Reading Strategies: What are the Gospels, Propaganda and Counter Propaganda?

If you are learning about Jesus, one question that comes up is what genre are the gospels that tell his story?

It’s often questioned what genre the gospels are, and the answer usually falls somewhere on the spectrum between ancient biography, and historical fiction.  In fact, the sense of the gospel is actually Ancient Propaganda, which is what Gospel means.

For example, Robert Price cites Randel Helms that:

The syncretic flavor of Mark is at once evident from his reproduction of a piece of Augustan imperial propaganda and his setting it beside a tailored scripture quote. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” closely matches the formula found on a monument erected by the Provincial Assembly in Asia Minor (1st century BCE): “Whereas… Providence… has… brought our life to the peak of perfection in giving us Augustus Caesar… who, being sent to us and to our descendants as a savior…, and whereas… the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel (euaggelion) concerning him, let all reckon a new era beginning from the date of his birth.” (Helms, p. 24)

We also see this with ancient coins.  Michael P Theophilos comments:

Greek inscriptions on coinage contribute to lexicography. New Testament use of the word ΣΩΤΗΡOΣ (saviour) is an attempt to undermine an array of political propaganda within the Greco-Roman world (Lk 2:11; Acts 13:23; Phil 3:20 etc).

This problem is specifically outlined in the dense passage of Mark 15:10-15, a passage dis-closing the hidden vileness of the easily incited crowd, the hidden jealousy of the religious elite, and the utter lack of commitment to justice of crowd-placating Pilate, breaking Roman law, who releases Barrabas, a known killer of Romans, but who tortures and executes Jesus without a confession or having found that Jesus did anything wrong.


(1) When you are reading something with big and unusual words, what strategies can you use to understand the text?

(2) Imagine you have a brother or sister who is one year younger than you. Rewrite the above text so it would be easier for them to understand it.

(3) What is propaganda and what is it trying to do? Give some historical examples.