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on May 13, 2015
Dennis R. MacDonald (Claremont School of Theology) offers in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark a daring proposal to explain the style and origins of the Gospel of Mark: Mark was written, not with history in mind, but rather Homer’s epic The Odyssey and thus constructed the life of Jesus to mirror (and in some cases succeed) the trials of the heroic Odysseus. The reason to think this, according to MacDonald, is that, for the ancient world, the writings of Homer were “the” textbook within the Greco-Roman education system and because of this, Homer would have naturally exercised an influence within the writings of the gospels, from their symbolism, themes, and even narratives. This is not to say that Mark was not influenced by the Hebrew Bible, but rather that Mark’s narrative about Jesus as a Hebrew hero was only enhanced by the storytelling borrowed from The Odyssey and the ending of The Iliad. In short, Jesus is the Hebrew Hero for a Hellenistic world.

MacDonald calls this school of thought “mimesis criticism” and spends Chapter One establishing the background behind this concept and the various forms of criteria employed for discerning mimicking, namely: (1) Accessibility, (2) Analogy, (3) Density, (4) Order, (5) Distinctive Traits, and (6) Interpretability. According to MacDonald, Mark is mimicking The Odyssey and pairs Jesus with Odysseus, Jesus’s disciples with Odysseus’s crew, and the Jewish authorities with Penelope’s suitors. In looking at the parallels, MacDonald teases out these numerous similarities between the Gospel of Mark and The Odyssey within the following chapters. A selection of these parallels presented by MacDonald are: Jesus and Odysseus both being carpenters and kings who undergo much suffering; the stilling of the storm story with the story of Odysseus and Aeolus’s bag of winds; the exorcising of the Gerasene demoniac with the story of cyclops Polyphemus; the murder of John the Baptist with the murder of Agamemnon; the two feeding stories with the two feasts prepared for Telemachus; the response of Peter to the transfiguration of Jesus with Telemachus’s first meeting with his father Odysseus; and the figure of blind Bartimaeus with the blind Teiresias.

All throughout the The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark MacDonald matches up scenes from The Odyssey and the Gospel of Mark and demonstrates some of the striking common features within the stories, as well as their parallel language and imagery. However, while on the surface MacDonald’s thesis seems rather ingenious, the further one gets into studying The Odyssey, the more and more problems start to arise. Some of the comparisons come across as extremely forced and even far fetched at times. For example, MacDonald’s comparison of Odysseus’ “untriumphal entry” into the city of the Phaeacians with that of Jesus’s into Jerusalem are not remotely alike. Another example is the death of Jesus with the death of Hector in The Iliad, as Hector dies a hero in combat and Jesus dies a criminal on a cross. While the differences from Mark and Homer are the point at times, according to MacDonald, sometimes these differences are simply too great to be convincing. Of course, this is not to say that MacDonald’s thesis should not be taken seriously. There are some scenes within the Gospel of Mark that make perfect sense with MacDonald’s thesis. The ones that struck me the most was the behavior of the disciples, the calming of the storm on the sea of Galilee, and request of the body of Jesus by Joseph, and others. Some of the similarities these stories share with the writings of Homer are simply not coincidences, as MacDonald demonstrates with superb scholarship.

Though the thesis presented by MacDonald can be rather dense at times, the book itself is not very big and could be enjoyed by anyone with a working knowledge of Homer and Mark. MacDonald writes in a very approachable manner and each chapter provides enough details to understand his arguments but not allow the reader to get lost. While not always convincing, his presentation as a whole is very compelling. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark adds another striking layer to the study of early Christianity, one which further fleshes out the wide and complex cultural matrix from which the Gospel tradition emerged. One cannot deny that MacDonald has presented a unique perspective, one that would completely transform the way New Testament scholars study the Gospel of Mark.

The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark is certainly a must read!
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on October 26, 2013
To learn that the first gospel, the gospel of Mark is, in some parts, likely an imitation or rework of Homer's Odyssey and Illiad is quite a revelation.
Honestly, I haven't read the entire book. Once I saw that there were excerpts where the author put the section from the Odyssey right next to the section of the Bible that was copied or adapted from it I just flipped through and looked at all those examples and was convinced.
I had already read Bart Ehrman's "Jesus, Interrupted" and just didn't want to waste anymore time reading about this crap (10 years is long enough)!

Some of the examples are debatable- that is to say that when you look at the Homeric excerpt and the Mark excerpt next to each other you think, well, "That one there is a bit of a reach- I'm not convinced- I'll flip ahead and look for more convincing examples."- and you do find them. Some are almost word for word (if I remember correctly, some are actually word for word).

Did you ever wonder how the little Sea (Lake) of Galilee could be so windy, rough and violent like an ocean?
The reason the "Sea" of Galilee was so rough and windy and violent like an ocean - and the reason the disciples were scared- is because it is a retelling from Homer's Odyssey where the men on the boat opened a "bag of wind" and it caused a storm and they were fearful.

I love how the author of Mark (who I suspect was probably a Roman writing in the Egyptian library of Alexandria) intentionally left clues for readers to show that he borrowed from Homer. The best example is "James and John- called "Boangeres (The Sons Of Thunder")"...

As all of us reading this know, the Bible was compiled by the Catholic church at the council of Nicea in 325 AD.
I think that teaching meekness and contentment in all things and crucifying your life's desires and your pride and aspirations is a GENIUS mind control program if you are the elite of Rome in 325AD and you want to keep all the serfs unified behind submissiveness and "contentment".

We know that Emperor Constantine wanted to unite his empire behind one religion- and he did.
He also remained a worshipper of his pagan sun gods and did not become a Christian.

I saw a youtbue video that claims that the Bible originally contained aspects of the spiritual teachings found in eastern religions, such as uniting your heart and mind with your faith and THEN you "can move mountains" (I believe it is the gospel of Thomas that contains that). That video also claimes that the council of Nicea edited and condensed 20 books of the Bible and completely removed 25. Also there is apparently a record of Jesus in India.
So there is much to investigate.

Also, I highly recommend Bart Ehrman's "Jesus, Interrupted". It will de-convert you from the (uninformed) belief in total inerrancy in the bible, but if you do get this Homeric Epics book that should de-convert you immediately in one dose from a belief that the Bible is literal and inerrant.
And it might de-convert you ALMOST all the way if you have a knee-jerk reaction like I did due to feeling duped into believing all this stuff for a lifetime. The completeness of your de-conversion will depend upon:
1. The intensity of your emotional reaction to being duped and lied to/programmed as a helpless child.
2. How deeply and thoroughly you have programmed your mind with the Bible (all that stuff sticks around in your mind and makes you wonder "What if I'm wrong", but this book helps A LOT with being able to rationalize all that old brainwashing away with facts).

I do not believe that disproving the inerrancy of the Bible disproves God.
It disproves the inerrancy/inspiration of much of the book of Mark and the Gospels based upon it.

See Bart Ehrman's book for proof that biblical scholars have known for 150 years that 5 or 6 of the 13 Pauline Letters are forged by unknown writers. This includes scholars who are Christians! The difference in writing styles is so obvious that they cannot deny it.

What is interesting is that Matthew and Luke are based on Mark, but they add sayings of Jesus from a lost source that Biblical Scholars call "Q" (which stands for a German word which means "Source")...
While this book gives convincing evidence that many parts of Mark appear to be based on Homer, I do wonder about those sayings from Q that are contained in Matthew and Luke. But then you've got the issue of Matthew and Luke disagreeing with each on the method of relocating Mary and Joseph... did they make that huge trek for a census or was it because Herod was killing infants (which there is no historical record of)?

Jesus thought that religion was a big fake hypocritical show.
Jesus hated empty heartless ritualistic religion so much that it was the one thing that made Him mad.
I agree.
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on April 28, 2015
I find MacDonald's argument intriguing but not convincing. Certainly fascinating regardless of whether I agree or disagree with his thesis.
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on January 27, 2004
The main premise of this well written book is that the author of Mark had used the Iliad and the Odyssus as a type of template for the Gospel of Mark.
In the first chapter Mr. MacDonald sets up the criteria he uses to support his ideas. These are accessibility, analogy, density, order, distinctiveness, and interpretability. Using these criteria, Mr. MacDonald than goes on to compare the Homeric Epics with the Marcian Gospel. He does this with great respect for both works.
I greatly enjoyed the parallels that he drew but was personally not always sure I understood when he was using which criteria until I read the last chapter. I wondered, at times, if a scholar with the insights and abilities of a Mr. MacDonald could compare any great work with the lengthy Homeric Epics and find equally compelling parallels. I also wondered if we were just seeing the same themes in both works being repeated in Jungian fashion. Despite these doubts I did feel that Mr. MacDonald had indeed uncovered some fascinating parallells.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on foolish companions. Like Odysseus, Jesus's companions continued to behave foolishly and display doubts. How many miracles does it take before the disciples understand what is happening? Why do the disciples wonder how Jesus can feed four thousand after having fed the five thousand and performing numerous other miracles? This book gives a new explanation for the disciples' odd behaviors. I am now convinced that there was, at the very least, some subconscious use of the Homeric Epics by the author of Mark.
I have certainly developed a new appreciation for the Gospel of Mark. This alone made the book worth reading. The connections to the Homeric Epics made the book all the more fascinating for me.
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on January 30, 2015
Interesting read.
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on December 9, 2006
MacDonald's book on Mark and Homer recalls (to my mind) Darwin's "Origin of Species." How so? Well, just as Darwin used inductive reasoning based on observation to suggest family resemblences and lineages among species, MacDonald does the same with Mark and Homer. In other words, MacDonald suggests that Homer functions as a kind of literary South America to Mark's literary Galapogos. MacDonald is saying, in essence, that some of the "birds" (stories) on Mark's literary island evolved from some of Homer's "birds" (stories). MacDonald then takes the reader carefully through his evidence, noting family resemblences, and he does this thoroughly. It is an extremely impressive achievement. After reading MacDonald's book, I read the first ten chapters of the "Odyssey" to see if I could imagine Mark really drawing on Homer in generating at least some of his stories about Jesus. I read Robert Fagles highly praised translation. I imagined myself as Mark living in a Greek city, meditating on news of the recent destruction of Jerusalem, and opening the Odyssey for solace or distraction. To my delight and surprise, I could see Jesus in the opening description of Odysseus and could imagine an author making connections and contrasts between the two characters. Odysseus is described in the opening of the Odyssey this way: ". . . many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea, fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home." And he is opposed by "blind fools" who might have escaped destruction if they had listened to him. Homer's poetic quality suggests (at least to me) a resonance with the Christian aspiration, and the author of Mark may have had a similar experience, provoking his imagination, and ultimately his pen. It certainly struck me, for example, that Penelope's suitors resemble the way Jesus' opponents talk. And Circe's dialogue with Odysseus recalls the Gadarene demoniac's dialogue with Jesus. Also, Auolus' bag of winds unleashing a storm could certainly have been Mark's inspiration for his own story about Jesus and his discples in a storm. Lastly, I noticed at least two places (in the first ten chapters of the Odyssey) where gods walk on water. There is certainly something going on between Mark and Homer, and MacDonald has done an admirable job teasing out relationships.
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on January 30, 2015
Interesting hypothesis
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on May 24, 2016
Excellent. Should be required reading in any literature, history, religion or bible study course.
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on January 3, 2003
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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on September 23, 2014
I found the book a bit on the "dry" side. The argument made by the author did not seem pertinent to me. Others may feel differently.
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