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The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark Hardcover – May, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300080123
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300080124
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,470,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"MacDonald shows parallels between Homer and Mark so extensive that a relationship of dependence, conscious or unconscious, must be assumed. This is a radical thesis with great implications for the understanding of the gospels." William Hansen, Indiana University "MacDonald's conclusion that the author of the gospel of Mark in many significant places is imitating Homer poses a profound challenge to current scholarship on the history of early Christianity and the historical Jesus." Mary A. Tolbert, Pacific School of Religion

About the Author

Dennis R. MacDonald is John Wesley Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Claremont School of Theology and co-director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at the Claremont Graduate University. He is the author of Christianizing Homer and The Legend and the Apostle.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Perry Willis on April 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Greco-Roman students were taught to compose texts through a process called mimesis. This involved copying and transforming Greek classics such as the Illiad and the Odyssey into new stories. There are many examples of this, from plays to epic poems to novels and shorter works. The Gospel of Mark was written in Greek. It is therefore, natural to ask, was Mark composed through mimesis?
It turns out that it was. Nearly every event in Mark is a sequential reflection of either the Illiad or the Odyssey, but with a twist. The author of Mark has retold Greek stories in order to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus to the Greek heroes. Thus, wherever a Greek hero failed Jesus succeeds. MacDonald also demonstrates that a similar process can be found in the Book of Acts and the non-biblical Acts of Andrew.
Mark was not writing history, he was writing propaganda. Moreover, he apparently did this with no intention to deceive. He left clues in his work designed to point readers to the source of his themes. Have you ever wondered why Jesus cursed a fig tree for failing to bear fruit, even though it was out of season? Have you ever pondered who the young man was who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested? The answer to both mysteries is that they were flags indicating to the reader that the author was drawing his plot devices from the epic.
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49 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Richard Spencer on November 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If we were to count all of the examples MacDonald gives to demonstrate that the author of Mark used Homeric epics as literary models, they'd number around 100. Explaining all of these instances away is, as the author demonstrates, hardly possible.

What I found particularly fascinating about this book is the way Homeric literary models explain characteristics of Mark that were otherwise enigmatic. For example, why did Jesus intend to pass his disciples by when he was walking on the water? For that matter, how did Jesus see his discples on the boat at night when he was on top of a mountain? Why did the Roman centurion call Jesus the son of God? MacDonald answers these questions and more.

I originally wondered why this book costs so much. After reading it, it appears to me that there are at least two reasons. First, MacDonald's contributions are revolutionary. His research is no doubt extensive. In other words, this book is valuable. Second, perhaps charging $40+ limits the amount of people reading the book exclusively for the purpose of debunking it. I'm sure MacDonald is aware people will criticize his conclusions, but the price helps makes sure those people who are legitimately interested in New Testament scholarship--not just apologetics--will read it.

So if you're one of those people interested in New Testament scholarship, I don't think your view of Mark will be the same after reading this book. Don't miss it.
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49 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Home Gamer on January 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book.
Mr.MacDonald has compared the Gospel of Mark with Homer's The Odyssey,and it really looks like he's made a connection. One reviewer calls the parallels "vague," but I didn't see it that way. There are many similarities. In fact, there are so many similarities, not just in what the characters do and say, but in the exact order they take place. Sometimes the narratives switch from 3rd to 1st person in the exact same spot! If all these are simply coincidences, there sure are alot of them. The author, Dennis MacDonald, has previously written about other books that use the ancient practice of "textual mimesis" (copying from one text to another), and the Book of Mark seems to have done the same. This idea may be difficult for people who want to believe that the Scriptures are recorded history, but this book casts serious doubts about that. I had never heard of textual mimesis before, but it seems to make alot of sense, and was apparently commonplace in the ancient world.
Either MacDonald is completely mistaken, or he has really done his homework. You should read this book and make up your own mind.
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39 of 50 people found the following review helpful By T. Simmons on January 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
and so does MacDonald. This book will either change your perception of the gospel story or further bolster your faith in it. Those who can will read it and weigh it for the content and not for what it does to the Christian myth.
A note to those unfamiliar with Mr. J.P. Holding... he attacks anything that doesn't fit his preconceived ideas of Christianity and his "review" here is classic "Robert Turkel" (his real name).
The idea that "Mark" used content from the Odyssey and the Iliad to help him create his gospel is a relatively new (several years) idea but clearly, there is no doubt of it. One great example of mimesis (although not specifically Homeric) is when MacDonald exposes the source behind Jesus renaming James and John to the "Sons of Thunder". In Antiquity, the mythical twins, Castor and Polydeuces, were referred to as the sons of Zeus or boys of Zeus and we all remember that Zeus was a god of thunder. These twins were often depicted on coins, art, etc. as being on the left and right of a deity and they always were seen as a team and mostly referred to as "Castor and Polydeuces" in that order. What did James and John ask Jesus in Mark?
Mark 36 And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" 37 They said to Him, "Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory."
Also, in Mark, James and John are referred to as "James and John" always in that order except for once. Of course, without reading the book and more detailed analysis, one could dismiss this as mere coincidence. Read this book! It is not coincidence.
This idea is going to change Biblical scholarship and explode the myth that the gospels are historically reliable.
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