Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 October 2009
One of the things that make research exciting – or dispiriting, depending on mood and temperament – is the way the questions keep changing. In particular, for a researcher with any sensitivity to the ancient world, the questions we pose as twentieth-century readers often seem to be the wrong tools for understanding first-century texts. Thus research becomes, as those engaged in it know only too well, not so much a quest for answers as a constant struggle to redefine the questions.
The thesis on which this book is based (Alexander, 1978) began with what appeared to be a question about literary genre. It took its starting-point from within a debate which has been going on since the beginning of the century: in what sense (if at all) is it proper to talk of the evangelists as ‘historians’? To many New Testament critics, this is really a theological question (Haenchen, 1971, pp. 94–103); but to a student coming to the New Testament from the classical world, it seemed a question worth reframing in terms of ancient literary genre, i.e. by setting up a comparison between the Gospel writers and the historians of the Greco-Roman world. Granted that ancient expectations of history-writing may have been rather different from our own, it seemed natural to ask how the evangelists and their contemporaries would have seen their work. Did the Gospels look like histories of the same kind as those of Thucydides or Polybius, Josephus or Livy?