Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Did Matthew, Mark, Luke and John invent the novel?

Or were they trying to report the facts? People familiar with ancient myths and legends see a huge difference between the New Testament and ancient myths and legends.

“If [a man] tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, . . . I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage ... pretty close up to the facts ... [o]r else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read.” – C. S. Lewis, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” (1959)


Anonymous said...

There are two 'lives' of Pythagoras, they look quite like gospels to me.

Victor Reppert said...

In what way are they like gospels?

Tim said...

Iamblichus's Life of Pythagoras doesn't look much like the Gospels to me. I suppose that the opening lines of ch. 8 might be a muddled echo of of John 21:11, but it's easy to overpress such "parallels." Chapter 13 might have inspired some medieval tales about Francis of Assisi.

It was written three quarters of a millennium after Pythagoras died. Few of Pythagoras's contemporaries are named, there are no vivid details of setting for his discourses and encounters like we find in the Gospels, and there are none of the embarrassing elements that crop up everywhere in the Gospels and give them the ring of truth.

Gregory said...

The Gospel of John is reckoned to be, even by the most "liberal" of critics, a work that offers a more "mature" theology than the Synoptics.....particularly in the area of "Christology". And, of course, the appellation of "theologian" was recognized by the Church very early on.

What that means is that the Church understood St. John's Gospel as being of a more speculative quality--certainly more expansive in theological insight---than the other evangelist's Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels are stripped down personal/eyewitness accounts of certain historical events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth. St. John, while still retaining considerable narrative recollections, offers deeper insights into the Person and Nature of Christ than the other Gospel writers do. Therefore, the Church has always maintained the "straightforward" nature of Matthew, Mark and Luke's accounts. In other words: the idea that the Gospel's fall within the literary genre of the "novels" is, itself, novel.

I'm not convinced that "myths", in every case, are always false accounts. Take, for example, the case of the lost city of "Atlantis", of which Plato especially mentions in one of his dialogues. Was there ever really such a city? Perhaps there was!!

I think it's been widely recognized that many ancient cultures believed that some great deluge occurred. In fact, the early Chinese civilizations had accounts of a "flood" that is not dissimilar to the Mosaic accounts in Genesis. What's more, the story of the rise and fall of Atlantis finds other eerie similarities with the "Fall" of Adam and Eve, the rise and fall of "Babel" and, intriguingly, the rise and fall of King Solomon/Israel. I don't have the space to explicate this more fully here, but I beg indulgence for the sake of argument.

These multiple, overlapping accounts of a specific "event" (i.e. a significant "flood") found within many ancient cultures, does not disprove the authenticity of the Biblical witness. On the contrary, these stories prove the authenticity of the essential account. If, indeed, there was a catastrophic flooding in the ancient world, then we ought to expect such an event to elicit multiple and varied oral traditions concerning that "fact". Incidentally, the "facts" provide the skeletal framework for all "mythological" stories.

The Gospel writers, as if anticipating all these skeptical rejoinders, had emphasized the "eyewitness" character of their own accounts.