See article written for the Christian Research Journal on this topic here.
Concerning Dennis R. MacDonald's Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, a preface: Even if every argument that MacDonald offers is valid, there is still a complex of material and arguments (the Pauline letters, for example) that his thesis has no effect upon at all.
That said, what of this work (hereafter HEGM for short)? Has it accomplished its goal of proving that the Gospel of Mark is a transvaluation and imitation of portions of the Homeric epics (the Iliad and the Odyssey)? Does it show that (as Skeptics seem to think, but as MacDonald himself only implies now and then) Mark took material from Homer and turned it into stories of Jesus with no basis in actual history?
It turns out that even scholars who give Mark about as much historical credence as they would to fiction are not convinced that MacDonald has hit the mark as much as he thinks, and a review in Catholic Biblical Quarterly has noted some of the same weaknesses I have. We can express these in the form of questions.
Does the practice of mimesis (imitation) that HEGM refers to appear in other works of ancient history as well?
HEGM is extremely vague on this point. Although allusions were made, briefly, to Josephus and Plutarch using the technique to report what was apparently intended to be historical data, most of HEGM's focus was on novels and non-historical works that used the technique.
The point of my question was this: If Mark was using a technique that was used also by those who recorded (by their intent) serious history, then any idea that mimesis is, as a practice, uniquely associated with relating fiction, cannot be appealed to.
Please note: HEGM itself does not explicitly state that mimesis was always and uniquely associated with fiction. This is a conclusion that it has implicitly offered. I have found, however, that mimesis was a technique employed by all forms of ancient literature -- history included.
Malina and Neyrey report in Portraits of Paul [89-90] what I find to be an additional reason for mimesis. One form of support for testimony was "probabilities" -- verification from general experience. Rhetoriticians noted that when setting forth a statement to a judge or jury, orators should "pay attention to the question of whether he will find his hearers possessed of a personal knowledge of the things of which he is speaking, as that is the sort of statement they are most likely to believe." An appeal to common experience was always helpful to aid in understanding. When Bible stories follow typical forms, they do so for this very purpose.
Using words and phrases from the Old Testament accomplished a similar purpose; one may also suspect that any place where Mark may be following Homer in structure or verbiage, he is doing the same thing for his Gentile readers. Material is phrased in such a way as to appear verifiable from experience. Of course this says nothing about historicity, but it gives ancient writers every motive to report what they say, true or false, in terms recognizable from previous experience.
This relates as well to the ancient prejudice against anything new. Casting new things in old terms or relating it to the old was a way of trying to gain acceptance for the new. If Mark imitates Homer, he has every reason to do so, and thereby offer no reason why we should argue for fabrication on these grounds alone.
This now leads to our second issue:
How do we know when, or if, an incidence of mimesis in a historical work is actually a fiction?
The answer is simple -- we know it by applying the same criteria and questions of historicity that we would to anything that was not mimesis. As I noted in my review, HEGM seldom bothers to address the question, "Is what Mark describes historically plausible?" There seems to be an automatic reaction that any parallel must be a fiction, but there is a hidden, assumed premise: That there is no way certain parallels could have been arrived at by means of actual historical events.
In contrast, secular scholars who have studied mimesis do not automatically assume that when they see mimesis in a historical work, they are encountering fiction. Rather, they apply to the imitative passages the same criteria for determining historicity that they would anywhere else -- in essence, they ask, "Is this plausible as history? Could the author have known this?" And while there seems to be a consensus that the amount of mimesis found in a work corresponds with the level of fiction in a work, this does not mean that the analytical work is simply dispensed with and replaced with assumption. Furthermore, the levels of mimesis found are much higher as a whole than even those HEGM claims to find.
There are also certain a priori arguments that MacDonald never addresses. Mark would have had to be immensely subtle and learned to construct the sort of things which HEGM attributes to him. Why did no one pick up on the parallels before, including the 19th-century German Skeptics who were equally unfriendly to the texts of Homer and of the Bible? And (most of all) what did Mark think he was doing? Did he really make up the Resurrection story just from his reading of Iliad 24? Why? There are also minor points about why the Gospel's language is totally un-Homeric (as HEGM at one point admits), why there are not formal parallels between the works, etc, etc, etc, etc.
Finally, I will be addressing these questions with relation to specific instances of mimesis cited by HEGM:
Is this an actual instance of mimesis?
I think approximately 70% of the examples alleged are more likely the product of the author's imagination than they are actual instances of mimesis. I would perhaps raise that as high as 90%. In this regard, I may observe initially that the examples of mimesis cited by seclular scholars appear much more "obvious" than the majority of those alleged in HEGM.
Do these examples prove Marcan priority?
I have also stated that I believe that they do not, but rather suggest priority of the Matthean tradition, or perhaps an oral tradition upon which Matthew was based. We will work this out in individual examples.
What Secular Historians Have to Say About Mimesis
One of my chief practices in research has always been to obtain copies of whatever source materials a claimant has used in order to find out if, so to speak, there is any "incriminating evidence" of incomplete or careless reportage. This technique has allowed me to find that writers often go as far as manufacturing information that simply does not appear in their original source.
Dennis R. MacDonald is a scholar of some caliber, and he does not simply create material out of whole cloth. HEGM does, however, fail to report some highly significant information from its sources that has a serious effect upon its conclusions, implied or otherwise.
We begin with our initial question: Does the practice of mimesis (imitation) that HEGM refers to appear in other works of ancient history as well?
Actually, we already knew that the answer was yes before HEGM even came to our attention. In response to Randel Helms, I noted the report of Flemming Nielsen (The Tragedy in History: Herodotus and the Deuteronomic History, 28-9), who, in an examination of the histories of Herodotus, notes in that writer a purposeful intention to duplicate the vocabulary, morphology and style of Homer, and the use of "deliberate Homeric quotations", places where Herodotus "deliberately plays upon his readers' awareness of particular passages of Homer." Nielsen noted further:
A particularly marked occurrence of this is seen in the Croesus-narrative, where the many quotations from Homer and the entire Homeric structure are far more than merely an artistic decoration, in that they create a backcloth for Croesus' and Cyrus' speeches by associating them in the readers' mind with Agamemnon and Achilles. The most critical events in the account of the Persian wars are likewise related to the Homeric account. In this manner, the Persian wars are shown no less important than the Trojan war, the Persian-Greek conflict being a repetition of the war between Achaens and Trojans.
As I explored the sources I found listed in HEGM, I found even more examples of such practices engaged by ancient historians. HEGM tells us that mimesis was part of the educational program in ancient writing and schools of rhetoric, but it fails to mention the important point, in this context, that "many historians were themselves trained in rhetoric," [Bonn.EAR, 285] and that there are many given examples of serious historians engaging in this practice listed in sources HEGM appeals to. Indeed, one of HEGM's sources speaks of "a general Greco-Roman acceptance of imitation as an essential element in all literary composition." [Russ.DI, 1; emphasis added.] Historians did it; thus, for example, Tacitus imitated Livy, Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides.
Now the expected Skeptical reaction to this data would be: "That's fine. All of those other writers used mimesis, and so they were all creating fiction like Mark was. History is all fiction." In some cases, perhaps -- but that is not merely to be assumed, and secular historians do not merely assume it; they go on to apply the same criteria for determining historicity that historians always have.
Which leads to our next question: How do we know when, or if, an incidence of mimesis in a historical work is actually a fiction?
One of the first things to be established is that there was room in the technique to take from works of fiction, and find real history to match it, and vice versa. Again, HEGM rightly points out that mimesis was a technique taught in the schools of rhetoric, but it fails to inform us that the technique crossed the genres this way. As one of HEGM's cited sources tells us [Bonn.EAR. 255]:
Pupils might be given a fable, and told to illustrate it from some historical occurrence, or conversely, be given a historical narrative, and required to find a fable to suit it.
And another source makes this point [Clar.RGR, 145]:
In antiquity the word imitation (mimesis) was used by such writers on art as Plato, Aristotle, and Plutarch with a number of different meanings. It might mean, for instance, imitation of men in action, imitation of ideal truth, imitation of appearances, true or false, in the phenomenal world. But imitation as a way of learning to practice an art has nothing to do with these metaphysical notions of the objects of imitation. Specifically, imitation as a guide to speakers and writers, as a rhetorical exercise, is concerned, not with the speaker's or writer's matter, but with his manner of speaking or writing. It is concerned, not with what he says, but how he says it.
Therefore, it was within the practice for Mark or any other writer to have take material from a mythical history like Homer's works and used it to report true history -- but in so doing, they would not make use of the history itself, but the way it was reported. The concern was to imitate style, not substance, and the question of historicity lies ultimately not in the fact of the mimesis itself, but the plausibility of the given account.
Obviously, one could choose a poor example to imitate within context, and end up stretching history; but one could also pick a very good example and remain true to what actually happened. The skill of mimesis lay in the ability to use the material being imitated and make it one's own property [ibid., 147], and this is a separate conception from whether the imitation produces a true or false report.
Let's see how this works out in two examples offered in one of HEGM's sources. [West.TP; Wood.SI]
The first example is a comparison of two reports of separate plagues by Virgil and by Lucretius. The conclusion of the examination is that Virgil is imitating Lucretius, and that he does so, not in the interest of offering a "clinical history," but rather a "rhetorical creation." As the analyzer, David West, puts it:
In general Virgil has eschewed the clinical detail of Lucretius, but has put together words and concepts culled from Lucretius' richly detailed and coherent symptomology to produce a simplified picture of a disease in two phases, which is emotionally effective, rhetorically arresting by means of paradox and pathos, and has no regard for historical or scientific truth.
Evidence for Virgil's imitation is fairly straightforward and matches some of the criteria laid down in HEGM: for example, Virgil copies Lucretius in one area, "even to the unusual omission of the second coordinating conjunction" (!).
But none of this was the grounds for dismissing Virgil's account as fabrication; at best it was regarded as a corollary proof, once the lack of historical versimilitude was established. West showed in detail how little sense Virgil's account made, and then decided that attempts "to diagnose the disorder with the help of modern veterinary medicine are doomed to failure."
But this raises a question: What if veterinary medicine did provide a corollary that substantiated Virgil's account? What if what Virgil reported did make sense? The proof of fabrication lies not in technique, as we have said, but in content.
A second example confirms this point. Woodman makes an extensive analysis of a case of self-imitation by Tacitus. The subject in each case is a battle, but while one battle was fought within Tacitus' own lifetime, the other was well before his time. How is it determined that Tacitus is engaging in some creative writing?
One reason is found in the seemingly strange coincidence of Tacitus finding men to report the details who were so often in the right place, at the right time. Woodman says, "This detail seems to me so unusual, and unparalleled elsewhere, that it places the many other correspondences in a different light."
Another reason is found in the level of detail given for both battles, in spite of the difference in time. For example, it is mentioned that the earlier battlefield was littered with whitening bones; Woodman says, "it is highly unlikely that Tacitus has any historical evidence for whitening bones in the middle of the plain; more probably he has added an apparently factual detail which is reality is simply borrowed from Virgil."
It is asked, in summary, "how Tacitus could possibly have acquired so many details of a routine frontier engagement which has taken place a century before he came to describe it." (Other examples of mimesis are of less importance. Tacitus uses the same word (trunci) in the different accounts, once to refer to the trunks of bodies, the other to refer to the trunks of trees.)
Woodman concludes by arguing that while main points of Tacitus' account are likely to be true -- based on factors like corroboration of other sources -- the details he filled in were likely not based on true accounts. And there are other cases of imitation to be found in Tacitus, though no judgment is made in terms of historicity on these other cases. His description of Livia's role in the ascent of Tiberius bears simiarities to his account of Agrippina's role in Nero's ascent. "...(B)y means of close linguistic correspondences Tacitus wishes to invest the account of Tiberius with the same air of questionable legitimacy" and show that each emperor somehow owes their position "to the machinations of the [previous] emperor's widow." The description of Sejanus (Pilate's sponsor) is modelled on Sallust's description of Catiline. Our points, at any rate, are made: Mimesis is not the province of fiction-writers alone, and it is not, in and of itself proof of non-history in the making.
Therefore, we move to our next point: Skeptics who have highlighted HEGM, as we have noted, carry the unstated assumption into their use of it that the resemblances in the imitation are so uncanny that there is no way that Mark could be reporting real history -- that is, no way that some event could have occurred which in itself, in its actual occurrence, contained correspondences of fact that Mark could have used or highlighted in imitation of Homer. Correspondence could not have occurred (so it is assumed) on its own, but had to be manufactured. We will address this point next.
The "Uncanniness" of History: Correspondence, Coincidence, and Plausibility
HEGM claims that Luke's story of Eutychus falling out a window has affinities to one of Homer's episodes from the Odyssey where someone falls off a roof. We'll look at this in detail in our next section, but I would like to expand upon the general point that is expressed in a well-known proverb: "History repeats itself." This is not becase of any sort of miraculous intervention, but simply because there are only so many ways that events can turn -- and even so, there can be "uncanny" (note the quotes) resemblances and coincidences in history that 2000 years from now, another Dennis R. MacDonald may explain away as fictionalized mimesis.
Here is a list many of us should find familiar offering correspondences between the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy.
- Both Lincoln and Kennedy were concerned with civil rights.
- Lincoln was elected President in 1860. Kennedy in 1960.
- Both were slain on a Friday and in the presence of their wives. [JP note: McKinley was assassinated on a Friday, as well!]
- Both were shot from behind and in the head. [JP note: McKinley was shot in the chest and abdomen -- this could be cited by D. R. MacDonald, year 3000, as an example of "transvaluation" of the text]
- Their successors, both named Johnson, were Southern Democrats and both were in the Senate.
- Andrew Johnson was born in 1808. Lyndon Johnson in 1908.
- John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839. Lee Harvey Oswald in 1939.
- Booth and Oswald were Southerners who favored unpopular ideas. [JP note: This is a "vague generalization" coincidence of the sort we will find throughout HEGM.]
- Both Presidents lost children through death while in the White House.
- Lincoln's secretary, whose name was Kennedy, advised him not to go to the theater.
- Kennedy's secretary, whose name was Lincoln, advised him not to go to Dallas.
- John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in a theater and ran to a warehouse. Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and ran to a theater.
- The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.
- The names Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson each contain 13 letters.
- The names John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald each contain 15 letters.
- Both assassins were killed before being brought to trial.
- Lincoln was shot in the Ford's Theater. Kennedy was shot in a Ford car. (And, as a matter of fact...it was a Lincoln!)
In addition, here are some thoughts from another source
More similarities between Lincoln and Kennedy and their deaths: Lincoln was an unsuccessful candidate for vp in 1856; JFK was an unsuccessful vp candidate in 1956. Both of their vice presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Andrew Johnson, have 13 letters in their names; each was older than but died 10 years after their respective chiefs. In 1860 Lincoln beat Stephen Douglas, born in 1813, with less than 50 percent of the vote; in 1960, Kennedy beat Richard Nixon, born in 1913, with less than 50 percent of the vote. Lincoln and Kennedy each were killed in public, and each was accompanied by someone who was also injured but did not die in the attack. (And interestingly, Garfield and McKinley, the other two presidents who were assassinated, actually died of infection from their wounds, not the wounds themselves.)
How about some more uncanny coincidences? Our 2000 election fiasco provided some opportunities to compare to the last time a President won the Electoral College without the popular vote (Hayes vs. Tilden). What about the fact that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died July 4, 1826 -- exactly 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence?
Skeptics would call these meaningless coincidences, and I agree that they are -- they are evidence that history can, and does, repeat itself, even down to details, completely on its own -- and that there would be plenty of grist for any writer (like Tacitus or Mark) to produce an imitation based on real history.
That assumes, of course, that the evidence is valid at all -- and I would like to make note that in the first "Lincoln list" above, Skeptics can and should have some ready explanations, and then they should learn that the same lesson applies to HEGM.
Item #1 above (re civil rights) seems impressive, until you realize just how vague it is -- one may as well say that both were "particularly concerned" with national security (the preservation of the Union, the Cuban missile crisis), and this "parallel" does not even begin to address such matters as the respective Presidential motivations for being "involved" in "civil rights" in the first place.
Items like "killed on Friday" are of little significance -- the odds of such a coincidence are not that great in the first place, first because the odds of being killed any day are one in seven to begin with, and second because Presidents, like all of us, are most apt to go out on or around the weekend, when they can enjoy themselves and the public can come out and see them.
Items like "shot in back of head" are no surprise either; the back of the head is a vulnerable area that is likely to be selected by any assassin (since they won't do as well approaching from the front).
A couple of these "parallels" are even erroneous -- Booth was born in 1838, not 1839, and there is no record of a Lincolnian secretary named Kennedy. Others fudge the data terminologically -- Booth ran to a storage barn, not exactly a "warehouse".
Items like number of letters in a name are basically trivial. And a couple may indeed have uncanny elements (like the last). And none of these "parallels" even BEGINS to address the matter of significant differences, even within the "parallels" -- it would be easy to take the enormous lives of two men like Lincoln and Kennedy, yea, even slices of their lives, and find such parallels.
The bottom line: It would hardly be any surprise if Mark was able to find some correspondences to take advantage of in the works of Homer. Reality provides enough correspondence to do this, correspondences which seem uncanny only on the surface and when differences are ignored -- and the options are only expanded when we are also allowed to offer a reverse correspondence (what HEGM would call a "transvaluation") as well.
With this in mind, we may now proceed to some specific comments on HEGM and the evidence it offers, and show that the correspondences claimed are at best no more valid and/or significant than those found between Lincoln and Kennedy.
HEGM's first chapter devotes most of its space to explaining the process of mimesis. One of the first issues that caught my attention related to my question, asked of the Skeptic who first brought HEGM to my attention, "How is it that pagan critics of Christianity did not see this, and accuse Mark of simply stealing from Homer?"
I was quite suspicious (as I always am) of any claim to have discovered something new that has been missed for thousands of years. MacDonald offers no good explanation for this, other than positing rampant ignorance: Mark's mimetic efforts "seem to have been invisible to actual readers," and "readers for 2000 years apparently have been blind to this important aspect of Mark's project" [6-7] -- including, apparently, Homeric scholars.
One must ask: If any of this is valid, is it not more likely that early readers were aware of this aspect of Mark, but recognized it for what it was, and did not make the illogical leap that the imitation meant fiction was being created? MacDonald cannot have it both ways: Either the parallels are clear, and thousands of intelligent men, including patristic writers who knew their Homer, and critics of Christianity like Lucian, Celsus, and Galen, missed it or somehow chose not to mention it; or else MacDonald is being too imaginative in his parallels.
We find it interesting that MacDonald asks for "special demands on the reader: patience, generosity, and above all, imagination"!  One wonders if Mark thought his readers -- few of whom would have been as educated as MacDonald -- would have had the patience or imagination to detect and appreciate the parallels?
On the other hand, what of those educated readers? Could they really have missed all of this? Not likely. As Glenn Miller has noted in another context, along with this sophisticated training in mimesis came sophisticated training in detection:
"The easiest exercises, which were always taught early in the course (though not necessarily in the same order), were those based on the instructive Saying (chreia), the Maxim (sententia), the Fable (apologus, fabula) and the mythological Narrative (narratio). Here there was the advantage that all of these had been used at the primary level simply for writing-practice, whether by copying or dictation, and for learning by heart. Now boys had to reproduce them in their own words, and explain and expand them in short essays…Theon…not satisfied merely with explanation and expansion, he required his pupils to proceed to a confirmation and refutation of the Saying, Fable or Narrative, and argue that it was sound and plausible, or the reverse." [HI:EAR:253]
"As with the previous exercises, the rhetoricians had several varieties of treatment which could be applied to the [mythological] narrative. They might require it to be expanded or contracted, or to be cast in different sentence-forms, or to be rounded off at the end by an appropriate epigrammatic comment, a stylistic feature much appreciated in the Silver Age of Latin. But the most advanced treatment, which was sometimes put later in the course as a separate exercise, was what was known as Refutation and Confirmation (anaskeue and kataskeue); that is, the writer had to examine a given story from the point of view of its general credibility, and then write an essay either arguing that it was lacking in likelihood, or supporting it as quite feasible. The material here was largely drawn from poetry, especially mythology. Favourite subjects were the stories of Apollo's love for Daphne, Medea's murder of her children, Arion's adventure and escape on the dolphin. Homeric themes could also be used, as that of Chryses and his daughter at the beginning of the Iliad. Theon also includes legends from prose sources. In each case, there were guide-lines laid down for procedure; after setting out the alleged facts, the pupil should ask himself, according as he wished to substantiate or refute, whether the account was clear or obscure, possible or impossible, seemly or unseemly, consistent or inconsistent, expedient or inexpedient. He should argue accordingly, bearing also in mind at each stage the person, the act, the place, the time, the manner, and the motive. Although boys were thus exercising their wits and critical faculties mainly in the realm of mythology, the search for arguments based on likelihood had a quite important application later; for in criminal cases, both in the rhetoric schools and in the courts, considerations of likelihood came very much to the fore when tangible evidence was limited or lacking. It is also interesting to note that Quintilian wishes the early Roman legends to be examined critically in this way - can we believe the story of Valerius and the raven, Romulus and the she-wolf, Numa and Egeria? The credibility of early Roman history, then, was a subject which does not entirely belong to modern times." [HI:EAR:263]
Miller rightly asks, "Given that most, if not all, of your potential audience would have grown up debunking myth and fable, how comfortable would you be in making up miracle claims about ANYBODY?!" And I ask in turn: How plausible is it in light of this "baloney detection" training, that such substantial "Homeric mythologizing" went by unnoticed and uncommented upon by Christianity's critics?
One of HEGM's criteria for spotting mimesis is distinctiveness. Obviously this can be related to our general note above that Skeptics using HEGM are essentially arguing that the parallels between Mark and Homer are so distinctive that any correspondence between actual history recorded by Mark and an event recorded in Homer could not possibly have happened.
But in order to make this argument work, the issue of historical plausibility must be addressed, and HEGM makes virtually no effort to do this. It is not enough to hold the parallels side by side and stand back with an implied literary gasp of amazement.
In our examination, we will be asking key questions: Is there actually a parallel? Is the parallel meaningful? Is there anything improbable about what Mark describes that would suggest only that it was lifted from Homer rather than history?
We begin, however, not with an example from Mark, but from Luke -- or rather, from Acts. The story of Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12 is offered as a mimetic counterpart of a story in the Odyssey (hereafter, the "O") of a young man named Elpenor. Let's start with a quote from Acts:
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.
Now let's look at the alleged Homeric parallel, which is also short. (Here and elsewhere, I take from the version used by HEGM; if not from there, then from the version published by Airmont Books.) The scene is described as, at dawn, Odysseus and his men prepare to leave the island of Circe the witch:
There was a man, Elpenor, the youngest in our ranks, none too brave in battle, none too sound in mind. He'd strayed from his mates in Circe's magic halls and keen for the cool night air, sodden with wine he'd bedded down on her roofs. But roused by the shouts and tread of marching men, he leapt up with a start at dawn but still so dazed he forgot to climb back down again by the long ladder -- headfirst from the roof he plunged, his neck snapped from the backbone, his soul flew down to the house of Hades.
The fate of Elpenor is related over the next two books, as Odysseus later meets the soul of Elpenor, who describes himself as "a man whose luck ran out" and he asks to be properly buried. Later, at the dawn of a day, Odysseus sends men to fetch Elpenor's body and they took care of it as promised.
From these two stories, HEGM draws a series of parallels claimed to point to mimesis -- and by extension, though it is not explicitly stated, that Luke is writing fiction (I will use the KJV in place of the version used by HEGM):
- Odysseus and crew left Troy/Paul and crew stopped at Troas
- Odysseus sailed back to Achaea/Paul left Achaea to sail back to Jerusalem
- Narration in first person plural in both cases
- After a sojourn, Odysseus and crew/Paul and believers...
- ...ate a meal.
- Disaster came at night/midnight
- Crew slept in Circe's "darkened halls"/"there were many lights in the upper chamber"
- Elpenor fell into "sweet sleep"/Eutychus fell into a "deep sleep"
- Both narrators switch to third person
- "There was one, Elpenor, the youngest"/"A certain young man named Eutychus"
- Elpenor fell from the roof/Eutychus fell from the third story
- Elpenor's soul went to Hades/Eutcyhus' soul remained in him
- Associates fetched the body, dead/Associates took up the body, alive
- Elpenor was not buried until dawn/Eutychus was not raised alive until dawn
On the surface this list may seem impressive, but upon critical analysis, there are a few things that it becomes clear need to be taken into consideration before we start charging Luke with fiction -- and my main question is exemplified by item #7 above, having to do with lighting conditions.
The practice of mimesis was such that one might do as in #7 above, and stress something that was an opposite, a difference, and still be engaging the practice. Yet the weakness of declaring "fiction at work" lies in the very issue of whether or not what is described is historically plausible, and determining historicity on these grounds rather than in the bare "fact" of mimesis.
For item #7 in particular, let's put it this way. In any given story about anything, anywhere, there will obviously be some condition of light present. It will either be totally dark, or there will be varying degrees of light. This is what I shall term an inevitable circumstantial element, or ICE for short. Even if it is not mentioned, characters in any story, true or false, obviously do what they do in some condition of lighting that will exist and can be highlighted.
Since HEGM's "mimetic detections" allow for citings of either "likes" or "opposites," or of any condition at all related to what is found in the "original," this means that whatever condition of light Luke cited, if he chose to do so, it will be setting off HEGM's alarms. Yet one could hardly say, since some condition of light is inevitable, that the mere citation of the condition is evidence for fictionalizing! A condition of lighting had to be present -- and we may not doubt that Luke could cite this in order to allude to the Homeric story. But because some sort of lighting condition is inevitable, the parallel is meaningless in terms of asking whether Luke is relating true history or not. He could have cited darkness, or any degree of lighting, as the condition present, and still be accused by HEGM and by skeptics of practicing mimesis, and by extension, of creating fiction.
Several of the criteria fall under this same weakness. On #6, the disaster obviously had to take place at some time; if Luke had said related that the fall took place at noon, it could be said to be a "reversal" mimesis. For #10, had Eutychus been old, it could be accounted the same way.
Criteria #3 and #9 are both grammatical issues; grammar is obviously something someone could switch at will without any implications of historicity. It may or may not be evidence of mimesis (there are only so many grammatical options open in various contexts), but it means nothing in terms of the reality of the story in Luke.
Next up are a few where HEGM gets rather too active in imagination, or describes the stories as similarly as possible in order to find mimesis at work, or appeals to a "universal" that has no meaning in this context. I would include in these the following entries:
- Odysseus and crew left Troy/Paul and crew stopped at Troas
- Odysseus sailed back to Achaea/Paul left Achaea to sail back to Jerusalem
By the time of Elpenor, the crew of Odysseus had "left Troy" quite some time ago. The only element that can be used here is the coincidence of the location of the Eutychus event at Troas -- we'll return to that later.
"Achaea" is rather a large region -- it included, in Paul's time, all of Greece south of Thessaly, including Corinth and Athens. Since Troas was on the way around the coast to Jerusalem, and one could hardly get there from the West without going somewhere near Achaea (unless you liked to take a very long, unsafe diversion), the parallel is pointless to make; and Paul at any rate went nowhere near the part of Achaea Odysseus was striving for (Ithaca).
- After a sojourn, Odysseus and crew/Paul and believers...
- ...ate a meal.
The eating of the meal is meaningless in this context -- it falls under the category of an ICE; we would hardly expect the Troas church to have not eaten at some time when Paul was there.
The first element is also equivocal -- Odysseus and crew were all one group; Paul and the believers were a combined group of travellers and church, and this falls into the realm of ICE as well -- if Paul had been alone except for Eutychus, it could be seen as a "reversal".
- Elpenor's soul went to Hades/Eutcyhus' soul remained in him
- Associates fetched the body, dead/Associates took up the body, alive
- Elpenor was not buried until dawn/Eutychus was not raised alive until dawn
Within the context of the accident described, all of these are ICEs -- after such a fall, a person is either alive or dead; his body is either attended to or he is helped in some condition, and it is done at a certain time. (Though "dawn" is the obvious time anyway, after a nighttime accident, to take care of a body, and in the context of Acts, the obvious time to depart -- in these days before streetlights and police patrols [and when police patrols themselves might be the ones to beat you up], no one would leave a nighttime venue until the dawn broke. Also, Eutychus was not "raised alive" at dawn; he went home at dawn, and some commentators do not even think he was ever "dead".
What it comes down to, then, is these three unique elements, and a fourth also added by HEGM separate from the primary list:
- The incident in Acts took place at Troas, which was 10 miles from Troy
- Elpenor and Eutychus both had accidents because of their sleep (though Elpenor woke up and fell, while Eutychus fell while asleep)
- Elpenor and Eutychus fell from a height (roof vs. third story)
- The name "Eutychus" means "Lucky" -- which is a counter to the description of Elpenor as "unlucky" in the Homeric story
So now the question is: Are these remaining four correspondences so uncanny that there is no way that Luke could be reporting real history?
HEGM makes little attempt to answer this directly, though of course, we are without adequate information to make an unqualified decision for much of this. We do not know how many people in ancient times carried the name "Eutychus" -- either as a real name or as a nickname; one might suggest it could have been as common a nickname as it's English correspondent ("Lucky") is today, especially since Roman cognomens were often rather amusing (like "Glabrio" = bald, "Rufus" = red).
On the other hand, it may not be meant to reflect this young man's actual name or nickname at the time. The word behind "named" is also used in the NT in another way, though rarely: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel..." -- a reference not to a literal name, but to a characteristic. This could be Luke's way of saying, beforehand, "this man, in contrast to Elpenor, will be lucky" -- as it were, with a lowercase "L".
We do not know either how many high enough buildings there were in Troas (though Jeffers tells us that "private homes in more populous cities often had multiple stories" [Jeff.GRW, 54]), and we do not know the incidence of falling from high places in the ancient world -- though people do fall off of roofs, balconies, and out of windows in real life. And anytime that someone did take such a fall, comparisons to the famous incident of Elpenor would have been inevitable, as indeed HEGM shows us.
We are told that Plutarch (as one supposedly reporting history) records a "young man" who "had fallen from a great height, struck his neck" (note that Luke does not even tell us on what bodily part Eutychus fell), and died. So did Plutarch make this up? Or, as is more likely, was falling from a high place (in this era before OSHA, and before glass was used in windows, except by the very rich) a typical accident to have?
I would tie this in also with the "sleepy" condition of the respective subjects...one would very likely have to be in just such a state of inattention in order to even have such an accident. The way the Skeptics are using HEGM, there is no way that Luke could report such an incident without being accused of fictionalizing.
There remains, therefore, one element that could be called "uncanny": The location of the incident at Troas (which is NOT where Elpenor's accident happened, but where he was on the way from, some time before). HEGM pointedly relates that Troas was "a mere ten miles south of ancient Troy," and that Troas was identified by Suetonius and others with the legacies of Troy. Thus: "By placing the story of Eutychus in Troy, Luke seems to be hinting that one should read it in light of Troy's mythological traditions." 
Well, we may grant that some sort of allusion was intended, but is this uncanny enough to have been "made up"? In a footnote we are told that recording this incident in Troas particularly is "surprising insofar as Luke had said nothing earlier about such converts, not even during Paul's earier visit there" in Acts 16. What makes this "surprising" is difficult to see. We are not told why this should be a surprise, and it is not as though Paul was alone making converts; he had thousands of Diaspora Jews, plus the Apostles, in front of him by as many as twenty years; if the gospel reached Rome before Paul in twenty or so years, it likely did not skip over Troas on the way.
Moreover, as HEGM alludes to, but does not quote, Paul himself preached in Troas (2 Cor. 2:12), turned to Macedonia from this point (Acts 16:6-10, which suggests he did preach there) and 2 Tim. 4:13 tells us this is where Paul left his cloak, suggesting he had a place to stay there. It does not matter here whether Luke refers to Paul making converts in Troas. This is merely a weak attempt by MacDonald to suggest implausibility.
As it is, based on what little information we have, there is nothing uncanny at all about an event taking place in a nearby (not exact) geographic location that is remotely connected to a slightly similar and fairly commonplace event whose subject was at one time in a geographic location. It is, indeed, given how few the other correspondences are (in terms of significance and actual occurrence) far less uncanny than, for example, the Lincoln/Ford's theatre connection or the Adams/Jefferson July 4th correspondence. HEGM has done nothing to show that what Luke records is implausible as history.
And now HEGM focusses on its main target, the Gospel of Mark; and it begins with a small chapter that previews what is to come. We will reserve comment on much of what is vaguely generalized here, noting that specifics will be reached later.
The chapter begins with a view for the standard "late date" post-70 argument for Mark, based on "it mentions the Temple being destroyed" arguments we have refuted here, and offers the generalization that "the Jerusalem church, too, was destroyed"  -- a thesis most questionable, both according to the sociology of Stark and by common sense -- was every member of that church destroyed with it?
After this, specific arguments for mimesis in this chapter concern what amounts to five words from Mark:
- It is noted that Mark employs two words used also in Homer, in similar ways. Homer referred often to Odysseus returing "to his fatherland" (patris); Mark used the same word to refer to Jesus returning to Nazareth (Mark 6:1); Mark refers to Jesus as a "carpenter" (Mark 6:3), and this is said to be an echo of reference to Odysseus as a "master carpenter" and to be Mark's way of evoking the image of Odysseus and depicting Jesus, like Odysseus, as "a wise and powerful carpenter."
Patris is used elsewhere in the NT, even outside the Gospels (Heb. 11:14), and at any rate, a patris or "fatherland" (home country or native town) is something every person has inevitably; the word constitutes an ICE and is therefore meaningless in terms of proving Mark created history.
In terms of the "carpenter" issue, a judgment cannot be fully made without an impossible reckoning of how widespread the profession was in the ancient world. Yet HEGM notes that the identification of Jesus with this profession is taken for granted by most commentators, for it would have been something with negative associations in this time of Jesus. And HEGM goes as far as admitting "Jesus may indeed have been a carpenter" . If that is so, then it is as much admitted by HEGM that Mark may not be creating history -- and if that is so, what of other alleged parallels thought to be fiction?
At any rate, the emphasis on Odysseus as a carpenter is made only once, apparently, in the Odyssey -- hardly a typifying characterization.
- It is also noted that Odysseus was referred to by Homer as one who was "much-enduring," "a man of many sorrows," "ill-fated above all men," and used often predictions of sufferings that use a form of the verb pascho, "to suffer." This included use of the phrases "suffer many hardships" and "suffer many things."
It is then noted that Mark "used a similar expression" when he has Jesus say that the Son of Man will "suffer many things" (Mark 8:31, rather late if Mark is trying to make an allusion to Odysseus!).
The implication: Odysseus is Mark's literary model as one who endured suffering.
HEGM's case on this point, however, is extremely weak, and rests upon some gratuitous assumptions. HEGM admits that an expression like "suffer many things" "might have been commonplace" -- but in reply notes that the phrase never appears in the LXX or Philo, "only [!]three times in Josephus," and in the NT only once where (according to the assumed Q/Markan priority thesis) it was not taken from Mark. Thus it is said that the phrase "was not standard Jewish or Christian fare." 
Perhaps not: But the proper category for this case is not "Jewish or Christian fare" but all literature in Greek from the surrounding time. How often does the phrase appear in that context? And how many contexts are there where the phrase could or should have been used and wasn't? Unless it is shown that it could have been used more widely, the argument against it being a commonplace for such contexts is statistically meaningless.
But there is an even more poignant issue at work here, one that HEGM interestingly refrains to comment on, and it relates to what we noted in the opening of this essay. Whatever else may be argued to be unhistorical, it is certainly a matter of historical fact that Jesus did undergo crucifixion, and therefore unquestionably did "suffer many things." This is testified not only in the Synoptics, but also in John, the NT letters, Josephus, and Tacitus. Therefore, if Mark is indeed "mimesizing" here, he is doing so with true history behind his work -- undeniably so.
And this raises the very question that HEGM seems to studiously avoid: Whether it is not possible that Mark is recalling rather than remaking history when he uses mimesis.
Thus Chapter 2 of HEGM has little to recommend for any case that Mark engaged in deliberate fictionalizing -- the data offered is simply not sufficient, or else contrary.
We will close with, for the first time, an examination of the question of whether the data proves Markan priority: I believe that it does not, and that it rather indicates the priority of Matthew or his oral tradition (which, for convenience, I shall merely refer to in terms of "Matthew" for the remainder of this essay).
The "suffer many things" phrase offers no clues, since it is reported in exactly the same terms in Matthew and Mark, as is patris. But what of the "carpenter" notation? Matthew 13:55 does not call Jesus a carpenter, but a carpenter's son. This is usually explained under the QM thesis as a softening of Mark's referral.
But two, now three, arguments point in the other direction. First, as I noted against Randel Helms, who argued that Matthew made the change because of snobbery, "garbageman" is no more or less snobbish than "son of a garbageman."
Second, Matthew's list makes sense as starting from the head of the family and working its way down the social chain: "Is not this the carpenter's son (father)? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?" Mark violates this neat order when he refers first to Jesus himself instead in the first entry.
And so, now, third: HEGM has given us a reason why Mark should be regarded as secondary -- he has emphasized Jesus as a carpenter rather than his putative father (though again, the father/son relationship in Judaism was such that the association is exactly the same in terms of social status), in order to make an allusion, perhaps, to Homer.
Whether that allusion is grounded in history is, in our view, to be answered in the affirmative barring meeting of the burden of proof that HEGM does not even bother to shoulder.
HEGM Chapter 3 begins with a brief analysis of the standard thesis that more than any of the gospels, Mark's "depicts Jesus' disciples as fearful, unfaithful, and uncomprehending."  This "harsh treatment" is assumed "surely" to be a Markan creation, which Matthew and Luke softened, we are told, by deleting disparaging passages or "adjusting them to improve apostolic reputations." [ibid.]
An endnote offers a list to compare, for example, Mark 6:50b-52 vs. Matthew 14:27-33:
And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
Mark sounds harsher in his treatment, since whereas he concludes by saying that the disciples' hearts were hardened, Matthew concludes with them worshipping and confessing Jesus' divinity; furthermore, Mark comments on the "sore amazement" of the band. This is exemplary of editorial comments that Mark adds. Here is an example of another technique, comparing Mark 8:21 and Matthew 16:11-12:
And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?
How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
Mark has not reported Jesus' further explanation and the disciples' resultant understanding.
I have made the point elsewhere that Mark has likely freely used literary techniques to allow Jesus to make certain points; this is hardly problematic. Those who claim significance in the example just above, for example, that Matthew does no more than repeat what Mark already hints at earlier in verse 15 ("And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.") -- not surprising, since Matthew is designed as a teaching tool and might have been expected to beat one about the head with conclusions which may have been actually reached after extensive discussion between Jesus and the disciples (after all, one would expect extended teaching on what this leaven was, for example); whereas Mark may actually be "truer" to what happened in the reality: in the immediate sense, the disciples still "did not understand" and had to be told what the score was.
In any event, what of HEGM's argument here? It is, simply, that in portraying the disciples as ignorant, quarrelsome, and foolish (though not consistently, it is admitted), Mark is mimesizing the treatment of the crew of Odysseus, which was also a set of less intellectual sorts led around by one genius (Odysseus).
Is this so? Well, let us say that it is for just a moment -- what of it? Mark did not need Homer to have a source for what amounts to a common social structure -- there are leaders of men, and these are superior in some way, always, to those who follow; in the case of moral leaders (like Jesus, Confucius, Plato, Socrates and Moses -- all usually surrounded by lesser intellects of some degree) or of immoral ones (David Koresh), the leader is in some way superior to the followers -- that is why they are leaders. And those who constitute the followers are in that condition precisely because they lack the very virtues and capabilities that the leaders possess.
With or without mimesis, actual history is just as likely an explanation for Mark's portrayal of the disciples.
But that assumes that HEGM is even right in seeing mimesis at work, and indications are rather than MacDonald is misusing the prose to elicit false confessions. Four main parallels are drawn :
- In both works, "the narrator first presents the hero's retinue favorably and gradually introduces evidence of their folly until, in the end, they fail altogether."
No direct evidence or quotation is offered for this very vague generalization, other than that Peter is shown "favorably" abandoning all for Jesus (though this evaluation is not offered in Mark, the event is merely reported; after this, the next "favorable" report of Peter is his recognition of Jesus' divinity -- which takes place all the way in Mark 8, not exactly "first" presented).
The introduction of the disciples in Mark is quite neutral in tone -- not surprising, given Mark's brevity. I see no more here than may be found in any work of literature (ficiton or non-fiction) in which a well-known process of "character development" occurs.
- Both works "treat the hero's retinue as a unified group. Few individuals in either assemblage have distinguishing traits, and each group as a whole derives its identity almost exclusively vis-a-vis the protagonist."
This is again no more than vague generalization; take any work of fiction or non-fiction, moreover, and see how much "character development" is done for any large group. Many factors come into play where this is concerned -- length of the work (Mark is rather too small, and has better concerns than, to be talking about, e.g., Bartholomew's preference in music); number in the group; purpose of the work (a biography of Jesus).
HEGM has cited a practical and literary universal, not a point of correspondence between Mark and Homer exclusively.
- In both works, the hero's retinues "failed, because they, unlike the hero himself, could not endure hardships."
This is generalization three out of three -- Odysseus' retinue "failed" much more conspicuously than the disciples (they all ended up dead); and to conglomerate all of the various failures of the two groups under one heading ("could not endure hardships") is far too vague. Is Peter's moral failure at denying Christ to be placed in the same category as Odysseus' men eating the sun-cattle because of their hunger? One may as well compare petty larceny and first-degree murder under the vague heading of "crimes in which someone gets what they want".
- Finally, Simon Peter is said to mirror the role of Odysseus' second-in-command, Eurylochus. We may start with a note from a classical scholar in our consult:
It seems implausible to find Homeric influence operating on Mark's depiction of Peter, which MacDonald sees as derived from Homer's characterization of Eurylochus. Both are said to be viewed in a favorable light initially and then to take on more unattractive characteristics (22). Yet as evidence for Eurylochus' good character MacDonald cites only two epithets ("godlike" [Od. 10.205] and "great-hearted" [Od. 10.207]); however, these epithets are probably only ornamental, no more meaningful in context than Penelope's "fat" hand at Odyssey 21.6.
Further on, overstatement and vague generalization remains all that is found in HEGM's case for a Peter-Jesus/Eurylochus-Odysseus parallel. Both men speak for the rest of the group -- which represents no more than that there is always a "second in command" in a given social structure. Both are said to oppose their leader at some point -- which is also a universal social-structure phenomenon, unless all followers are helpless droids. Most irrelevantly, Peter's challenge to Jesus' prediction of his own demise at Jerusalem is said to be "a complaint similar" to one made by Eurylochus to the effect that the crew needed a hot meal and some rest on solid ground before continuing -- but HEGM must reach for this "similarity," suggesting only that Mark may have seen in the words of Odysseus that some "god" was devising ill through the crew's complaints, spearheaded by Eurylochus, an inspiration for Jesus' "Get thee behind me, Satan" rebuke (for Mark would have possibly taken "god" in Homer as a reference to a demon).
Not that it matters that Odysseus wasn't issuing a rebuke; the vast differences here are ignored in favor of few and superficial similarities, created by using the same words to describe vastly different events: I.e., "Both runners-up challenged the authority of the protagonists, objecting to their severity and doomsday predictions."  Like Odysseus' crew, the disciples "broke their vows to the hero in the face of suffering. Jesus, like Odysseus, had to confront his opponents alone."  With statements like these, and the use of broad terminology ("runners-up," "challenged," "severity," "doomsday predictions," [!] "vows," suffering," "opponents") we are even more vague than "Lincoln and Kennedy were both concerned particularly with civil rights".
The fourth chapter of HEGM is a bit of an oddity in context. Our classical scholar in consult, though he finds MacDonald's argument in this chapter persuasive, observes that it "rests uncomfortably in a book devoted to parallels between Mark and the Homeric epics, since evidence is derived mostly from sources other than Homer." The thesis: that "the depiction of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, derives from legends associated with Castor and Pollux" -- who appear not in Homer, but in later works (the Homeric hymns of the 7th-6th century BC).
Are James and John new versions of Castor and Pollux? Even if so, once again Mark has done nothing that would suggest fabrication of history. Let's check some of HEGM's foundational claims:
First, it is said, "Mark consistently presented these brothers as veritable twins with no distinguishing traits."  This says no more or less than could be said of other seconadary characters in any work of literature with a biographical focus on another person. Moreover, it consists of negative evidence: To not report something about someone is not therefore fabricating anything about them; one could do this to any person in a work of literature -- no one is immune to being reduced to a literary cipher.
It is also meaningless to point out that in Mark "whatever the brothers do, they do together." Of course they do: This is exactly what would be expected within a given social structure in which family (especially brothers who grew up together) are involved. But even then, HEGM still reads to much into the data: James and John appear together 8 times in Mark's gospel. Once they appear with their father (1:19), twice with Simon Peter and Andrew (1:29, 13:3), once in a full list of the Apostles (3:17), three times with Peter (5:37, 9:2, 14:33), and only once completely alone (10:35, 39). This does not carry an implication of "loner twins" as much as HEGM's descriptions suggests.
Then we are told that Matthew "repeatedly deleted Mark's references to them," adding only the appearance of their mother at the tomb.
Once again HEGM overstates the significance of the data. Matthew keeps the call of the brothers as fishermen (4:21); he keeps the listing of apostles (10:2); he "deletes" the reference paralleling Mark 5:37, but also "deletes" Peter; he keeps the transiguration episode (again, with Peter; 17:1); keeps the episode of them going before Jesus to ask for the thrones near him (as "sons of Zebedee, and adding their mother); "deletes" them (along with Peter and Andrew, referring only to generic "disciples") before the Olivet discourse (24:3); and he keeps them (not by name, but as the "sons of Zebedee") in Gethsemane (26:37).
How two deletions, once in the context of a larger pericope also "deleted," amounts to "repeatedly" is something best left to the mathematical imagination.
We are told that Luke also "often dropped" the brothers when taking from Mark, but the data here is no more of significance. Luke mentions the brothers 5 times, "keeping" the fishing episode (with Simon Peter -- 5:10), the Apostolic list (6:14), the Jairus episode (with Peter -- 8:51), and the transfiguration (with Peter -- 9:28), and adding one episode (9:54), which we will discuss later. He does not keep the "thrones" episode (one of many things Luke "deletes"), follows Matthew in "deleting" James, John, Peter and Andrew in favor of generic "disciples" at the Olivet discourse, and also uses generic "disciples" (no James or John, or Peter) in Gethsemane. This is simply not statistically significant.
There is also the standard objection that James is not mentioned in John's Gospel (though the "sons of Zebedee" are). We have noted elsewhere that this is a pointless objection -- John is not writing a family history, and at any rate, he "fails" to list the Apostles anywhere -- only a few are actually named.
But HEGM's major argument for the chapter begins with an observation of this unusual verse:
Mark 3:17 And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder.
This verse is unqiue to Mark, and it is from here that the main suggestion is made that Mark is comparing the brothers to Castor and Pollux (also called the Dioscuri). This is said, according to a quoted authority, to have "swept (James and John) out of whatever historic reality they might have had and into the procedures of mythic transformations".
Why these brothers cannot have been reasonably nicknamed after the mythic twins in reality is not explained. Naming James and John after the Dioscuri no more makes them mythological than nicknaming a football player "Papa Smurf" (as was done in my middle school) thereby "sweeps [him] into the procedures of cartoonish transformations." Basketball great Darryl Dawkins was nicknamed "Chocolate Thunder" -- was he a myth?
Not that the parallel is exact anyway: Zeus is the father of the Dioscuri, and it is he who is titled, "the Thunderer" -- the Dioscuri are "sons of the Thunderer" (not "sons of Thunder" per se), and Zebedee is nowhere given any such title.
One also wonders why "sons of thunder" could not have been an appellation given independently of the Dioscuri story, based upon some other trait (hot tempers, for example) and that thunder is a universal phenomenon associated with disruption (or else, something associated in Judaism with the voice of God, hence James and John are "sons" or echoers of the voice of God).
Further parallels are no more convincing. The Dioscuri are noted as accompanying Jason and his argonauts, and that St. Elmo's fire was taken as an epihany of them; this is paralleled to James and John as "sailors." Are fishermen really "sailors"? Not at all -- this is a stretch of terminology akin to the "warehouse/storage barn" parallel listed above.
Moreover, if this was of special significance, why are Peter and Andrew also fishermen? And is fishing an unusual profession to have had in Galilee? Not at all. Mimesis here is unlikely; historical reality is a far better explanation.
And of course, there is an ICE involved here: James and John had to have a job of some sort; any job could be cited, even as a "transvaluation", by HEGM's loose criteria.
The next parallel offered involves this story:
Mark 10:35-8 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
If Mark is mimesizing here, we may point out, we have some good proof of Matthean priority: Why else would Mark delete the reference to the mother of James and John? Why would Matthew add such a detail? But that assumes we have mimesis at all, and again, the evidence is rather thin.
It is noted that the Dioscuri often appeared in art of this time on the right and left of an enthroned deity . It is said that Mark's readers may have seen a parallel. Perhaps so, but it is just as likely that they would see a parallel to the universal notion of secondary rulers sitting on the right and left hand of the king. Indeed, it is much more likely that the Dioscuri depictions and the request of James and John have their roots in this social-ideal commonality rather than one being derived from the other. (Did not all of the disciples argue about which of them would be the greatest in heaven?)
Further we are told that there are parallels to the respective fates of James and John. James was executed early as reported in Acts 12:2 (note: not by Mark), whereas John reportedly lived a long time (and by John's gospel, was said to be addressing a rumor of his deathlessness).
I have noted especially that these things are found outside of Mark's gospel; to establish a parallel with Mark, HEGM is forced to draw in Jesus' admonition prior to the Transfiguration that some standing by would not taste death before the kingdom was ushered in, and supposing that this means Mark "may have shared the notion that this disciple [John] would not die before the return of Jesus."  Why we should narrow the "some" and "the one who endures to the end" noted in Mark down to a single person who is not mentioned alone in any nearby context is, again, best left to imagination.
But a key parallel is said to be in that Castor and Pollux were respectively mortal and immortal. Castor died in a fight; Pollux was very upset and asked Zeus for help, and from this resulted the brothers sharing immortality in tandem -- alive and dead in alteration. We are told, then, that James' martyrdom "corresponds to the death of Castor" while John's longevity corresponds to Pollux's immortality; therefore also the request made to Jesus for glory in the afterlife corresponds to "want[ing] to make a special arrangement for the hereafter" as the Dioscuri did, in the form of an "equal glory" in which either could get the more prestigious right hand. Thus it is said, Mark transvalued and emulated the Dioscuri's story.
And so, these are the parallels laid out:
- Sons of Tyndareus/Sons of Zebedee
- Also known as Dioscuri, lads of Zeus/AKA Boanerges, Sons of Thunder
- Castor/John died violently
- Pollux could have lived forever/John was thought to live until Jesus returned
- Pollux asked Zeus if he and Castor could share a single immortality/James and John asked to sit by Jesus in glory
- Zeus consented/Jesus refused
We have already dealt with items 2 and 3 above. Item 1 is meaningless -- obviously every male is a "son" of somebody. Items 4 and 5, as we have noted, depend upon going outside of Mark -- and thus, assumes (within the context assumed by HEGM, that Mark came first) that Mark's readers were somehow aware of what is said in 4 and 5. If the readers were aware of it, then it was clearly being passed around as reflecting historical reality prior to Mark's "Homerization" of the story.
But the parallel in 4 is meaningless anyway: Everyone dies (not necessarily violently, but if it had been a non-violent death by James, it would be called a "transvaluation" by HEGM), and a violent death was not an uncommon fate in ancient times, more so than today and especially in the context of a religious movement suffering persecution from a variety of sources (a historical circumstance that HEGM can hardly dispute). One also senses overgeneralization, since James' death by sword and under authority is hardly the same as Castor dying in a fight.
Item 5 is a stretch -- there is nothing here but the conception of immortality, or avoiding of the universal of death; all of us, except atheists, want to make "special arrangements for the hereafter" and we would hardly expect the plans not to involve our closest family.
Item 6 also has overgeneralization; the differences (nature of immortality; one brother alive vs. two) outweigh the similarities and make it much more possible to argue for actual historicity behind the Markan episode. Item 7 pairs with 6 and is an ICE in context.
We therefore find no merit in a case for Markan mimesis in this context. The chapter closes with two diversions. The second is an excursus on how medieval Spanish Christians viewed James and John in light of the Dioscuri, which we say proves that medieval Spanish Christians were as mistaken as MacDonald is.
The first diversion is a return to Luke, and this special episoide:
Luke 9:52-55 And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
We are told that this parallels an episode in the life of the Dioscuri (again, outside Homer). The Zeus children were known in one story as the "sackers of Las" -- a city called Lapersai. They also sacked another city in order to rescue their sister. HEGM thus finds James' and John's actions to be "a role consistent with that of the Heavenly Twins". How? Because they wanted to be "city-sackers". 
We strongly suggest that readers consult a dictionary and find out what "sackers" means -- it has nothing to do with sending the fire of judgment down upon a city (fire reflects a motif of judgment in the OT and Judaism).
The subject of Chapter 5 is the conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish leadership -- and here, HEGM makes two admissions of possible historicity. It could hardly do otherwise.
Jesus' interactions with the Jewish leaders are said to "quite possibly reflect contoversies of the historical Jesus"  (we may add, that Josephus verifies, at least, that there was such controversy; of what sort there would be, other than what the Gospels offer, is something we'd need to know to take the matter further). The Temple cleansing is acknowledged as something that "may"  be historical.
In this chapter also, more than any yet, however, the Homerian gnat is strained to produce an Odysseian camel. HEGM's resort to Homer ignores far more plausible lines of evidence pointing to historicity.
The thesis of the chapter is that the interactions the Jewish leaders "play a similar role to that of Penelope's suitors, who usurped the authority of Odysseus' estate and were willing to kill to protect their priviliged status." As a prelude, we are told, there is a similarity in Homer laying down an early warning of plans to kill Odysseus and his son Telemachus, and that "Mark never lets his reader forget the plots of the Jewish authorities" against Jesus. 
How Mark "never lets the reader forget" this is not explained. The only footnote reference is to verses which speak of Pharisees coming up from Jerusalem and confronting Jesus; this, it is said, "prepares the reader to expect the worst when Jesus enters the city."  But of course, one can hardly say such a thing, since it has the air of retrojection; we already know through centuries of hearing the story to "expect the worst" out of the Jerusalem visit; so, likely, would have Mark's readers who were already believers.
Mark himself delivers no early warning of Jesus' death; it is first noted in Mark 9:31, and that to be at the "hands of men" -- not the Jewish leadership. The Jewish leadership is specified in Mark 10:34, but in league with the Gentiles. The story of Mark 12 is another reminder. One strains to see how this can be described with the word "never lets the reader forget," especially since it is unlikely Mark's readers would need a reminder as to who was responsible for Jesus' death in the first place.
HEGM, as we have noted, admits that the Temple cleasing episode "may" have historical roots. But it goes on to find "intriguing parallels" in the story of Odysseus wreaking havoc among the would-be suitors. The examples given are:
- "The overturning of tables, chairs, and vessels recurs throughout Odysseus' orgy of violence" in which food, wine, and all else is spilled and all heck breaks loose. This, we are told, is comparable to Jesus' cleansing of the Temple.
What HEGM fails to relate is that Odysseus' effort goes on for several pages -- Mark's account offers but five verses; vessels are not overturned but kept from passing through the courtyard of the Temple; it is not food and wine spilled, but merchants' wares and money; in Mark the object is not to kill anyone (and Homer gives lavish descriptions of each death, of blood and suffering, and intermittent speeches by the characters) but to stage a prophetic demonstration (1st century performance art, if you will).
To find a parallel here and suggest mimesis is like suggesting mimesis in reports of auto accidents, merely in the fact that autos were involved and people were driving. The citation of much later works of art that make the Temple Cleansing look like the Homeric scene is proof of no more than that others drew the same illicit parallel that MacDonald did (though for different reasons).
We know that the moneychangers and such actually existed from independent evidence, and they could hardly have done business without the furnishings described. Nothing Mark reports is historically out of kilter -- and he did not need Homer for the idea of overturning furniture. Such demonstrations are matters of universal practice and especially within the OT prophectic praxis of vivid physical demonstrations.
- We are told also, "Like Odysseus entering his house from Eumaeus's hut, Jesus entered the temple, his "house," from Bethany."
But Jesus does not refer to the Temple as "his" house, but as the Father's house, with reference to Jeremiah, who called the temple God's house -- and unless we want to argue that Jeremiah and the rest of the OT was copying Homer also, there is no compelling reason to find mimesis in this minor cite.
Beyond that, since presumably no one in a reasonably civilized nation spends their entire life outside and never enters a building, there is no way that Mark could not be charged by HEGM with mimesis here. Jesus would have had to spend the night outside for the charge to be avoided -- or else have it "reduced" to transvaluation.
- The same may be said of the "den of robbers" phrase -- did Jeremiah anticipate the use of Homer as well? Here, though, HEGM does attempt to reject historical plausibility, arguing that though the merchants at the Temple "occasionally swindled pilgrims, they were not thieves" and provided an important service.
Let us check some OT hermeneutics: Jeremiah is not thinking of theivery, and correspondingly, neither was Jesus -- Jeremiah speaks of a variety of sinners coming into the house of God (murderers, adulterers, liars) and taking refuge in the house of the Lord as though it were some sort of protection for them (hence, the famous Jer. 7:22 "denying" sacrifices). The point of Jesus' application is not that the merchants are swindling pilgrims per se (which they did do -- and one wonders where MacDonald found crime reports proving that it was only done "occassionally," rather than being a typical practice, as later rabbinic literature implies), but that they thought that they were "bulletproof" because they were in the Temple. There is no relation here to the motives of Penelope's suitors -- not even marginally so.
- Mark 11:17-18 is compared to a speech of Odysseus against the suitors, but all HEGM can offer in comparison -- out of several extended comments by Odysseus -- is the similarity of the word "house" (a very common word, and again, rooted in the OT) and the corresponding phrases, "pale fear seized them all"/"for they were afraid of him" (Mark 11:18) -- though the object of fear is totally different and for different reasons (Odysseus killing the suitors; the mob deposing the priests and/or inciting anarchy, as even HEGM admits), and fear is a universal emotion (the word occurs 93 times in the NT).
A parallel is also alleged in that in both, "the hero denounces those who had ruined his house" -- here, "hero" and "ruined" are words of generalization of the "concerned with civil rights" variety.
- The next comparison is made with the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12). Here are the parallels offered:
- Both Mark's vineyard owner and Odysseus were "a builder who went on a journey and left his estate in the hands of his servants, some of whom joined the suitors in eating the rightful lord out of house and home."
Once again we are in "concerned with civil rights" and vague generalization/universal territory -- those who had the means in ancient times usually were the builders of something, especially their own homes; they also took journeys, and left their estates in the care of others; but the vineyard owner, and especially Odysseus, are much more complex characters than this two-dimensional description suggests -- "who journeys and leaves his estate in servant hands" describes a well-known portion of the ancient Greco-Roman world.
- "The servants who remained faithful to their lord continuously suffered abuse and humilation."
As might be expected; within the context, this is an ICE -- so it might have been said of American slaves who were loyal to "the master" versus those who resented him.
- As the vineyard tenants plotted to kill the son, so the suitors plotted to kill Telemachus, Odysseus' son.
Is this any surprise in either case? If you plotted to take someone's property I don't think you'd leave someone around to try to take it back. This too is an ICE in context.
- As Odysseus returned and destroyed the suitors, so the vineyard owner returned and destroyed the tenants -- although, Mark does not narrate this destruction; and we have already been told that the Temple cleansing (an unrelated incident) is Mark's tip of the hat to Odyssesus' rampage.
One would point out that HEGM has assumed a great deal of inherent flexibility to move around the Markan text to make a case -- we will see this even more in other chapters.
- Both Mark's vineyard owner and Odysseus were "a builder who went on a journey and left his estate in the hands of his servants, some of whom joined the suitors in eating the rightful lord out of house and home."
Now let's ask the key question: mimesis or no, is what Mark describes plausible as history (or, in this case, as a story told by Jesus)? Did he need to borrow from Homer?
HEGM suggests that mimesis solves "a problem within the parable that has stumped interpreters," namely, that "the tenants assumed that if they killed the heir they would inherit the vineyard, but no society would award property to an heir's murderers." 
Which "stumped interpreters" MacDonald is thinking of I do not know. All commentators I have read note that the tenants would get the property under the rubric of being able to claim it as "unpossessed" -- they have assumed that the father is dead and that the son is coming to claim his inheritance (note their use of the words "heir" and "inheritance" especially); so they figure if they kill the son, the property will have no living and owner and can be claimed as theirs -- and if MacDonald thinks "society" will have any recourse or objection in this context (as if the tenants would turn themselves in to the authorities?), he is wrong.
Indeed, he is also wrong in that he thinks also that Homer depicts an impossibility in that the suitors propose killing Telemachus and distributing his wealth among themselves, "never mind about Penelope". But what could she have done about it?
Another parallel is said to be found in the difference is Matt. 23:6-7 (said to be from Q, but actually in this context, if HEGM is right, a proof of Matthean priority) and Mark 12:39-40:
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
It is said that Mark "added several telling elements reminiscent of the suitors"  to the Q saying, among them: 1) the bit about places of honor at banquets (but this IS in Matthew; HEGM omits it) and 2) the bit about devouring widow's houses.
How two additions amounts to "several" is yet another mathematical wonder, but even so, what we see here is no more than universal demonstrations of pride and corruption. In the former case, HEGM must collapse both events down into the general description of the suitors and Pharisees who "vied with each other for honors at perpetual banquets" -- though we know of the Jewish (indeed, general) custom of seeking seats at banquets, and there were vast differences between the motives of the suitors and the Pharisees.
As for the latter, HEGM makes no effort to figure whether "devouring widows houses" is a plausible historical datum -- we know well enough that widows even today are the most socially vulnerable members of society; today the suitors are "paralleled" by con artists and telemarketers. Mark did not need Homer to make this add-on -- and we need not doubt that there were some scribes (who were not paid for their work) who mooched off of the vulnerable. (Note that "house" should be taken in the sense of an estate, not merely the physical building.)
Finally HEGM finds parallels in two Markan/Odyssean character pairs. The first compares Judas Iscariot with Odysseus' disloyal servant Melanthius. Melanthius "switched allegiance to the suitors and provided them with the livestock they required for their enormous appetites."  As a reward he was permitted to join the feasts. We are told that his role "resembles that of Judas" in that both "switched loyalties for greed"  -- but no quote is given showing greed on Melanthius' part; this motivation is merely assumed from the story.
Moreover, HEGM acknowledges that Melanhtius was "convinced his master had died at sea"  -- this is not greed; this is cruel, crude practicality and self-interest. Greed is perhaps justifiably described as a related trait, but to collapse the description down in order to draw a parallel (for what is, after all, a universal sort of human trait) is meaningless.
We are also told that like Melanethius, Judas "took his place at a meal to which he had no right as a traitor" -- meaningless also, since there would hardly be any point at which either man could not eat a meal; would Judas have needed to starve himself to avoid setting off HEGM's alarms? Or would that be yet another untestable "transvaluation"?
And there are of course vast differences: Judas ate with those who loved him, including the Master, whereas Melanethius ate with the Master's enemies; Judas was offered a chance to repent by an offer of friendship, whereas Melanthius was killed by Odysseus and his son at the end (more "transvaluations"?). Against this, HEGM can only offer further the idea that both Judas and Melanthius were "associated with weapons" -- Melanthius by supplying the suitors with arms, Judas by being with the crowd that had swords and clubs.
HEGM's only address to the matter of historicity in this context is to say that the Homeric parallel "may explain the awkward motivation for the bribe from the chief priests" -- awkward? How? Because it is supposed, Jesus being a public figure, they would not need to pay Judas to recognize him.
That's likely true, but that is hardly the reason they paid Judas; they paid him for an opportunity to betray Jesus, not merely recognize him for them. MacDonald has oddly assumed that Judas' Gethsemane comment, "Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely," was a) said to the priests, rather than to their paid soldiers, who may have numbered in the hundreds or thousands, not all of whom likely had the chance to see Jesus; b) was anything more than the snivelling of a "snitch" who was doing something superfluous to try to ingratiate himself.
The second character pair is with Barabbas and with a Homeric beggar named Arnaeus (nicknamed Irus) who is the suitors' do-boy. HEGM offers first the usual argument that the Passover release is a "most unlikely custom," with no critical analysis at all, other than the claim that there is no other attestation for it (i.e., "if it's in the NT, it needs to be attested elsewhere, but if a secular source says it only once, that's OK" argument), a point we have answered here.
In a footnote, HEGM also offers tentatively Crossan's view that "Judas" is a name signifying "Jew" and that the NT thereby is being anti-Jewish. Being that Judas was a very common name in this period, as even Crossan will admit, this is more a case of the critics reading into the text what they have assumed to be there than anything else.
In terms of establishing a parallel, we are told:
- Both characters were "violent rogues who bore signifying names." I know of no names in the NT, or anywhere, that are not "signifying" in some way; this parallel is meaningless.
The "violent rogue" comparison is little better -- Irus is not shown to be violent at all, except in reaction to Odysseus trying to usurp his livelihood; he even gives a chance for giving up without a fight, and when fighting becomes inevitable, becomes sorely frightened, trembling in his limbs; when the fight begins, he throws only one hapless punch before Odysseus knocks him out with a single blow.
"Violent"? Was Irus "violent" like Barabbas, an insurrectionist who murdered someone in a political rebellion? This, and the generalized "rogue" description, are again too vague to be useful. This is proven in that HEGM summarizes later by saying, "Instead of siding with the righteous, the opponents favored a boorish beggar or a revolutionary." This is said as though in each story the "opponents" [vague generalization] had a choice between someone with either identity.
- It is said: "Just as the suitors had instigated the fight and sided with Irus, the Jewish crowd asked Pilate to release a prisoner to them and, stirred up by 'the chief priests,' sided with Barabbas instead of their king."
The language here is again vague; MacDonald has used similar grammatical formats and languages to make the impression of a parallel, but there is no equation for the crowd in the Odysseus story; the crowd does not "side with Barabbas" as much as they side against Jesus, and Josephus testifies well enough that the Jewish leadership was against Jesus.
If there is any mimesis here, it is likely rooted in actual events, and it is the burden of proof of HEGM, never satisfied, to show otherwise.
- An alleged parallel is found in respective speeches by one of the suitors, and by the Roman soliders. Note how the switch can be made in the equation -- from "suitors = Jewish leaders" to "suitors = Roman soldiers" -- as HEGM finds it necessary.
The parallel is found, in any event, in that both offer a salute and use the word "Hail!" One may as well find a comparison in people waving and saying "hello" to each other. These are said to occur in a "remarkably similar context," but where is the "similairity" in a toast to the disguised Odysseus after he beats up Irus, and the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus after torturing him prior to execution? Or is this yet another one of those "transvaluations"?
The best HEGM can do is note in a footnote that Jesus is robed in a purple [by his enemies] whereas Odysseus was once given a gift of a purple, with fleece, by his wife. It is admitted that many royal characters wore purple (and it should be noted that Roman soldiers typically wore a purple cloak, so that the very presence of such a cloak in the context of Jesus execution is indisputable -- Jeff.GRW, 43), but a parallel is still drawn in that in both stories, the cloak is "dyed with irony" -- in that Odysseus is now dressed as a beggar, while Jesus was dressed as a king by those who executed him. It's very easy to make this sort of argument by collapsing very different events and persons down into a catch-all word ["irony"].)
HEGM is clearly operating under a hermeneutic of convenience to make its case here. When one is allowed to range far afield to make comparisons (as in suggesting, for example, that Melanthius' punishment of having his ears, nose, genitals, hands, and feet cut off was "applied" not to his supposed "pair" Judas, but to the servant's high priests who had only his ear cut off), any argument or parallel is possible.
HEGM Chapter 6 is partly an oddity, in that it spends a great deal of time analyzing Mark's supposed "Messianic secret" theme -- with no reference to Homer. Extended analysis is offered of Jesus' level of disclosure among various groups, ranging from friends (where he is most revealing) to Jewish authorities (where he is most secretive and subtle) -- which is interesting, but reflects no more than what we would expect in reality. MacDonald is showing no more than could be shown in any social situation. (For more on this motif see here.)
There are also a few statements made to "save the theory": it is said that there was no admonition to silence in the multiplying fishes/loaves miracles, "probably because only the disciples witnessed the miraculous multiplications" (46). But I am sure the crowd contained people who could see that masses of food were on hand that could not have been hidden.
Mark does indeed offer many admonitions to secrecy by Jesus, but as HEGM barely notices, it also offers many times that those admonitions were ignored. Mark 7:36, regarding healing of a deaf-mute, says of the admonitions of silence: "The more (Jesus) did so, the more they kept talking about it," and elsewhere are many instances where the subject of a healing went and blabbed in spite of instructions to the contrary. If this "Messianic secret" theme can be called such at all, it should be qualified with the words "attempted, and failed."
That said, HEGM's attempt to draw a parallel to the acts of Odysseus -- who kept his identity a secret through disguises and trickery when he returned home -- is quite far off the mark. The matter of keeping one's presence or identity a secret, for any number of reasons, is a universal, and we have shown elsewhere that there were many good reasons for Jesus to be circumspect.
HEGM offers more of the same methods, such as collapsing down the stories into vague/broad terms to make an equivalency that is statistically meaningless: i.e.,"Jesus keeps the authorities flummoxed concenring his identity by evasion, metaphors, and sheer wit, much like Odysseus among the suitors." 
"Much like" in what specific ways, please? We aren't told of any incidences of evasion, metaphor, or wit by Odysseus, but even if there were any, how else would one flummox those who might penetrate one's disguise?
Or, when the identities of Jesus and Odysseus were revealed, before the high priest and the suitors respectively, both offered "a dramatic gesture" [tearing his robes vs. responding in wild fear]; and, using common words like "coming" to suggest a parallel , though here again, the OT, via Daniel 7:13, provides a more obvious connection.
HEGM's next chapter starts with presumptions of critical NT scholarship in saying that Mark is the only independent source that "ever related Jesus to things nautical"  -- making the disciples fishermen and putting Jesus on the water in boats (though Luke 5:1-11 is broadly dismissed in a note as what "may be well nothing more than an expansion" of a story in Mark).
Given the topography of Galilee, one might argue sensibly that this was what we might expect of any person who travelled that region; after all, it is less wearying, and less time-consuming (as well as more convenient for eating, if you are fishermen) to travel by sea rather than land.
But MacDonald has no view for such practical matters; Mark has Jesus go across the sea of Galilee "several times" (though how twice, two round trips, manages to be "several" is another matter of miraculous mathematics). This was done, he tells us, in imitation of Odysseus and his sailors. This, though sailors and fishermen are not the same kind of people; no more so than limousine drivers and long-haul truckers can be reckoned similar because they both go on a road. MacDonald says, "Once [the disciples] failed to provision the ship with enough bread, an oversight unpardonable for ancient sailors, who often had to traverse vast expanses." 
Since as MacDonald will go on to say, the Sea of Galilee is no "vast expanse," and since these were fishermen who had only to drop a line to get some food, one wonders is the point of this statement.
But to make our disciples no more than copies of Homer's water-bound henchmen, MacDonald says, "Jesus' acquisition of a ship and crew in Mark 1:16-20 resembles a passage in Odyssey 2."  For reference, here is the Markan passage:
Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
The "resemblance," however, turns out to be no more than that, supposedly, both Telemachus (the son of Odysseus) and Jesus are said to have needed a boat and had to go hire one, and men to go with it. Why this does not simply reflect a universal process for anyone needing a boat -- as indeed Jesus would, for a travelling ministry in Galilee -- is not explained. Moreover, how odd that Jesus can now here be a parallel to Telemachus rather than Odysseus as he has been.
And what of the vast differences in the stories? Telemachus is going searching for his father; Jesus is calling for disciples to travel with him spreading a religious message, and the call does not even get followed upon by a sea journey. Telemachus prays to Athena for help in finding a crew, and gets it, along with personal assurance from her; Jesus doesn't even pray to the Father for help, a parallel Mark could hardly have passed up, since it would reflect a likely action of Christ.
At the end, MacDonald is reduced collapsing both episodes down into too-generalized descriptions to create a parallel: "Mark's Jesus had a problem similar to that of Telemachus. When he arrived in Galilee, he had no ship or companions, and he himself was no sailor. Thus, his first act was to call four fishermen to follow him."
Then MacDonald must stretch for minute verbal parallels in the respective passages: Athena "went everywhere throughout the city" is paralleled to "Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee." What would Jesus have had to do to avoid a parallel? Stand perfectly still and scream for help from the lakeside?
Athena having "spoke her word" is drawn alongside "And Jesus said to them" (meaning, to avoid a parallel, Jesus can't speak).
One "Noemen, the glorious son of Phronius" is paralleled along the phrase "James the son of Zebedee" (who had a brother too, unlike Phronius; and what's the parallel when phrases like "John, son of Joseph" are everywhere in ancient literature?
MacDonald thinks that Mark's copying explains the "awkward" phrase "James the son of Zebedee and his brother John" which was used rather than the "more economical an common" "James and John the sons of Zebedee. I say this is rather explained by the parallel to "Simon and Andrew his brother" earlier, and the use of this phrase-pattern numerous times in the OT.
Athena's asking for a "swift ship" is drawn in a column across from James and John being in their "boat" mending nets; Athena asking for first a crew and then a ship from separate persons is paralleled to Jesus' call to first Peter and Andrew and then James and John as "twofold calls". Jesus isn't even asking for a boat, or a crew, and James and John left their boat with their father; MacDonald must compensate for this by noting that Jesus "presumed that the disciples would have no trouble acquiring a vessel" .
Every variation like this only supports the argument that Mark, if he is indeed imitating Homer, is doing so by selecting from true history, and not inventing it.
As we have noted, the key is whether or not Mark describes plausible history, and in that respect, all HEGM offers is this: "The motivation of the four fishermen in mark is altogether unconvincing: they left everything behind when a perfect stranger invited them to fish for people."  MacDonald of course reads Mark within a Markan priority paradigm (so that Luke "improved Mark" by adding a motivation), but that begged question aside, what is MacDonald on about here? That Mark says nothing about a previous relationship between Jesus and these men hardly means that there wasn't one, or he didn't know about it; like all the Gospels, this is a retrospective account that assumes previous and untold events.
When Mark next says that "they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught," does MacDonald think that Mark envisioned Jesus walking into synagogues at random without prior arrangement and just getting up and teaching? Mark doesn't tell us how Jesus made initial contact with the synagogue leaders to set up a teaching, so does this mean he didn't do that? An occassion of silence in a text is not call for us to fill it in with our own background.
Further, MacDonald needs to heed the following from Malina and Rohrbaugh: "Geographical mobility and the consequent break with one's social network (biological family, patrons, friends, neighbors) were considered seriously deviant behavior and would have been much more traumatic in antiquity than simply leaving behind material wealth." You can bet that Jesus was not just some stranger at the time. There's also another relevant point from them about the difference between our society as "low-context" and the ancients as "high-context" -- readers of the Gospels would be expected to know the background data. See more about this in our reply to Earl Doherty here.)
HEGM next supposes that there is some mimetic significance in Mark calling the Sea of Galilee a "sea" at all, and in the events described upon it:
- "...Mark portrays this lake, only seven miles long and four wide, as a feroucius sea, troubled by storms, mighty winds, and lofty waves." MacDonald then says, "Such gales are possible on the [lake], but historical realism reveals less about Mark's 'sea' than it's literary potential..."  H
EGM then goes on to quote Porphyry's objection that Mark is exaggerating by calling this body of water a "sea" rather than a lake. Well, Porphyry is no authority to make light of in such matters. Storms as described in Mark are not only "possible" on the Sea of Galilee; they are an integral part of its nature. In this regard, the meteorologist Arieh Bitan [Bit.LK] shows that the "complicated topographic structure around the lake," combined with a variety of other factors (Mediterranean sea breezes, air pressure distrbution, seasonal factors, weather components as far away as Siberia make for a situation in which such windstorms are not only "possible," but are an integral part of the lake's nature, giving it a "unique wind regime" of a sort that defies the imagination. Measurement stations around the lake recorded wind speeds with an averages ranging from 8.0 kmh to 19.4 kmh, with maximum hourly velocities of 40.0-80.0 kmh in January, and average ranges of 9.0-27.2 kmh and maximum hourly velocities from 26.0-68.0 kmh in August.
- Second, is Mark exaggerating when he calls this body of water a "sea"? Porphyry, followed by MacDonald, suggests that Mark uses this "big" term for a little pond "in order to portray Jesus in epic proportions." One would like to ask what indications there are in contemporary literature as to when a given body of water earned the title "sea" (thalassa) and when it only deserved the title "lake" (limne).
MacDonald presents us with little in the way of comparative literature; he does admit (in an endnote) that the Septuagint, translating from the Hebrew, refers to this body of water as a "sea," "but not in conjunction with the word Galilee".  Well, that is all that it takes. What lies behind Mark's "sea" terminology is no more than the lack of distinction in Hebrew for various bodies of water by size.
The Sea of Galilee is called a yam, the all-purpose word for water bodies in Hebrew also applied to the Mediterranean, in Num. 34:11 and Josh. 12:3 -- so were they part of a plan to help Mark imitate Homer?
As it is, John also uses "sea" to refer to the lake (the same Greek word, thalassa); it is Luke alone, the Gentile, who uses limne. Perhaps that's where the clue lies, in greater Greco-Roman precision? Limne is used elsewhere in the NT only in Revelation, to refer to the lake of fire.
- Next HEGM finds difficulty in Mark's reference to Jesus using a boat as a floating podium. It is said that this "causes problems" in Mark -- why?
Quoting Mark 4:34, after an episode of teaching to a large crowd from such a boat: "But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples." MacDonald apparently seems to think that Jesus' sitting in the boat (mentioned back in verse 1, in direct association with the problem of the pressing crowds) is carried over also into the private sessions. So apparently MacDonald thinks that since Mark never says Jesus got out of the boat, he stayed in it forever. If that is so, Mark also never says that the crowd left after the teaching, so are they still there today?
A more proasic solution is at hand: As Joanna Dewey reports in "Oral Methods of Structuring Narrative in Mark's Gospel", "lapses" in continuity like these are the results of a composition attuned to oral presentation; Mark 4:35-6 is thus an oral parallel to Mark 4:1-2, and narrative consistency is purposely sacrificed to make the text easier to remember and to provide an aural cue. It is odd that MacDonald is not aware of this sort of thing.
- Next focus, Mark 4:36: "And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships." This "convoy" is said to be significant, since Odysseus travelled with twelve ships, and Matthew and Luke (begging the Marcan priority question again) report only one ship, apparently not seeing the point of making more.
This is of course an ICE in context; even mentioning only one boat could be interpreted as a "transvaluation" to which HEGM could assign any number of creative purposes. Most commentators take this as a hint of an eyewitness adding superfluous detail (which could easily drop out of oral transmission carried by Matthew and maybe Luke).
- HEGM tries to dehistoricize the event of the calmed sea by saying, "...Jesus faults the disciples for their lack of faith, even though they had done nothing amiss." This is HEGM once again filling gaps of silence with personal speculation; but of course the disciples had done something amiss -- they had already, even in Mark, heard amazing teachings and seen amazing miracles; they did lack faith.
HEGM, though, prefers to see in this story a transvaluation of Homer's story of Odysseus' crew sneakily opening a "bag of winds" presented to their captain by Aeolus, while Odysseus is asleep. To make parallel columns, HEGM is forced to range all over both Mark and Homer (Odyssey 9.563-64, 10.31. 10.47-52; Mark 4:1. 36-9, not in that exact order for Mark) putting together supposed verbal correspondences: Odysseus' crew "went on board" and "sat down" to make a voyage on "the gray sea", while Jesus, to begin his sermon, "boarded a boat" and "sat" on "the sea". Odysseus had told Aeolus tales of his voyage, while Jesus spoke in parables to the crowd; later, HEGM says, "Jesus told his stories floating in a boat" while Odysseus told them on Aeolous' floating island. Are moral parables to be compared to tales of Odysseus' adventures, collapsed into the term "stories"?
Inexplicably, phrases set beside one another as parallels are "requested that he send me" (Homer) and "let us go" (Mark), and noted also: Jesus and Odysseus both sleep in the stern on cushioning material. This was the only place to sleep in a small boat, and I don't think MacDonald would like to sleep on hard wood with splinters either.
Odysseus' greedy crew opened the windbag: "Similarly, as Jesus slept, a storm arose that would demonstrate the disciples' shortcomings."  Again, if we are permitted to collapse events down into such generalized terms, any amount of paralleling is possible.
A contradiction appears, as HEGM first says, "Mark desribes the storm with Homeric nautical vocabulary," but then says only a bit later, "This vocabulary was typical not only of Homer but of literary storms generally, so it indicates nothing conclusive concerning its origins." Of course not: No one, not even the great Homer, owned exclusive rights to common-property words and phrases like "gale of wind" and "waves" -- did we expect Mark of anyone else to think, "I can't use those words; Homer already did"?
Seen of being of some significance is that only in Mark and in the Gospel parallels is the word "calm" (galene) used; it is found elsewhere five times in Homer, but not in the Septuagint (but, how often does it appear in other Greek literature? we aren't told). To top it off, HEGM wants to make it so that in the parallel, Jesus is sometimes Odysseus, sometimes Aeolus. Switches of convenience like this, again, make it possible to draw any parallel we wish.
As an added note, a contributor sent us this comparison he made between this story and the LXX version of Jonah. Using HEGM's criteria, he found a much closer match between the two than between Mark and Homer:
- Similarities in structure, content, etc. -- A storm on a body of water, terrified crew, the principal character sleeps, divine figure stills the storm.
- Single matches in vocabulary -- thalassa, ploion, katheudo, kopazo -- plus, the sailors and the disciples are both afraid that they will 'perish' (apollumi), not 'sink','die', 'go down', etc.
- Phrasal similarities -- kai ginetai lailaps megale vs. kai egeneto kludon megas -- not a perfect match but I'd wager it's better than about half of his correspondences throughout the book.
- And another match on a phrase -- After the storm is calmed, both the sailors and the disciples 'feared a great fear' kai ephobethesan phobon megan (a Hebraism, incidentally)
- Transvaluation -- Jonah's disobedience caused a storm, Jesus' power calmed a storm; elsewhere Jesus explicitly likens himself to Jonah.
...I don't think one should conclude from this micro-study that Mark "copied" or "retold" Jonah in order to fabricate a story in the life of Jesus. I think it much more likely that the parallels suggested themselves and Mark's intimate familiarity with the diction and phrasing of the LXX did the rest. But doesn't it seem to you that, by the rules of MacDonald's own game, Jonah 1 presents a much stronger candidate for 'hypotext' than the Odyssey? And the Aeolus episode is one of MacDonald's more plausible parallels! The narrative similarities between the Markan account and the story of Jonah are so strong, it just boggles my mind that no one involved in the production of MacDonald's book bothered to examine it. Where else could they have obtained a better control for his experiment?
With HEGM Chapter 8 we are offered a look at Mark's episode of the healed demoniac, and we have yet another case where HEGM's thesis does more to prove Matthean priority rather than Markan, for it is far more conceivable that Mark eliminated one of Matthew's two demoniacs to parallel Homer than to suppose that Matthew simply added one to Mark's story -- Mark would have a clear motive for deletion; Matthew, no motive for the addition that would be better.
That assumes of course that we have Homeric mimesis in the first place, and here we again find MacDonald doing no more than putting imagination to work.
Highlighting unique aspects of Mark's story compared to other known exorcism stories, MacDonald envisions Mark lifting bits not from one, but two separate Homeric episodes, to compile this pericope. The first Homeric bit comes from the Odysseian crew's meetup with Circe the witch. "Odysseus and his crew sailed to [Circe's] island and disembarked, just as Jesus and the Twelve sailed to the land of the Gerasenes and disembarked." 
These are ICEs in context; it sounds like a broken record, but that's only because MacDonald keeps making the same error in thought. We would hardly expect a voyage over water to end any other way, unless Jesus and the Twelve are even now sitting in their boat 2000 years later, and even then HEGM could call that a "transvaluation".
At any rate, Odysseus sends some of his crew to check things out, and Circe turns a host of them into pigs. When Odysseus comes to set things right with Circe, we are told, her reply "resembles the response of the demoniac to Jesus" .
Now keep this in mind: Here, it is Circe who is the demoniac parallel; later it will be Odysseus himself who is the demoniac-parallel, and later yet, the Cyclops who is the parallel. Again, such at-will text-shifting only serves to work against any contention that, if Mark is imitating Homer, he is doing so by selecting from real history, not by creating it; or else, that MacDonald's imagination is the only thing at work.
But the inital parallel here is weak anyway. The behaviors shared by Circe and the demomiac turn out to be running and crying out; this is done so many times in the Bible (and in real history) that the parallel has no meaning. MacDonald also highlights a parallel between Circe clasping Odysseus' knees and the demoniac kneeling before Jesus, and between Circe telling Odysseus to put his sword up and the demon asking Jesus not to torment him, and parallels as well the respective indefinite pronouns in what they say (what versus who).
After this, we need not offer many more details; MacDonald switches the identity of the "mimesized" person repeatedly. At one point, the demoniac is to be equated with the cyclops, Polyphemus. While admitting that Mark offers no parallel for the cyclops' cannibalism and eating of strangers, there is said to be similarity in that the demoniac, like the cyclops, "lived in the mountains among the caves, knew no law, and possessed incredible strength." 
Galilee and Palestine are full of mountains; if the demoniac went into the plains or the city, this could be called a transvaluation. It is an ICE in context, since the demoniac clearly had to go somewhere.
"Knew no law" -- there is a vast difference between someone like the cyclops who knowingly commited atrocities and an insane demoniac; collapsing them down into the phrase "knew no law" is semantic evasion.
"Possessed incredible strength" -- this is true, but also meaningless; the demoniac could have been a weakling and we'd have a transvaluation. Yet another ICE.
Finally much is made of Mark mentioning the "tombs" three times in a short space, as a parallel to the cyclopean cave. This is perhaps HEGM's best case for imitation as yet, but it rather falls flat as a case for invention with the knowledge that there is a geographic location consistent with this story -- with a steep slope, and cave tombs not two miles away [With.Mk, 180]. If Mark was mimesizing, evidence indicates that he had real material to work with. In addition, Malina and Rohrbaugh [Social-Science commentary, 208] note that a late Jewish document describes 4 tests for madness, and one of these is spending the night in a tomb. Were these Jews imitating Homer?
Then the demoniac is again Odysseus, and Jesus dons the cyclops' persona. In Homer, Odysseus plays his famous "Nobody" trick on the Cyclops when the monster asks for his name, and Odysseus responds by saying his name is Nobody. This is brought in parallel columns with Jesus asking for the demoniac's name, and the demoniac responding with Legion. It is said: "Neither Odysseus nor the demoniac gave his true name." 
Isn't it the demons speaking here, not the demoniac?
"Both responses omit the verb" and use the phrase "my name."
How else would an answer be made to this question of one's name, and how often in life do people ask for each others' names, and how could the grammar be different, and how often is this grammatical form used versus others?
"In both stories the exchange of names gives the hero power over the monster, though in radically different ways." 
So radical a difference, in fact, that there is no parallel at all, and HEGM can only make a parallel by collapsing descriptions yet again -- and ignoring that the giving of Legion's name did not result in any gift of power.
In terms of trying to make Mark a poor historian, HEGM offers a few objections. It is said to be "unusual" for Mark to suggest pigs as the demons' new home (explicable, it is said, by imitation of the Circe story), and the number of pigs is said to be outrageous, but HEGM provides us with no figures in terms of domestic livestock held in the region at the time, so one wonders how such a conclusion could possibly be reached other than by presumption. Merely quoting Porphyry's own outraged disbelief on the subject is far from sufficient.
The response of the townspeople to the change in the demoniac is said to be "unusual and awkward" in that in verse 14 and 16 the swineherds tell the story twice to the other people, so that "the second report is clearly redundant."  HEGM wants this explained as a careless parallel to the cyclops calling for his friends twice in the Odyssey. If this is so, then HEGM has again supported Matthean priority, for here, as is noted, Matthew does not double the response.
But even so, note this passage well: "And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine."
In v. 14, the word "it" is an insertion of the KJV; the word "told" carries the meaning of announcing, but it is not said what was announced; that is not said until verse 16. Mark is being redundant, but there is no call to see this drawn from Homer. All HEGM had to do was make the easy find of the cyclops talking two times in a row to make it seem workable.
Significance is also found in that Mark refers to the healed demoniac as "clothed" (meaning he was naked before) and that the cyclops wore no clothes. This is interesting, but also an ICE in context: clearly the demoniac either had clothes or didn't, and HEGM could easily cite a transvaluation; but it cannot be denied that a common characteristic of those with serious mental afflictions (to say nothing of the demon-possessed) is divesting one's garments (and I'll add here, surprising strength). If mimesis is at work, we can easily see Mark doing it with genuine history.
Signicance is next seen in the respective "heroes" of the stories having a final exchange, while aboard ship (again, an ICE in context), with the "monster" making a request and the "hero" refusing, and telling the "monster" to go proclaim what was done to them. Here HEGM selects only three elements (one an ICE; one a commonplace, and the last, characteristic of what Jesus also did with people like the lepers he healed) out of a vast number of differences, and this is not hard to do even when comparing real historical events with fiction.
Finally for this chapter, HEGM makes much of a supposed parallel between the stone used to guard the entrance of the cyclops' cave and the stone used to close the tomb of Jesus. As HEGM admits, however, such cave tombs are known from Jerusalem , and anyone who used a cave in ancient times for a storage or living purpose, this was what was available. HEGM thinks that a Homer parallel solves the "problems" of Joseph moving the stone himself (though it is admitted, a dignitary like Joseph would have help) and the women not bringing help to move the stone -- would anyone deep in grief would have the focus needed to keep all the details of such matters in their heads?
HEGM summarizes: "Both Odysseus and Jesus escaped death in a rocky cave [there are wooden or plastic caves?] thanks to a superhuman hefting of a huge stone."  This parallel fails as well: The removal of the tomb stone had no causal relationship to Jesus' "escaping" from death. But the historical fact of such tombs is enough to put paid to any suggestion of fictionalizing.
HEGM Chapter 8 offers a small number of very strong parallels and the best case in the book for mimesis by Mark. However, the subject area also provides a larger number of "historical" connection-points than some stories we have seen. .
Chapter 9 of HEGM is a rather short one whose focus is on the story of John the Baptist's execution at the hands of Herod Antipas. MacDonald claims that Mark and Josephus are in contradiction, and we will leave comment for this for this article. Here we will just look at the parallel HEGM tries to draw between this story in Mark and Homer's account -- of the murder of King Agamemnon.
Our classical scholar said only of this chapter, that HEGM's parallel "has little to recommend it." His brevity speaks volumes in itself, but let's look at the details that are offered to accompany it. Even HEGM admits at the end that emulation here is "difficult to establish but not impossible to imagine" (81 -- we can also not impossibly imagine green flying elephants, but I know of no one who would use that point as a qualifier in favor of their existence).
There is no "or" here; it is brothers in one story, and cousins in another...and Mark does not narrate the events surrounding the vying of the brothers over a woman. Beyond that, such vying is a universal between men of all ages and nations. This is a societal ICE...and at any rate, Jospehus tells us just as much from his history -- was he imitating Homer here?
Yes, but in Homer, it is one of the rivals who dies, and it is a direct result of the rivalry -- John was not in on the lovers' triangle. Beyond that, once again this is a plain agreement between Mark and Josephus, so there's real history involved yet again.
MacDonald's "greater" assessment is a matter of subjective judgment that he has no right to impose on either text. At the very least he would need to show that Agamemnon's wife was less responsible than the cousin who murder the guardian Agamemnon had left behind -- and from the looks of the Odyssey (which HEGM offers no direct quotes from at this point), Agamemnon's wife had to be prodded to go along with the deal.
Well, there's a big difference here: John was no guest at the feast, and the execution didn't take place at the feast; nor, likely, did the presentation of the head, and along with Aggy, we also got the deaths of his other companions. In the latter case, the feasting played the role of putting Agamemnmon at ease so that he could be murdered; the feast plays no such role for John.
Since MacDonald presumably believes that both John and Jesus were actually killed in history, this is at best a literary parallel taking advantage of real history -- and thus meaningless in terms of proving that fiction is at work.
This is an ICE in the context of the feasting, and actually, rather a stretch, since Homer mentions a mixing bowl and loaded tables, but no platter, and no serving dishes, either. Maybe it would have been as good had John's head been stuck on a fork, or had he been beheaded with a sharp knife: "Both John and Agamemnon were killed in the presence of sharp utensils."
With Chapter 10 of HEGM we encounter another incidence in which HEGM's thesis actually goes far in proving Matthean rather than Markan priority. The subject this time is the miraculous feedings of loaves and fishes -- of which Mark reports two, but Matthew only one.
Now here we may apply an observation made by N. T. Wright: The things Jesus said and taught, he likely said not just once, but dozens, if not hundreds of times. In the case of the miraculous feedings, I would extend this observation by saying the miracles that Jesus did, in a general categorical sense, he surely did not just once, but several times. There were surely more than a handful of lepers in Palestine of the first century that Jesus healed; so likewise I think it likely that miracles of miraculous feeding occurred not just once or twice, but several times.
That said, it should be considered of no moment that for whatever reason, Matthew chose one exemplar while Mark chose two. It is likely that the early tradition had several to choose from, and perhaps the 5000 feeding came to the top in the oral tradition as the occasion when the most people were fed -- hence it came to be reported in all four Gospels.
HEGM will tell us, now, that Mark chose to offer two meals because he was imitating episodes in Homer. It is admitted from the start that "meals and accompanying hospitality were topoi in ancient literature" (to say nothing of ancient life), and so "the mere presence of twinned feats in the epic and the Gospel requries no contact whatsover" ; but HEGM contends that there is more to the parallels that proves mimesis.
The groundwork here from Homer is that in books 3 and 4 of the Odyssey, we have two successive feasts: One at Sparta at which Telemachus sought information about Odysseus' whereabouts, and another at a double wedding with Meneleaus. Now of course Jesus did not preside over any sort of family search or wedding -- there are plenty of differences in the stories from Mark, even from HEGM's brief description, and we expect MacDonald by now to simply ignore or downplay these as much as possible. But let's see about the correspondences HEGM does offer.
- Journey methods. Telemachus sailed to the first feast, but travelled by chariot to "landlocked Sparta" for the second. Jesus sailed to the first feast, but travelled overland to the second, "though it, too, took place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee." 
By now we easily recognize this tactic of stretching for correspondences. Clearly people travel by land, and usually eat when they get where they are going; clearly within the topographical context of Galilee, people who would take a boat would also eat at some points afterwards, and in the context of a travelling ministry, such episodes would be frequent. These are ICEs, not proof of mimesis, much less proof of fictionalizing.
It gets worse for HEGM, though, as it must be noted that Jesus = Telemachus for travelling, but Jesus = the hosts of the parties for showing hospitality. This is explained by saying: "...Mark's characterizations, motifs, or episodes of the epic are more important than making Jesus correspond consistently to any single character." 
Which leads us to ask, yet again: How can one discern between real mimesis on the one hand and ad hoc attempts to force mimesis on the other?
- Numbers and genders. The first Homeric feast was a military affair, with only men present; the second was a more egalitarian affair.
This means very little, of course, since Mark could easily choose to highlight only the presence of men to imitate Homer (if he is indeed doing so); obviously one or both genders had to be present in context (and if HEGM is right, Mark has reason to omit Matthew's women and children).
In terms of numbers: Mark's 5000 is seen as corollary to Homer's 4500 (!), while Mark's 4000 is seen as correspondent to Homer's unnumbered but "presumably smaller" (!) feast. Obviously, this is nevertheless meaningless, since one party was inevitably going to be larger than the other in both cases.
- Have a seat. Homer has his people in the first party sit down in groups of 500; Mark's first party is told to get in groups of hundreds and 50s. Sectioning people off in groups is a universal concept -- it tends to make service a lot easier.
Other parallels drawn: The word "saw" in both works; the words "bade them" in Homer with "ordered" in Mark for people being told to sit down; "sitting" in Homer and "reclining" in Mark (does MacDonald know of people who usually stand up to eat?); Homer's people sitting on "soft fleeces upon the sand of the sea" with Mark's people sitting on "green grass". So would these people have had to float on air to avoid a mimesis episode? People when they sit down sit on something; mimesis could be found in anyting: "green grass," "sharp rocks," even "chairs".
MacDonald says that his Homerizing "solve(s) the enigma of Mark's attention to seating by groups..." The only "enigma" is how MacDonald sees an enigma in the first place in a standard situation for any group of people that are fed.
- Prayers and distribution. It is noted that both Jesus and Telemachus offered prayers before food was served. It is admitted that Mark's vocabulary recalls the Last Supper and "surely reflects Jewish blessings before meals."  -- and thus this adds only "slight" weight to the list of parallels.
Actually, it adds none at all -- prayer before meal is a universal.
- Voyage After. That Telemachus and Jesus both sail after the first feast is seen as significant; we have covered this point above.
The subject of HEGM Chapter 11 is the Transfiguration. In this instance any case for mimesis must deal not only with much clearer OT parallels (which MacDonald admits to), but also with the attestation of this event in the Petrine epistles (which MacDonald merely brushes off). The OT parallels of divine beings wearing white are bypassed in favor of an appeal to a Homeric episode in which Telemachus recognizes his father Odysseus, who has been magically transformed by Athena so that he looks as he did in his youth. Telemachus gets the impression that his visitor is a god of some sort; Odysseus gently disabuses him of this notion, though it takes some convincing.
So where is the parallel? It is found in these:
- Mark refers to Jesus' "clothes" as Homer refers to Odysseus' "well-washed cloak and tunic".
Of couse, everyone wears clothes except for nudist, and a nudist episode here is not only unlikely for Mark, but would be considered a transvaluation. HEGM makes much of that Mark refers to clothes so white that no earthly launderer could have done it (as an allusion to Athena bringing Odysseus his clothes), and that Mark refers only to Jesus' clothes and not his face being white, as is done by Matthew; yet if we grant a Homeric allusion here (and I think this may be one of the strongest cases), it serves again only to suggest priority for Matthew's tradition, as Mark would have clearer reason to omit the face than Matthew would have for adding it.
- And that said: Jesus' clothes are "dazzling white, such as no launderer could whiten them"; Athena gives Odysseus clothes that are "beautiful". This one is so far from obvious that comment is unnecessary. Later MacDonald states that both were given clothes "whitened by a heavenly launderer"  but his quote from Homer does not say anything about the clothes being white, just that they looked good.
- Telemachus was "wonderstruck" and "terrified" and "spoke" addressing Odysseus as "Stranger..." and says he "will give you offerings, gifts" of gold. Peter "said" to Jesus "Rabbi" and offered to "make three tents" because he was "terrified."
That's it. A strong reaction, an address, and a common word, plus an offer to do something. How many times do you hear these every day in combination?
- It is said that in both cases, "those who witnessed the transfigurations responded in fear and misidentification" -- Telemachus mistook his father for a god; "Peter thought Moses and Elijah were worthy of honor equal to that paid to Jesus." 
If that is "misidentification" then the word has no meaning at all. It is also added that both Telemachus and Peter "used a verb in the first-person-plural aorist subjunctive when offering the gift" -- and MacDonald tells us, "One will not find these details in Exodus." Perhaps but does one find this detail often in Greek literature? If one does, one has cited a meaningless parallel.
- To spread the parallel out more, Jesus is no longer Odysseus, but the voice of God takes that place, as both are said to "rebuke someone for attributing divinity to a mortal."
Is something missing here? MacDonald does not show that building a booth for someone means that you think that are divine. If so, the Jews who built booths for themselves at the Feast of Booths were self-worshippers. Witherington notes that Peter's suggestion is actually the result of his misunderstanding that the presence of these three together indicates that the Kingdom of God has come in power, and it is time to have the final Feast of Tabernacles celebration [With.Mk, 263] which was associated with the final deliverance of God. The booths have nothing to do with any sort of misidentification of persons.
- Odysseus tells Telemachus to tell no one of his arrival, while Jesus tells the disciples not to reveal what they have seen. That is fine, but as we have noted earlier, secercy is a common necessity, and one Mark uses throughout his Gospel. Mark did not need Homer to invent this idea, and a Messiah would not have needed Homer for the idea either; he would have plenty of historical reasons to remain circumspect.
HEGM Chapter 12 is a short one seeking parallel between Mark's healed blind man and the Homeric character of Tiresias. If Mark alludes to Tiresias it means no more than that any story about blind people today might contain allusions to Ray Charles - say "blind man" and the image of the latter is sure to come to mind; so likewise, undoubtedly, with Tiresias in the first century.
But it turns out, at any rate, that HEGM doesn't draw many parallels to begin with. Tiresias, after all, had a long and varied history as a man who was turned into a woman (and often was depicted dressed as a woman), then back to a man; had conversation and bad luck with the Greek gods (one of whom, Hera, made him blind), and became famous as a seer. Mark's blind man is a minor character with no history other than being miraculously healed. We don't know how he became blind, what he wore, or what his spiritual history was. HEGM tells us much about Tiresias' history, and about supposed parallels in the Acts of Andrew, but when it gets down to Mark, here's all we have:
- A "large crowd" surrounded Jesus as he walked; Odysseus meets Tiresias in Hades surrounded by a throng of the dead.
Well, that fits well, and if there were no crowd, there would be a transvaluation. There either were or were not people around, so this is an ICE.
- Mark calls his man "the son of Timeaus, Bartimeaus." Homer calls his man "the soul of Theban Tiresias."
This is a parallel? How, exactly, do these phrases "resemble" one another? MacDonald says there is a resemblance, but I see none.
- Bartimaeus and Tiresias "both recognized the identities of their heroic guests and addressed them according to their parentage."
People did this all over the OT and the ancient world. We may as well say that each time we say "hello" we are mimesizing each other, and that greeting you gave me today is a fiction.
- Mark's man throws off his cloak; Tiresias was most often depicted wearing a similar garment.
Again, I know of few people who go around stark naked, and cloaks were standard wear for this day and age. MacDonald seems to find significance in the use of the Greek himation, but that word is used over 60 times in the NT, and not just in Mark or the Gospels.
- And a transvaluation, it seems -- or is it real history? -- Bartimaeus goes with Jesus, while Tiresias remains in Hades. The blind man's reaction is an ICE in context and therefore meaningless as a parallel.
In all of this there are of course vast differences MacDonald ignores; i.e., Odysseus and his associates meet their man in Hades, and while I'm sure the residents of Jericho had their complaints, excessive heat was not one of them. Odysseus and his friends go down seeking advice; Jesus and his group are passing through and are the ones solicited for more serious help.
"Likening Odysseus' 'untriumphal entry' into the city of the Phaeacians to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem seems forced and strained." This is what Rabel, our classical scholar linked below, had to say about HEGM Chapter 13, and I agree wholeheartedly. All other writers see Zech. 9 in the background of this story; MacDonald admits this as well, but claims that this "cannot account for several important details or even the theological significance of the scene."  Presumably real history can't account for these things either, but let's have a look:
- "Like Odysseus arriving on the shores of Scheria, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem apparently destitute and needing hospitality." 
"Apparently"? Jesus had come from the house of Mary and Martha (Mark does not say this, of course, but if MacDonald wants to argue this point, it would actually support Matthean priority); he had no "need" of hospitality and we have no indication of him being destitute -- and certainly not to the level of Odysseus, who washed ashore naked, starving and alone.
He entered Jerusalem for the Passover festival, which by law had to be in Jerusalem -- he had to get a place whether he was "destitute" or not, and all Passover pilgrims needed hospitality as a matter of course. There is no parallel here that can't be better accounted for by real history.
- The colt (young donkey) in Mark has "never been ridden" whereas mules belonging to a princess in Homer who helped Odysseus were "fit only for carrying burdens and pulling carts" and so likewise had "never been ridden."
Mark's colt was a young animal; the princess' mules were not, and HEGM offers no quote showing that these mules had never been ridden and could not be. Once again, there is no parallel, just invention and ICEs (beasts of burden were everywhere in the ancient world where men were).
- "Jesus and Athena were both confident that their requests would be granted."
Athena went to the princess asking for mules and a wagon to be ready. There is no indication that Athena was "confident." Jesus on the other hand likely had matters pre-arranged. MacDonald dismisses this as having "no foundation in the text" -- in other words, he takes the silence as permission to fill in the gaps with his own speculations; is there any better foundation for the idea that Jesus was "destitute" by this way of thinking?
In any event, confidence is not of relevance here. Note also that the parallel before has been Jesus = Odysseus, but is now Jesus = Athena.
- The princess and the disciples both had their requests for animals granted.
Well, they had only a 50-50 chance anyway within the context; a "no" answer in Mark would be a transvaluation. And note how the difference in "mules" (plural) and "donkey" (singular -- interesting that Matthew seems a closer mimesis here with his two donkeys) is collapsed down into "animals" to make a parallel seem stronger.
- The princess took the mules and wagon to Odysseus; the disciples brought the colt to Jesus.
This is an ICE in context; if someone asks for something, you usually anticipate that whoever they asked will bring it to them.
- "Both heroes would return with the beasts." 
I do not see where this is said in Mark, though obviously, if you borrow something, you will usually return it, and Jesus followed the normal Jewish rules for borrowing in this episode; also, Odysseus is not the one technically borrowing and returning the beasts. Another ICE in context, supported by historical data.
- The princess folds the clothes she packs for Odysseus and puts them in the wagon; the crowds throw their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on.
This is a parallel? I do not see how
- The princess' handmaids follow the wagon; the crowd walks all around Jesus.
Since we know of a similar procession reported in the Maccabbean period for Simon, were those folks imitating Homer as well?
- Both arrived "at nightfall" -- actually, where Homer says, "the sun set," Mark says, "the hour already was late" -- this is another ICE, for of course Jesus had to arrive at some time.
- Jesus "cast his gaze about at everything" while Odysseus "ogled" the buildings of the city.
Is Homer in mind here, or Ezekiel's angel (Chs. 40-48) sizing up Jerusalem for judgment? HEGM sees Jesus, like Odysseus, as an "awestruck tourist" but if that is so, then Mark 3:5 should be read, "And when he had ogled them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand." (HEGM supposes that Matt and Luke eliminated the phrase because it "seems strange and anticlimactic.")
Finally, an attempt is made to tie the episode of the fig tree withering to Homer. Here MacDonald goes to great lengths to explain away evidence amassed by Telford showing that the fig tree was a metaphor for Israel's prosperity, and that this event matches with the expectation that in the messianic age, trees would bear fruit out of season -- hence Jesus cursed the tree (as Israel would be cursed) for not recognizing his coming.
MacDonald tells us that Telford's "best evidence for perpetually bearing trees comes from writings much later than Mark" -- though it is also admitted that rabbinic writings are difficult to date. One wonders if MacDonald would argue the same way with rabbinic writings when it comes to supposed errors in the account of Jesus' trial.
But it is added: "it is by no means certain that Mark's intended readers -- Gentiles for whom even the most basic Jewish customs required explanation -- would have known this haggadic tradition."  One might ask whether it really mattered whether they knew it, since MacDonald has striven to argue that vague Homeric parallels went by intended not to be noticed that easily. He supposes rather that a connection ought be made to an amazing orchard seen by Odysseus on his journey, full of a variety of fruits, of which figs happen to be one (out of olives, apples, pears, and pomegranates) -- but none of these were withered, and Odysseus went on ogling all of this bounty, not cursing it, indeed hardly interacting with it.
It amounts to this: MacDonald would have us ignore far more voluminous and exact Jewish/OT parallels (including the conception of Wisdom as finding no place at Jerusalem) in favor of vaguer connections to Homer. It is hard to see why we should be convinced.
In HEGM Chapter 14 the subject is "anointing women" -- a classical scholar I know found this chapter the most incredible of the lot; I have another favorite myself, but found this one bad enough. It is just what we are now accustomed to -- the scene in which Jesus is anointed by a woman with oil is compared to a scene in which Odysseus has his feet washed with water and his body anointed with oil, by a servant (all of this, a not uncommon act of hospitality or honor in the ancient world), who is ordered to perform this service out of gratitude by another female character.
The comparison starts with an alleged parallel between the excessive marvelling of Telemachus at the architecture of a palace, and the marvelling of an unknown disciple of Jesus at the wonder of the Temple. Mark, unlike Homer, follows with a pledge of destruction on the place, and none of the features of the Homeric palace match with the Temple; and that the respective gawkings occur at different stages and orders in the two narratives; and indeed that the Temple was a wonder of the ancient world, such that we would expect such gawking on an everyday basis. MacDonald admits that this parallel "isolated" is "not compelling" but assumes that bolstering it with other equally weak or weaker arguments will help.
And the next argument seeks to parallel Odysseus sitting before Penelope (in a chair) in order to confess about his true identity and homecoming, with Jesus sitting before his disciples (on the Mount of Olives) in order to deliver an apocalyptic sermon. MacDonald finds here a link betwen the words "sat down upon"/"sitting on", and the queries "who are"/"when will", "from where"/"what will", and the speaking of Odysseus and Jesus in the third person. I hardly need point out by this time just how insignificant such commonplaces are in terms of proving anything. Apparently to avoid a parallel the disciples would have had to shut their mouths and never ask questions, and Jesus would have to stand or float in the air -- or perhaps that would be a transvaluaton.
MacDonald finds it necessary, though, to skip all the way from Mark 13:4 down to 13:28 for the next parallel (as well as about 100 lines in Homer), and this time, the match is that both stories advise people to "listen" to trees. Odysseus went to a literal oak tree to divine the will of Zeus from the rustling of the branches, about returning home; Jesus tells people to watch a figurative fig tree (Israel) to find out about the time of judgment. MacDonald uses generalization to achieve a similarity: "a tree provides information concerning the return of the hero".
Of course, one problem MacDonald forgets to deal with is that even without Mark, and in documents he would agree are earlier (Paul's letters), there is decidedly an idea of Jesus returning -- all of the basic elements he sees Mark stealing from Homer are already found in Paul: the "return of the hero [!]", the vigilance of the followers. Did Paul have Odysseus in mind when he spoke of the parousia, and of the coming as a thief in the night?
But back again to our anointing women. Here MacDonald must range further afield, as Mark does lack something Luke and John don't -- the recognition of scars on Jesus' body, which he parallels to a servant recognizing an old scar on Odysseus, though bringing now Luke and John in as well. Both Homer and Mark, we are told, "emphasized the value of the oil" -- not exactly; Homer says that Odyssues was anointed "richly" with oil, which is not a statement of the value of the oil but of the largesse with which it was dispensed.
To make matters worse, we are told that the servant dropping the basin of water is to be compared to the Gospel woman breaking open the jar of oil. The actions, contexts, and materials are as dissimilar as night and day, but arranging these descriptions in the same sort of English grammatical pattern and language is what makes it sound more valid.
Finally we are told that there is a parallel between Odysseus discussing the past treachery of his servants with the anointing servant and Judas going out to act treacherously and betray Jesus. Never mind that Mark's woman says not a thing; never mind that the treachery against Odysseus was years old, whereas the treachery against Jesus was basically still in the offing; never mind that the treachery involved in each case produced vastly different results, and that treachery is a universal human behavior, and that varied forms of it were involved (how could the men have been treacherous against Odysseus [= Jesus?!] when they thought he was dead?).
In this very short chapter, MacDonald seeks to parallel Mark's man carrying water -- who acted as a signal to the disicples for leading to the Last Supper quarters -- with a woman in Homer who carries water. Rabel comments simply: "Mark's water-carrier shares little in common with Homer's."
Little indeed -- carrying water seems to be it. But here is another place where, even if Mark is mimesizing, we see a proof of the prioroty of Matthew. Matthew's signal-person doesn't carry water -- he's just a "no man" walking by. So why would Matthew eliminate this element if he were copying Mark?
The Skeptics say that Matthew as a Jew would have had a problem with a man doing a woman's work (carrying water), but as we noted in reply, one is hard pressed to see why this should be a problem. The man may have been some sort of servant, maybe even a Gentile servant. And of course the man carrying the pitcher may have been a member of the Essene faction, whose men eschewed marriage and carried their own water. Either way, MacDonald has just offered us another tangible evidence of Matthean priority if his thesis is true.
MacDonald tells us that Mark "transformed the famous woman-at-the-well type-scene" -- the implication of this phraseology, we assume, is that a type-scene equates with fiction, but it might not occur to MacDonald that the reason it is a type-scene is because people in ancient times did gather at the wells (since everyone needed water at some point, and in this geographic context, the well was the only game in town), and this would make it an ideal place to socialize and meet new people.
One may as well speak of the "type-scene" of modern office workers gathering at the water cooler. It is a usable type-scene because it is a reality in daily life. MacDonald however is so accustomed to dismissing such scenes as non-history that he speaks of Mark "transforming" the scene by making the woman a man, by making the man walking along and not near a well; by sending three people rather than two; by the men asking who was the king of the land of the drawer of water rather than following the man with the water, and then asking someone else, the owner of the house, where a room was; by comparing the words "high-roofed house" with "large room upstairs"; and elsewhere of John's gospel "transforming" the scene so that instead of finding romance with a man at a well, the woman finds eternal life.
We are also told that the romantic element is present in "the woman's complex marital history" -- how multiple marriages merely noted but not described at all equates with a romantic element is something that MacDonald needs to explain. How much "transformation" is allowed to be called as such before we admit that an episode has its roots in actual history? And how do we tell the difference?
It shows well enough how hard MacDonald must work to achieve a parallel when he finds a point between Odysseus' men having found an ogre in the house they enter and Jesus' men having found "everything as Jesus had told them" (no ogre), and comparing the cannibalistic Laestrygonians with the "cannibalistic" Eucharist (so was the church following Homer when they practiced the Lord's Supper?).
If Mark has copied Homer at all, it appears that to do so, he had to stretch as far as MacDonald does: He didn't have an ogre for the disciples to find, or any other kind of odd thing, so he just noted that they found the room as they were supposed to find it. Is this any reason to suppose fiction is in the making -- even if we assume that MacDonald's thesis is valid? Finding something is an ICE in context; they would hardly go to a place and find nothing. And is it not again proof of Matthea priority that Matthew merely says the disciples followed instructions and prepared the Passover, with no word of them "finding" anything?
The title of this chapter is "Last Suppers Before Hades," and much is made of the visit of Odysseus to the underworld and comparing it to Jesus doing the same. But there's a major problem -- Jesus didn't visit the underworld, as I have shown in the linked article. MacDonald's reliance on later church tradition is a error in this context, for it would suggest that later church tradition was also in on this Homeric imitation business.
If MacDonald wishes to say that Jesus did visit a place in the afterlife -- Paradise -- that is correct; but presumably since Jesus did die -- a point I don't think MacDonald would dispute -- the way is open, theoretically, for Jesus to go there, with no call for mimesis; and Odysseus went where he did the "easy" way, not by dying. Even so, MacDonald stretches over to the Transfiguration as a place where Jesus "visisted with the dead" .
MacDonald admits that the Last Supper is noted in Paul (1 Cor. 11), but dismisses the problems this poses for his thesis (notably, that Paul's words match Luke's Gospel) by suggesting that perhaps Paul didn't know much more than this. Jesus' agony in Gethsemane is compared to Odysseus going to the bed of Circe, based on minor, unsustainable, alleged verbal parallels ("going a little farther"/"I went up to the"; "prayed/besought", etc.) with no thought to context.
Even a difference is seen as proof: When told he had to go to Hades, Odysseus wanted to die; "Jesus needed no witch to tell him his fate, but he, too, despaired of life." But MacDonald errs: There is, he says, a unique commonality in "heroes staying awake all night agonizing over their journeys to the realm of the dead." As noted, Jesus did not go to the realm of the dead; his agony was over his impending trial experience and crucifixion. The parallel drawn does not exist.
HEGM, as we have noted many times, never makes any effort to answer the question of how mimesis automatically proves fiction at work, and seldom analyzes the potential historicity of events. MacDonald's attitude towards this kind of work is shown in his reply in this chapter to the suggestion that Jesus' disciples heard some part of his Gethsemane prayer.
As we have shown, there is nothing outrageous about such a proposition, but MacDonald calls such suggestions "historicizing hogwash" and merely reasserts his original argument. It is not shown how the Gospels put the disciples out of total hearing range; all we have is name-calling followed by simple reassertion.
HEGM now forays into the matter of the death of Jesus, and for the occassion a switch is made for the first time away from the Odyssey and into the Iliad. Our programmatic comparison: "Like Homer in his depiction of Achilles, Mark established Jesus' courage by having him proceed on his mission fully aware that it would cost him his life."  Later the parallel will be Hector = Jesus (though for part of the package, in this chapter, Hector = the Twelve because both have "unrealistic optimism"); MacDonald has the convenience of two different deaths, to say nothing of vague descriptive language like the above, to help him support his thesis.
My next few points could be made with several examples from HEGM, but I think it would be most poignant here. The death of Jesus is something MacDonald could hardly deny. MacDonald makes no attempt to fill in the social history of Christianity following Jesus' death, but we are apparently to imagine (based on Paul's letters) that there was indeed a belief in Jesus as a Risen Savior and a divine being who was resurrected.
Then we are to imagine that Mark, writing this biography of Jesus in his gospel, did not think the "real" life of this divine being on earth adequate enough to report, or else, all such data was lost to him and he only knew what Paul offered; so, as perhaps a fan of the Homeric epics, he decided to write a life of Jesus based entirely on transvalued and altered Homeric stories. Those who had accurate accounts or knowledge of the life of Jesus said nothing.
Now we are to imagine Mark thinking, "Achiles was a courageous fellow. He did what he did knowing to would cost him his life. So I can to make Jesus courageous by doing the same thing. And I also can copy Hector's unrealistic optimism and put it on the Twelve." It is perhaps plausible to imagine Mark trying to work in some vocabulary based on real-life historical ICEs (like the "finding" of the Passover room); this is not a difficult literary act. But to go as far as suggesting that history was invented to this extent purely out of imitation of Homer stretches credulity. The magnitude of such a project would have required a deep familiarity with the Homeric material.
Mark's interest in and knowledge of Homer, to the extent that MacDonald's thesis required, would have been a known quantity. It is hardly plausible that he would keep this deep knowledge of Homer hidden in every other aspect of his life (for had it been known, it would not have been hard for his readers and hearers to guess what he had done), and even less plausible that he engineered so many vague and subtle Homeric references all the while hoping no one would notice and appreciate his artistry.
This runs to the very core of an objection suggested by a classical scholar in our contact: What exactly does MacDonald think Mark was trying to accomplish by imitating Mark to such an extent, yet with such incredible subtlety? We again think it far more likely that if there is any Homeric imitation in Mark, it is minimal, and merely literary in nature -- and that the majority of cited parallels are nothing but MacDonald committing imaginative literary equivocation.
HEGM's chapter on the death of Jesus is one of the longest in the set, and the one also with some of the most questionable parallels. The source now used is the Iliad: "Hector's troops had fled into Troy, leaving him to face his end alone. Jesus' disciples, too, had fled, abandoning him." 
What of the many differences? Pursuit by one warrior (Achilles) versus a large group of soldiers; purpose of the pursuit (act of challenge in war vs. civil arrest); nature of supporters (troops vs. disciples; a large number versus only 3); nature of flight (flight into a city, permanently vs. an initial attempt at bravery, followed by flight into dark countryside, followed again by following from a distance).
MacDonald has "proven" by these correspondences that the ancillary details were for the purpose of distracting us from Mark's imitation of the practically universal details of all but the staunchest of persons fleeing from a threat. Of course had the disciples stuck around, it would have been a transvaluation showing that Jesus made the disciples braver men than Achilles made his own people.
Reactions of people at the crucifixion -- shaking their heads and hurling insults -- had nothing to do with history; Mark has done this only in imitation of Homer: "In Homer the shaking of one's head symbolized pity of hostile defiance; it always anticipated disaster."  MacDonald admits that most commentators see allusions to Ps. 22 in these situations, which includes a reference to wagging heads, but we are assured that Homer was also in Mark's mind. Note also that shaking one's head is known in the OT as a symbol of contempt: Is. 37:22; Jer. 18:16)
And those taunts? Those are "conventions of heroic taunts", i.e., variations on Achilles' and Hector's blusters like, "it's for you to dodge my brazen spear", and don't mind that Jesus doesn't get the chance to return the favor -- according to MacDonald, "the reader by now knows that Jesus' resurrection and the evntual destruction of the temple will vindicate him." [ibid.] Paul only believed in the resurrection because of Homer, then?
We are told also: As Hector's death foreshadowed Troy's destruction, Jesus' death foreshadowed Jerusalem's. Did Mark arrange to have Jerusalem destroyed in real history to make sure the parallel held?
HEGM next alleges to solve the problem of the centurion's motivation for speaking of Jesus by means of Homeric parallel. There is no such problem; the reaction is sufficiently explained by the fortitude Jesus showed in "dying well" -- something found honorable by the Romans; or else in the soldier's response to the portent of the darkened sky combined with this.
MacDonald thinks it a sarcastic gloat, after the manner of Achilles over Hector. This is shown by verbal parallels again: "truly/truly", "stood over him looking/stood facing him", etc. (the latter of which, interestingly, is not found in Matthew, thereby suggesting yet again his priority). I find no justification for a "sarcastic" interpretation at all -- a study by Johnson [John.Mk] shows that while there were several possibilites concerning what the centurion meant by referring to Jesus as the "son of god" (the soldier may have had in mind tales of Greek demigods), a "sarcastic gloat" isn't among the range of possibilities.
Finally we are told that Mark inserted women in his story to mirror women who took care of Hector's corpse. It has to stretch a bit: "The women of Troy, watching Hector's death from their walls, cried laments" vs. "Three women watched Jesus' death 'from afar' and presumably lamented." (Emphasis added.) When Mark doesn't provide the needed data, apparently, gaps can be filled in as needed with speculation as needed. I don't doubt that they may have lamented -- but MacDonald has not been prior to this concerned out the way realities are normally pursued in history.
In his review, Rabel expressed astonishment that MacDonald "goes so far as to compare Jesus walking on water to Hermes flying through the air over the water." Rabel only touched the surface of the water even so. This short chapter compares Mark's "walking on water" story to that of Priam (king of Troy) being escorted by Hermes to get Hector's body from Achilles.
We need not point out much more than that the purposes of the trips, etc. are far different in each case; MacDonald as has often been the case may have found some genuine verbal parallels, which interestingly are missing from Matthew, thereby again suggesting priority of his tradition.
One of the most interesting moments is MacDonald's claim that Hermes and Zeus watching Priam drive his chariot, from Mt. Olympus, matches Jesus using "telescopic vision" from the mountain to see his disciples floundering in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. Didn't MacDonald tell us in another chapter how puny the Sea of Galilee was? Who would need telescopic vision?
Not that it matters: Mark does not say Jesus was on the mountain when he saw all of this. MacDonald has merely assumed that for his own purposes -- and it is not hard to see that a boat is in trouble from far off.
There are minute verbal parallels made: "I am..." in each, said by Hermes and Jesus...the water-walking issue is the big match, but it turns out, as Rabel notes, to be Hermes flying over water, alighting on land, and getting in Priam's chariot; this is compared to Jesus walking on water, getting into the boat. Hermes also takes the reins of the chariot and drives; it would have been appropriate and subtle for Mark to have Jesus take the rudder or sail, but MacDonald can do no better than say that both trips went on without difficulty....never mind that Priam's difficulty was assassins, not the forces of nature.
HEGM persuades us that this parallel solves the "notorious problem" of the passage which tells us that Jesus "would have passed by them." Allegedly this was done to parallel the slow recognition of Hermes by Priam, from a distance; I prefer Witherington's idea that this is meant to parallel God' divine epiphany to Moses as God "passed by" the cleft in the rock [With.Mk, 221]; after all, in the OT it is said that only God can walk on water (Job 9:8, Ps. 77:19). Decide for yourself if Homer is in mind. It is interesting, though, that Matthew again lacks this unique thing that MacDonald finds so key for the Homeric parallel.
The historicity of Joseph of Arimathea, and the bold claim that Jesus was placed in the tomb of this prominent Sanhedrist, are central to the proof of the resurrection of Jeus, as it involves an easily-checked piece of datum that could destroy Christianity if shown to be untrue. MacDonald is without concern for this point; indeed he bypasses it: "Whether or not Joseph of Arimathea ever existed, Mark needed him to provide Jesus a tomb."  The thesis being, that Joseph is a parallel to King Priam of Troy.
How? Like Priam, Joseph "was distinguished and wealthy". (As would be any king or Sanhedrin member.) Priam "was able to offer Achilles an enormous ransom and provide for Hector a lavish funeral." (This is an ICE in context with the previous one; but Joseph provided no ransom, and no funeral as such at all.) "Like Joseph, Priam was noted for his piety." (This is something that again would be no surprise from a Sanhedrin member. Such traits are frequent for persons of high rank.) "Priam began his journey at nightfall and arrived at Achilles' camp at the dinner hour. Joseph went to Pilate at the same time of day" [evening]. (This is an ICE; clearly Joseph had to arrive at some time; if Mark had had him there in the morning, it would be a "transvaluation".)
As close as MacDonald gets to impressive is that Mark uses the word "dared" to describe Joseph's actions, while Hector also has Achilles asking Priam "How did you dare to come...?", using a form of the same word. This is at worst an example of the sort of thing I noted far above: One could select a variety of verbs and nouns from an account of Lincoln's assassination and make a serviceable (and fully historical) account of Kennedy's with them. People taking "daring" risks regularly. And note well again: This incidental is missing from Matthew.
A much further stretch in this context is MacDonald's claim that the entire Joseph incident, along with Jesus' rapid death, is a parallel to the magical preservation of Hector's corpse from mutilation. Achilles dragged Hector's corpse behind a chariot for a while, hoping to mess it up, but failed because Aprhrodite took some measures. According to MacDonald, this is why Jesus died and was buried quickly: So that his body would be preserved from mutilation by scavengers.
Interestingly the parallel was Joseph = Priam, but now apparently Joseph also = Aprhrodite, or maybe death = Aphrodite. Again, this is all confounded by the very issue MacDonald avoids, the historicity of Joseph.
"Achilles and Pilate both marveled at the requests of the uninvited guests." (Actually, Pilate marveled at the death of Jesus, not the request; but who would not, in either case? This is an ICE in the context of taking a dare. Also, Priam, unlike Joseph, entered Achilles' home base; Joseph entered Pilate's HQ, something which, as a Sanhedrin member, he would have some safe passage to do; and there is no parallel to Priam kissing Hector's hands.)
In both stories, the bodies were "wrapped" in something (a battle shirt and cape/linen cloth) and "placed" somewhere (a bier/in a tomb -- MacDonald is doing no more than describing standard burial practices for the ancient world, in which persons where usually "wrapped" and "placed" at some point or another; how hard was it for Mark to borrow these two verbs or forms thereof to describe real history, or even to just be using them incidentally?)
Mark's anointing women are paralleled to three women who helped prepare Hector -- if this is true, MacDonald has again given a proof of Matthean priority: Mark making the number of women three, up from Matthew's two, now has perhaps a logical explanation. (Real history is good enough here, as even MacDonald must admit that burial tasks in the ancient world fell to women.)
Homer's women were Hector's mother, wife, and a "promiscuous beauty"; this is paralleled to Mary as the "mother of James" (odds were she was someone's mother) and Mary Magdelene who in "later traditions" (not in Mark) was a demoniac or a prostitute.
The final chapter of HEGM contains little in the way of parallel attempts; rather, it proposes to solve the "problem" of the silence of Mark's women at the tomb. That Mark in no way is implying their perpetual silence, and could not be doing so, since he is telling the story now, does not occur to MacDonald. Indeed, he wants to tell us that Mark "disallows" a trip to Galilee in spite of instructions in Mark twice to take such a trip.
This is followed by a completely speculative explanation that Mark was trying to rehabilitate Jesus for apparently not warning of the 70AD slaughter (Mark 13 isn't enough of a warning?) -- it was all the women's fault. They kept their mouths shut, so the disciples never went to Galilee -- they needed to be told a third time -- and never met Jesus for those final crucial instructions: "By the way, Jerusalem will be destroyed in 40 years."
On the other hand, MacDonald may have indeed -- unwittingly -- provided an explanation for Mark's mysterious cameo of a young man who fled naked from Jesus' arrest. He links it, quite unobjectionably I think (apart from suggesting thereby that it must be unhistorical) to the Christian metaphor of removing an old garment as a symbol of death; Mark's young man foreshadows Jesus' death -- and the young man at the tomb is juxtaposed to symbolize resurrection. Onto this not-too-farfecthed scenario, MacDonald unnecessarily tacks on (without much in the way of paralleling) our old friend from Ch. 1, Elpenor -- even though what happened to him is in opposition to all that happened in Mark's tomb scene; one may particularly note that since nudity was considered extremely shameful by the Jews, Mark's invention of this matter from Homer would be a considerable offense.
I think Rabel's words close us well here: "Turning these tragic stories into a climactic tale of resurrection, Mark is supposed to have transvalued Homer, performing 'a remarkable demonstration of literary dexterity'(167). This argument relies upon the most procrustean and reductive methods of interpretation."
The conclusion of HEGM is overlong, spending a great deal of space repeating what went before. Here are the few original points we would address:
- A great deal of space is spent explaining why, thus far, MacDonald has been the only person to see all of these parallels. Among the reasons: Mark was very clever; "prejudice for tradition over composition," we're too misinformed today (all except MacDonald); "imitative strategies in antiquity were protean [so] they resist tidy taxonomies and defy detetction" (how do we know it isn't our imagination at work, then?).
- MacDonald now argues for Markan priority: "Surely it is easier to imagine Mark borrowing from Homer elements that Matthew and Luke allowed to drift from their poetic moorings than to imagine Mark bending material from Matthew and Luke to conform with the epic." 
Given MacDonald's propensity to "bend" material for his own purposes -- and the "bending" done by some of the ancient authors we noted far above -- I fail to see how this is the case. If MacDonald is right, Mark has also "bent" a great deal of Homeric material, putting it in another time, another place, another culture. As a writer who specializes in parody, I can assure the reader that it is much easier to "bend" material than it is to fabricate it wholesale.
As we have shown in several places, even if MacDonald is right, he has explained things in Mark as Homeric parallels that are completely missing in Matthew (though not in Luke always). Now how likely is it that whereas Luke did not always remove a unique Homeric hint (i.e., not commonplaces/ICEs like "sat down"), Matthew, apparently, always did? Did he know what Mark was up to and scrub such references intentionally? MacDonald has done far more here to prove Matthean priority (or priority of Matthew's tradition) than he could possibly realize.
- Finally, MacDonald's only statement on what Mark thought he was up to: It was all done "to make the memory of Jesus relevant to the catastrophes of his day" (i.e., the fall of Jerusalem and other tragedies)  by paralleling Jesus to a popular suffering hero.
But why would it be necessary to use Homer to make Jesus "relevant"? Were his normal life and deeds "irrelevant" to the daily needs of people? MacDonald's proposal is a modern argument. If this was Mark's attempt, if he created "theological fiction", and his readers recognized the Homeric allusions, then he perpetrated a ghastly lie which would have been found intolerable by readers who (MacDonald supposes) desperately needed "relevant" input.
MacDonald can speak of "beautiful and inspiring myths," but this is an academic speaking, not a man on the streets of Rome or Judea with real problems and real poverty, materially and spiritually. It cannot be both ways. If Mark lacked truth -- with or without imitation -- there is no way that this would not show in histrorical reprecussions.
And so we conclude: If Mark did indeed engage in imitation:
- It was to a far, far lesser extent than MacDonald supposes;
- It was done using real historical events;
- It was done borrowing from an earlier tradition, which we see in Matthew's Gospel.
For a satiric parallel using the lives of Kennedy and Lincoln, see here.
For a review of the book by a classical scholar, see here
I recently discovered a 2009 paper in which MacDonald defended his thesis from two scholarly critics and titled, "My Turn: A Critique of Critics of Mimesis Criticism." The paper takes on articles by Margaret Mitchell in the Journal of Religion and Karl Sandnes in The Journal of Biblical Literature.
Mitchell and Sandnes register nine major objections (reported by MacDonald) to HEGM. Of these nine, most I either would not consider useful as objections, or do not have the expertise to evaluate. There are in fact only three that correspond to my own objections to HEGM, and those are numbered 4, 5, 7 and 9 on MacDonald's list. I will renumber them as 1, 2, 3 and 4 here.
- The parallels between Mark and the epics are inconsistent.
- My methodology is unfalsifiable.
- I make Mark and his readers too clever. (Actually, I only say this in my article of Mark's readers, but not of Mark.)
- No one seems to have recognized these imitations before.
Actually, though, I would consider 1 and 2 to be much the same problem and I will therefore gather thoughts on both in one section as we evaluate MacDonald's response.
Inconsistency, Unfalsifiability: Objection 4
The problems with HEGM here are varied, but I will illustrate by way of thematic examples from my original article. MacDonald stacked the deck in his own favor by finding a way to count non-matches as matches. He called these "transvaluations" i.e., places where the author (Mark) changed some element from Homer while still imitating. Thus, for example, where Homer wrote of a darkened room, MacDonald counts it as a match if Mark (or Luke) refers to a lighted room. In another case, to find a set of parallels, MacDonald shifted back and forth between who was paralleling who. In the story of Jesus healing the demoniac by the sea, for example, the demoniac was said to be enacting, in turn, the roles of Circe, Odysseus, and the Cyclops. At another point, HEGM has Jesus enacting the role of the Cyclops.
As it happens, Mitchell made a similar observation in her critique, albeit not as narrow as my own. She noted that Jesus enacted different roles from all across Homer, but not that such shifts occur for MacDonald even within a single story! The general principle, however, remains the same: MacDonald shifts at will to force parallels.
MacDonald's response to Mitchell, sadly, is short and unenlightening, and merely begs the question. He says that in the Aeneid, Aeneas also shifts roles between multiple characters from past works. But MacDonald explains none of these alleged parallels, and does not offer so much as a footnote to a study of such parallels. We are thus left to ask whether it was simply a matter of some other scholar having the same types of literary fantasies, and failing with the same methodologies, that MacDonald used.
A more useful response from MacDonald is that Jesus shifted roles of OT figures, imitating Jonah, Moses, and Elijah. This is true, but it is also exactly what we would expect a Jewish prophet to do. A historic Jesus would wish to verify his divine mission by imitating the Jewish prophets of old, and indeed, superseding them. In contrast, it serves no purpose for Mark to have Jesus imitating Homeric heroes. MacDonald claims in HEGM that Mark was "adapting cultural monuments to address new realities," but this is an explanation of what he thinks Mark was doing, and not why. In his response to Mitchell, MacDonald tries again to explain himself, saying that Mark was trying to "present [Jesus] as superior to heroes of Greek religious literature," but this barely scratches the surface of a "why" and only moves it down a step: WHY, then, would Mark want to "present Jesus as superior to heroes of Greek religious literature?" This seems like it would be obviously true all by itself, and a mere triviality; it would be like saying Mark wanted to present the President as having more power and authority to wage war than the local garbage man. And with the Jewish prophets, Jesus was in line with a tradition in which he also claimed to be a prophet. So was Mark wanting to claim that Jesus was a Greek hero?
Inconsistency, Unfalsifiability: Objection 5
Here MacDonald defends his use of non-matches as matches (he calls them "transvaluations"). He first remarks that he never uses transvaluations alone to make matches. This is true, but he does use them to "pile on" matches and make his case appear stronger than it is. His second defense is that we recognize such reverse parallels in other forms, but his example speaks for itself as being inconsequential: He refers to the children's book Sleeping Ugly, a parody of Sleeping Beauty, but such books are from the known genre of modern parody, which did not exist in Mark's time as such. We have no evidence for such methods in Mark or other literature from his period, aside from MacDonald's own theorizing. His claim thus remains a begged question in context.
Mark's Readers Were too Clever: Objection 7
As noted, MacDonald responds also to the claim that Mark was too clever, which is an objection I do not share with Mitchell. I did say: We find it interesting that MacDonald asks for "special demands on the reader: patience, generosity, and above all, imagination!"  One wonders if Mark thought his readers-few of whom would have been as educated as MacDonald-would have had the patience or imagination to detect and appreciate the parallels?
Unfortunately, MacDonald doesn't even answer for that much; he merely acts offended that Mitchell made the point with what he takes as demeaning sarcasm. He does not even bother to explain how Mark's readers and hearers would be expected to recognize the obscure Homeric parallels MacDonald so cleverly detects. Which leads, of course, to the last point.
B>No One Saw It Before: Objection 9
I had pointed out that this amazing theory of MacDonald's was without precedent in a lot of important people's works i.e., 19th century German critics, patristic writers, critics of Christianity like Celsus, and of course, Homeric scholars. Mitchell and Sandnes noticed this too, and apart from the question-begging example of Luke supposedly doing the same thing, MacDonald does try to push the "discovery" of Mark's use of Homer back to 1898. He dug out a book titled The Homeric Centones and the Acts of Pilate, by J. Rendel Harris, that allegedly made some of the same "discoveries" he did. And, in a sense he did; however, Harris' claims of parallel are just as weak as MacDonald's…if not weaker.
MacDonald seems quite proud of himself for this find, but as it stands, this remains little more than proof that at least one other person was and is as misguided as he. Harris was also a Biblical scholar, not an expert in Homer, and we remain without any evidence that people-most in the know-recognized what MacDonald claims to be there is actually there. But the most damning point of all is that MacDonald thereafter doesn't report findings of parallels between Homer and Mark, but rather reports them between Homer and the Gospel of Nicodemus.
There are a few other things Harris says that MacDonald fails to mention; thankfully, Harris' book, which MacDonald says he had to find at Cambridge, is available online via the Open Library. One thing Harris says, to start, is that the Homeric touches that he discovers were actually modifications of a purer text by a later editor. Another is that Harris didn't apparently think that the NT had been "Homerized."
Harris also later gives examples of how authors created "Homerized" renditions of other texts, including those of the Old Testament. So, for example, Harris refers to an author who describes "the impiety of the men in Shechem" by comparing them to the Cyclops. It would be rather obvious that this was done in such a way that the author was intending for the story of Shechem to be regarded as real history.
Summarizing: MacDonald's claims remain without any precedent, and most critically, without precedent in the works of anyone who obviously should have made the same findings.
- Bit.LK -- Bitan, Arieh. "Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) And Its Exceptional Wind System." Boundary Layer Meteorology 21 (1981), 477-487.
- Bonn.EAR -- Bonner, Stanley F. Education in Ancient Rome: From the Elder Cato to the Younger Pliny. U. of California Press, 1977.
- Clar.RGR -- Clark, Donald Lemen. Rhetoric in Greco-Roman Education.New York: Columbia University Press, 1957.
- Jeff.GRW -- Jeffers, James. The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era. IVP: 1999.
- John.Mk -- Johnson, Earl. "Is Mark 15:39 the Key to Mark's Christology?" JSNT October 1987, 3-22.
- Russ.DI -- Russell, D. A. "De Imitatione," in Creative Imitation in Latin Literature, Cambridge U. Press, 1979.
- West.TP -- "Two Plagues: Virgil, Georgicas 3.478-560 and Lucretius 6.1090-1200" in Creative Imitation and Latin Literature.
- With.Mk -- Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
- Wood.SI -- Woodman, Tony. "Self-Imitation and the Substance of History, Tacitus Annals 1.61-5 and Histories 2.70, 5.15-15." in Creative Imitation and Latin Literature.