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Tragedy and Biblical Scholarship

Recent decades have shown an interest among Biblical scholars in exploring the influence of Greek tragedy on the New Testament and the early church. The influence of Greco-Roman culture, including the idea and power of tragic literature, was pervasive at this time. Although there are no direct quotations of Greek tragedy in the New Testament, nor a direct linkage, that does not mean that tragic motifs and influence are not present. Just as the Greek language and words influence and shape the Bible, it is quite plausible that Greek literature and style would influence the Biblical narrative and its interpretation.

Jeff Jay,’s The Tragic in Mark: A Literary-Historical Interpretation explores tragedy as a “mode” (versus an explicit use of the tragic genre), and argues that “early Jewish narratives that are tragic in mode are actually quite extensive and, furthermore, belong within a broader Jewish effort to compose and accommodate Greek tragedy” (p. 110). There are “fundamental affinities that the story of Jesus shared with tragedy” (p. 17), and Jay builds on Gilbert G. Bilezikian’s The Liberated Gospel: A Comparison of the Gospel of Mark and Greek Tragedy.

Other scholars exploring tragedy and the New Testament are Jo-Ann A. Brant and Courtney Friesen. Brant argues for the presence of Greek tragedy in John’s Gospel (Dialogue and Drama: Elements of Greek Tragedy in the Fourth Gospel). Friesen’s Reading Dionysus: Euripides’ Bacchae and the Cultural Contestations of Greeks, Jews, Romans, and Christians argues for the reception of Euripides’ Bacchae in the ancient world, including the Acts of the Apostles and church fathers. Michael Cover is publishing an upcoming article on Philippians 2:6-11 and Euripides’ Bacchae.

This interest in the Bible and tragedy develops an ongoing relationship between tragedy and Christianity, but from a historical and Biblical perspective, and separate from the influence of Hegel, Balthasar, and Donald MacKinnon.

Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language

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