How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths

How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths

by M. David Litwa


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A compelling comparison of the gospels and Greco-Roman mythology which shows that the gospels were not perceived as myths, but as historical records

Did the early Christians believe their myths? Like most ancient—and modern—people, early Christians made efforts to present their myths in the most believable ways.
In this eye-opening work, M. David Litwa explores how and why what later became the four canonical gospels take on a historical cast that remains vitally important for many Christians today. Offering an in-depth comparison with other Greco-Roman stories that have been shaped to seem like history, Litwa shows how the evangelists responded to the pressures of Greco-Roman literary culture by using well-known historiographical tropes such as the mention of famous rulers and kings, geographical notices, the introduction of eyewitnesses, vivid presentation, alternative reports, and so on. In this way, the evangelists deliberately shaped myths about Jesus into historical discourse to maximize their believability for ancient audiences.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300242638
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 08/06/2019
Series: Synkrisis
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

M. David Litwa is a scholar of ancient Mediterranean religions and Research Fellow at the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry in Melbourne. His most recent books include Desiring Divinity: Self-deification in Ancient Jewish and Christian Mythmaking and Hermetica II: The Excerpts of Stobaeus, Papyrus Fragments, and Ancient Testimonies.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Gospels, Mythography, and Historiography 1

Chapter 1 Jesus Myth Theory 22

Chapter 2 A Theory of Comparison 46

Chapter 3 Incarnation 64

Chapter 4 Genealogy 77

Chapter 5 Divine Conception 86

Chapter 6 Dream Visions and Prophecies 96

Chapter 7 Magi and the Star 103

Chapter 8 Child in Danger, Child of Wonder 115

Chapter 9 The Righteous Lawgiver 127

Chapter 10 Miracles 135

Chapter 11 The Pharmakos 156

Chapter 12 Empty Tombs and Translation 169

Chapter 13 Disappearance and Recognition 179

Chapter 14 Ascent 187

Chapter 15 Eyewitnesses 194

Conclusion: The Myth of Historicity 209

Notes 223

Index of Subjects 269

Index of Modern Authors 283

Index of Ancient Sources 285

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