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This week I’ve read through M. David Litwa’s new book How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2019). This is a book I fundamentally disagree with, but it is an interesting read, and will probably elicit a whole lot of controversy about the relationship of the Gospels to Mythology. I would love to see an SBL panel on it and hopefully we can review for JSHJ. You can also listen to a podcast interview with Litwa at New Books in Biblical Studies.
In a nutshell, Litwa regards the Gospels as a form of “mythic historiography.” Instead of seeing the gospels as history that over the time became myth, he suggests to the contrary, that they were always a type of mythology that was given the features of history for the sake of apparent verisimilitude.
Points - Affirmation - Points - Disagreement
Let me offer three points of affirmation and then three points of disagreement.
First, the primary strength of the book is in its contention that the Gospels must be located within the literary and religious environment of the Greco-Roman world.
Interpreters - Christianity - Greco-Roman - Religions - Point
While some interpreters like to major on how Christianity is different to Greco-Roman religions, I take the point from Luke Timothy Johnson and others that we cannot understand how Christianity and Greco-Roman religions are different until we first understand how they are similar. So comparison must precede contrast! Whereas some want to use Hellenistic Judaism as a kind of buffer between “pagan” ideas and Christianity, to avoid any direct borrowing of Christianity from ostensibly pagan sources, Litwa contends that the Gospels draw from the same cultural pool of Hellenistic literature. That is because, says Litwa, “Hellenistic culture was never really ‘outside’ Christianity” (p. 51). Christianity emerged and germinated in this Hellenistic milieu. In addition, Litwa does his comparisons usually without falling into...
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