To blend separate tones into a
chord. Term used in biblical studies for blending two or more pericopes
into a composite version, preserving characteristic elements from each.
Harmonizing represents a natural tendency of the human mind to resolve discord
by drawing contrasting elements into a balanced composition. It is the
opposite of analyzing: separating a composition into its constituent parts.
The harmonizing of different
sources is evident in the composition of the synoptic gospels themselves. It
occurs at every level of transmission of the gospel texts, especially after
the churches adopted a 4 gospel canon in the mid-2nd c. CE.
familiar with one version of a saying or story, who were copying a parallel
account in another gospel, sometimes altered details of the second to agree
with the former.
There are four types of
harmonizing: radical, synthetic, sequential & parallel.
variant details in one text by replacing them with preferred
wording drawn from another version. Radical harmonizing tends to produce a
uniform official version of a saying or story in separate gospels.
harmonizing expands a
text by adding details from one account to another to produce a conflated
version that is not identical with either of the sources. A
synthetic version is most evident when compared with other texts that
alternate between some of the elements it combines.
two or more versions of the same material as separate incidents in
the same narrative. This produces repetitions of sayings & stories
that literary critics call "doublets."
two or more versions of the same account side by side in a synopsis for
easy comparison. This type of gospel harmony highlights both the
similarities & the differences of the versions of a pericope
& is the basic tool of modern gospel scholarship.
The composition of gospel
harmonies is as ancient as the textual evidence itself. One of the oldest
surviving papyrus fragments to mention Jesus (known as Egerton
2) is from an unknown gospel that included controversies paralleled only in the gospel of John
with stories echoed only in the synoptics. Whether this text conflated written
or oral sources is uncertain.
however, quoted gospel passages in a harmonized version of Matthew & Luke
(and perhaps Mark), that was probably based on a written text.
Justin's disciple, Tatian
produced the Diatesseron,
a harmonized story of Jesus based on 4 or 5 gospels, which for several
centuries was preferred in many circles to the canonical gospels themselves.
Even church leaders who
rejected the Diatesseron produced their own harmonizing tools. Eusebius
of Caesarea attempted
to resolve the obvious discrepancy between the chronology of the synoptics
& John. Augustine's
influential Consensus of the Gospels minimized discrepancies between
the synoptic accounts in favor of Matthew's version. The Lutheran reformer, Andreas
Osiander, composed a Gospel
Harmony that wove all the differences of the 4 gospels into an expanded
composition that did not omit a single detail. If narrative sequence or
substance prevented passages from being conflated into a single account (synthetic
Osiander simply included all versions (sequential
The process of harmonizing
material from different sources is particularly prevalent in an oral culture.
Since the human memory normally files things by motif, similar material is
easily confused. The reading of passages with similar themes from different
gospels in the same liturgical season also leads to harmonized interpretations
of the text. Thus, elements of Matthew's birth story are blended with details
from Luke in Christmas celebrations.
Scholars whose research is
devoted to establishing the original form of a tradition generally
regard all types of harmonies (except gospel
parallels) as later distortions. Given the innate tendency of the human mind to create harmonies,
an unharmonized version of a saying, story, or text is probably
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