This morning I mentioned Andrew W. Pitts’ paper Disambiguating the Genre of the Third Gospel: History, Bios, and the Synoptic Tradition which he delivered during the Synoptic Gospels section that final morning of the AAR/SBL Annual Meeting. A couple people left comments asking for more information, but I didn’t feel qualified to say more about the paper, so I email Pitts to ask if he had any comment. He replied letting me know that his work on Gospel Genre should be published both in article and book form late next year, at which time he will be sharing it with Richard Burridge, the main target of his paper’s critique. Until then, he had this to say (shared with permission):
“Recently I have been looking seriously at the question of Gospels Genre. Richard Burridge—in his paradigm shifting work—includes Luke among the other three “biographical” Gospels. Since most follow Burridge on this, it creates the interesting consensus view that treats Acts as some kind of history and Luke as biography. This seems problematic on the surface to me, but certainly still possible—if we had good evidence for it. But I doubt that we do. So what Burridge has to show through his criteria, at least with respect to Luke’s Gospel, is that they enable us not only to detect formal features of bios but also to disambiguate bios from other genres, especially history. Really, the main criterion that Burridge leverages at this level is his so-called ‘subjects of verbs’ criterion. His control group for testing this feature remains problematic not least due to its size, but also its failure to fully exhibit Burridge’s proposed feature. Linguistically, his so-called subjects of verbs has little to do with genre and more to do with other factors, related to discourse and language formality. I establish in my research a more promising set of criteria. My analysis reveals that Luke-Acts fits nicely among the ancient histories. Matthew seems to be a decent specimen of ancient bios, though nowhere nearly on the level of something like Plutarch’s Lives. John and Mark are somewhat more vulgar expressions of Hellenistic literature, in terms of language and literary expression but do seem somewhat influenced by ancient bios. I have a summary of some of this research that will be out in the following form next year: A.W. Pitts, ‘The Literary Origins of John’s Gospel,’ in S.E. Porter and D. Morrison, eds., The Origins of John’s Gospel (JOS2; Leiden: Brill, 2014)”
For those wanting more information I think this may be it for now until Pitts publishes his work. In my email to him I did invite him to respond to comments on this blog, though I don’t sense that he plans on doing so at this time. Nevertheless, we may see some exciting developments in the discussion over the nature of Gospel Genres next year and following!
Semi-related: Chris Tilling, If biblical scholars received a Nobel Prize…
Do you know if he will also interact with Pervo on Acts? What does it do to the genre question for Luke if one grants any strength to the comparison with Hellenistic novella? I can’t help but wonder if presuppositions count rather more strongly than methodologies for deciding genre. Personally I think Pervo wrong, but I’m fascinated by the way in which there’s so little interaction with his arguments.
Despite the prefaces of the Gospel and Acts implying some kind of unity (which I want to maintain) it seems to me that Codex Bezae at least bears witness to an early reading of Acts which is relatively free and creative with the text, and which must raise some question about how it was perceived.
This is way out of my area of reading, but I’m hoping you can enlighten me.
Unfortunately, at this time, all I know about Pitts’ argument fits nicely into the summary he provided. As you might be able to tell, he seems to want to limit what he says until his argument is published, so whether or not he interacts with Pervo will remain a mystery in the meantime. Wish I knew more!
Nice. I like the word disambiguate, too.
Thanks for reaching out and gathering this. I am eagerly looking forward to his work as the question concerning Gospel Genre has plagued me for some time.
Who doesn’t like that word?!
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