The Gospel writers could describe the same event in rather different ways. Conservatives have resorted to elaborate harmonizations---sometimes rather strained. Skeptics have viewed the accounts as hopelessly contradictory and unreliable. Licona minutely compares Gospel pericopes to how Plutarch composed his Lives with surprising results. 320 pages, hardcover. Oxford University.
Anyone who reads the Gospels carefully will notice that there are differences in the manner in which they report the same events. These differences have led many conservative Christians to resort to harmonization efforts that are often quite strained, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Many people have concluded the Gospels are hopelessly contradictory and therefore historically unreliable as accounts of Jesus. The majority of New Testament scholars now hold that most if not all of the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography and that this genre permitted some flexibility in the way in which historical events were narrated. However, few scholars have undertaken a robust discussion of how this plays out in Gospel pericopes (self-contained passages).
Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? provides a fresh approach to the question by examining the works of Plutarch, a Greek essayist who lived in the first and second centuries CE. Michael R. Licona discovers three-dozen pericopes narrated two or more times in Plutarch's Lives, identifies differences between the accounts, and analyzes these differences in light of compositional devices identified by classical scholars as commonly employed by ancient authors. The book then applies the same approach to nineteen pericopes that are narrated in two or more Gospels, demonstrating that the major differences found there likely result from the same compositional devices employed by Plutarch.
Showing both the strained harmonizations and the hasty dismissals of the Gospels as reliable accounts to be misguided, Licona invites readers to approach them in light of their biographical genre and in that way to gain a clearer understanding of why they differ.
Michael R. Licona is Associate Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University.
"Criticism often progresses through comparison, as it does in this significant volume. Licona's experiment of exploring differences between the synoptics in the light of differences within Plutarch is suggestive in multiple respects, and students of the gospels will come away with much to ponder."--Dale C. Allison, Jr., Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament, Princeton Theological Seminary
"Anyone who has looked at a synopsis of the Gospels will have wondered why the accounts of the same events in different Gospels vary. Michael Licona breaks new ground by arguing that the writers used the same compositional devices as the biographer Plutarch employed when he reworked the same material in more than one of his biographies. This is an illuminating fresh approach to understanding how the Gospel writers used their sources."--Richard Bauckham, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies, University of St. Andrews
"How worried should we be by the differences between the Gospels? Do they discredit the whole story? In an exemplary crossover of classical and New Testament studies, Michael Licona shows that the answer is 'not very worried at all': when we compare the techniques used in Greco-Roman literature, the striking feature is the Gospels' consistency rather than their differences. Troubled believers will find this book as important as classicists and New Testament scholars." --Christopher Pelling, Regius Professor of Greek, Christ Church, Oxford
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