Do the Gospels fit as biographies, internally exemplifying the quintessential family characteristics?

  • Our question

    Genre is largely determined by authorial intent. Whether or not the Gospels are actually biographies (discussed here), do they at least internally resemble biographies to a very strong degree? If someone were trying to determine the genre of the Gospels, would they fit remarkably well within the genre-family of ancient/Greco-Roman biographies?

“Yes, after all…
  • Histories are continuous prose narrative

    A man with glasses is reading through a book on the left. The right side shows lines of text.

    Biographies are narratives but they are narratives without rhythmic structure (like poetry); instead they follow a natural flow of speech with ordinary grammatical structure. This is relevant because the Gospels too are continuous prose narrative.

    But so what?

    • Romances are continuous prose narrative as well. [Response forthcoming.]
  • Bios self-identify as witness testimony

    A man puts put a poster on a notification wall labelled "witness based". Books are on display as well.

    Historical works from the Greco-Roman mediterranean proudly self-identity as relaying witness testimony.

    See this page to analyze these 4 supporting arguments:

    • Polybius etc. testify that they did.
    • Historians oft say: “I saw this all 1st hand.”
    • Histories cited witnesses via emphasis.
    • Histories DID get witness-testimony or close.

    This is relevant if the Gospels likewise claim to relay testimony.

  • Bios are around 10-25k words long

    Unlike dramas (for example), biographies in this era tended to be between 10,000 and 25,000 words long. This is relevant because the Gospels are 11-19k words long. (Mark has 11,242 words; Matthew has 18,305; Luke has 19,428; John has 16,150).1

    1. See Burridge, What Are the Gospels?, 271.
  • Bios continually focus on a main character

    Unlike most other genres (which may focus on things like a time period, large-scale event, or the goings-on of a government, Greco-Roman biographes focused their attention throughout the work on a single character.

    • E.g. They want to get at the heart of the person:

    Plutarch: “If I do not record all thermos celebrated achievements or describe any of them exhaustively, but merely summarize for the most part what they accomplished, I ask mar readers not ot regard this as a fault. For I am writing biography not history, and the truth is that the most brilliant exploits often tell us nothing of the virtues or vices of the men who performed them, while on the other hand a chance remark or a joke may reveal far more of a man’s character than the mere feat of winning battles in which thousands fall or marshaling great armies, or laying siege to cities.”

      • Ben Witherington: “notice how rarely Jesus is not the center of attention of any given narrative. Take, for instance, Mark’s Gospel (an exception would be the story about Herod in chap. 6, but even there Jesus is discussed at 6:14-16). Jesus or his teaching is the subject of over 44 percent of all the verbs in Mark’s Gospel, and in almost any given narrative, Jesus is either the center of attention or discussion, or not far from the spotlight. These books are the p23 good news about Jesus, and they seldom stray any distance or length of time from their main subject.
  • Bios illuminate via narrating key words & deeds

    Unlike other genres, Greco-Roman biographies placed a heavy emphasis on trying to morally capture the virtues and vices and other characterstics of their subject through their choice of which words and deeds to narrate.

  • [More Forthcoming]