The canonical gospels are ancient biographies, narratives of Jesus’s life. The authors of these gospels were intentional in how they handled historical information and sources. In this work, Craig Keener demonstrates the reliability of the canonical gospels by exploring the genre of ancient biography.
Building on recent work in the study of ancient biographies, Keener argues that the writers of the canonical gospels followed the literary practices of other biographers in their day. In Christobiography he explores the character of ancient biography and urges students and scholars to appreciate the gospel writers’ method and degree of accuracy in recounting the ministry of Jesus. Keener’s Christobiography has far-reaching implications for the study of the canonical gospels and historical-Jesus research.
I have long thought that what we need is to be able to place the Gospels much more precisely within the wide spectrum of ancient biographies. Keener has mastered the literature, primary and secondary—as one would expect.
Christobiography is addressed to both scholars and students interested in Gospels and historical Jesus research and is, to say the least, a very impressive study. The Synoptic Gospels compare well with other ancient biographies as to the reliability of the information they provide. They told the same stories, but often without concern for details extraneous to their point. Not least of interest is the striking summary of the overlap between John and the Synoptics, showing that John is still a historical biography. There is a very helpful chapter on memory and the reliability of oral tradition in the context of Jesus’s ministry and his followers, given that it was understood as teaching. The strong and justified conclusion is that Jesus’s disciples would have learned and transmitted his teaching no less carefully than most other disciples the wisdom of their teachers. In short, the Gospels compare well with the other biographies of the time as to their historicity, and there is a strong historical probability that the Gospel memoirs have preserved the content and character of Jesus’s ministry and teaching. I cannot commend this careful and thorough study too highly
—James D. G. Dunn, Durham University
Craig Keener’s sophisticated knowledge of the classical world is in evidence in his impressive Christobiography. He not only knows the sources; he asks of them the proper questions, such as what first-century readers expected of biographies. Keener rightly focuses on the biographies of the early Roman Empire. He also rightly takes into account the important fact that the New Testament Gospels were composed within living memory of their subject and that this tradition arose from the disciples of Jesus, who by definition were committed to learning their master’s teaching and recalling his deeds. Keener’s book makes a much-needed contribution to a very important topic.
—Craig A. Evans, Houston Baptist University
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