Re: Gospels as Historical Novels
----- Original Message -----
From: "Michael Grondin" <mgrondin@...>
Sent: Sunday, April 29, 2001 2:52 PM
Subject: Re: [GTh] Re: SOM in GOT 86
> To call this a "character issue" is, I think, anachronistic, and flat-out
> wrong even if not. Story-tellers are not, and have never been, considered
> to be "pathological liars" in even the layman's book. Homer's story of the
> Trojan War, for example, wasn't written with the intent to deceive, but to
> both tell a rousing good story and to illustrate universal truths to boot.
> Everyone understands that he was using a historical backdrop to tell a
> story that would be, at the same time, both entertaining and enlightening.
> But the difference with respect to Mark's gospel, for example, may be that
> most of us have begun from an early age with the assumption that Mark was
> doing history, and so we are startled at the suggestion that what he was
> doing would more properly be categorized as "historical fiction". Now we
> know what that genre is - both ancient and modern. So why is it so hard to
> accept the suggestion that Mark's gospel was of that genre that one is led
> to characterize the genre itself as something that it patently is not,
> namely "pathological lying"?
Mark does not call his document a novel, nor does it fall into any known
literary type of historical novel current in the first century CE. If Mark
is a novel, then why doesn't Luke, in Luke 1:1-4, tell Theophilus that his
main source for Luke was a novel? I see, then, no reason to think that
Mark's gospel is a novel. What reason(s) do you have for thinking it is?
Having said this, I do think that there is a gospel that is a historical
novel and this is John. To begin with, even many of the Church Fathers
believed that, unlike the Synoptic gospels, it a "spiritual" gospel. More
importanly, (and this is a hypothesis that, I believe, I am first one to
make) I hypothesise that
it (unlike the Synoptic gospels and GTh) falls within the literary genre of
Jewish historical novels written in Greek..
We possess a Jewish work, Joseph and Asenath (to be short-handed as JA)
that definitely is a historical novel written in Greek. Indeed, in The
History of Ancient Israel (p. 262), Michael Grant states, "It may be the
oldest Greek novel in existence. Its author, however, was a Jew, although
he presents Judaism as a mystery religion on a par with the many other
Hellenistic faiths of that kind, involving elaborate initiations, which
pervaded the Hellenistic world."
There are many uncanny parallels between JA and John. For example, JA
divides into two main parts: (1) Chapters I-XXI, the seven years of plenty
and (2) Chapters XX-XXIX, the seven years of famine. Similarly, John
divides into two main parts: (1) Chapters 1-12, the coming of the Logos,
and (2) Chapters 13-21, the going of the Logos..
In both, the focus of the second part is on a plot to kill the hero. In
JA, it is a plot to kill Joseph. In John, it is a plot to kill Jesus. In
both plots, one or more people near and dear are involved. In the case of
the plot to kill Joseph, two of his brothers join it. In the case of the
plot to kill Jesus, one of the Twelve joins it. In both, the plot is
implemented. In the case of Joseph, it fails and, so, he continues to live.
In the case of Jesus, it is initially successful, but it ultimately fails
because he rises from the dead.
In both, the first part comes to a grand climax. In JA, it is the
marraige of Asenath to Joseph. In John, it is the entry of Jesus into
In both, the first part has preludes to the grand climax. So, in JA,
Asenath traipses out several times in a wedding garment before her wedding.
In John, Jesus makes a number of trips to Jerusalem before his final one.
In both, a major theme of the first part is that there is a drink, bread,
and annointing that give one immortality. In JA, they are called the bread
of life, the cup of immortality, and the blessed unction of incorruption.
In Chapter VIII, we learn, the unction of incorruption involves the Holy
Spirit quickening and renewing one. In John, these are the bread of life
(which Jesus identifies with himself and with his flesh), the blood of
Jesus, and the rebirth by the Holy Spirit.
In both, the first section is characterized by a seemingly
straight-forward historical narrative in which are inter-mixed passages
with cryptic language and /or strange events that appear to have a hidden
leven of meaning.
I could go on, but I think you get the basic point, which is this: In
literary terms, JA and John are closely related and, so, belong to the same
literary genre. In the case of JA, we know that this is the literary genre
of Jewish historical novels written in Greek. Therefore, this must be the
literary genre to which John belongs as well
Incidentally, research I have done on JA indicates to me that it is a
Therapeutic word written in Alexandria somewhere between 5 and 45 CE and
that its main purpose is to convince Gentiles that they ought to become
Therapeutae because Therapeutism is the one true mystery religion through
which one can attain eternal life.
Maplewood, MN USA
- --- Frank McCoy wrote:
> Mark does not call his document a novel, nor does it fall intoYou make two arguments here that both seem to be throw-aways. The
> any known literary type of historical novel current in the first
> century CE. If Mark is a novel, then why doesn't Luke, in Luke
> 1:1-4, tell Theophilus that his main source for Luke was a novel?
> I see, then, no reason to think that Mark's gospel is a novel.
> What reason(s) do you have for thinking it is?
first is that, if Mark's work had been a novel, he would have said so
in the text. The second is that, if LUKE had thought that Mark's work
was a novel, then HE (Luke) would have said so in HIS text. I must
say that I don't feel much intuitive force behind either of these
arguments. The natural question in both cases is "Why SHOULD they
have done so?" But I won't belabor the point, since you have what
appears to be a much stronger argument at hand, namely, that GMark
doesn't "fall into any known literary type of historical novel
current in the first century CE". In support of that argument, you
contrast the case of GJohn:
> ... the basic point ... is this: In literary terms, JA and John areYour argument can't be, I assume, that any Jewish historical novel
> closely related and, so, belong to the same literary genre. In the
> case of JA, we know that this is the literary genre of Jewish
> historical novels written in Greek. Therefore, this must be the
> literary genre to which John belongs as well
written in Greek (JHN-G) must strongly resemble JA. So the argument
must be that, in order to consider GMk as being of the genre JHN-G,
there must be ANOTHER text which clearly belongs to JHN-G, and which
GMk strongly resembles. Aside from the obvious fact that GMk might
have been the first of a new breed of JHN-G's, I'm not sure why you
narrowed the genre down to JHN-G's in the first place. I had spoken
of historical fiction in a broad sense that would allow for the
possibility, for example, that Mark might have been inspired not by a
preceding JHN-G, but by, say, some Greek tragedy he had read. I
assume that "Mark" had some content to relay - some of which he had
picked up from oral tradition, some of which was his own (how much of
each is anybody's guess) - and that he put this content into a form
that indicates a considerable amount of artistic structure. If
pressed to the wall, I'll have to admit that there's no way of
proving how much of the content of GMk was the work of the authors'
imagination(s), but that it was the work of SOMEBODY's imagination
(probably a great many folks') is, I think, beyond question. There's
every evidence, and every reason to believe, IMO, that the
orally-transmitted story of Jesus had taken on the characteristics of
a legend prior to its ever having been written down. So even if Mark
had been (contrary to what I believe) simply artfully arranging
selected information from his memory-banks, the end result would have
been "historical fiction".