Craig S. KeenerWm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. / 2019 / HardcoverOur Price$42.995 out of 5 stars for Christobiography: Memories, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels. View reviews of this product. 1 Reviews
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Ryan K5 Stars Out Of 5A Valuable Comparison To Other Ancient, Secular BiographiesOctober 30, 2022Ryan KQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5In his book Christobiography, Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, has written a comparative analysis of the historical intent of first century biographical works. His text would find a suitable place on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the epistemological basis of the trustworthiness of the Gospels, especially as compared to other ancient biographies. This review presents a detailed summary of the content of both texts, along with some analysis, criticism, and reflection.
Keener engages in a remarkably deep study. His primary effort is to examine the written nature of the four Gospels, comparing them to other texts from around the first century in the Roman empire. First, Keener examines the genre of biography during the first century, the biographical subgenre that best describes the Gospels, and the types of information ancient audiences expected of biographies. Then, he considers the cultural, "living" memory of ancient witnesses, what those witnesses remembered, and the quality of their testimony; this part of Keener's study weighs the witnesses and their memories as available to the Evangelists against the witnesses and memories for contemporaneous, secular biographers. Keener also examines the literary flexibility available to ancient biographers, and how the Evangelists employed that flexibility. Later, Keener considers issues of biographical content, namely related to miracles and the uniqueness of the Gospel of John. Last, Keener assesses ideas exclusive to biographies about teaching figures, and how the teachings themselves influenced oral transmission.
Roughly one-third of the book is devoted to grasping the genre of the Gospels. Keener notes that for contemporaneous, secular biographies, there was a sizable historical core of information present. He shows that secular biographies included moral lessons, even while focusing on a fascinating presentation of history. He argues that Suetonius was the ideal ancient biographer, and that the Evangelists followed such an example. As such, Keener concludes that the Gospels are ancient biographies, focused on faithfully transmitting historical information.
Keener continues by examining the eyewitness testimony available to both secular biographers and the Evangelists. His investigation notes that the historical distance from the biographer to the events in question is critical for any eyewitness's ability to recall information. If the biographer is too distant, eyewitnesses may be hard to find, and passing time may allow error into the narrative. If the biographer is too near, eyewitnesses may face ideological pressures, and/or the full significance of the events in question may not be known. Keener notes that the best biographies were able to use prior information, as it shows that the biographer finds the source of such prior information to be reliable. Keener concludes that the Evangelists were well-positioned: they were eyewitnesses or had access to eyewitnesses, they did their own investigations while other eyewitnesses were alive, the Evangelists used preexisting information, and they grasped the significance of the events in question.
Keener states that biographies of teaching figures have more inherent reliability. Teachers work to impart wisdom to their adherents, and the adherents would have been motivated to remember those teachings. The collective memory would retain knowledge of the gist of these teachings, and such learned aphorisms would be remembered entirely, or not at all. Keener explains that because both Jews and Greeks valued learning things by memory, the Gospels thus convey to us a reliable picture of Jesus, His character, and His deeds.
Overall, his book is quite informative. It is lengthy, and to some this may be a drawback. Yet, the comparisons to secular, contemporaneous biographies were instructive. Keener does an excellent job attending to skeptical views for questions about genre. Keener's study of Luke-Acts was valuable, especially since Luke claims to write reliable history. Keener excelled discussing the narrative flexibility afforded to ancient biography. While his goal was to advance epistemological ideas about the Gospel accounts, which he does admirably, a discussion of how his arguments buttress the ideas of inspiration and inerrancy would have been welcome.
Keener fielded valuable advances in the scholarship of the Gospels and the truth within them. Keener's text puts into context the nature of the Evangelists' work against the backdrop of the Roman empire, indicating that the Gospels are reliable until shown otherwise. For anyone studying the Gospels, his text improves the reader's appreciation for the Evangelists' work.
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