The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark

From: Eric S. Weiss (
Date: Mon Jun 05 2000 - 09:37:50 EDT

I unfortunately know nothing of Homer and Odysseus, but I know several on
this list might be interested in this new book which claims a surprising
dependence by GMark on The Odyssey:

The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark
by Dennis R. MacDonald
Yale University Press, May 2000

The book is available at:

(from Amazon) "In this book, MacDonald argues that the author of Mark
consciously emulated Homeric epic. He begins by describing the common
Greco-Roman custom of teaching prose composition through mimesis (Greek) or
imitatio (Latin) and by pointing out several examples of their practice in
pagan, Jewish and later Christian texts. He then proceeds to make the
controversial case that large portions of Mark draw either directly on the
texts or indirectly on the topoi of Homer. The argument is compelling and
meticulously constructed. Both of our readers agree that this is
groundbreaking work that will revolutionize the study of the gospels."

Here is the URL for a lengthy review/critique by a Mr. Richard Carrier
[B.A. History (minor in Classical Civilization), UC Berkeley (1997) M.A.
Ancient History, Columbia University (1998) M.Phil. Ancient History,
Columbia University (2000)]:

Carrier states: "MacDonald's case is thorough, and though many of
his points are not as conclusive as he makes them out to be, when taken as
a cumulative whole the evidence is so abundant and clear it cannot be
denied. And being a skeptic to the thick, I would never say this lightly.
Several scholars who reviewed or commented on it have said this book will
revolutionize the field of Gospel studies and profoundly affect our
understanding of the origins of Christianity, and though I had taken this
for hype, after reading the book I now echo that very sentiment myself. ...
What is especially impressive is the vast quantity of cases of direct and
indirect borrowing from Homer that can be found in Mark. One or two would
be interesting, several would be significant. But we are presented with
countless examples, and this is as cumulative as a case can get. In the
end, I came away from this book with a new appreciation for Mark, whose
Gospel tends to be derided as the work of a rather poor, simple Greek
author. Though Mark's Greek is extremely colloquial, not at all in high
literary style, this itself is surely a grand and ingenious transvaluation
of Homer: whereas the great epics were archaic and difficult, only to be
mastered by the educated elites, only to be understood completely by those
with access to glossaries and commentaries and marked-up critical editions,
Mark not only updated Homer's values and theology, but inverted its entire
character as an elite masterpiece, by making his own epic simple,
thoroughly understandable by the common, the poor, the masses, and lacking
in the overt pretension and cleverness of poetic verse, written in plain,
ordinary language. The scope of genius evident in Mark's reconstruction of
Homeric motifs is undeniable and has convinced me that Mark was no
simpleton: he was a literary master, whose achievement is all the greater
in his choice of idiom—his "poor Greek" was deliberate and artful, as was
his story."

If any read this book, I would be interested in their opinion of the
plausibility of the author's thesis and the validity of his proofs and

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