Why Are Mystic Magi in the Jewish Nativity Story?

Why do mystic Magi appear in an account written about a Jewish Messiah? Magi were scorned by Judaism for their mystical reputation.[1] How likely is it the Jewish author of Matthew would unnecessarily introduce the Magi…unless it was true?

MT 2:1 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem…” (NIV)

MT 2:1 “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (NRSV)

Clearly not worried his reference to the Magi would ever be called into question by his contemporaries, Matthew’s account covered the Magi through 12 verses with at least 10 specific details.[2] He assumed his audience would recognize the Magi for who they were and the significance of their visit to Jerusalem.[3]

Matthew’s Greek text uses the word magos. Its Latin word equivalent is magus, its plural form is magi.[4] The word is sometimes translated into English as “wise men” – both are correct.

Babylonians, Medes and Persians viewed magos as an eclectic group of priests, physicians, teachers, soothsayers, interpreters of dreams, astrologers, and sorcerers. Not surprisingly, magi is the root word of the English word “magic.” It is easy to see how magi could be referred to as “wise men” – or just as easily, “mystics.”

Roman era Jewish society had a dual-perspective of magi. One was of the famed Daniel, a captured Israelite of royal descent whom Nebuchadnezzar placed into the elite Babylonian school of the Chaldeans which included an education in astronomy and astrology.[5]

Scripture says God gave “Daniel understanding in all visions and dreams,” a gift that landed him in Nebuchadnezzar’s royal council of wise men, the chakkiym.[6] Later, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel chief of all the magi, a Rab-mag.[7]

After the Medes and Persians overthrew the Babylonian Empire, Daniel’s “extraordinary spirit” again elevated him to a high level of government authority under Darius.[8] The main religion of the Medes and Persians during the reigns of Darius and Cyrus was Zoroastrianism. Its found, Zoroaster, was himself a magi.[9]

Setting the stage for the other Jewish perspective of magi began when Alexander the Great marched through Judea. The Greek Empire’s open-minded Hellenistic culture allowed the Jews religious freedom, but it also introduced Zoroastrianism intermingled with influences of the Babylonian chakkiym; its priests called magi. [10]

Over the coming decades the effects of Hellenism on Jewish culture was unavoidable much to the frustration of the Jewish Rabbis. Liberal philosophies of Hellenism permeated Jewish culture meanwhile Greek became the common language.[11] Next came the Roman Empire which was content to leave the prevailing culture in Judea alone.[12] 

As expert astronomers, the Magi used the legendary Babylonian astronomical science and charts to study of the motion of stars past, present and future. Their ability to plot upcoming cosmic events were scientifically predictive, not “mystical.” [13]

Toward the very end of the BC era a series of rare celestial conjunctions occurred, ones hard to ignore by astronomers – then or today. Witnessing just one such rare conjunction can be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Imagine the scenario where, in a space of just 5 years from 7-2 BC, there were 13 rare conjunctions including two triple conjunctions! [14]  

Zoroaster beliefs held that celestial events served as signs with earthly significance. Signs of a newborn king observed by the Magi were so awe-inspiring, they set out on a month’s long quest to find and worship him.[15] If these signs visible across the entire Middle East were of such great magnitude, then why were only three magi inspired to begin such a quest?  Matthew does not say there were only three Magi…a Christmas legend.

Matthew’s introduction of the Magi into the Nativity story has a full historical basis behind its setting. Not just anyone appearing on the door step of the King’s palace would expect to gain entry. Yet, when the Magi arrived unannounced, they had no problem gaining direct access to King Herod who gave them his immediate and full attention. 

Herod did not question the credibility of the Magi when they gave him the alarming news about the birth of a king of the Jews. Neither did the King’s Jewish religious council who, instead, pointed Herod to Micah’s prophecy saying a Jewish ruler was to be born in Bethlehem.

Believing the prophecy to be true, Herod invited the Magi back for another meeting to investigate the timing of the star, directed them to Bethlehem, and slyly asked for their help in finding this newborn king. Angered when they didn’t return, Herod’s reaction by killing all the children 2 years old and under in the Bethlehem district testifies to his belief in the truth of the Magi’s message about a newborn king of the Jews.

If King Herod, his royal Jewish religious council and the author of Matthew believed the credibility and message of the Magi, should others believe it, too?


[1] Deuteronomy 4, 18.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 98a. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html> “Zoroastrianism – Magi.” Geni. 2016. <https://www.geni.com/projects/Zoroastrianism-Magi/13185>  
[2]  Matthew 2:1-12.
[3] Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. 2017. Chapter 2. A.S.K. (Associates for Scriptural Knowledge.  <http://www.askelm.com/star/star002.htm#_ednref19>
[4]  “magus”  WordReference.com. <http://www.wordreference.com/es/translation.asp?tranword=magus> “magi.”  WordReference.com. <http://www.wordreference.com/es/translation.asp?tranword=magi> “magus.” Merriam-Webster.  <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/magus>  
[5]  Daniel 1. Guisepi, Robert. “The Chaldeans, The Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonian) Empire.” International World History Project.  2007.  <http://history-world.org/chaldeans.htm>  “Chaldea.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014.  <http://www.britannica.com>  “Chaldea.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4213-chaldea>
[6] NKJV.  Daniel 1- 2.  “Magi.” New World Encyclopedia. 2014. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Magi>  Net.bible.org.  Daniel 2:12 Hebrew text “chakkiym” <02445>.  “Chaldea.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  Diodorus of Sicily. Mesopotamia: Ninus, Semiramis, the wonders of Babylon; Sardanapalus, Chaldaean astrology.  Vol. I.  Book II.  University of Chicago|Bill Thayer.  2017.  Page 431 # 24 ; p 447-457 #29-31. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/home.html>
 [7] Jeremiah 39:3, 13.
[8] NASB. Daniel 6, 10-12.  Deuteronomy 4:19.  Gascoigne, Bamber.  “History of Zoroastrianism.”  HistoryWorld.net. n.d.  <http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ab71>  “Zoroastrianism – Magi.” Geni. “Daniel, the Magi and the Luni-solar Calendar of Israel.” TryGod.com. 2017. <http://try-god.com/daniel-the-magi-and-the-luni-solar-calendar-of-israel.php
[9]  Zoroastrianism.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism>
[10] “Hellenism.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7535-hellenism>.  Hooker, Richard.  “Alexander the Great – Hellenistic Greece.” Washington State University. 1999. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110104072822/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/ALEX.HTM>  “Zoroastrianism – Magi.”  Geni. “Zoroastrianism.”  BBC|The British Broadcasting Corporation. 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian>   Jafarey, Ali Akbar.  “The Achaemenians, Zoroastrians in Transition.”  CAIS|The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies. 2015. <http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Zarathushtrian/achaemenian_zarathushtrian.htm>  Hooker, Richard.  “Mesopotamia:  The Persians.”  Washington State University. 1996. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110514001358/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/PERSIANS.HTM>  Hooker, Richard.  “Hellenistic Greece:  Hellenism.” Washington State University. 1999. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110104072353/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/HELLGREE.HTM>   “Zoroastrianism.”  ReligionFacts.com. 2014.  <http://www.religionfacts.com/zoroastrianism/index.htm>  Reed, Vicky.  “The Religion of the Persian Empire.” EsthersLegacy.com.  2011. <http://estherslegacy.com> “Zoroastrianism.”  PersianEmpire.info. 2007. <http://persianempire.info/zoro.htm>  Gascoigne. “History of Zoroastrianism.”  Gascoigne, Bamber. “Iran (Persia) timeline.” HistoryWorld.net. n.d.  <http://www.historyworld.net/timesearch/default.asp?conid=static_timeline&timelineid=759&page=1&keywords=Iran+%28Persia%29+timeline>  Eduljee, K. E. “Greek Perceptions of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism & the Magi.”  Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/greek-perceptions-of-zoroaster.html>  Leverington, David. Babylon to Voyager and Beyond – A History of Planetary Astronomy.  Chapter 1. 2003.  <http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/08408/sample/9780521808408ws.pdf>  Diodorus.  Mesopotamia: Ninus, Semiramis, the wonders of Babylon; Sardanapalus, Chaldaean astrology.  Vol.I, Book II. Page 457; #31. 
[11] Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XII, Chapter II.
[12] Myrle, Winn. “The Impact of Hellenism On Rome.” The Ancient Nile Webring. n.d.  <http://kekrops.tripod.com/Hellenistic_Files/Impact_On_Rome.html>  Hooker. “Hellenistic Greece:  Hellenism.” Petrucci, Valerio. “Hellenization and Romanization – the Dialogue Between Greek and Roman Cultures in the 1st and 2nd Centuries.” 2017. Academia. <https://www.academia.edu>
[13] Eduljee. “Greek Perceptions of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism & the Magi.”  Leverington. Babylon to Voyager and Beyond – A History of Planetary Astronomy. Chapter 1.
[14] Carroll, Susan S. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.” Pulcherrima Productions.  1997.  Twin Cities Creation Science Association.  n.d. <http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_susan_carroll.pdf>  Phillips, Tony. “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  NASA Science | Science New. 16 May 2000. <http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2000/ast16may_1>  “Birth of Jesus.” Navsoft.com. 2012. <http://navsoft.com/html/birth_of_jesus.html>  Martin.  The Star of Bethlehem. Chapters 1, 4.  Cain, Fraser. “Venus and Jupiter’s Upcoming Conjunction.”   Universe Today.  29 Oct. 2004.  <http://www.universetoday.com/10006/venus-and-jupiters-upcoming-conjunction/#ixzz2B6cvKJEt>  Sielaff, David.  “An Important August 2 B.C.E. Conjunction.”  A.S.K. (Associates For Scriptural Knowledge), 2005. <http://www.askelm.com/news/n051211.htm>  Clevenger, John. “Astronomy, Astrology, and the Star of Bethlehem.”  Lake County (Illinois) Astronomical   Society.  n.d. <http://www.lcas-astronomy.org/articles/display.php?filename=the_christmas_star&category=miscellaneous>  Haley, A. S. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.”  Anglican Curmudgeon.  2009. <http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2009/10/star-of-bethlehem-and-nativity.html>  Newman, Robert C. “The Star of Bethlehem: A Natural-Supernatural Hybrid?”  Interdisciplinary Bible Research Institute.  IBRI Paper (2001).  <http://www.newmanlib.ibri.org/Papers/StarofBethlehem/75starbethlehem.htm>  Beatty, Kelly. “Venus and Jupiter:  Together at Last.” Sky & Telescope. 25 June 2015. <http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/venus-and-jupiter-a-dazzling-duo-062520154>  Ratnikas,  Algis. “Timeline 499BCE – 1BCE.”  Timeslines of History.  n.d. <http://timelines.ws/0D499_1BC.HTML>  Pratt, John P.  “The Star of Bethlehem’s Forerunner.” JohnPratt.com. <http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2000/xmas_star.html>  “Star of Bethlehem May Have Been Planets Jupiter, Venus.”  IU News Room. 16 Dec. 2003.  <http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/1203.html&t=Star%20of%20Bethlehem%20may%20have%20been%20planets%20Jupiter%20and%20Venus>  Mosley, John. “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” Third Quarter 1981, International Planetarium Society, Inc. n.d. <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981>  Flescher, Eric and Sessions, Larry. “Ten ‘Star’ of Bethlehem Myths: Part II.”  Space.com. 26 Dec. 2001. <http://web.archive.org/web/20041205014757/http://space.com:80/SpaceReportersNetworkAstronomyDiscoveries/flescher_Xmasstar2_122601.html>  Cain, Fraser. “Venus-Jupiter Conjunction, March 15th, 2012.”  Universe Today. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.universetoday.com/94113/venus-jupiter-conjunction-march-15th-2012 >  Fazekas, Andrew.  “Christmas Star Mystery Continues.”  National Geographic Daily News. 24 Dec. 2008.  <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/12/081224-star-bethlehem.html
[15] “Trade between the Romans and the Empire of Asia.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm>  National Museum of American History, “Trade Routes” >  “Major Trade Routes of 2nd Century BCE – 1st Century CE.”  <http://web.archive.org/web/20160618154742/http://americanhistory.si.edu:80/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm> “Iran Historical Maps Arsacid Parthian Empire, Armenian Kingdom.” Atlas of Iran Maps. n.d. Iran Politics Club. 2014. <http://iranpoliticsclub.net/maps/maps04/index.htm

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Are Today’s Gospels the Same as the Originals?

Gospel manuscript evidence dates back to the lifetimes of the Disciples with a fragment of Matthew whereas the earliest nearly complete Gospel manuscripts date to about 300 years later.[1] How can there be confidence today’sGospels are the sameas the originals?

Patristics is the science of comparing early Christian writings to Gospel manuscripts to help bridge the gap of the “dark period” – from the originals to the first complete manuscripts. Westcott and Hort, expert Bible textual critics, viewed patristics to be of “the highest degree exceptional” in their comparisons.[2]

Writing about the teachings of Jesus in the form of letters, called “Epistles,” was a common means of written communication by the second and third generation disciples, known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers.[3] Four – Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias – were taught personally by the Apostles, the original Disciples of Jesus.[4]

Within these Epistles appear quoted phrases and verses that correspond with Gospel manuscripts written after them. The premise of patristics is that quotes from the Epistles had to come from older, pre-existing Gospel sources. As such, these Epistles serve as “witnesses” that “attest” or “testify” to the content of older, now non-existent Gospel manuscripts, in some cases quite possibly the originals.[5]  

One, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, was written in Rome to the church in Corinth, Greece, around 96 AD. The Epistle is named for Clement of Rome, the reputed author, who studied under the Apostle Paul and knew Luke, the presumed author of the Gospel bearing his name.[6]

Another is The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians written in Smyrna, Turkey, to the church in Philippi, Greece. Named for its author, Polycarp, he was a disciple of the Apostle John, received instruction from additional Apostles, and met others who had witnessed Jesus. Date of authorship is unknown, but it had to be written before Polycarp’s martyrdom in the arena of Smyrna about 155 AD when he professed to have served his King for 86 years.[7]

An example of how patristics works can be seen using the three verses of Luke 6:36-38 quoted in both the Epistles of Clement Corinthians and Polycarp Philippians whose authors were separated by time and hundreds of miles. Their quotes as compared with two modern Bible translations:[8] 

The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians [9]

“forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as ye do, so shall it be done unto you;

as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; as ye are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you;

with what measure ye mete, with the same it shall be measured to you.”

Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [10]

“Judge not, that ye be not judged;

forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you;

be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy;

with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again…”

King James Version, Luke 6:36-38:

Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful, v36

Judge not and ye shall not be judged…v 37

…forgive and ye shall be forgiven.v37

For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.v38

New American Standard Bible:  Luke 6:36-38:

Be merciful just as your Father is merciful…v36

Do not judge, and you will not be judged…v37

…pardon and you will be pardoned. v37

…For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.v38

Attestations from these Corinthians and Philippians Epistles are not word perfect matches, but neither are the more modern KJV and NASB versions due to translator variations. Both Epistles referenced Luke to support the message of their letters – the quotes were not intended to be a transcription of Luke’s Gospel, yet they match very closely.[11]

Treasure trove of patristic attestation is found in Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) quoting from over 600 verses from all four Gospels and over 300 verses from other New Testament books.[12] Its author, a disciple of Polycarp, was Irenaeus who in later years moved to Lyons, France.[13]

Patristics has a secondary consequence – producing evidence that challenges the theory alleging the Gospels and Christianity evolved from legend over a long period of time.[14] Intuitively, what are the odds both Epistles quoting Luke were accidentally consistent with each other? Or did these authors quote from the same pre-existing Gospel of Luke?

If the Gospels “evolved,” why is their content consistently the same from the beginning until centuries later? The answers can be revealing.

[1]  “The Magdalen Papyrus P64: possibly the earliest known fragments of the New Testament (or of a book!)” University of Oxford | Magdalen College.  30 October 2013. <http://www.magd.ox.ac.uk/libraries-and-archives/treasure-of-the-month/news/magdalen-papyrus>  “The Magdalen P64 Papyrus Fragments of the Gospel of Matthew (Year ~ 50 A.D.).”  Archaeology. <http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/magdalenen.htm>  Smith, Ben C. “Gospel manuscripts – The manuscripts extant for the four canonical gospels.” TextExcavation.com.  13 Jan. 2014. <http://www.textexcavation.com/gospelmanuscripts.html
[2] Westcott, Brooke F. & Hort, John A. The New Testament in the Original Greek. “Introduction.”  CR page 112. https://books.google.com/books?id=0xtVAAAAMAAJ&pg=ACfU3U33CMW3331Vv20NgGvjyOs52I1mlA&vq=%22will+not+be+out+of+place+to+add+here+a+distinct+expression+of+our+belief+that+even+among+the+numerous%22&source=gbs_quotes_r&cad=2_0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[3] Richardson, Cyril C.  “Early Christian Fathers.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <http://eaglemissions.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/fathers.pdf>
[4] Foster, Lewis. “Quotations in the Apostolic Fathers.” The Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary. 1969. Volume XV —  Number  4.  <http://www.dabar.org/SemReview/v15n4-Fathers.htm#N_23_
 [5] “Patristics.”  Merriam-Webster. 2017 <http://www.merriam-webster.com>   Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>  Foster. “Quotations in the Apostolic Fathers.”
[6] Richardson. “Early Christian Fathers.”  Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 13 July 2005.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.i.html>   Schaff.  “Introductory Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.  2005.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.i.html>
[7] Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.”  Kirby, Peter. “The Martyrdom of Polycarp.” Early Christian Writings. 2017. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/martyrdompolycarp.html
[8Kirby, Peter.  “Gospel of Luke.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/luke.html>  Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of Mark.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/mark.html
[9] Clement of Rome (aka Clement I). “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” Classics Ethereal Library. 2005.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.ii.html
[10] Polycarp. “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippian.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iv.ii.html>   Davis, Glen. “Polycarp of Smyrna.”  NTCanon.org. 2008.  <http://www.ntcanon.org/Polycarp.shtml>  Lake, Kirsopp. “Polycarp to the Philippians.” EarlyChristianWritings.com.  <http://earlychristianwritings.com/polycarp.html
[11] Polycarp. “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippian.”
[12] Davis, Glen. “Irenaeus of Lyons.”  NTCanon.org.  25 July 2008.  <http://www.ntcanon.org/Irenaeus.shtml>
[13] Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies.   Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.   <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.i.html> Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Goodspeed, Edgar J., “Irenaeus.  Proof of The Apostolic Preaching.” Ante Nice Fathers.  2014. <http://antenicenefathers.org/irenaeus>  Davis, Glen. “Irenaeus of Lyons.”  Westcott & Hort.  The New Testament in the Original GreekIntroduction; pages 113, 194-195.  Gloag. Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  “General Introduction.” 
  [14] Rochford, James M. “Legend Theory.’ Evidence Unseen. 2017. <http://www.evidenceunseen.com/christ/defending-the-resurrection/1-legend-theory>  Billingsley, Greg. “Alternate Theories To The Resurrection – The Legend Theory.”  2012.  <http://etheology.com/blogs/greg-billingsley/alternate-theories-to-the-resurrection-the-legend-theory>

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

A Simple Way to Check the Integrity of the Gospels

Integrity of the Gospels, for many, is the first step in accepting their believability. Checking the integrity of the Gospels and their story about Jesus can be as simple as comparing one Gospel account to another, a process known as “literary analysis.”[1]

The term sounds intimidating, complicated and boring – not! Almost anyone can do it at a basic level…and it can be very interesting. Chances are, literary analysis in its simplest form is part of a routine personal activity. It happens naturally when reading a text and mentally breaking it down to understand it better such as with books, magazine articles, Internet blogs, instructions, maps, etc.[2]

In the case of the Gospels, literary analysis can be as simple as comparing two or more Gospels for such things as word usage, consistency, theme, and meaning or factual accuracy.[3] Performing any type of comparisons or cross references…that’s basic literary analysis. It does not require the considerable time and effort invested by many experts using scientific methods to evaluate the integrity soundness of the Gospels.

One step is defining the genre of the Gospels, fiction vs. non-fiction. Is their content about real people, places and events (non-fiction) or are the Gospels an invented story (fiction) written for some other entertainment purpose, in this case, requiring collusion between four authors? To help figure it out, a reader can rely on certain commonly recognized literary characteristic guidelines.

In fictions, the characters are not real although they could believably be real people with resemblances to real persons. A fiction can include real places, periods and events as a setting, but the story is always imaginary, artificial, not real. A big clue is the purpose of the author – was the intent to be entertaining, amusing, or enjoyable reading?[4]

Non-fictions, on the other hand, are written with the intent to be informative about real people, places or events based on historical, geographical or biographical facts. Aside from research or reference documents, other non-fictions can reflect the author’s recollection of events or facts quite possibly influenced by their personal experiences.[5] Quotes of real people are inherent non-fiction characteristics where their words can be very revealing in multiple ways.

Another part of literary analysis involves studying the characters in the story. Who are they – their gender, background, age, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, etc.? What did these characters say or how did they behave in various situations such as adversity, conflict, competition, challenges, interaction with others, etc.? Does it ring true – are their behaviors under the various circumstances what is to be expected by a normal person?

Understanding the theme is a key component – what is the central idea of the writing?[6] For the Gospels, is the theme about the chronicles of the birth, life, trial and execution of Jesus in the Judean Roman province – historical? Is the theme to teach Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness – philosophical? Or is the central theme to convey the message of salvation through the resurrection of Jesus – religious?

A very close cousin to literary analysis is known as “textual criticism,” another term that seems intimidating and boring to be reserved only for experts so inclined for such torture – not necessarily true. This is where natural investigative curiosity kicks in…that urge to verify historical, geographical and biographical information to see if it is accurate.[7] For the Gospels, this is multiplied by a factor of 4 setting the highest bar of direct answerability for all the works of antiquity.

Fact checking is very simple today using topical searches on the Internet to find reliable secondary sources such as encyclopedias, historical websites, university library websites – even the original texts of antiquity such as Josephus, Augustus, Suetonius and Tacitus. The more knowledgeable about the subject matter, the better the analysis.

Performing literary analysis and literary criticism of the Gospels are a form of the scientific methodology. First, reading what has been written (observation); then gathering information (evidence, research, intuitive analysis) to identify the premise, the theme (hypothesis); and finally validation to see if it stands up to scrutiny (testing, retesting).[8]

Using a scientific methodology approach allows for repeating the process to gain confidence in the outcome or conclusion. For some, a conclusion one way or the other about the integrity of the Gospels may come quickly; for others it may take longer.

Do the Gospels meet the standard of integrity? In the end, the conclusion will be one reached on a personal level perhaps influenced by opinions, even biases weighed against observations, evaluation and factual accuracy.[9]

Ultimately, if the Gospels are found to be credible non-fictions, then the bigger question becomes – is their central message theme believable?


[1] Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”  Prezi.com. 16 October 2016 <https://prezi.com/ararehyeyma0/literary-analysis-genretonemoodtheme>  Mareghni, Pamela.  “Different Approaches to Literary Criticism.” Ehow.com. 2014.  <http://www.ehow.com/about_5385205_different-approaches-literary-criticism.html  Preble, Laura. “Traditional Literary Criticism.” Ehow.com. 2014.  <http://www.ehow.com/info_8079187_approaches-literary-criticism.html>
[2] Godin, Katherine. “How to Analyze a Literary Passage: A Step-by-Step Guide.” Study.com. 2017. <http://study.com/academy/lesson/how-to-analyze-a-literary-passage-a-step-by-step-guide.html>   Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” 
[3]  Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?” Infomory.com.  August 21, 2011 <http://infomory.com/what-is/what-is-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” 
[4]  Ramlawi. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”  Prabhat S. “Difference Between Fiction and Non fiction.” 2011. DifferenceBetween.net. <http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-fiction-and-non-fiction>   Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?”
[5] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment. <http://edsitement.neh.gov/sites/edsitement.neh.gov/files/worksheets/Critical%20Ways%20of%20Seeing%20The%20Adventures%20of%20Huckleberry%20Finn%20in%20Context%20-%20Introduction%20to%20Literary%20Criticism%20and%20Analysis.pdf>   Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?”
[6] Reade, Dan.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.” Sophia.org. 2017. <https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/selecting-topics-for-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi,. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” 
[7] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment
[8]  Reade.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.”   Jenkins, Rob. “Literary Analysis as Scientific Method.”  The Chronicles of Higher Education. March 6, 2012.  <http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/literary-analysis-as-scientific-method/30565>   “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment.
[9]  Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.