A Synopsis of Richard Burridge’s “What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (pt.3)

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.

One thought on “A Synopsis of Richard Burridge’s “What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (pt.3)

  1. Pingback: Elsewhere (07.08.2011) | Near Emmaus

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