Are the gospels biographies?

The gospels belong to the ancient genre of biography.  These ancient biographies were concerned with providing examples for readers to emulate, while preserving and promoting the subject’s reputation and memory.  Thus, they were about kerygma or preaching.  They were not biographies in the modern sense.  The biographies of Jesus are more like apocalyptic history, depicting Jesus as caught up in events near the end of time.  Despite this, scholars are confident that the gospels do provide a good idea of the public career of Jesus.  There is no guarantee that the gospels are precisely historical in our modern sense of history.  These are faith documents, not eyewitness accounts.  Modern scholars are cautious of relying on the gospels uncritically, but nevertheless they do provide a good idea of the public life of Jesus.

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The dead (Isa 26:14-26:15)

“The dead do not live.

Shades do not rise.

You have punished them.

You have destroyed them.

You have wiped out

All memory of them.

But you have increased the nation!

O Yahweh!

You have increased the nation!

You are glorified!

You have enlarged

All the borders of the land.”

The dead do not live and will not rise again where there is no shade. Yahweh has punished and destroyed them. He has wiped them out so that all memory of them has been lost. On the other hand, the glorified Yahweh has increased his beloved land, the nation of Israel, and enlarged its borders. It is difficult to place this prayer at a specific time.

The memory of these famous holy men (Sir 44:7-44:9)

“All these were honored

In their generations.

They were the pride

Of their times.

Some of them

Have left behind a name.

Thus others declare their praise.

But there is no memory

Of others.

They have perished

As though they had never existed.

They have become

As though they

And their children

Had never been born.”

Sirach notes that each one of these holy famous men was honored when they were alive. Their contemporaries took great pride in them. Some of these men have left behind a name or reputation, so that others can share in that pride. However, some of the others have left no memory. We do not know even who they were. They have died as if they never existed without any trace of them. Both they and their children are like they were never born. There was a great emphasis on a good name and being remembered, also a Latin and Greek ideal. Thus we do not have any memory about some good people.

The Lord’s actions against pride (Sir 10:13-10:18)

“Therefore the Lord brings upon them

Unheard of calamities.

He destroys them completely.

The Lord overthrows

The thrones of rulers.

He enthrones

The lowly in their place.

The Lord plucks up

The roots of the nations.

He plants the humble

In their place.

The Lord lays waste

The lands of the nations.

He destroys them

To the foundations of the earth.

He removes some of them.

He destroys them.

He erases the memory of them

From the earth.

Pride was not created

For human beings.

Violent anger was not

For those born of women.”

There will be consequences for pride because the Lord will act. The prideful ones will have many afflictions and unheard of calamities. The Lord will destroy them completely. He will overthrow the proud rulers and put humble ones in their place. He will root out nations and have humble ones replace them. He will lay waste to the lands of the proud, destroying them to their foundations. He will remove some and destroy others. Their memory will be erased from this earth. Humans were not created for pride or violent anger.

The death of the unjust (Wis 4:16-4:19)

“The righteous that have died

Will condemn the ungodly that are living.

Youth that is quickly perfected

Will condemn the prolonged old age of the unrighteous.

They will see the end of the wise.

They will not understand

What the Lord purposed for them.

He kept them safe.

The unrighteous will see.

They will have contempt for them.

But the Lord will laugh them to scorn.

After this,

They will become dishonored corpses.

They are an outrage among the dead forever.

He will dash them speechless to the ground.

He will shake them from the foundations.

They will be left utterly dry.

They will be left barren.

They will suffer anguish.

Their memory will perish.”

The righteous (δίκαιος), when they die, condemn the living ungodly ones (ἀσεβεῖς). The perfected youth of the righteous is better than the old age of the unrighteous. The righteous understood the Lord’s purpose. The unrighteous have contempt for the righteous, but the Lord will laugh (ὁ Κύριος ἐκγελάσεται) at the unrighteous in scorn, after they have become dishonored corpses. The Lord will strike them speechless on the ground. They will be left dry, barren, and in anguish as their memory will be wiped out.

Virtue (Wis 4:1-4:2)

“Childlessness is better

With virtue.

In the memory of virtue

Is immortality.

Because it is known

By God.

It is known

By mortals.

When it is present,

People imitate it.

They long for it

When it has gone.

Throughout all time

It marches

Crowned in triumph.

It is the victor in the contest for prizes

That are undefiled.”

Once again, we return to the concept of childless people who are virtuous. The memory of their virtues (ἀρετῆς) will live on in immortality (ἀθανασία) before God (παρὰ Θεῷ) and among humans (παρὰ ἀνθρώποις). People will imitate virtue because they long for it. In fact, when it is gone, it still marches with a crown, just like in the Greek Olympic Games. They would wear this crown of virtue, since they were undefiled.