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March 30 , 2011

The Gospels and Homer

Imitations of Greek Epic in Mark and Luke-Acts


These two volumes of The New Testament and Greek Literature are the magnum opus of biblical scholar Dennis R. MacDonald, outlining the profound connections between the New Testament and classical Greek poetry. MacDonald argues that the Gospel writers borrowed from established literary sources to create stories about Jesus that readers of the day would find convincing.

In The Gospels and Homer MacDonald leads readers through Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, highlighting models that the authors of the Gospel of Mark and Luke-Acts may have imitated for their portrayals of Jesus and his earliest followers such as Paul. The book applies mimesis criticism to show the popularity of the targets being imitated, the distinctiveness in the Gospels, and evidence that ancient readers recognized these similarities. Using side-by-side comparisons, the book provides English translations of Byzantine poetry that shows how Christian writers used lines from Homer to retell the life of Jesus.

The potential imitations include adventures and shipwrecks, savages living in cages, meals for thousands, transfigurations, visits from the dead, blind seers, and more. MacDonald makes a compelling case that the Gospel writers successfully imitated the epics to provide their readers with heroes and an authoritative foundation for Christianity.
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