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Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark

From: "Ice Darkrose" 
Subject: Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark
Date: Tue, 09 Sep 2003 15:20:19 +0000


Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark
(by Dennis R. MacDonald; Yale University, 2000)
by Richard Carrier

An Incredible Book

This is an incredible book that must be read by everyone with an interest in 
Christianity.  MacDonald's shocking thesis is that the Gospel of Mark is a 
deliberate and conscious anti-epic, an inversion of the Greek "Bible" of 
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, which in a sense "updates" and Judaizes the 
outdated heroic values presented by Homer, in the figure of a new hero, 
Jesus (whose name, of course, means "Savior").  When I first heard of this I 
assumed it would be yet another intriguing but only barely defensible search 
for parallels, stretching the evidence a little too far-tantalizing, but 
inconclusive.  What I found was exactly the opposite.  MacDonald's case is 
thorough, and though many of his points are not as conclusive as he makes 
them out to be, when taken as a cumulative whole the evidence is so abundant 
and clear it cannot be denied.  And being a skeptic to the thick, I would 
never say this lightly.  Several scholars who reviewed or commented on it 
have said this book will revolutionize the field of Gospel studies and 
profoundly affect our understanding of the origins of Christianity, and 
though I had taken this for hype, after reading the book I now echo that 
very sentiment myself.

Background and Purpose of Mark

MacDonald begins by describing what scholars of antiquity take for granted: 
anyone who learned to write Greek in the ancient world learned from Homer.  
Homer was the textbook.  Students were taught to imitate Homer, even when 
writing on other subjects, or to rewrite passages of Homer in prose, using 
different vocabulary.  Thus, we can know for certain that the author of 
Mark's Gospel was thoroughly familiar with the works of Homer and 
well-trained in recasting Homeric verse into new prose tales.  The status of 
Homer in basic education remained throughout antiquity, despite the fact 
that popular and intellectual sentiment had been sternly against the ethics 
and theology of his epics since the age of Classical Greece. Authors from 
Plato (400 b.c.e) to Plutarch (c. 100 c.e.) sought to resolve this problem 
by "reinterpreting" Homer as allegory, or by expunging or avoiding offensive 
passages, neither of which was a perfect solution.

For the Latin language, the opportunity was afforded for Virgil to solve 
this problem by recasting the Homeric epic into Roman form, exhibiting Roman 
ideals and creating more virtuous heroes and gods.  Likewise, borrowing and 
recasting from Homer is evident in numerous works of fiction, which often 
had a religious flavor, and were proliferating in the very same period as 
the Gospels.  One prominent example (mentioned but not emphasized by 
MacDonald) is the Satyricon of Petronius, which can be decisively dated 
prior to 66 A.D. and thus is most likely earlier than any known Gospel, and 
since this novel was in Latin (and a satire), it is almost certain that many 
undatable Greek novels, which surely originated the form, long precede this. 
  So rewriting Homer to depict new religious ideas and values was a standard 
phenomenon.  In MacDonald's words, "Homer was in the air that Mark's readers 
breathed" (p. 8), and all the more so among Mark's Gentile audience.  But to 
smartly recast Homer into a new Greek form, reflecting contemporary 
Graeco-Jewish ideals, was a task simply waiting to be done.  If MacDonald is 
right, this is what Mark set out to do.  So much is clear: the motive, 
ability, and inspiration were certainly present, and MacDonald rapidly 
presents all the evidence, backing it up with copious and scholarly endnotes 
in chapter 1.

Why?  In MacDonald's words, Mark "thoroughly, cleverly, and strategically 
emulated" stories in Homer and the Old Testament, merging two great cultural 
classics, in order "to depict Jesus as more compassionate, powerful, noble, 
and inured to suffering than Odysseus" (p. 6), and hence "the earliest 
evangelist was not writing a historical biography, as many interpreters 
suppose, but a novel, a prose anti-epic of sorts" (p. 7).  In particular, 
the differences between Mark and Homer need no explanation: the differences 
are the point, the very objective of the later author.  Some of those 
differences are also the obvious result of a change of scene from the 
ancient Mediterranean to near-contemporary, Roman-occupied Judaea, or of 
literary borrowing from Jewish texts.  Some may reflect some sort of 
traditional or historical core story, though it is almost impossible to tell 
when.  Instead, it is the similarities that "cry out for explanation," and 
contemporary apologists must now begin to address this issue.

Of particular use, for all those who want to develop (or attack) theories of 
literary borrowing-in the Gospels or elsewhere-is the set of six criteria 
for identifying textual influence outlined by MacDonald at the end of his 
first chapter, and demonstrated quite effectively on a passage in Acts.  
Though no one of these criteria alone carries very much weight, the more 
criteria that are met in a single instance, the stronger the case.  However, 
one caveat MacDonald does not provide is in regard to his criterion of 
order.  In many cases, matching sequences of passages or themes is indeed 
significant.  However, some cases of matching sequence are such that any 
other sequence would be logically impossible.  Therefore, correlation of 
this kind can in some cases be coincidence.  Nevertheless, even engaging 
this caution, the sequential evidence MacDonald presents is very often, 
taken as a whole, not coincidental.  Likewise, it should be known that much 
of Mark's use of Homer is to shape and detail an otherwise non-Homeric 
story, and the task of deciding what that core story is, or whether this 
core story in any given case is a Biblical emulation, or a historical fact, 
or a legend, or something of the author's deliberate creation, or any 
combination thereof, is not something MacDonald even intends to undertake in 
this book, although he makes some suggestions in his concluding paragraphs.

Modeling Odysseus

The Odyssey is rife with the theme of the suffering hero, and MacDonald 
builds a solid case in chapter 2 for the philosophical veneration of 
Odysseus as the best example of a man.  If Jesus could be made to one-up and 
even replace Odysseus, Mark would achieve a literary and moral coup.  And 
there are in the overall story obvious if not overly-telling similarities: 
"Both [men] faced supernatural opposition....Each traveled with companions 
unable to endure the hardships of the journey, and each returned to a home 
infested with rivals who would attempt to kill him as soon as they 
recognized him," and "both heroes returned from Hades alive" (p. 17).  Some 
parallels are a little more startling but less significant to the historian 
than to the literary critic: the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mk. 
12:1-12), and the passage capturing the famous phrase "for you do not know 
when the master of the house will come" (Mk. 13:34-5), both evoke the image 
of Odysseus returning in disguise to surprise the suitors who have turned 
his house into a den of sin (MacDonald develops this theme further in 
chapter 5, and again in chapter 14, and in the conclusion).  Do not be like 
them, Mark is saying to his readers.  But of course Jesus himself could have 
said that, intending the very same allusion.  Examples like these can make 
good material for sermons, and serve well the connoisseurs of visionary 
prose, yet don't really prove whether Mark has himself deliberately crafted 
the story.  But in conjunction with what follows, this becomes part of a 
cumulative case for Mark's inversion of Homer.

Who knew, for instance, that Odysseus was also a carpenter?  The companions 
are another general link with the Odyssey. MacDonald points out how Mark is 
the harshest evangelist in his treatment of the disciples, while the others 
sometimes go out of their way to omit or alter this disparagement when they 
borrow from Mark.  Why were the disciples such embarrassing nitwits, 
"greedy, cowardly, potentially treacherous, and above all foolish" (p. 20)?  
As history, it is hardly credible.  As a play on Homer, it makes perfect 
sense: for the companions of Odysseus were exactly like this.  Homer 
cleverly employed the ineptitudes of the crew to highlight the virtues of 
Odysseus, making him appear even more the hero, enhancing his "wisdom, 
courage, and self-control" (p. 23).  MacDonald briefly explores five other 
general similarities between the two "entourages" in chapter 3, including 
the fact that in the one story we have sailors, while in the other, 
fishermen-who do a lot of going about in boats, even though the vast 
majority of Judaea is dry land.

Chief among these similarities is the comparison between Peter and 
Eurylochus.  Both spoke on behalf of all the followers, both challenged the 
"doomsday predictions" of their master to their own peril, both were accused 
by their leader of being under the influence of an evil demon, and both 
"broke their vows to the hero in the face of suffering"-in effect, both 
"represent[ed] the craven attitude toward life" (p. 22-3).  Again, this 
could be a mere veneer woven through an otherwise true story by Mark, and 
some of MacDonald's ideas (such as developed in chapter 4) are intriguing 
but too weak to do much with.  But it is true that both epics announce from 
the start a focus on a single individual, both center on a king and his son 
reestablishing authority over a kingdom, both involve an inordinate amount 
of events and travel at sea.  Both works begin by summoning their own Muse: 
Homer, the Muse herself; Mark, the Prophet Isaiah.  In both stories, the 
son's patrimony is confirmed by a god in the form of a bird, and this 
confirmation prepares the hero to face an enemy in the very next scene: 
Telemachus, the suitors; Jesus, Satan.  And eventually the odd links keep 
accumulating, and compel one to question the whole thing.

Stark Examples

"Once the evangelist linked the sufferings of Jesus to those of Odysseus, he 
found in the epic a reservoir of landscapes, characterizations, type-scenes, 
and plot devices useful for crafting his narrative" (p. 19).  Of course, all 
throughout MacDonald points out coinciding parallels with the Old Testament 
and other Jewish literature, but even these parallels have been molded 
according to a Homeric model in every case he examines.  Consider two of the 
many mysteries MacDonald's theory explains, and these are even among the 
weakest parallels that he identifies in the book:

Why do the chief priests need Judas to identify Jesus in order to arrest 
him?  This makes absolutely no sense, since many of their number had debated 
him in person, and his face, after a triumphal entry and a violent tirade in 
the temple square, could hardly have been more public.  But MacDonald's 
theory that Judas is a type of Melanthius solves this puzzle: Melanthius is 
the servant who betrays Odysseus and even fetches arms for the suitors to 
fight Odysseus-just as Judas brings armed guards to arrest Jesus-and since 
none of the suitors knew Odysseus, it required Melanthius to finally 
identify him.  MacDonald also develops several points of comparison between 
the suitors and the Jewish authorities.  Thus, this theme of "recognition" 
stayed in the story even at the cost of self-contradiction.  Of note is the 
fact that Homer names Melanthius with a literary point in mind: for his name 
means "The Black One," whereas Mark seems to be maligning the Jews by 
associating Melanthius with Judas, whose name is simply "Judah," i.e. the 
kingdom of the Jews, after which the Jews as a people, and the region of 
Judaea, were named.

Why does Pilate agree to free a prisoner as if it were a tradition to do so? 
  Such a practice could hardly have been approved by Rome, since any popular 
rebel leader who happened to be in custody during the festival would always 
escape justice.  And given Pilate's reputation for callous ruthlessness and 
disregard for Jewish interests, it is most implausible to have him 
participating in such a self-defeating tradition-a tradition for which there 
is no other evidence of any kind, not even a precedent or similar practice 
elsewhere.  But if Barabbas is understood as the type of Irus, Odysseus' 
panhandling competitor in the hall of the suitors, the story makes sense as 
a clever fiction.  Both Irus and Barabbas were scoundrels, both were 
competing with the story's hero for the attention of the enemy (the suitors 
in one case, the Jews in the other), and both are symbolic of the enemy's 
Of course, Barabbas means "son of the father," and thus is an obvious pun on 
Christ himself.  He also represents the violent revolutionary, as opposed to 
the very different kind of savior in Jesus (the real "Savior").  On the 
other hand, Irus was a nickname derived from a goddess (Iris), and MacDonald 
fails to point out that her name means "rainbow," which to Mark would have 
meant the sign from God that there would never again be a flood (Ge. 
9:12-13).  Moreover, Irus' real name was Arnaeus, "the Lamb."  What more 
perfect model for Mark?  The Jews thus choose the wrong "son of the father" 
who represents the Old Covenant (symbolized by the rainbow, and represented 
by the ideal of the military messiah freeing Israel), as well as the 
scapegoat (the lamb) sent off, bearing the people's sins into the 
wilderness, while its twin is sacrificed (Lev. 16:8-10, 23:27-32, Heb. 8-9). 
  MacDonald's own analysis is actually confirmed by this additional parallel 
that he missed, and that is impressive.
MacDonald goes on to develop many similar points that not only scream of 
Homer being on Mark's mind, but also explain strange features of Mark. The 
list is surprisingly long:

Why did Jesus, who nevertheless taught openly and performed miracles 
everywhere, try to keep everything a secret?  Why did Jesus stay asleep in a 
boat during a deadly storm?  Why did Jesus drown two thousand pigs?  Why 
does Mark invent a false story about John the Baptist's execution, one that 
implicates women?  Why are the disciples surprised that Jesus can multiply 
food even when they had already seen him do it before?  Why does Jesus curse 
a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season?  How does Mark know what 
Jesus said when he was alone at Gethsemane?  What is the meaning of the 
mysterious naked boy at Jesus' arrest?  Why does Jesus, knowing full well 
God's plan, still ask why God forsook him on the cross?  Why does Mark never 
once mention Mary Magdalene, or the other two women at the crucifixion, or 
even Joseph of Arimathea, until after Jesus has died?  Why is the temple 
veil specifically torn "top to bottom" at Jesus' death?  Why is Joseph of 
Arimathea able to procure the body of a convict so soon from Pilate?  Why do 
we never hear of Joseph of Arimathea again?  Why does Jesus die so quickly?  
Why do the women go to anoint Jesus after he is buried?  Why do they go at 
dawn, rather than the previous night when the Sabbath had already ended?
All these mysteries are explained by the same, single thesis.  This is a 
sign of a good theory.  With one theoretical concept, not only countless 
parallels are identified, but numerous oddities are explained.  That is very 
unlikely to be due to chance.  And there is evidence of so many plausible 
connections, that even though any one of them could perhaps with effort be 
argued away, the fact that there are so many more makes it increasingly 
unlikely that MacDonald is seeing an illusion.  Finally, his entire theory 
is plausible within the context of what we can deduce to have been Mark's 
cultural and educational background.

Crescendo of Doom

MacDonald's book is built like a crescendo: as one reads on, the cases not 
only accumulate, they actually get better and better, clearer and clearer.  
In the story of the Gerasene swine (Mk. 5:1ff.) MacDonald finds that 18 
verses have thematic parallels in the Odyssey, 13 of those in exactly the 
same order!  And even with some of those out of order the order is not 
random but is inverted, and thus a connection remains evident.  In the story 
of Salome and the execution of John, MacDonald finds seven thematic 
parallels with the Murder of Agamemnon, all of them in the same order, and 
on top of that he details two other general parallels.  And the two food 
miracles, forming a doublet in Mark, contain details that match a similar 
doublet of feasts in the Odyssey, and contain them in the same respective 
order: "Details in the [first] story of Nestor's feast not found in the 
[second] story of Menelaus appear in the [first] feeding of the five 
thousand and not in its twin," while, "details in the [second] story of 
Menelaus not found in the [first] story of Nestor appear in the [second] 
feeding of the four thousand and not in the first story," so that "the 
chances of these correspondences deriving from accident are slim" (p. 85).

These examples of a connection between Mark and Homer are far more dense 
than the two examples I detailed earlier, and cannot be explained away even 
by the most agile of thinkers.  Consider the last case, which even has the 
fewest parallels relative to the other two: in the first feasts, the main 
characters go by sea, but in the second, by land; in the first, only men 
attend (even though there is no explanation in Mark of why this should be), 
but in the second there is no distinction; in the first, the masses assemble 
into smaller groups, and lie on soft spots, but not in the second; more 
attend the first than the second (and the numbers are about the same: 5000 
in Mark, 4500 in Homer).  On the other hand, in the second feasts, unlike 
the first, someone asks the host a discouraging question and yet the host 
shows compassion anyway-in Mark, this is particularly strange, since after 
the first miracle the disciples have no excuse to be surprised that Jesus 
can multiply food, so the doubting question can only be explained by the 
Homeric parallel; finally, in the second feasts, as opposed to the first, 
there are two sequential courses-bread, then meat.  In both authors, the 
feasts serve an overt educational role: in the one case to educate the 
hero's son about hospitality, in the other to educate the disciples about 
Jesus' power and compassion, drawing attention to the difference in each 
story's moral values.  There are even linguistic parallels-Homer's feasts 
were called "symposia" (drinking parties) even though that word usually 
referred to smaller gatherings; likewise, Mark writes that the first feast 
was organized by "symposia," despite the fact that only food is mentioned, 
not water or wine.  Several of these details in Mark, as noted, are simply 
odd by themselves, yet make perfect sense when we see the Homeric model, and 
therein again lies the power of MacDonald's thesis.

MacDonald does similar work illuminating the Transfiguration, the healing of 
Bartimaeus, the Hydropatesis (water-walk), the Marcan Apocalypse, the 
Triumphal Entry, the Anointing, the Passover Feast (including a definite 
connection with cannibalism that offers a possible ideological origin for 
the Eucharist as a transvaluation of Homer), the Prayer and Arrest at 
Gethsemane, the Crucifixion, the Burial, and some details of the Empty Tomb 
narrative. His theory provides an excellent reason to suppose that the naked 
boy at Jesus' arrest is the same as the boy the women find in the empty 
tomb-and he is a marker of resurrection: a type of the ill-fated Elpenor. 
Likewise, his theory puts a serious damper on the historicity of Joseph of 
Arimathea and the burial account in Mark: Joseph is a type of Priam, who 
rescued the body of Hector for burial in a similar way.

What I found additionally worthwhile is how MacDonald's theory illuminates 
the theme of "reversal of expectation" which so thoroughly characterizes the 
Gospels-not only in the parables of Jesus, where the theme is obvious, but 
in the very story itself.  Though MacDonald himself does not pursue this in 
any detail, his book helped me to see it even more clearly.  James and John, 
who ask to sit at the right and left of Jesus in his glory, are replaced by 
the two thieves at Jesus' crucifixion; Simon Peter, Jesus's right-hand man 
who was told he had to "deny himself and take up his cross and follow" 
(8:34), is replaced by Simon of Cyrene when it comes time to truly bear the 
cross; Jesus is anointed for burial before he dies; and when the women go to 
anoint him after his death, their expectations are reversed in finding his 
body missing.  Later Gospels added even more of these reversals: for 
instance in Matthew Jesus' father, Joseph, is replaced by Joseph of 
Arimathea when the duty of burial arose-a duty that should have been 
fulfilled by the father; likewise, contrary to expectation, the Mary who 
laments his death and visits his tomb is not Mary his mother, but a 
prostitute; and while the Jews attack Jesus for healing and doing good on 
the Sabbath, they in turn hold an illegal meeting, set an illegal guard, and 
plot evil on the Sabbath, and then break the ninth commandment the next day. 
  This theme occurs far too often to have been in every case historical, and 
its didactic meaning is made clear in the very parables of reversal told by 
Jesus himself, as well as, for instance, his teachings about family, or 
hypocrisy, and so on.  These stories were crafted to show that what Jesus 
preached applied to the real world, real events, "the word made flesh."

Death and Resurrection

MacDonald's book concludes with an analysis of how Jesus as a character in 
Mark is also an inversion of Hector and Achilles in the Iliad.  Both Jesus 
and Achilles knew they were fated to die and spoke of this fate often, but 
whereas Achilles chose his fate in exchange for "eternal fame," and for 
himself alone, Jesus chose it in exchange for "eternal life," for all 
humankind.  This is one among many examples of how Mark has updated the 
values in Homer, highlighting this fact by crafting his narrative in 
deliberate imitation of Homer's epics.  In a similar fashion, while the 
death of Hector doomed Troy to destruction, Jesus' death doomed the Temple 
to destruction.  According to MacDonald, these themes and others guide 
Mark's construction of the passion narrative, and though borrowing from the 
Old Testament and other Jewish texts in the passion account is far more 
prevalent than anywhere else in his Gospel, there is still a play on the 
Iliad evident in various details.

For example, MacDonald finds more than 11 parallels between Mark's account 
of the crucifixion and the death of Hector, all but one of those in the same 
order (and that one exception is in inverted order), and 11 more parallels 
between Mark's account of the burial of Jesus and Homer's account of the 
burial of Hector, all in the same order.  It is notable that resurrection, 
anastasia, was a theme in the Iliad: the concept appears three times, twice 
in declarations of its impossibility, once in a metaphor for Hector's 
survival of certain death.  It thus contained a fitting challenge that Mark 
was happy to answer with a simple prose epic that everywhere flaunted the 
fact that anastasia was indeed possible, and real.  While Hector, Elpenor, 
and Patroclus were all burned and buried at dawn, the tomb of Jesus was 
empty at dawn; while the Iliad and Odyssey were epics about mortality, the 
Gospel was an epic about immortality.

The Ending of Mark

I have one point of criticism for chapter 21, where MacDonald diverges from 
his central thesis to explain why Mark ends his Gospel as he does.  
MacDonald proposes an explanation from the historical context of the author. 
  It is quite likely that many Christians were killed, and the original 
Jerusalem church destroyed, in the Jewish War of 66-70 A.D.  MacDonald in 
several places relates how Mark most likely wrote his Gospel after the 
conclusion of the war (there are, to be sure, ample references that assume 
this, as well as that the world would end soon thereafter-cf. especially 
MacDonald's third appendix).  So Mark, MacDonald argues, was faced with 
explaining why Jesus had not forewarned his disciples to evacuate Judaea.  
Mark's explanation, so the theory goes, is that Jesus did warn them, but 
they never heard the warning-in particular, they were supposed to go to 
Galilee after the resurrection to see Jesus, but the women failed to report 
this to the disciples and so they never went (and this tactic also allows 
the disciples to get off the hook: those at fault were mere fickle women).

The problem with this theory should be obvious: it is not the fact that it 
fails to explain how Mark could know the story if no one told it-for this 
did not stop him from relating what Jesus said in private when no witnesses 
were at hand, nor did it stop Matthew from relating secret conversations of 
the Jews; rather, the problem is that it fails to explain how Christianity 
started.  Even assuming Mark is inventing this account apologetically, how 
did Mark imagine that the resurrection ever began to be preached if no one 
was ever told about the empty tomb and no one saw the risen Jesus, even in 
visions or dreams?  Since the earliest accounts, in Paul, clearly suggest 
post mortem sightings of Jesus, and even tie these to the origin of the 
Gospel itself (and I have in mind the revelation to Paul mentioned in 
Galatians, and the visions to Peter and the others mentioned in 1 
Corinthians), it does not seem plausible for Mark to expect his readers to 
reject this tradition, as would be required for his alleged hidden point 
even to be noticed, much less understood.  I thus cannot buy MacDonald's 
theory on this point.

My own hypothesis is that Mark ended the Gospel thus in order to set up a 
pretext for why little of his particular story had been heard in the 
Christian community until he wrote it down.  If we suppose that the 
resurrection as preached by Paul was of a spiritual nature, and therefore 
had nothing to do with empty tombs, then to suddenly disseminate such a 
story would raise eyebrows unless the author were ready with an explanation. 
  And by building an explanation into his story he essentially covers 
himself.  It is possible that Mark originally concluded his tale with an 
assertion that the women later reported the story to him, an ending that 
would be struck out and replaced to suit the new physicalist Christology 
that would follow, as well as in support of the new reliance on apostolic 
authority which seems never to have been a concern for Mark.  But it is also 
possible that this would not have mattered.  The faithful would not 
necessarily be too bothered about Mark's sources, since Revelation itself 
could always provide (in his letter to the Galatians, Paul himself claimed 
he learned the Gospel through direct revelation from God).  Even if they 
were to ask, Mark or the sellers of his story could easily have provided 
persuasive oral explanations to satisfy any believer, who would be more than 
ready to believe anything that agreed with their values and doctrine and 
glorified and magnified the power of their beloved Lord.  Ultimately, if 
Mark invented the empty tomb, he may also have inadvertently caused the 
invention of a physical resurrection-since an empty tomb, though meant as a 
symbol, if taken as a fact could imply a physical resurrection, leaving room 
for future evangelists to spin the yarn further still.


What is especially impressive is the vast quantity of cases of direct and 
indirect borrowing from Homer that can be found in Mark.  One or two would 
be interesting, several would be significant.  But we are presented with 
countless examples, and this is as cumulative as a case can get.  In the 
end, I came away from this book with a new appreciation for Mark, whose 
Gospel tends to be derided as the work of a rather poor, simple Greek 
author.  Though Mark's Greek is extremely colloquial, not at all in high 
literary style, this itself is surely a grand and ingenious transvaluation 
of Homer: whereas the great epics were archaic and difficult, only to be 
mastered by the educated elites, only to be understood completely by those 
with access to glossaries and commentaries and marked-up critical editions, 
Mark not only updated Homer's values and theology, but inverted its entire 
character as an elite masterpiece, by making his own epic simple, thoroughly 
understandable by the common, the poor, the masses, and lacking in the overt 
pretension and cleverness of poetic verse, written in plain, ordinary 
language.  The scope of genius evident in Mark's reconstruction of Homeric 
motifs is undeniable and has convinced me that Mark was no simpleton: he was 
a literary master, whose achievement is all the greater in his choice of 
idiom-his "poor Greek" was deliberate and artful, as was his story.

Another theme that becomes apparent throughout this book is how quickly 
Christians lost touch with this allegorical meaning.  Even the other 
Evangelists, when borrowing from Mark, stripped out the key and telling 
details and thus obviously missed the point; and only one other author, that 
of the Acts of Andrew, did anything overtly comparable in comprehensively 
recrafting Homer.  By itself, this might be evidence against such a meaning 
actually being in Mark.  But the evidence that this meaning is present is 
overwhelming on its own terms, and we can only conclude of early Christian 
ignorance, instead, that the real origins and message of the earliest 
Christians was all but lost even to the second or third generation.  By the 
time there was a church in a significant sense, Christianity had been 
radically changed by the throngs of its converts, and, amidst the din of 
outsiders who stole the reigns, the very essence of that original Church of 
Jerusalem faded, powerless to survive under the mass of superstition and 

Having read this book, I am now certain that the historicity of the Gospels 
and Acts is almost impossible to establish.  The didactic objectives and 
methods of the authors have so clouded the truth with literary motifs and 
allusions and parabolic tales that we cannot know what is fact and what 
fiction.  I do not believe that this entails that Jesus was a myth, 
however-and MacDonald himself is not a mythicist, but assumes that something 
of a historical Jesus lies behind the fictions of Mark.  Although 
MacDonald's book could be used to contribute to a mythicist's case, 
everything this book proves about Mark is still compatible with there having 
been a real man, a teacher, even a real "miracle worker" in a subjective 
sense, or a real event that inspired belief in some kind of resurrection, 
and so on, which was then suitably dressed up in allegory and symbol.

However, the inevitable conclusion is that we have all but lost this history 
forever.  The Gospels can no longer support a rational belief in anything 
they allege to have occurred, at least not without external, unbiased 
corroboration, which we do not have for any of the essential, much less 
supernatural details of the story.  And if Alvar Ellegård is right (Jesus 
One Hundred Years Before Christ, Overlook, 1999), Mark was almost entirely 
fiction, written after the sack of Jerusalem to freeze in symbolic prose the 
metaphorical message of Christianity, a faith which began with a Jesus 
executed long before the Roman conquest, who then appeared in visions (like 
that which converted Paul) a century later, in the time of Pilate, to 
inspire the new creed.  What is important is not that this can be decisively 
proven-nothing can, as our information is too thin, too scarce, too 
unreliable to decisively prove anything about the origins of Christianity.  
What is important is that theories like Ellegård's can't be disproven, 
either-it is one among many distinctly possible accounts of what really 
happened at the dawn of Christianity, which MacDonald's book now makes even 
more plausible.  And so long as it remains possible, even plausible, that 
the bulk of Mark is fiction, the contrary belief that it is fact can never 
be secure.

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interdisciplinary: geometry, natural proportion, ratio, archaeoastronomy
mysticism: enlightenment, self-realization, trance, meditation, consciousness
occultism: divination, hermeticism, amulets, sigils, magick, witchcraft, spells
religion: buddhism, christianity, hinduism, islam, judaism, taoism, wicca, voodoo
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Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century accounts of hoodoo, including slave narratives & interviews
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
Lucky W Amulet Archive by cat yronwode: an online museum of worldwide talismans and charms
Sacred Sex: essays and articles on tantra yoga, neo-tantra, karezza, sex magic, and sex worship
Sacred Landscape: essays and articles on archaeoastronomy, sacred architecture, and sacred geometry
Lucky Mojo Forum: practitioners answer queries on conjure; sponsored by the Lucky Mojo Curio Co.
Herb Magic: illustrated descriptions of magic herbs with free spells, recipes, and an ordering option
Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers: ethical diviners and hoodoo spell-casters
Freemasonry for Women by cat yronwode: a history of mixed-gender Freemasonic lodges
Missionary Independent Spiritual Church: spirit-led, inter-faith, the Smallest Church in the World
Satan Service Org: an archive presenting the theory, practice, and history of Satanism and Satanists
Gospel of Satan: the story of Jesus and the angels, from the perspective of the God of this World
Lucky Mojo Usenet FAQ Archive: FAQs and REFs for occult and magical usenet newsgroups
Candles and Curios: essays and articles on traditional African American conjure and folk magic
Aleister Crowley Text Archive: a multitude of texts by an early 20th century ceremonial occultist
Spiritual Spells: lessons in folk magic and spell casting from an eclectic Wiccan perspective
The Mystic Tea Room: divination by reading tea-leaves, with a museum of antique fortune telling cups
Yronwode Institution for the Preservation and Popularization of Indigenous Ethnomagicology
Yronwode Home: personal pages of catherine yronwode and nagasiva yronwode, magical archivists
Lucky Mojo Magic Spells Archives: love spells, money spells, luck spells, protection spells, etc.
      Free Love Spell Archive: love spells, attraction spells, sex magick, romance spells, and lust spells
      Free Money Spell Archive: money spells, prosperity spells, and wealth spells for job and business
      Free Protection Spell Archive: protection spells against witchcraft, jinxes, hexes, and the evil eye
      Free Gambling Luck Spell Archive: lucky gambling spells for the lottery, casinos, and races