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Old 02-26-2001, 01:28 AM   #1
Toto
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Post In defense of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark

I am starting a separate thread because I think that McDonald’s critics on the other thread (http://www.infidels.org/electronic/forum/Forum6/HTML/000252.html ) have missed the point, by trying to pick apart the strength of his parallels. The strength of his argument is more in his ability to explain things in Mark that are otherwise problems.

McDonald starts his book by describing his earlier work on the apocryphal Gospel of Andrew. He explains the classical practice of mimesis, and the idea of a hypertext. He discusses methods of distinguishing between accidental agreements or literary commonplaces, and the interplay that shows that one work is based on another. He lists 6 criteria used by literary scholars to distinguish mere coincidence vs. proof of influence, including interpretability, or the ability of the underlying work to explain or solve problems in the hypertext.

Robert Rabel’s review of McDonald (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2000/2000-09-16.html - which, on second reading, is not completely unfavorable to McDonald) slights the last criteria. Rabel states “The oddly named sixth criterion, interpretability (or intelligibility), looks for differences between texts as evidence of emulation.” However, McDonald defines it more fully as “the capacity of the proposed hypotext to make sense of the hypertext. This may include the solution to a peculiar problem that has eluded other explanations. It may also include emulation, or transvaluation.” (p.9)

McDonald’s book contains over 200 pages of closely argued detailed comparisons between Homer and Mark. I will summarize only a few, in a way that I hope will give you the flavor of his argument that leads to his conclusion that “the earliest evangelist was not writing a historical biography, as many interpreters suppose, but a novel, a prose anti-epic or sorts.” (page 7)

In his 2nd chapter, McDonald discusses Odysseus, who was honored in the classical world as a suffering nobleman, a man of "many sorrows", who was also a master carpenter (tektwn). The Cynics and Stoics revered Odysseus as a model of wisdom and virtue. Mark also describes Jesus as “suffering many things” (polla pathein), a phrase that parallels the words Homer used to describe Odysseus, but which never appears in the Septuagint or any other place in the New Testament except for Mark and Luke. Mark describes Jesus as a carpenter, which is nowhere in Paul or any other earlier source. Other commentators have assumed that it was true because it was “embarrassing” to have a savior be a lowly workman. However, Odysseus’ carpentry was central to Homer’s plot (he built the Trojan horse and the elaborately crafted bed which allowed Penelope to recognize him), but Jesus’ carpentry is an unexplained detail with no relevance to his history or teaching.

Further, both heroes are surrounded by incompetent bumbling fools. Homer uses Odysseus’s crew as a contrast to highlight Odysseus’ virtues. But why should Jesus’ disciples be portrayed as such a bunch of losers? After all, he was the son of God and he chose them to carry on his work, and they later went on to perform miracles and build a church. But Mark has them misunderstanding Jesus, being afraid, denying him, betraying him. It doesn’t speak well of Jesus’ hiring ability, and doesn’t fit the story, unless the disciples are a parallel to Odysseus’ crew.

So far, it could all be a coincidence, but we’re only up to page 23.

Chapter 4 outlines the parallels between apostles James and John, and the twins Castor and Polydeuces, which even the Rabel review thought was decisive. The appearance of such mythological gods as Jesus' disciples is a tip off that this is not straight history.

I’ll skip over 3 more chapters of this sort of interplay between Mark and Homer, and mention the “Sea of Galilee”. Mark is full of references to the sea that parallel the Odyssey (which was a sea voyage.) Neither Paul nor Q nor any independent tradition in the other Gospels link Jesus to fishing or water. But to weave in the nautical references, Mark had to elevate a lake in the central Levant usually known as Chinnereth or Gennesar, which was 7 miles long and 4 miles wide, into a ferocious sea, troubled by storms, mighty winds, and lofty waves. Jesus’ disciples allegedly spent 10 hours navigating this fearsome body of water, until Jesus was able to perform a miracle by calming the waves. Even a classical scholar from the 3rd century, Porphyry, laughed at this assertion. But McDonald produces parallel details from an incident in Homer, which also explain other anomalies in Mark (why did Jesus get on a boat to address a crowd on the shore? Why did Jesus go to sleep on the boat?)

So what about it? How do you explain the Sea of Galilee if Mark is not basing his story on Homer? Why are the disciples such fools?
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Old 02-26-2001, 02:34 AM   #2
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Toto,

I think the fact that the Christians here have demonstrated that the specific parallels don't exist torpedoes the argument before we even start. Perhaps you should reply to those posts rather than trying to muddy the waters.

Did you know that no original text of the Acts of Andrew exists? This makes it much easier for MacD to find similarities. Furthermore, if Andrew is an example of Hmoeric influence, it in no way demonstrates that Mark is too.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">In his 2nd chapter, McDonald discusses Odysseus, who was honored in the classical world as a suffering nobleman, a man of "many sorrows", who was also a master carpenter (tektwn). The Cynics and Stoics revered Odysseus as a model of wisdom and virtue. Mark also describes Jesus as “suffering many things” (polla pathein), a phrase that parallels the words Homer used to describe Odysseus, but which never appears in the Septuagint or any other place in the New Testament except for Mark and Luke.</font>
How many times is O described as such in the over a hundred thousand words of epic? It is so easy to pick out phrases if you have enough material. Furthermore, even if Mark is using a Homeric phrase it signifies nothing if we are arguing to the bitter end (Shakespere) about Greeks bearing gifts (Virgil).

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Mark describes Jesus as a carpenter, which is nowhere in Paul or any other earlier source. Other commentators have assumed that it was true because it was “embarrassing” to have a savior be a lowly workman. However, Odysseus’ carpentry was central to Homer’s plot (he built the Trojan horse and the elaborately crafted bed which allowed Penelope to recognize him), but Jesus’ carpentry is an unexplained detail with no relevance to his history or teaching.</font>
Now unlike your point above this would matter if it could be shown to mean anything. Trouble is, it cannot. If Jesus was a lower class man he could be a peasant, fisherman, artisan or very little else. Also, Odysseus was hardly a professional carpenter as he was a warrior prince. That he had skills in this direction was necessary to Homer's plot. As you say, for Jesus it is just an embarressing detail that means nothing. If Jesus had made his bed and laid on it (oh dear, more parallels) you might have a point but simple word associations - not a chance.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Chapter 4 outlines the parallels between apostles James and John, and the twins Castor and Polydeuces, which even the Rabel review thought was decisive. The appearance of such mythological gods as Jesus' disciples is a tip off that this is not straight history.</font>
Well, no. The obvious way to make a parrallel is to say James and John are twins. Why doesn't Mark say so? Come on, Toto, you are allowing MacD to make the kind of assumptions you'd tar and feather an apologist for.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">So what about it? How do you explain the Sea of Galilee if Mark is not basing his story on Homer? Why are the disciples such fools?</font>
If you've been out on the Sea of Galilee in bad weather in a small overloaded boat then you'd know what Mark meant. No I haven't, but I've seen it on TV and I'd be pissing myself.

If Mark wants to parallel the Med why doesn't he use it. Why this dinky lake (as you claim it is) when the Med was there in all it's glory just down the road. Why are the disciples not sea fishermen?

Also, showing the companions of the hero to be idiots is one of the oldest literary tricks in the book (I mean, it goes back to Homer) and again signifies nothing.

Toto, if you look at the bible codes, Nostradamus, all that numerology rubbish about Revelation etc you will see thousands upon thousands of parallels that are much more convincing than Mark v Homer. Nostradamus predicted a man called Hidler. Imagine what you would have made of that!

There is nothing to MacD's thesis except that Mark used some Homeric language that was in common currency in much the same way as we use literally hundreds of allusions to Shakespere. It was in their blood but makes not the slightest difference to the historicity or otherwise. I know you like the theory and it sounds good but there is nothing here. Why not realise that it isn't just us apologists who are emotionally predisposed to believe stuff we like.

Yours

Bede

Bede's Library - faith and reason
 
Old 02-26-2001, 11:19 AM   #3
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Bede -

I read the Christian posts as admitting that there are some parallels but denying their significance.

Some of the complaints about McDonald appear to be based on the idea that his whole thesis is based on parallel comparisons, when in fact it is based on the interplay or reversal of themes, which McDonald describes as a common technique in mimesis. Mark deliberately contrasts the lake in Galilee with the Mediterranean Sea. You may have storms on a lake that are fearsome - but 10 hours of sailing? This is much more likely to be a literary device than reported history.

Mark did not label his twins as twins, but he did call them the sons of Thunder, a direct reference.

Is there any independent evidence that Jesus was a carpenter or any kind of lower class type?

Is there any evidence that Mark is reported history, other than you say so?
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Old 02-26-2001, 12:57 PM   #4
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This bit about a hero being surrounded by incompetent bumbling fools reminds me of something in Bungie's "Myth" series of computer games, which have a Tolkienesque pseudo-medieval sword-and-sorcery setting. In that game, you command armies to fight various enemy armies, and on your side are noncombatant civilians -- who are cringing cowards who beg for protection.

One interesting question is: are JC's disciples equally incompetent in the other Gospels?

And if that incompetence was a common literary technique, then that still counts against the historicity of the Gospels.
 
Old 02-26-2001, 02:16 PM   #5
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I've been following these threads, and just want to make a small - perhaps irrelevant - remark (and I could be wrong about this):
One thing I've noticed on these pages is how us Christians have no problem dissing Islam by pointing out all the 'parallels' between the qu'uran and say The infancy Gospel of Thomas or what have you 'heretical' fictions we can think of. We Christians then maintain that obviously the Qu'uran is fiction. Oh well. The poor Muslim can only reply - parallels don't imply non-Truth, etc.. But for some reason, we Christians are not impressed and are quite content to believe that the Qu'uran is as fictional as we think the heretical writings are.
So now someone (himself a Christian!) turns the argument on us - and what do we do? we reply like the poor Muslim - now why should anyone be impressed with our reply, if we are not impressed with the poor Muslim's reply?

Just rambling.....
PS - that there is a difference between Professional Literary Criticism and Belief is obvious. That MAcD's work is great LC is not questioned - btw is he still a believer?

Thank you for the discussion.
 
Old 02-26-2001, 02:33 PM   #6
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by lpetrich:

One interesting question is: are JC's disciples equally incompetent in the other Gospels?

And if that incompetence was a common literary technique, then that still counts against the historicity of the Gospels.
</font>
-In my readings of the canonical Gospels, I found that all of them portray the disciples incompentent in some fashion. After all, they all abandoned Jesus when he was taken captive, interrogated and the executed. However, I am not sure it this can be used as an argument either way about the historicity of the Gospels.

-Spider
 
Old 02-26-2001, 02:54 PM   #7
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by jmcanany:
PS - that there is a difference between Professional Literary Criticism and Belief is obvious. That MAcD's work is great LC is not questioned - btw is he still a believer?
</font>
SecWebLurker reports that MacDonald believes Jesus existed and he teaches a course on the historical Jesus. He is a practicing Christian, a deacon in his local church, and his wife is a hospital chaplain.

But I don't know what this means - there appears to be a movement afoot to reinvent the Christian church and purge it of all of its irrational beliefs (see Spong, and the Sea of Faith movement.) http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/st...442367,00.html

I can only applaud this retreat from the vestiges of fundamentalism while I wonder what the point of being a Christian is.

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Old 02-26-2001, 10:56 PM   #8
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Hi Toto

Very quickly please...

Are you actually going to address any of the points raised by the Christians in the other thread?

Thanks

Nomad

The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark: A Sample
 
Old 02-27-2001, 12:39 AM   #9
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Yes - I was intending to review them, to see if there is anything actually there. This is not a full time occupation for me.
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Old 02-27-2001, 01:12 AM   #10
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Let's keep the issue in perspective. MacDonald's books give some possible suggestions as to where the author of Mark might have found literary inspiration if in fact the Gospel of Mark is largely a work of fiction, or even perhaps historical fiction.
It doesn't prove anything one way or the other.

Though it doesn't prove anything, MacDonald's book does add credibility to the notion that the gospel of Mark was not simply a description of historical facts. That's all we can do in this field. Examine all the available facts and interpretations and try to examine the strength of the different theories about what actually happened 2000 years ago. MacDonald adds some insight into the problem, though he certainly doesn't end the confusion.

I'd just like to add that I think MacDonald's book complements nicely Earl Doherty's "The Jesus Puzzle". I was disappointed to find that Doherty did not mention MacDonald's idea. I suppose the books came out at about the same time. Doherty thinks the gospel of Mark is a work of fiction and his views can be found at http://www.magi.com/~oblio/jesus/home.htm.
 
 

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