning that we can detect legendary development surrounding Jesus before the Gospels were even written.
Likewise, New Testament scholar Dennis MacDonald has argued, through mimesis criticismthat a number of the episodes in the Gospels may be based around earlier Greek mythology, particularly episodes in the Odyssey.
It should be noted that, while mimesis of Old Testament literature is widely accepted among New Testament scholars, mimesis of Greek epic is far more controversial. If MacDonald is correct that a number of characters and episodes within the Gospels are based on earlier Greek literature, however, then this would also cast doubt on whether such content is derived from actual historical events.Ancient Biography - PT. 1
New Testament scholars have long known through redaction criticism that many of the changes that the later Gospels make to Mark, for example, not only borrow Mark's material, but also change the order of events. As New Testament scholar L. Michael White Scripting Jesuspp. For example, in the Synoptics—especially the Gospel of Mark—it is the cleansing of the Temple that serves as the immediate cause of Jesus' arrest and execution.
In the Gospel of John there is no connection between these events, as the cleansing is two full years earlier. In contrast, for the Gospel of John the immediate cause of Jesus' execution is the raising of Lazarus Thus, the story works differently in each of these versions because of basic changes in narrative Storytelling was essentially an oral performance medium in the ancient world, even when those stories were eventually written down.
Thus, any particular performance might highlight different elements in the light of the circumstances of the author and the audience Different actors, different settings, different periods of history—all of them create a different climate.
Even when a script gets written down, the performances and emphases can change or be reinterpreted In this sense, the authors were playing to an audience. They are 'faithful' in that they were trying to instill and reaffirm the faith of those audiences, albeit sometimes in new and different ways.
The Gospels and Ancient Biographies – Women Can Be Priests
Even so, the stories are just that—stories—and not 'histories' in any modern sense. Because of this rearrangement in material, therefore, which often includes re-ordering of events, we cannot assume that any individual Gospel gives an accurate chronological narrative.
There are simply too many discrepancies between the texts. Likewise, redaction criticism can reveal legendary development and other forms of embellishment between earlier and later texts.
History and Fictionp. Our earliest account of Jesus' burial, the Gospel of Mark, records a fundamental truth that later Christian authors tried desperately to ignore: Jesus' disciples were not in a position to provide Jesus with an honorable burial.
Mark tells us that a pious Jewish leader named Joseph of Arimathea made sure that Jewish law was observed, and, learning that Jesus had died, got the permission to take the body and bury it.
However, McGrath points out that the later Gospels make a number of changes to Mark's version of the story, in order to exalt and embellish Jesus' burial. John also adds the detail that Jesus was buried in a garden.
These kinds of embellishments suggest that the tradition of Jesus receiving a private burial in a tomb, which had never before been used, is probably a later embellishment McGrath, for the record, supports the view that Jesus was buried in a common, criminal cemetery. Because of this, historians can thus doubt the accounts of Jesus' burial in Matthew, Luke, and John. It should also be noted that, because the later Gospel authors derived so much material from Mark which itself is based on earlier Greek pericopes and oral traditionsit casts strong doubt on whether any of their narratives are based on "memories.
Because of this, we have to treat the Gospels as received material, rather than first-hand accounts. For a discussion of why Markan priority is the dominant view among mainstream New Testament scholars, see Michael Kok's " Markan Priority or Posterity? Suetonius' Twelve Caesarsfor example, was written c. During that war, three successive emperors died violently, and Suetonius cites contradictions and divergent accounts about all of their lives.
For the emperor Galba, Suetonius cites contradictions about the manner of his assassination Galba For Otho the subsequent emperorSuetonius cites contradictions about the manner in which he overthrew Galba Otho. The historical biographer Plutarch also wrote about the civil war of 69 CE, and his biographies of the emperors Galba and Otho were probably published, at the latest, during the reign of the emperor Nerva CEonly about thirty years after their deaths.
And yet, Plutarch cites contradictions about the events of Galba's assassination Galba Suetonius also wrote about the Flavian dynasty CEfifty to twenty-five years after the emperors who reigned. And yet, Suetonius cites contradictions about the occupation of the emperor Vespasian's father Vespasian 1. It should be noted that all of these contradictory and varying reports are recorded about Roman emperors, for whom there would have been considerably more documentation and knowledge about their lives.
Most notably, Homer himself had become a subject of great interest, since the two greatest epics of Greek literature were attributed to him, and yet nobody knew much about the man himself. It is a joint proto-biography of Homer and Hesiod, which, similar to the definition of biography given above, tells the stories of their lives from ancestry to death.
The stories are so conflicting that even Homer himself has to visit the Oracle of Delphi to find the truth! Homer was not the only figure to attract biographical attention in the 5th century BCE. Likewise, the Greek fabulist Aesop was the subject of many proto-biographical developments, as were the Seven Sages of ancient Greece. The so-called drinking songs of the Seven Wise Men quoted by Diogenes Laertius … are generally recognized as fifth-century products.
In more popular quarters stories were told about the life of Aesop. Herodotus had some knowledge of it, as the curious anecdote in 2. Xenophon was a former pupil of Socrates, a mercenary soldier who also wrote an autobiographical account of his campaign into Persia in his Anabasisand very prolific author, who is regarded by scholars as the first known biographer.
For the second half of the same century, the reverse is true: Lives were written and so called in the title, an unmistakably biographical form was established — but no single work has survived in anything like its complete form. Yet the fragments and testimonia are numerous enough to preclude any reasonable doubt that this was a crucial period in the history of ancient biography.
All of these authors wrote biographies about philosophers or poets. The focus was on the whole life of a person, rather than deeds or ideas or artistic oeuvre viewed in isolation.
Furthermore, we already notice much of the scholarly apparatus that will mark the rhetoric of biography, irrespective of the actual blend of fact and fiction: The other three were active in the second half of the third century, when the genre was consolidated and, to all appearances, experienced its Hellenistic heyday.
To the interest in ethics and in character revealed in life and lifestyle has now been added the antiquarian urge, the obsession to record variant traditions, however mutually irreconcilable, and the will to document, sometimes at the expense of portrayal.
Of the two groups of ancient biography discussed above, the Gospels, I argue, are more similar to the popular biographies in the latter category. This is due to a number of reasons: The Gospels are anonymous in the compositionjust like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander. The Gospels do not discuss their sources or methodologywhich is a feature of more historical and scholarly biographies.
Instead, like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander the Great, they are less critical, more hagiographical, and include more legends and myth-making. This form of biography likewise does not engage in the source analysis and methodology that is necessary to make an ancient text historically reliable. These biographies of Alexander were largely chronological, focused on his journeys and military campaigns, and were rigorous in their methodology.
The early historical biographies of Alexander the Great were thus a major influence on the development of political biography, which dealt with kings, generals, and statesmen.
It should be noted that, outside of the developments of Graeco-Roman biography discussed above, there was also a Jewish tradition of biography, which, depending on the work and time period, occasionally had Hellenistic influences.
The Acts of the Apostles, both the canonic and the many apocryphal, provide further biographically structured stories. The Greek influence on Philo allowed for a blend of Jewish and Hellenistic literary genres, which is present likewise in the Gospels. For example, Luke is probably the most Hellenistic of the four canonical Gospels, even including an opening statement in Lk.
After these few verses, however, the language of the Septuagint becomes more prominent. This may very likely account for why the Gospels are not similar to ancient Graeco-Roman historiography.
So far I have mostly been discussing the Greek side of Graeco-Roman biography, but the Romans also had their own distinct biographical tradition. The earliest forms of Roman biography largely followed Greek models. As Roman literature developed, however, Roman biography began to take on its own unique characteristics.
The Res Gestae is unlike Greek biography in that it mostly catalogs the Roman political offices and military and civic achievements of Augustus, and does not follow a chronological and peripatetic narrative. This is explained by Suetonius in the opening chapters of his Augustus 9.
Part of the paper also contrasts his style with Plutarch, who wrote biographies on some of the same subjects. Suetonius influenced the later Roman biographies of Marius Maximus now lost and the Historia Augusta a rather gossipy collection of imperial biographies falsely attributed to a group of authors, but probably written by a single individual.
Imperial Biographies of the 1st and 2nd Centuries CE: