The Synoptic Problem? An Old Testament Perspective -- By: Gary N. Knoppers

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 19:1 (NA 2009)
Article: The Synoptic Problem? An Old Testament Perspective
Author: Gary N. Knoppers

The Synoptic Problem? An Old Testament Perspective

Gary N. Knoppers

The Pennsylvania State University

Author’s note : An earlier version of this essay was originally delivered as the Old Testament address to the 2006 annual meeting of the Institute for Biblical Research. I wish to thank William Arnold for his insightful remarks in his official response to my paper. Many thanks also to my colleague Paul B. Harvey Jr. for his many helpful comments on and suggestions about an earlier version of this essay. Abbreviations of ancient Greek and Roman works follow those used by the Oxford Classical Dictionary (ed. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth; 3rd ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) xxix–liv.

The synoptic phenomenon is neither a uniquely NT issue nor a new issue, because there are many parallel stories, laws, and poems in the Hebrew Bible/OT. This study examines the literary technique of imitatio or mimesis in the classical and ancient Near Eastern worlds to see what the employment of this technique may tell us about why ancient writers reused, retold, and expanded select older works and how their early audiences may have understood these parallel stories. After discussing the esteem with which ancient writers viewed the accomplishments of earlier ages and defining what the technique of literary imitation is and is not (e.g., epitomization, inner-biblical exegesis, rewritten Bible), this article proceeds to discuss various dangers and disputes in the application of mimesis in the context of the ancient Mediterranean world (e.g., parody, plagiarism). The article concludes that study of creative imitation holds much promise for elucidating the significance of parallel laws, poems, lists, and stories in the Old and New Testaments. Scholars can gain an added appreciation of the literary craft practiced by the authors of synoptic Scriptures through an acute awareness of the techniques by which writers reworked, rewrote, and supplemented their sources.

Key Words: antiquarianism, archaism, biblical interpretation, canon, epitome, hermeneutics, inner-biblical exegesis, mimesis, rewritten Bible, scribal education, Synoptic Problem

A common question put to me by students in introductory OT/Hebrew Bible classes is “Why does Deuteronomy start all over again and repeat so much of what is said in Exodus and Numbers?” When we get to the Chronicler’s work in our survey, a common question is “Why did the Chronicler decide to write another history in addition to that of Samuel– Kings?” Similarly, when I teach a course entitled “Jewish and Christian

Foundations,” a very common question is “Why are there four gospels in the NT and not...

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