Last week I pulled Richard Burridge’s influential work on the genre of the gospel’s from my shelf and began reading. I think I purchased it after seeing it referenced in Craig Keener’s book on the Historical Jesus, but I may be wrong. Either way, I am glad that I started reading it.
Part One: The Problem
In the first four chapters Burridge lays out what he sees the as the problem surrounding the nature of the Gospels. For Burridge, the Gospel’s cannot fit tightly into a rigid definition of ancient βίος. Instead, he sees an overlap between βίος and other genres: “The picture has now emerged of the genre of βίος nestling between history, encomium and moral philosophy, with overlaps and relationships in all directions (65).” That is to say, writing a βίος was not always done in a set way; it could incorporate elements from other genres when it needed to.
One of the helpful aspects thus far has been the extent to which Burridge has shown the evolution of biography in the ancient world. He has shown this both by analyzing the primary sources as well as the arguments from secondary sources.
As the title of Part one suggest, the problem Burridge discusses is one of definition and identification. What exactly is biography (βίος), and how does one identify it as such? This is the path we find ourselves on as we continue through this important work.
Looking forward to what is to come, it is easy to understand why there is debate as to exactly what kind of genre the Gospels fall into. From what I have already gathered from Burridge regarding genre and the Gospels, it would seem that the Gospels do not play nice when it comes to trying to squeeze them into a particular genre. But Burridge’s assumption that βίος is flexible and can incorporate other elements provides help in navigating through the sharp ridges of ancient biography. I look forward to what is to come.