Possible worlds literary theory and the gospel narratives :|btruth, reference, and the reading experience : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English Literature at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
This thesis is an experimental application of possible worlds literary theory to the four Gospel
narratives found in the Bible. I argue that modelling the Gospel narratives as “possible worlds”
enables the questions about reference, genre, and ontology to be revisited in a productive way.
While the Gospels have typically been understood by narrative critics as being self-referential, a
possible worlds model promotes a more holistic approach which takes into consideration the
claims that these narratives make on the actual world of reality. To ignore these claims, I argue,
is to misinterpret the function of biblical narrative. Once we understand the Gospels as
autonomous modal systems, the “textual actual world” (the centre of the modal system) offers a
place where readers can recenter to and “actualise” the possible states of affairs represented by
the narrator. In this way, the sender’s instructions are not transgressed, and successful narrative
communication can take place. Upon de-immersion, however, it is also possible to consider the
compatibility of the four worlds projected by the text with the reader’s native world. Accordingly,
in this thesis I suggest that modelling the Gospel narratives as possible worlds allows for a clearer
definition of the type of worlds the Gospels project, as well as offering a sophisticated theory of
reference that is fitting with how readers both intuitively and critically engage with texts.