Book Notice: Christobiography

CRAIG S. KEENER. CHRISTOBIOGRAPHY: MEMORY, HISTORY, AND THE RELIABILITY OF THE GOSPELS. GRAND RAPIDS: EERDMANS, 2019. 743 PAGES. $54.99 (HARDCOVER).

In recent decades, scholarly interest in the genre of the canonical gospels has notably increased, and conversations about the subject are ongoing. In Christobiography, Craig Keener, F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and a prolific scholar, engages in these continuing conversations. While most New Testament scholars classify the Gospels as ancient biographies, a close examination of this classification by means of comparing the Gospels with other ancient biographies is often lacking. Keener attempts to fill that gap in this study (1).

Christobiography consists of five parts. Following the opening chapter, which clarifies the direction and thrust of the book, Parts 1 through 3 secure the genre classification of the Gospels as ancient biography, with attention to early imperial biographies of recent figures that contain full-length narratives. Keener observes both (1) genuine historical/historiographical interests of ancient biographers in preserving the essence of earlier information as well as (2) narrative-rhetorical flexibility in their presentation. Throughout this section, he constantly relates his findings about the nature of ancient (especially early imperial) biographies to the New Testament Gospels. Part 4 answers major objections to the classification of the canonical Gospels as ancient biographies containing genuine historical/historiographical information. In Part 5, Keener argues for the historical reliability of the Gospels by engaging with recent memory studies and giving attention to the living memory of Jesus on the part of his disciples. The closing chapter offers a summary of this study and discusses its implications.

Christobiography enriches our appreciation of the four Gospels’ genre and its implications for Gospels studies. Careful arguments and mastery of both classical texts and modern scholarly works, which have characterized Keener’s previous publications, feature again throughout this volume. It is undeniable that this study provides a considerable contribution to Gospels studies in general and to historical Jesus research and Gospel genre research in particular. A couple of minor quibbles may be noted. It might have been easier to follow Keener’s arguments if he had discussed strictly ancient biographies in the first half of the book and then, in the second half, applied his findings to the study of the Gospels; instead, Keener blends the two components in each chapter. Separating these two discussions would have allowed the reader to understand the nature of ancient biography more clearly in its own right before applying its features to the Gospels. In addition, a more comprehensive investigation of early imperial biographies (e.g. materials about emperors Otho and Galba as well as comparable Jewish examples from Josephus) may have been desirable, given their importance for Keener’s overall case.

Christobiography is a must-read for New Testament scholars and advanced students. For many college/seminary students and pastors, a concise version of this study would be desirable. It is hoped that Keener will write such a volume for a wider audience as he did with regard to New Testament background in his IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Dr. John Lee, Associate Professor of New Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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