If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, but doesn’t quite quack like a duck, then maybe it is not a duck. Just because we see one or even a few features in the gospels that we recognize from historical or biographical writings, we cannot assume that the gospels are therefore history or biography. Formal features can be easily copied from one genre and applied to another.
Mere formalities of style — word-choice, content, syntax — that appear to be trademarks of one particular genre can and often are copied and re-used in other genres for special effects.
There can be no such thing as a completely new genre emerging on the scene. No-one would know how to understand any such beast. New genres emerge through borrowing one or two elements at a time from other genres and repackaging them into another genre so they convey new meanings.
To understand the gospels it is a good idea to have a reasonable grasp of the wider literary world of the gospels. How else can we evaluate a study that purports to argue that the gospels are “ancient biographies” by means of drawing attention to certain formal features in common? I suggest the reason Burridge’s Are the Gospels Really Biography has apparently won widespread acceptance among biblical scholars is that relatively few such scholars have given much time to studying ancient literature. What accord hath Christ with Belial?
This post looks at how ancient Greek novels — fictional narratives — borrowed some of the literary formalities of well-known works of history. It is worth keeping such examples in mind whenever one encounters arguments that the gospels themselves are some form of history on account of similar formal resonances with non-fiction literature of the day.
The previous post covered some of the indications that the heroine of Greek novel Chaereas and Callirhoe was modelled on Ariadne of Theseus and the Minotaur fame. This post looks at the way the author Chariton has constructed his hero, Chaereas, from cuts of other mythical and legendary figures, in particular from Achilles.
Once again, of equal significance is that these fictional characters whose creation was inspired by mythical figures interact with real historical characters in the novel. This is similar to what we find in the Gospels: fictional characters and events modelled on Jewish and Greek stories interacting with historical persons such as Pilate, Caiaphas and Herod.
In the first post of this series we saw that the hero Chaereas was based on Achilles, Nireus, Hippolytus and Alcibiades. From Reardon’s translation we read in the opening paragraph of the novel:
There was a young man named Chaereas, surpassingly handsome, like Achilles and Nireus and Hippolytus and Alcibiades as sculptors portray them.
These four men serve to illustrate the multifaceted persona of Chaereas. (p. 24 of Cueva’s Myths of Fiction)
Homer’s Iliad relates how both Achilles and Nireus fought with the Greeks in the Trojan War. Achilles was said to be the most handsome of the Greeks, while Nireus was the second-most handsome.
And Nireus brought three ships from Syme – Nireus, who was the handsomest man that came up under Ilius of all the Danaans after the son of Peleus [Achilles] – but he was a man of no substance, and had but a small following. (Iliad, 2)
This continues the previous post that introduced Edmund Cueva’s study in the way our earliest surviving Greek novel was composed by combining historical persons, events and settings with fictional narrative details and characters that were inspired by popular myths.
Cueva is not comparing these novels with the gospels, but I do think it is important to compare them. There are quite a few studies that do argue that many of the details in the gospels narratives, even some of the characters, were copied from older stories found in both the Old Testament and in popular Greek literature. This would mean that the gospels are not unlike some popular Greek novels to the extent that they are stories that combine both historical and fictional characters and events in their story, with those fictional characters being conjured up by imaginative extrapolations of mythical characters.
In the previous post I focused mostly on the historical characters and events that are major players in Chariton’s novel Chaereas and Callirhoe.
In this post I outline some of the evidence that the heroine of the novel and her adventures were imaginatively inspired by popular Greek myths, especially those about Ariadne and Theseus. (I do so with apologies to Cueva, too, because what I include from his discussion is necessarily a savage simplification of his arguments for mimesis. Cueva includes in his discussion verbal echoes between Chariton’s novel and Plutarch’s Life of Theseus, and discusses more characters than just the heroine, Callirhoe.) Continue reading “Ancient Novels Composed Like Gospels continued (2)”
I have discussed or alluded to this novel in the various posts found on this page as a comparison to the Gospels, and this time I will show that its characters, plot and setting are drawn from a mix of historical and mythical sources.
Not a few scholars today who specialize in literary analysis of the Gospels have argued that this is how the Gospels were also constructed: from a mix of history and myth. Most recently along these lines I have posted a few times on Spong’s arguments that Gospel characters like Judas, even the “Twelve Disciples”, Jairus’s daughter who was raised from the dead, blind Bartimaeus, and Zechariah and Elizabeth (the parents of John the Baptist) are all cut from literary fictions. The character of Jesus himself is based on Moses in the Gospel of Matthew and on Elijah in the Gospel of Luke. At the same time, however, we have obviously real people — e.g. Herod and Pilate — appearing in the Gospel narratives.
Some criticisms of these posts have been along the lines of saying that ancient authors did not write stories with historical characters mixed up with fictional characters whose creation was inspired by mythical tales.
Well, that particular criticism is wrong. Chariton is evidence that ancient authors did indeed make up stories that included a mix of historical persons, events and settings along with character and plot details drafted from popular myths and older fictional literature.