Are the Gospels ancient early-empire histories/biographies of Jesus?

“Yes, after all…
  • Ancient bios and letters predominated

    Among the various kinds of literature that circulated, Greco-Roman biographies was fairly dominant.1 This is relevant because, even absent their resembling biographies so much, it would recommend for us to take the gospels as biography as a matter of default, provided they are not letters.

    1. Craig Keener: “[b]iographies, like letters, were among antiquity’s most common genres…” [Christobiography, 41.]
  • The Gospels internally match ancient bios

    The Gospels fit as biographies, internally exemplifying the quintessential family characteristics.

    This page analyzes 11 arguments:

    • Histories/bios are continuous prose narrative, lacking rhythmic structure or other abnormal flow, and the gospels display this continuous prose narrative perfectly.
    • Histories/bios self-identify as witness testimony, and the Gospels do precisely this (e.g. see Luke 1:1-4; they also use/cite witness names so-as to appeal to their authority.)
    • Bios are around 10-25k words long, unlike many other genres like dramas, and this range is precisely where the Gospels fall in to.
    • Bios continually focus on a main character, and the Gospels do this in how they continuously focus on the character of Jesus of Nazareth.
    • Bios illuminate via narrating key words & deeds, and the Gospels do precisely this in showing how Jesu s interacts with various kinds of persons and situations, particularly when they are especially insightful regarding who Jesus is and what he is about.
    • Bios focused on an influential figure.
    • Bios gave a telling sample of the character’s life.
    • Bios consist of, anecdotes, and speeches.
    • Content-Arrangement prioritizes character-illumination.
    • Bios don’t opine on the words & deeds.
    • Bios on miracle-working sages were hot.
    • The Gospels claim to be histories.
    • The Gospels internally match ‘histories’.

    So, as far as their internal features, the Gospels specifically super-resemble early empire biographies, and we know they were written in the early empire era. This is not to say these features are all unique to Greco-Roman biographies, but rather that together they show the Gospels have a "family resemblance" to the genre which is quite decisive. And so of course, absent word of the author's own explicit testimony, this resemblance and bearing of the relevant features is the most you can ask for in determining a work's genre. This all successfully suggests the Gospels were indeed patterned after Greco-Roman biographies and ask to be read as such.

    But no...

    • Gospels are not literarily sophisticated.
    • Mt and Lk borrowed much from Mk.
    • Gospels didn’t discuss their sources.
    • Gospels were Jewish documents.
    • The Gospels include propaganda.
    • Gospel’s main character was flawless.
  • Gospels are honest historical accounts of Jesus’ life

    person writing at table with a speech bubble of jesus and a thought bubble of jesus

    Rather than inventing Jesus-biography, the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—as editors/redactors—were honest in writing their Gospel reports.

    This page analyzes 8 arguments:

    • The originating Gospel/NT content seems honest.
    • Gospel authors faithfully copied their sources.
    • Gospels relayed Jesus-bio info (didn’t create it).
    • Readers took them as bios.
    • Gospel authors wouldn’t lie-invent Jesus-bio.
    • Mt/Mk/Lk/Jn are accurate where checked (trend).
    • Gospels display sacrificially honest restraint.
    • Gospel authors strove for witness-based Jesus-bio.

    This is relevant because biographies are histories, and being a history was in fact the defining characteristic biographies (along with its emphases).

  • Gospel authors strove to relay only witness testimony

    A man holds a microphone up to another man whose head is an eyeball. The interviewer simultaneously holds his hand up to the face of a third person who is trying to talk to him.

    The gospels strove to be witness-based, recording witness testimony as closely as possible.

    A full page will analyze 6 arguments:

    • Gospel claims are all inherited/sourced.
    • Early Empire biography self-identifies as witness-based.
    • Gospels did check with witnesses.
    • Esteemed Christians’d hate to be exposed.
    • Gospels authors prized witness testimony.
    • Gospels were big projects (honor).

    This is relevant because historiography in general labored to be witness-based. (Relatedly, the gospels prized witness testimony, as did histories.)

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