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The First Biography of Jesus
Genre and Meaning in Mark's Gospel
HARDCOVER; Published: 4/30/2020
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7460-3
Price: $ 47.99
336 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 6 x 9
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Reading the gospels as ancient biographies makes a profound difference in the way we interpret them. Biography immortalizes the memory of the subject, creating a literary monument to the person’s life and teaching. Yet it is also a bid to legitimize a specific view of that figure and to position the author and the audience as appropriate “gatekeepers” of that memory. Furthermore, biography is well suited to the articulation of shared values and commitments, the formation of group identity, and the binding together of a past story, present concerns, and future hopes. 

Helen Bond argues that Mark’s author uses the genre of biography—while both utilizing and subverting its literary conventions—to extend the proclamation from an earlier narrow focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus to include his way of life. The First Biography of Jesus shows how this was a bold step in outlining a radical form of Christian discipleship, one patterned on the life and death of Jesus.

Table of Contents

The Present Volume
Time, Place and Author
Chapter 1 - Mark as a bios
From the Ancients to Votaw
The Eclipse of Biography
A Jewish Background?
The Return of Graeco-Roman Biography
The Last 25 Years
Chapter 2 - Ancient bioi
The Emergence of Biography
Biography and Morality
Depictions of Death
Biographical Fact and Fiction
The Preserve of the Elite?
Sub-Groups and Sub-Types?
Chapter 3 - Mark the Biographer
Profile of a Biographer
Mark’s Christian Readers
Mark’s Structure
Pre-Markan Tradition
Authorial Voice
Chapter 4 - A Life of Jesus
Mark’s Opening Section (1:1-15)
Temptation and Resolve
Jesus in Galilee (1:16-8:21)
Teaching on Discipleship (8:22-10:52)
Jerusalem (11:1-13:44)
Imitation of Jesus
Jesus’ Appearance
Chapter 5 - Other Characters
Peripheral Characters
Markan Intercalations – a form of synkrisis?
“King Herod”
The High Priest/Pilate
The Twelve
“Minor Characters”
Chapter 6 - The Death of Jesus
A Slave’s Death
Setting up an Ending
King of the Jews
Events Around Jesus’ Death
The Disappearance of the Body

Final Reflections

Jesus Creed Book Award in New Testament Studies (2020)
“This is a beautifully crafted study that soundly explores the Gospel of Mark and probes its meanings, written by one of the world’s most eminent scholars in the field. In taking its genre seriously, Bond demonstrates that the Gospel’s curious characteristics fall into place. Mark is an innovative work, recrafting the Jesus tradition into a form that would serve as a model for discipleship. With this insight in place, Bond takes the reader through the world of ancient ‘lives’ to this one, allowing us to see the Gospel with fresh eyes, to admire both its literary craft and its message.”
— Joan Taylor
King’s College London
“Despite the now widely held view that Mark’s Gospel is an ancient biography, few Markan scholars have explored the narrative-critical implications of this genre. In this groundbreaking work full of fresh insights, Helen Bond skillfully redresses that deficiency and shows how reading Mark’s Gospel as ancient biography can fruitfully inform how we understand its message.”
— Craig S. Keener
Asbury Theological Seminary, author of Christobiography
“With characteristic insight and clarity, Helen Bond places Mark's Gospel in the company of other ancient lives of philosophers. The result is a fascinating reading of Mark's Gospel as a bios that both reflects and subverts the literary conventions of that genre, all in light of its intent focus on its protagonist, Jesus of Nazareth. Bond's considerable achievement is to hold in tension both the narrative world of the Gospel and the social and historical circumstances of its first-century readers, demonstrating not simply how to read Mark as a bios, but what difference it made, and makes.”
— Chris Keith
St Mary's University, Twickenham
“In her well written study Helen Bond makes a strong case for reading Mark’s Gospel as an ancient biography. Her careful analysis of ancient bioi shows why the genre of the gospels matters. Moreover, Mark’s Gospel is approached from a literary as well as a historical perspective to demonstrate that the work was written by a creative and learned author who provides a vivid portrait of Jesus. This study opens up a fresh reading of Mark which overcomes less-helpful alternatives of previous scholarship.”
— Jens Schröter
Humboldt University Berlin
Review of Biblical Literature
“Bond’s study is meticulously researched, beautifully written, and provocatively argued. If her goal is to draw out the meaning of reading Mark as a life of Jesus, then she delivers.”
“As in the rest of her work, Bond matches her excellent scholarship with accessible and understandable communication. In beautifully clear prose, which reflects the book’s handsome production, Helen Bond has made a significant contribution to the dilemma that she herself identified at the start: ‘what it means to say that Mark’s gospel is an ancient biography.’”
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
“Raises many important questions vis-à-vis contemporary Gospel genre study.”
Evangelical Quarterly
“Bond makes an important contribution to Markan and more broadly, to Gospel