Jesus in History and Myth

By R. Joseph Hoffmann; Gerald A. Larue | Go to book overview

Randel Helms


Fiction in the Gospels

Northrop Frye has categorized fictions as either mimetic or self-reflexive; mimetic fictions "reflect the actual world, sustaining an illusion of reality, life as it is lived," while "Self reflexive fictions describe worlds governed primarily by an internal logic, so they reflect life much less insistently than they reflect themselves or other fictions." 1 Frye has written about the selfreflexive aspects of the Gospels in another work:

How do we know that the Gospel story is true? Because it confirms the
prophecies of the Old Testament. But how do we know the Old Testament
prophecies are true? Because they are confirmed by the Gospel story.
Evidence, so called, is bounced back and forth between the testaments like
a tennis ball; and no other evidence is given us. The two testaments form a
double mirror, each reflecting the other but neither the world outside. 2

I want to discuss this self-reflexive aspect of three fictional episodes in the Gospels: the miracle stories of the raising of the widow of Nain's son (found only in Luke), the feeding of the five thousand (found in all four Gospels), and the stilling of the storm (found in the Synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

That the Gospel miracle stories are indeed fictional is no longer a live question, according to Ernst Käsemann:

Over few subjects has there been such a bitter battle among the New
Testament scholars of the last two centuries as over the miracle-stories of
the Gospels. . . . We may say that today the battle is over, not perhaps as
yet in the arena of church life, but certainly in the field of theological
science. It has ended in the defeat of the concept of miracle which has been
tradition in the church.

____________________
Randel Helms is Professor of English at Arizona State University. He has written extensively on the fiction of J. R.R. Tolkien.

-135-

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