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Are The Gospels “Historically Reliable”? A Focused Comparison of Suetonius’s Life of Augustus and the Gospel of Mark

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Are the Gospels “Historically Reliable”? A Focused Comparison of Suetonius’s Life of Augustus and the Gospel of Mark

This article is published in Religions, 28 February 2019.

Abstract: Are the Gospels historically reliable? Authors of ancient historical literature had objectives for writing that differed somewhat from those of modern historians. Consequently, the literary conventions that were in play also differed. Therefore, it is difficult to speak of the historical reliability of ancient texts without certain qualifications. In this essay, a definition for the historical reliability of ancient texts is proposed, whereby such a text provides an accurate gist, or an essentially faithful representation of what occurred. Four criteria that must be met are then proposed. Suetonius’s Life of the Divine Augustus  and the Gospel of Mark, are then assessed by using the criteria. Suetonius was chosen because he wrote more closely than his peers to how modern biographers write, and the Augustus  was chosen because it is the finest of Suetonius’s Lives. The Gospel of Mark from the Bible was chosen because it is probably the earliest extant account of the “Life of Jesus.” The result of this focused comparison suggests that the Life of Augustus  and the Gospel of Mark can be said to be historically reliable in the qualified sense proposed. However, an additional factor challenging this conclusion is described, and further discussion is needed and encouraged.

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