Book Report: Homeric Epics and Mark Dennis

Pages: 9 (2860 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] They had invited the king to a feast and "then cut me down as a man cuts down some ox" (McDonald, p. 79). In Chapter 10, Mark's tales of the two feasts for thousands may have been based on popular legends, miracle stories, the miraculous feeding of the Israelites in the desert or the miracles of Elisha, but McDonald also finds parallels in the great feasts of King Nestor at Pylos and King Menelaus at Sparta, which Homer also wrote as a doublet. Mark also intended this to be a contrast with "boorish greed" of Penelope's suitors (McDonald, p. 85).

Other miracles of Jesus described in Chapters 11 and 12 have their parallels in the Odyssey, as does the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in Chapter 13. In the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John see the true nature of Jesus with Moses and Elijah beside him, but no others knew this secret. Similarly, when Odysseus returned home to Ithaca, only his god Argus and his nurse Eurycleia knew who he really was, but later he undergoes a miraculous "transfiguration to his son Telemachus" (McDonald, p. 92). Jesus's healing of the two blind men in Mark, which he compares to the spiritual blindness of his disciples, is similar to the story of the blind seer Tiresias in the Odyssey, who tells Odysseus that "you have sight, but cannot see what trouble you're in" (McDonald, p. 98). Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, just as Odysseus entered the city of the Phaeacians, and his cleansing of the Temple resembled the killing of the suitors by Odysseus. In Chapter 14 a woman anoints Jesus with oil and dries his feet with her hair, just as Eurycleia washes the feet of Odysseus and "anointed him richly with oil" (McDonald, p. 119).

In preparation for the Last Supper and ultimately his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples to follow a man carrying a jar of water, who will lead them to the upper room. As McDonald notes in Chapter 15, Jesus already knew that Judas had gone to betray him as soon as the woman anointed him with oil from the alabaster jar (McDonald, p. 120). In Odyssey 10, Odysseus followed a girl drawing water, only to discover that his men were about to be eaten for supper by cannibals. When he got back to Ithaca, he was without food or clothing, but saw a woman washing clothes and received help from her. In Chapter 16, the Last Supper of Jesus had its parallel in the Odyssey when Odysseus ate with his men before going temporarily into Hades (McDonald, p. 129).

According to McDonald, Chapters 17-21, Mark reworked the Iliad story of the death of Hector and the return of his body to King Priam in to the Passion story of Jesus. Obviously there was no scene like the trial before Pontius Pilate in the Iliad, so Mark had to have obtained that information from some other source, no matter how unlikely such conversations between a Roman aristocrat and a Jewish peasant leader might have been in reality. McDonald notes in Chapter 17 that like Jesus, both Achilles and Hector knew they were going to die in the Trojan War, and for Achilles a short life full of honor and glory was preferable to a long and obscure one (McDonald, p. 132). This philosophy is completely alien to that of Jesus, as McDonald admits, but he asserts that Mark was deliberately attempting to invert Homer's message, since he had Jesus die for all of humanity rather than for personal glory and everlasting fame. In Chapter 18, he denies that Mark "inherited a written source narrating Jesus' death" but finds eleven parallels between the death and burial of Hector and the story of Jesus (McDonald, p, 135). In Chapter 19, he also finds a similarity between Priam and Joseph of Arimathea begging for the bodies of the heroes from Achilles and Pilate, and that in the Iliad "the gods decided…against Achilles defilement of Hector by enabling Priam to ransom his body" (McDonald, p. 148). In the Iliad, Zeus intervenes with Thetis, the mother of Achilles, to influence her son, while Mary the mother of Jesus was also present at the crucifixion and resurrection.

As McDonald points out in Chapters 20 and 21, no exact parallel exits in the Iliad for the revival or resurrection of Jesus, although he mentions that the Trojan women lamented at the funeral of Hector, as did Mary and the other women at the death of Jesus. Achilles' mutilation of the body was a very common theme in ancient art and literature, as was the image of Priam approaching him to claim Hector's remains (McDonald, p. 161). Hector's tomb would contain his remains forever, as McDonald notes in Chapter 21, and Achilles warns Priam, "nor will you raise him up" through tears and pleading (McDonald, p. 162). No one ever returned from Hades, and none of the disciples recognized the resurrected Jesus when he first appeared to them. To the women who saw the empty tomb, he appeared as a young boy or perhaps and angel, and McDonald believes this youth resembles the dead boy Elpenor, who communicated with Odysseus from beyond the grave about his body being left unburied. His only message to the women is to inform the disciples that the Master has risen and gone to Galilee, but McDonald finds an implication that they failed to do so and that the Christians remained in Jerusalem, even up to the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (McDonald, p. 163).


While McDonald's thesis is very interesting and he strains to find common ground between Mark and the Homeric classics, in truth there is no real direct evidence that Mark borrowed from the Iliad and the Odyssey or even that he was familiar with them. For that matter, no one really knows who Mark was, including whether he was Greek or Jewish, or whether he was living in Rome, Palestine or Egypt when he wrote the gospel. McDonald claims his true identity is not particularly important, but also notes that the Greek physician Luke might well have been more familiar with the classics than a Judean peasant follower of Jesus -- if in fact that is who Mark really was. Certainly the more educated church fathers like Augustine and Clement of Alexandria were quite familiar with classical literature and referred to it, but so far no one has produced a book claiming that the educated Greek Luke ever borrowed from Homer in his gospel. Luke and Matthew are known to have borrowed from Mark, but their allusions to classical Greek literature are basically nonexistent or at best unproven. Moreover, the Iliad and the Odyssey certainly had no Lord's Prayer, Sermon on the Mount or anything resembling the teaching or parables of Jesus, so Mark must have obtained all this material for some other source.

Taken purely on McDonald's terms, though, the differences between Mark and Homer are at least as great as any similarities. Jesus was not killed in combat like Hector, for example, and Pilate did not hitch his body to a chariot and drag it around the walls of Jerusalem. Joseph of Arimathea, what little is known of him, may well have been a male relative of Jesus and a wealthy and politically powerful man, but he does not really resemble Priam, the king of Troy. Achilles was a Bronze Age warrior and aristocrat, and Odysseus was a king, but neither has anything in common with the personality, message or mission of Jesus. Their greatest glory really was combat with the enemy and honorable death in battle, which McDonald concedes is far removed from the life and teachings of Jesus. Pontius Pilate or Tiberius Caesar would have much more in common with these ruthless and cunning men of action, so much so that they simply do not make good models for Jesus. If the gospel writer was familiar with the classics at all, someone like Socrates would have been a better choice. McDonald's comparison with a seagoing adventurer and plunderer… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Homeric Epics and Mark Dennis.  (2011, December 7).  Retrieved April 19, 2019, from

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"Homeric Epics and Mark Dennis."  December 7, 2011.  Accessed April 19, 2019.