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Re: Gospels as Historical Novels

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  • FMMCCOY
    ... From: Michael Grondin To: Sent: Sunday, April 29, 2001 2:52 PM Subject: Re: [GTh] Re: SOM in GOT 86 ... Dear
    Message 1 of 2 , May 2, 2001
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Michael Grondin" <mgrondin@...>
      To: <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
      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"?
      >
      Dear Michael:

      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
      Jerusalem..
      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.

      Regards,

      Frank McCoy
      Maplewood, MN USA
    • mgrondin@tir.com
      ... You make two arguments here that both seem to be throw-aways. The first is that, if Mark s work had been a novel, he would have said so in the text. The
      Message 2 of 2 , May 4, 2001
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        --- Frank McCoy wrote:
        > 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?

        You make two arguments here that both seem to be throw-aways. The
        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 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

        Your argument can't be, I assume, that any Jewish historical novel
        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".

        Regards,
        Mike
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