“Otho”: A Targeted Comparison Of Suetonius’s Biography And Tacitus’s “History”, With Implications For The Gospels’ Historical Reliability -- By: Craig S. Keener
Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 21:3 (NA 2011)
Article: “Otho”: A Targeted Comparison Of Suetonius’s Biography And Tacitus’s “History”, With Implications For The Gospels’ Historical Reliability
Author: Craig S. Keener
BBR 21:3 (2011) p. 331
“Otho”: A Targeted Comparison Of Suetonius’s Biography And Tacitus’s “History”, With Implications For The Gospels’ Historical Reliability
Asbury Theological Seminary
A majority of scholars today recognize that the Gospels are ancient biographies. This recognition has implications for our valuation of the information content in the Gospels. Biographies written as soon after the subject’s life as the Gospels normally include substantial historical information. The biographies of the later emperors in Suetonius offer a reasonable test case. Comparing Suetonius’s biography of Otho with information about Otho in Tacitus’s Histories, as well as Plutarch’s biographies of Galba and Otho, confirms that Suetonius, whatever his other agendas, did not invent material freely but depended heavily on preexisting historical information.
Key Words: Otho, biographies, Gospels as biographies, historical reliability, Tacitus, Suetonius, Plutarch
A growing majority of scholars today recognize that the Gospels are ancient biographies.1 Because many others have argued that the Gospels are biographies and I have developed that thesis elsewhere, I will take those points for granted for the purposes of this article rather than seeking to reestablish them here.2 Viewing the Gospels as biographies invites discussion
BBR 21:3 (2011) p. 332
of whether this assignment of genre leads us to expect substantial historical information in them. I have suggested elsewhere that it does but must demonstrate that point with more detailed evidence about ancient biography here.3
In this article, I therefore focus more specifically on the most relevant ancient analogy for this question: would ancient readers expect substantial historical information in biographies from the first two generations after the person they describe? To rehearse the genre of the Gospels or their correspondence with their sources would consume considerable space simply to review what has been argued elsewhere.4 Instead, I offer here a new contribution to the discussion by surveying one of the most relevant test cases to establish that ancient biographers did intend to recount historical information.
Suetonius and Plutarch are the key extant examples of biographers from the early Empire.5 This brief comparison of elements in Suetonius’s biography of a recent figure with his contemporary Tacitus’s hist...
Click here to subscribe