Book Notice: The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel, by Helen Bond

Book Notice: The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel, by Helen Bond April 29, 2020

Remarkably Insightful Book about Genre and Interpretation of Mark


Helen K. Bond is Professor of Christian Origins and Head of the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh—she is also one of my favorite scholars of Jesus and the Gospels. In this new book (Eerdmans, 2020), she engages with the ongoing discussion about the origins of the canonical Gospels, especially what most scholars consider the earliest gospel, Mark. Bond notes that there has been a massive shift in the last few decades. In her early student years, she was taught that the Gospels were a “brand new” genre and not biographies. But thanks to the work of scholars like Richard Burridge, now most Gospels scholars take for granted that the Evangelists were utilizing the genre of bios (“life”). So, what does Bond have to offer to the conversation?

Bond notes that, while there is a broad consensus about the Gospels as bioi, this has not seemed to have been a guiding factor in how the Gospels are read and interpreted today in scholarship. Commentators mention that the Gospels are bioi, but they do not seem to have found much fruit in reading them as bioi. So, Bond steps in to fill that gap. One of my favorite sections of the book deals with the degree to which bios authors assumed they were relaying history “as it was.” Bond explains that there is latitude with the genre of bios, and various ancient writers handled this differently. But overall these authors assumed they were passing on the authentic life of the person; at the same time, they were given literary space to frame that life in the most inspiring or pedagogical way. Bioi were not facts about a person strung together. They were a mixture of historical reporting, encomium (praise of an individual), and moral philosophy (in many cases).

I am about halfway through the book and loving it. Bond is not only an expert researcher offering fresh insight, she is also a gifted writer. This book is a delight to read! (Kudos to Eerdmans on the all-around high quality of the book.)

I am predicting this book will make my list of best academic NT books of 2020. Check it out!

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