The Genres of the Christian Foundational Writings (New Testament)


--Tanak/the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) originated over a period of many centuries

--Christian Foundational Writings--written in a period of above 100 yrs.

Four major literary forms:

·      Gospels "Good News" recording the birth, baptism, ministry of healing and teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ

·      Church History represented especially in Acts of the Apostles

·      Letters 21 books of the CFW are in this form

·      Apocalypse a revelation or disclosure of God's will for the future


--Jesus left no literary works--what was learned of him was transmitted orally at first by disciples and apostles

--Mark (probably a person named John Mark) was the first to attempt to write a Gospel

Mark's Gospel as Folktale

Writers have speculated about what kind of genre the Gospel attributed to Mark is--clearly it is narrative, but so are lots of other texts

Evidence for the Folktale claim

--Jesus speak "oracularly" and proverbially--appeals to myth and compassionate common sense

--definition of folktale (Walter Benjamin) "Folktale is the ordinary person's way of shaking off the nightmare which myth puts on his chest."


--Mark's Jesus is typically a folk hero: a wanderer going through ordeals which commandeer, disrupt and reorder the established myths (beliefs or prevailing philosophies) of the time; Jesus is typically unaccompanied and unofficial--not like an aristocratic hero

--folk hero is unofficial, performs miracles beloved of popular piety--they're retold and celebrated; the miracles are also suspect because they fulfill people's wishes immediately

--Jesus poses riddles that delight the illiterate and children while taxing/challenging the authorities; Jesus suffers the disregard of the authorities just like children and the wayfarers of folk tales often suffer from wicked step-parents or witches or are put to the test by kings.  Jesus emerges triumphant;

--Jesus teaches using parables; Jewish scholars describe this kind of teaching as "aggadah"--a kind of junk jewelry of the pedlar, fine for its kind but not the same as

"halakah"--gems of leisured scholarship; "halakah" would be used for the elite; "aggadah" for the common people

--Folktales use character types, seldom use specific names--watch for this in Mark

--Mark is loyal to the popular narrative and the common human scene while he is also focusing on the divine or supernatural nature of Jesus and the "Messianic secret"

--Folktales demand close attention; have no unnecessary digression; are "lean" or "spare", close and complex in articulation with a preciseness almost formulaic or scientific; Folktales should be read no faster than the pace of speech; they belong to the people clustered around the storyteller who brings out of his narrative treasure things new and old

(the ideas above are primarily from an essay by John Drury in The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Alter and Kermode)