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The essay explores the contribution of a literary analysis to interpretation of the canonical Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The author begins by analyzing historical tendencies to read the biographies of Jesus atomistically, before moving to describe recent narrative approaches that focus greater attention on the overarching picture of how each story is told by means of plotting, characterization, and thematic development. The body of the essay involves two close, narrative readings, the first focused on Matt 4:23-9:38, which highlights the role of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and the miracle chapters (Matt 8-9) in this part of the first Gospel. The second reading addresses John’s Gospel and the ways that author deploys allusions and echoes from Gen 1-2 to accent the theme of the renewal of creation in the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
Matthew's five great discourses move from addressing the story's audience to direct engagement with the reader. The first section of the paper demonstrates that this rhetorical function of the discourses has found widespread agreement among scholars employing such diverse methodologies as redaction, narrative, rhetorical, feminist, and reader-response criticisms, as well as structuralism and post-structuralism. The paper's second section analyzes the means by which Matthew's reader is more directly addressed in the discourses than in the narrative portions of the Gospel. The rhetorical devices explored include plot devices in the narrative surrounding the discourses; discourse structural devices; and linguistic, topical, and generic techniques used within the discourses.
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