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What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (The Biblical Resource Series) Paperback – August 9, 2004

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Product Details

  • Series: The Biblical Resource Series
  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 2 edition (August 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802809715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802809711
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #617,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Religious Studies Review
"One of the hotly debated topics of recent years has been what type of literature the Gospels are. Richard Burridge reviews the data and discussion and proposes a solution. . . . This treatment of the questions will serve as a standard for future work."

Biblical Interpretation
"Burridge's book is the most comprehensive and lucid discussion of the genre of the Gospels yet undertaken. . . . This is a book that students of the Gospels cannot afford to avoid. . . . It is a truly astonishing tour de force -- interdisciplinary biblical scholarship at its very best."

Catholic Biblical Quarterly
"Burridge reexamines the old question of the genre of a Gospel. He situates it within the fluid genre of Graeco-Roman biography through a study exacting in terms of new methods, a wealth of data, and rigor. . . . This is an immensely learned volume. . . . It not only represents a superb survey of the topic but also breaks new ground."

Journal of Biblical Literature
"This volume ought to end any legitimate denials of the canonical Gospels' biographical character. It has made its case."

Book Description

Dr Burridge contends that scholarly study of the genre of the Gospels has gone full circle over the last century of critical scholarship. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By David Marshall on April 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
What are the Gospels? Biography? Myth? A unique genre of literature, otherwise unknown to the ancient world?

Richard Burridge begins by discusses genre, how it develops and evolves. He offers a dozen or so characteristics by which we can judge the genre of a book. No one item by itself proves that a given book belongs to a certain genre, he argues.

Following a few longish sections that establish his methods of analysis, Burridge introduces ten works that belong to the category of Graeco-Roman bioi, five from before the time of Christ, five from shortly after. Applying the criteria he mentions earlier to these works, he establishes what an ancient biography was really like. Then he considers the Synoptic Gospels, concluding that they clearly fit into this category. Next he performs the same operation with the Gospel of John, and concludes that it is also an example of ancient biography.

I think Burridge proves his case, that the canonical Gospels do belong to the category of ancient bioi, or biography. (Be prepared for a few words of Greek in the text.) But what does that mean to call the Gospels "biography?" Among the examples of Bioi he considers are Tacitus' Agricola, a sober account of a Roman general written by his son in law a few years after his death, and Apollonius of Tyana, a tall tale loosely based on a New Age guru that talks about various breeds of dragon in India, and was written more than a hundred years after the alleged life it portrays. So the simple fact that a work belongs to the category of bioi, does not prove that it is true.

Burridge notes however that Apollonius is rather on the fringe of the genre. In some ways, the Gospels are closer to Agricola.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By gregr on May 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have heard claims that the Gospels are "metaphor" or that they were never meant to be taken as biographical (and therefore don't have much or any historical data). This book ably debunks such claims.

The intent of this book is not to prove the historicity of Gospels, but to prove their genre. By establishing their genre, then we can better understand the intent of the authors.

The well reasoned conclusion in Burridge's book is: the Gospels fit the ancient genre of biography.

In doing so he discusses a lot about genre and analysis (this section was a bit tedious for me, but it was thorough). In all of the discussion and examples we learn how the ancient biographies are much different from modern ones. This is a key point, because I think much of the debates and criticisms of the gospels are done from the perspective of a modern biographical viewpoint. The ancients wrote biographies differently than those that are written today. But this does not make them more or less true. It is a matter of emphasis. Today we want to know the details about dates, eye color, and a year by year accounting of events. The ancients were more selective in their biographies, and often focused on character not a chronological "play by play" of a person's life. The ancient biographers did not just write to catalogue facts about a person, they often wrote to demonstrate why or why not we should emulate their subject. Moderns too have such motives, and even biases, but they are often less up front about them. In many ways the ancients are superior in this regard, because it makes it easier to distinguish between data and commentary.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nindyo Sasongko on July 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
I wrote to Dr. Burridge recently that I wish I found the volume when I was a seminarian studying the Gospels. I am ministering youth and teens at a local Mennonite church in Indonesia. The volume is extremely enlightening. I prefer to reading Anglo-Saxon scholars to North American who are so often too simplistic and pragmatic (pardon me). Yet many times I find Anglo-Saxon writers are deep in exploring something but dry in nurturing soul. This book is an exception. It helps much in my ministry.

Here is Dr. Burridge's reply: "I'm glad to hear that you feel that the scholarship helps with your ministry - this is indeed the driving force behind most of my writing."

I humbly invite those who are keen on correct doctrinal teachings and preachings to submit once again to the study of the Gospels and grasp the book. He himself was to come back to the Gospels having written a massive monograph: WHAT ARE THE GOSPELS? to help his personal struggle in spiritual life.

The monograph is a groundbreaking study in the study of the Gospels. He is a classicist turned New Testament scholar. His graduate study in classic was done in Oxford, and the doctorate in Nottingham. He aptly demonstrates that the Gospels are a kind of ancient "Bioi." Find what the ancient "Bioi" with contemporary biographies. The technical work has been strongly condensed in FOUR JESUS, ONE GOSPELS?: A SYMBOLIC READING.

I am really happy to find the popular volume, since the explanation are employing the most popular literary and visual art works--as C. S. Lewis' NARNIA and Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS. Recently I wrote a paper for an academic journal on how to read the Bible with imagination, and I was helped by Tolkien's LOTR. And Dr. Burridge aptly provides me with samples.
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