Eerdmans was kind enough to along a review copy of Mark Goodacre’s Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics. I have heard good things about this book and I look forward to digging in. Look for a review in the near future.
Let me first affirm that I wholeheartedly believe in the sonship of Jesus. The title serves more as an attention getter than anything.
With that said, I have been spending sometime in the Gospel of Mark, and one of the first things the reader notices is the variant reading found in Mark 1:1. Let us look the text and then explore this a little.
Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [υἱοῦ θεοῦ].
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, [the Son of God].
Now, I am no text-critic. But I do dabble from time to time in this field of study. I find it rewarding and exciting following to follow these rabbit trails to wherever they may lead. But what of Mark and this addition/omission to his opening title? Is the reading υἱοῦ θεοῦ (Son of God) Mark’s original reading, or was it a scribal addition added later to expand upon the name of Christ?
I will not focus too much on the various readings, other than mention them here and give relevant information. First note some major manuscript witnesses to each reading:
- Omission of υἱοῦ θεοῦ: א* Θ Or. (Most of the marginal notes in the major English translations make not of the subtraction in some manuscripts).
- Inclusion of υἱοῦ θεοῦ: א1 B D (The majority of English translations include “son of God” in their base text).
The majority of textual evidence seem to indicate that the inclusion of υἱοῦ θεοῦ is the original reading. This also has strength from the whole of Marks Gospel, being that the topic of sonship is a major theme in the Gospel (cf. 1.11; 3.11; 5.7; 9.7; 14.61; 15.39). Therefore, the omission of υἱοῦ θεοῦ may have likely been due to a scribal mistake.
Another interesting insight is the inclusio which is formed with 1.1 and 15.39. This in turn would likely indicate an original reading of υἱοῦ θεοῦ in 1.1.
This all came to my mind as I was sitting in the dentist chair today. While I was waiting for the dentist to come and prep my tooth for a root canal (fun times, let me tell you!) I began to think about this verse. What would be the reasons for both adding υἱοῦ θεοῦ as well as omitting it? I could understand the possibility of a scribe adding it due to the sonship theme spread throughout Mark. But I could not understand why a scribe would want to omit υἱοῦ θεοῦ. Just some more musings on the text, this time from a dentist’s chair.
With this post we bring to a close our review of Richard Burridge’s excellent study on the Genre of the Gospels. The final two chapters-a conclusion and an addition to the second edition-outline Burridge’s conclusion and synthesize his arguments, as well as include reactions to the first edition of What are the Gospels?
Burridge concludes that while there are indeed differences between the Gospels and other similar βίος literature, these differences do not place them outside the genre of Graeco-Roman Biography. Further, Burridge is clear that in order for us to fully understand the Gospels, we must understand them as they were written, namely as biography, and specifically as βίοι Ἰησοῦ. He states
To avoid the errors likely in simple application of a text to ourselves without regard for the setting and background of either, appreciation of genre is crucial as a major ‘filter’ through which the author ‘encoded’ his message, and through which we may ‘decode’ the same (247).
As a result, Burridge see three implications that arise from this
- Any idea of the gospels as unique, sui generis works is a nonsense: authors cannot create, and readers cannot interpret, a total novelty.
- We must have the same generic expectations as the author and his original readers: trying to ‘decode ‘ the gospels through a genre of modern biography, when the author ‘encoded’ his message in the same genre of ancient βίος, will lead to another nonsense-blaming the text for not containing modern predilections which it was never meant to contain.
- The assignation of different genres to texts results in different interpretations: one listen to the TV News with different expectations than to a fairy story
What Burridge is getting at is that the authors of the Gospels did not invent something new when they put ink to papyrus. They wrote in a genre that was easily identifiable for readers in the first-century. So, if a modern-day reader tries to read and interpret any one of the Gospels (or any ancient document for that matter) by means of modern-day principles, he will no doubt be unable to ‘decode’ what the author ‘encoded’ because he reads with the wrong pair of interpretive glasses.
With this said, the author wished that there would have been just a little more in way of application of the thesis to the Gospels themselves. As mentioned in a previous post, attention to the Gospels was devoted to only two chapters. Two chapters hardly seem sufficient to apply ones thesis in a study like this.
Nevertheless, Burridge has managed to not only write a book of significant implications for the way we do Gospel studies, but he has also made such a study accessible and enjoyable for all. There was never a moment a dry, academic rhetoric; instead the discussion was engaging and interesting at every turn of the page. I look forward to reading more from Burridge in the future.
In part two of our synopsis, Burridge lays out for us the criteria for analyzing categorizing Graeco-Roman biography. As we noted, Burridge applies his criteria to ten examples from the ancient world, dating from before Christ to after the death of Christ. Burridge convincing shows that in the ancient world there was not just a genre called βίος , but that this genre was flexible, able to stretch into other genres. Burridge notes two main causes for the confusion surrounding the genre of the Gospels, “inadequate literary theory of a genre and a lack of understanding of Graeco-Roman biography” (185). He goes on to state:
Therefore, we have identified a range of generic features and used them to analyse Graeco-Roman βίοι, both on the fringes of the genre and indubitably classic examples. A clear family resemblance has now been established, and so we can now proceed with the same exercise on the gospels [185-86]
After belaboring for seven chapters to lay a both a historical and literary foundation on which to build his thesis on, Burridge is now finally able to turn his attention to the Synoptic Gospels [ch. 8] and Gospel of John [ch. 9]. As with the previous chapters, the same methodology is utilized for determining the precise genre of the Gospels. Burridge carefully examines each of the Gospels and concludes that while there are some differences between the Gospels and ancient biography, nevertheless they fall under the rubric of βίοι.
While some may object to certain minor conclusions Burridge assumes (the Q hypothesis, the communities behind origins of the Gospels, etc.), these should not become a major focus of contention. Burridge has done us a great service in the area of Gospel studies. He has thoroughly studied the major biographical Graeco-Roman writings and has rigorously proven that when the Gospels are compared with other biographical samples of the ancient world they should be classified as βίος.
For some readers it may seem that devoting only two chapters to the Gospels is not sufficient for a book devoted to answering the question “What are the Gospels?”. This may be so, but it should not diminish Burridge’s magisterial study of the Gospels. We owe a great debt to Dr. Burridge for pushing back against the trend of Bultmann and others who see no biographical element whatsoever in the Gospels.
In my last post on Burridge’s “What Are the Gospels” we looked at what Burridge describes as the problems surrounding the genre of the Gospels. As we recall, this problem was trying to define what genre(s) of Graeco-Roman literature the Gospels fit into. In the second part of “What Are the Gospels?”, Burridge offers us his solution for the situating the Gospels into the genre of βίος.
Thus far I have only made it through chapter seven, but Burridge has laid a very good foundation for us to begin to understand how βίος was used in the Graeco-Roman world. Chapter 5 on Generic Features of βίος is a foundational chapter in the book. It it, he outlines the main feature of βίος: Opening Features (title, prologue, preface, etc.), Subject of the βίος, External Features (size, metre, length, etc.) and Internal Features (setting, topic(s), style, mood, etc.). With the foundation laid, we now have a basic outline or structure we can use as a guide as we begin to analyze βίος literature of the ancient world.
Before the Gospels are tackled, Burridge offers us a few samples of what may be considered βίος from the ancient world, both Greek and Latin sources. What is helpful is that the sources which Burridge chooses vary in date and geographical location, thus allowing us a greater look into the usage of βίος in the ancient world.
My only complaint (I am not sure you can call it that really) is that while the examples are plentiful, the reader who is not versed in Graeco-Roman literature may get lost in the very examples used to illuminate βίος. There is a bit of primary source overload at times, but if the reader is diligent and determined, the payoff will be extremely valuable later.
So, now I enter the Synoptics and John’s Gospel next. I am greatly enjoying this work so far. It is clear, concise (at times it may be too much info.), informative, and overall a pleasure to read.
If you would rather have them fed directly into iTunes as podcasts, copy this into iTunes.
Richard Bauckham is one of the world’s leading experts on the Gospels. His book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony is a must read for all students of the Gospels.