JBL 124/4 (2005) 715–732

IMITATIO HOMERI?
AN APPRAISAL OF DENNIS R. MACDONALD’S
“MIMESIS CRITICISM”
KARL OLAV SANDNES
karl.o.sandnes@mf.no
P.O. Box 5144 Majorstuen, N-0302 Oslo, Norway
In volume 64 of Semeia (1993), Øivind Andersen and Vernon K. Robbins
wrote, “Interpreters need to investigate the Gospels in the context of Homeric
literature . . . .”
1
This task has not been without predecessors, among whom
Günter Glockmann is especially important. His search for citations and overt
allusions led him from the NT to Justin Martyr in the second century C.E. As for
the NT, he stated that “das Neue Testament weder eine Äusserung über
Homer noch eine bewusste oder unbewusste Benutzungen der Homerischen
Dichtung enthält.”
2
In the wake of the introduction of literary studies and nar-
rative approaches in NT exegesis, the Homeric task has gained renewed inter-
est. The scholar who has pursued Homeric influence in NT literature most
consequently is Dennis R. MacDonald. He claims that the whole composition
of Mark’s Gospel and parts of Acts are conscious imitations of incidents, charac-
ters, and plot patterns in the Iliad and the Odyssey.
3
In this article I will focus
on his presentation of Mark’s Gospel with special emphasis on method and
ancient analogies.
1
Øivind Andersen and Vernon K. Robbins, “Paradigms in Homer, Pindar, the Tragedians,
and the New Testament,” Semeia 64 (1993): 3–29, here 29.
2
Günter Glockmann, Homer in der frühchristlichen Literatur bis Justinus (TU 105; Berlin:
Akademie Verlag, 1968), 57.
3
See the following works by Dennis R. MacDonald: “The Shipwrecks of Odysseus and Paul,”
NTS 45 (1999): 88–107; The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark (New Haven/London: Yale
University Press, 2000); Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Four Cases from the Acts of the
Apostles (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2003); “Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian
Elders and Hector’s Farewell to Andromache: A Strategic Imitation of Homer’s Iliad,” in Contex-
tualizing Acts: Lukan Narrative and Greco-Roman Discourse (ed. Todd Penner and Caroline van
der Stichele; SBLSymS 20; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 189–203.
715
To describe his project, MacDonald has coined the term “mimesis criti-
cism”: “No targets for imitation were more popular than the Iliad and the
Odyssey, even for the writing of prose. Whereas a form critic compares a narra-
tive in the New Testament to other tales of the same genre as a collectivity, a
‘mimesis critic’ will compare it with earlier texts, one or more of which have
served the author as a model.”
4
MacDonald has opened a new area of research
in the field of Homeric influence on the NT. His approach and the results he
claims move far beyond drawing attention to Homeric traces and vocabulary; in
fact, he raises anew questions of genre and history versus fiction in NT narra-
tives. The texts are to be viewed “not as aspiring historical reports but as fictions
crafted as alternatives to those of Homer and Vergil.”
5
It is the task of the pres-
ent article to assess critically some aspects of MacDonald’s attempt.
I. The Accessibility of Homer
The point of departure for MacDonald is the general accessibility of
Homer’s writings in antiquity. I restrict myself here to sketching why I concur
with him on this. The Stoic philosopher Heraclitus (first century C.E.) defended
Homer against accusations leveled against his writings since Plato’s Republic:
From the earliest stage of life, our infant children in their first moments of
learning are suckled on him [i.e., Homer]; we are wrapped in his poems, one
might also say, as babies, and nourish our minds on their milk. As the child
grows and comes to manhood Homer is at his side. Homer shares his mature
years, and the man is never weary of him even in old age. When we leave him,
we feel the thirst again. The end of Homer is the end of life for us.
6
Heraclitus here witnesses to the fundamental role played by Homer in encycli-
cal education.
7
Dio Chrysostom addresses the question of training a public
speaker and recommends that the student familiarize himself with Menander
and Euripides, but “Homer comes first and in the middle and last, in that he
gives of himself to every boy and adult and old man just as much as each of
them can take” (Or. 18.8).
8
Journal of Biblical Literature 716
4
MacDonald, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? 2.
5
MacDonald, “Paul’s Farewell,” 203.
6
Quoted according to D. A. Russell, Criticism in Antiquity (Berkeley/Los Angeles: Univer-
sity of California Press, 1981), 191. For the Greek text, see Franciscus Oelmann, Heraclit Quaesti-
ones Homericae (Lipsiae: Teubner, 1910). Cf. Pliny, Ep. 2.14.3, where it is stated that Homer is the
first lesson in school (ab Homero in scholis).
7
Ronald F. Hock, “Homer in Graeco-Roman Education,” in Mimesis and Intertextuality in
Antiquity and Christianity (ed. Dennis R. MacDonald; SAC; Harrisburg: Trinity Press Interna-
tional, 2001), 56–77.
8
Dio Chrysostom(trans. H. Lamar Crosby; 5 vols.; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer-
sity Press, 1985).
Quintilian says that Homer and Vergil were the first from whom the young
boys learned to read, but also that these authors were read more than once
(Inst. 1.8.5).
9
In other words, Vergil and Homer, in particular, formed a
“canon”
10
of texts that the students met repeatedly and at various levels:
“Homer’s epics had become the basis for Greek culture. Since classical time
they were everybody’s schoolbook (to be more or less retained by memory) and
companion for life.”
11
Homer was the foundational text of the culture in which
many NT texts came to life. This conclusion can be inferred from Philo’s exten-
sive discussion on encyclical education,
12
and is supported by Josephus’s writ-
ings as well.
13
On the basis of this fundamental role of Homer, it makes sense to
look for Homeric traces in the NT, and not to restrict oneself to obvious cita-
tions.
II. Mark’s Gospel—A Transvaluation of Homer?
MacDonald’s reading of Mark’s Gospel in relation to Homer is not initi-
ated by observations of details, although he claims they are numerous, but by
narrative patterns, characterization, and plots. An appraisal of his Homeric
reading of Mark should, therefore, start with his claim to have identified funda-
mental narrative patterns.
14
An evaluation of all the comparisons involved is
beyond the scope of this article; I restrict myself to his claim to have found “the
key to Mark’s composition.”
15
Like Odysseus, Jesus was a wise carpenter.
16
9
The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian (trans. H. E. Butler; 4 vols; LCL; Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1993).
10
It makes sense to present Homer’s role as analogous with Torah and the Bible; see, e.g.,
Margalit Finkelberg, “Homer as a Foundation Text,” in Homer, the Bible, and Beyond: Literary
and Religious Canons in the Ancient World (ed. Margalit Finkelberg and Guy G. Stroumsa; Lei-
den: Brill, 2003), 75–96.
11
Folker Siegert, “Early Jewish Interpretation in a Hellenistic Style,” in Hebrew Bible/Old
Testament: The History of Its Interpretation, vol. 1/1 (ed. Magne Sæbø; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1996), 130–98, esp. 130–31. The fundamental role of Homer is also demonstrated by
Teresa Morgan, Literate Education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1998).
12
Peder Borgen, “Greek Encyklical Education, Philosophy and Synagogue: Observations
from Philo of Alexandria’s Writings,” in In Honour of Stig Strömholm(Uppsala: Kungl. Vetenskaps-
samhället i Uppsala, 2001), 61–71.
13
For Josephus, see Louis Feldman, Josephus’s Interpretation of the Bible (Berkeley/Los
Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1998), 171–72. See also Catherine Hezser, Jewish
Literacy in Roman Palestine (TSAJ 81; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 70–71, 77–78, 392–93.
14
The importance of these patterns for MacDonald can be perceived from his introductory
statements in Gospel of Mark, 1: “The subsequent reading of Mark would revolutionize my under-
standing of the gospels, . . . it called into question much of conventional gospel scholarship. . . .”
15
Ibid., 3.
16
The table of contents in Gospel of Mark provides a complete list of the main comparisons
Sandnes: Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism” 717
Both suffered many things. Odysseus gathered his crew and Jesus called disci-
ples; with these associates, who appear to be both foolish and treacherous, they
sailed seas. Both opposed supernatural foes. The untriumphal entry of
Odysseus to the city of Phaeacians accounts for important details in the story of
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: “It is in light of this literary tradition that one
should read Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Like Odysseus arriv-
ing on the shores of Scheria, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem apparently destitute
and needing hospitality.”
17
Jesus was anointed by an unnamed woman, and
Euryclia washed the feet of Odysseus at his arrival home, and by observing his
scar, she came to know that her master had returned home. As for Jesus’ death
and burial, MacDonald turns to the Iliad (books 22 and 24)
18
and Hector’s
death: “Mark found the death of Hector and the rescue of his corpse promising
prototypes for his Passion Narrative.”
19
According to MacDonald, comparisons between the hypotext Homer and
Mark’s hypertext are somewhat generous; they are imaginative and not exact.
This is due to the “transvaluation,” which provides the perspective from which
the analogies drawn must be seen. Mark transformed Homer’s writings in a
kind of theological rivalry or “Kulturkampf”: “. . . New Testament narratives
should include an appreciation of cultural struggle, transformative artistry, and
theological playfulness.”
20
Homer’s texts, persons, ideals, and plots are replaced
with the more virtuous and powerful stories about Jesus. MacDonald’s inter-
pretation of Mark’s Gospel implies that Mark is involved in a rewriting of
Homeric models. Mark not only imitated his models; he emulated them as well.
This allows some of the analogies to be elusive and subtle. But this also forms
the “Achilles’ heel” of MacDonald’s interpretation. The concept of “subtle
emulation” makes the project slippery. For if emulation is a characteristic of the
analogies, how can we then be sure that the author intended this analogy, as
claimed by MacDonald? With this question we turn to our comments on his
exegesis of Mark’s Gospel.
Journal of Biblical Literature 718
involved; see also his Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? 171–72. For the criteria in use, see
Gospel of Mark, 8–9; Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? 2–6; Mimesis, 2–3.
17
MacDonald, Gospel of Mark, 105.
18
The Iliad (trans. A. T. Murray; 2 vols.; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1993–98).
19
MacDonald, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? 172; cf. idem, Gospel of Mark,
135–47.
20
MacDonald, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? 15; cf. idem, Gospel of Mark, 2–3,
187–90. MacDonald defines transvaluation in the following way: “Transvaluing occurs when char-
acters in the hypertext (viz. the derivative text) acquire roles and attributes derived from a system of
values not found in the hypotext (the targeted text)”; see his Christianizing Homer: The Odyssey,
Plato, and the Acts of Andrew (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 6; cf. idem,
Gospel of Mark, 2.
The Hero Returning Home?
An appraisal of MacDonald’s interpretation can start with what he consid-
ers the fundamental narrative pattern discernible in both the Odyssey and
Mark’s Gospel. At the center of MacDonald’s Homeric reading of Mark’s
Gospel is his claim that the plot of “the returning home of the hero” in the
Odyssey is found in the Gospel as well: “Both heroes return home to find it
infested with murderous rivals that devour the houses of widows.”
21
In Does the
New Testament Imitate Homer, MacDonald puts it like this: “Like Odysseus,
Jesus comes to his “house,” the Jerusalem Temple, which has fallen into the
hands of his rivals, who, like Penelope’s suitors, devour widows’ houses.”
22
It
goes without saying that the troublesome return home is the plot of the
Odyssey. This is a recurrent motif guiding the whole narrative. The story starts
with Odysseus longing for his return (vo otoc) (Od. 1.13).
23
Throughout the
story he is on his way homeward (oixoor).
24
As Odysseus makes himself known
to his son Telemachos, he says: “but I here, I, just as you see me, after sufferings
and many wanderings, have come in the twentieth year to my native land (r c
aotoioo yoiov)” (Od. 16.205–6; cf. 19.484). This plot reaches its fulfillment in
book 23, where it is stated that Odysseus has now arrived at his home (oi xov
ixovrtoi) (Od. 23.7, 27, 108).
25
The homecoming of the hero became a motif
in ancient literature.
26
Is Mark’s Gospel really a story of the hero returning home? This question
holds a key position, since MacDonald’s comparisons depend on a recognizable
pattern from which details can be discerned as part of an identifiable story. The
motif of returning home lends itself as this crucial starting point, but some
observations seriously challenge this alleged theme in Mark’s Gospel. The
travel motif is embedded more deeply in Luke’s story than in Mark’s. It is true
that, beginning in Mark 8, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, but his voyage
appears less significant than in Luke, not to mention in comparison with the
hero in the Odyssey. In the narrative about the so-called Cleansing of the Tem-
ple (Mark 11:15–17), Mark quotes from Isa 56:7 (and Jer 7:11): “Is it not writ-
ten: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?” Jesus might,
therefore, be said to call the temple his home here. It should, however, be
Sandnes: Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism” 719
21
MacDonald, Gospel of Mark, e.g., 3, 17.
22
MacDonald, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? 172.
23
The Odyssey (trans. A. T. Murray; 2 vols.; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1995).
24
See Od. 1.326–27, 350; 5.19; 12.345; 13.130–39, 305; 19.85; 24.400.
25
MacDonald fully agrees with this definition of the plot in the Odyssey; hence he frequently
speaks of the nostos of Odysseus, the Greek term for returning home; see, e.g. Gospel of Mark,
21–22.
26
See MacDonald, Christianizing Homer, 113–75.
noticed that this appears in a citation from the OT, which is a reminder of the
context within which the author intends the reader to understand this incident.
Furthermore, the motif of “my house” is not a motif embracing the whole story
as it is in Luke’s Gospel. MacDonald claims that there are intriguing parallels
between the Cleansing of the Temple and the Slaying of the Suitors in Odyssey
book 22.
In both instances tables are turned; both groups of rivals are accused of
having wasted the house; and both groups are seized by fear. The suitors arm
themselves to kill Odysseus, and Jesus’ rivals likewise look for an opportunity to
kill him:
27
“The surface parallels to the Odyssey are obvious, but, to my knowl-
edge, have been unexplored until now.”
28
MacDonald attaches significance to
details because he claims that they work within a plot line sufficiently similar in
both the Odyssey and Mark’s Gospel to add meaning and significance to minor
details. For a person well versed in the Homeric writings, Jesus’ driving out the
merchants can well be compared with the driving out of the suitors of Penelope
from Odysseus’s house, but the details MacDonald points out hardly confirm
that the author intended this analogy. The plot line of a hero returning home
hardly works for Mark. The meaning of the incident in the Jerusalem temple is
disputed among scholars, but the literary context about the withered fig tree
(Mark 11:11–14 + 21) suggests, in my opinion, rather a symbolic destruction or
replacement of the temple than its revival.
29
If this is so, the comparison with
Odysseus who finally embraces his home breaks down.
The critique leveled against the temple by Jesus hardly finds an analogy in
the mischief of the suitors. Penelope’s suitors took over Odysseus’s house and
wasted his property. MacDonald sees here a link to Jesus’ quotation from Jer
7:11: “den of robbers.” This metaphor developed from OT texts (e.g., Jer 7:4–
11; Amos 5:21–24) implies a criticism not for having occupied the temple—as
the suitors did—but for using the temple as a place of refuge, a den, when not
being involved in expeditions of robbery.
30
The metaphor focuses on an aspect
that is not there in the Odyssey, namely, seeking refuge in the temple without
altering their immoral way of living.
Odysseus managed with the help of Telemachos to kill his rivals and
thereby to seize his own home again. MacDonald points out that both Odysseus
and Jesus were men of suffering. Odysseus was released from his sufferings as
he returned home. When he arrived at his destiny, his sufferings ceased. Not so
Journal of Biblical Literature 720
27
MacDonald, Gospel of Mark, 34–36.
28
Ibid., 36.
29
So also Jacob Neusner, Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition (London:
SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991), 97–103; and Jostein Ådna, Jesu Stellung zum
Tempel: Die Tempelaktion und das Tempelwort als Ausdruck seiner messianischen Sendung
(WUNT 2/119; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000).
30
Similarly Ådna, Tempel, 274–75.
with Jesus; as he reached his destiny, his sufferings culminated. When he
“returned home,” Jesus was finally killed by his rivals.
MacDonald claims to have found the plot line in both bodies of literature,
the hero’s returning home. This plot line clearly emerges from the Odyssey,
and it is Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and his passion story that in Mark’s Gospel
form the counterpart to this plot line. When Mark reaches the climax of his
story, MacDonald leaves the Odyssey and turns to the Iliad to find the proper
analogy: “Jesus repeatedly imitates Hector.”
31
Homer’s story of Hector’s death
in the Iliad book 22 provides Mark with a popular analogy that he imitated in an
artful way. In the words of Margaret Mitchell: “what began as a Jesus-Odysseus
emplotment becomes a Jesus-Hector one.”
32
Both heroes had their death pre-
dicted, and both were forsaken by the gods who had formerly protected them.
That both were forsaken by the gods should not overrule a significant differ-
ence between the two of them. Hector was not only forsaken; he was deceived
by Pallas Athene (Il. 22.226–28, 247, 276–77, 299); he was blinded by the god.
Furthermore, the manner of death of Jesus and that of Hector were indeed dif-
ferent; in Mark’s Gospel the passion is not included in a battle scene.
There is in MacDonald’s presentation of the motif of returning home a
considerable wavering, which sheds doubt on his claim to authorial intention in
Mark’s Homeric imitation. This can be illustrated in the following way:
Odysseus Jesus
Home in Ithaka Temple in Jerusalem
Penelope’s suitors The rivals, Pharisees and the scribes
The suitors are devouring The rivals are devouring the houses
the house of Penelope of widows (Mark 12:40)
33
This comparison seems at first to be worth noticing, but on closer examination
it appears to be unconvincing. In the first place, according to Mark the rivals of
Jesus were not those who were driven out of the temple precincts. Jesus threw
out merchants and moneychangers, not the Pharisees and scribes. Further-
more, the final point of analogy is too imaginative, the only link between them
being the motif of “widow.” The accusation leveled against the Pharisees in
Mark 12:40 has nothing to do with the temple, but with greed and the exploit-
ing of widows. This is evident from the plural “houses” (oijkiva"). Mark’s readers
would hardly see any connections to the temple (oJ oi\ko") in the plural. There is
Sandnes: Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism” 721
31
MacDonald, Gospel of Mark, 132; for the Jesus/Hector comparison, see pp. 131–47.
32
Margaret M. Mitchell, “Homer in the New Testament,” JR 83 (2003): 244–60, esp. 249.
MacDonald claims a Jesus/Telemachos and a Jesus/Aeolus analogy as well (Gospel of Mark, 55–62).
This leaves a somewhat confused picture of MacDonald’s presentation.
33
MacDonald, Gospel of Mark, 38.
a considerable wavering in MacDonald’s presentation of the motif of returning
home. Home is partly the temple,
34
his hometown Nazareth,
35
and also Jesus’
eschatological return.
36
If the key motif of returning home is so slippery in
Mark’s Gospel, it is difficult to think that it was part of an intentional imitation
in all the passages mentioned.
37
Closely connected to the motif of homecoming in the Odyssey is the
revenge sought by Odysseus against the suitors in his house. This is a recurrent
theme;
38
hence, Odysseus’s name is explained with reference to the evil plans
he had for the suitors (Od. 19.407–9).
39
The way Odysseus is portrayed is thus
very different from the picture given of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel.
40
Emulation?
The imbalances pointed out above, which could be multiplied, are easily
gleaned from Mark’s text. MacDonald sometimes points out such imbalances in
his comparisons; however, he accounts for the imbalances with reference to the
transvaluative dimension of Mark, that is, his emulation of Homer’s writings.
41
Emulation involves development of a model, an imitation that might also
involve some kind of rivalry.
42
The notion is taken from ancient rhetoric. Is it
Journal of Biblical Literature 722
34
Ibid., e.g., 42–43, 110. Jesus’ entry into the temple is compared also to Odysseus’s entry
into the palace of Alcinous, the king of the Phajacians (pp. 106–9).
35
MacDonald, Gospel of Mark, 18.
36
Ibid., 53, 113, 190.
37
MacDonald makes much out of a comparison between Eurycleia, who recognized
Odysseus’s scar while washing his feet (Od. 19.349–474) and the woman anointing Jesus in Mark
14:3–9 (Gospel of Mark, 114–18). With reference to the position of this incident in the story, Mac-
Donald says, “Particularly telling is that the anointing takes place immediately after the prediction
of the hero’s return” (p. 118). The point is that this further strengthens the similarities between
Homer’s epic and Mark’s story. In my view, a reference to the motif of returning home has been
undermined by the inconsistent way this motif appears in MacDonald’s reading of Mark.
38
E.g., Od. 14.110, 163; 17.159, 539–40; 19.51–52; 20.5–13, 183–84.
39
There is a wordplay here on Odysseus and the Greek verb oj duv ssasqai (“to be wroth
against/hate”). This point is made also in Od. 5.340, 423; 16.145–47; 19.275. This etymological
explanation of his name has a reference both to his being hated by the gods—as a result of which he
must suffer evil—and to the evils he plans to bring to others.
40
Mitchell rightly asks what Christian writer would run the risk of associating Jesus with a fig-
ure who is depicted in such ambivalent terms (“Homer,” 254).
41
MacDonald attaches particular importance to this criterion, which he also calls inter-
pretability; see Gospel of Mark, 6, 171–73; idem, Christianizing Homer, 6–7, 310–14.
42
See George C. Fiske, Lucilius and Horace: A Study in the Classical Theory of Imitation
(University of Wisconsin Studies in Language and Literature 7; Madison: University of Wisconsin,
1920), 43–47. The rivalry involved is clearly expressed by, e.g., Pliny the Elder, Nat. Pref. 20–23,
speaking of authors imitating predecessors in terms of a fight and competition (decertere/certere);
cf. Cicero, De or. 2.22.90–92 and Velleius Paterculus, History of Rome 1.17.6–7. Public competi-
tions in transmitting and reciting Homeric writings are known, and there were official texts to be
justified to call upon emulation to bridge the imbalances between Mark’s
Gospel and the Homeric epics? This is the question we now approach. Aristotle
makes a distinction between emulation (zh' lo") and envy (fqov no") (Rhet.
1388ab; cf. 1381b). Whereas the latter describes the attitude of preventing
other people from possessing, emulation indicates the attitude to be inspired to
gain good things for oneself. Emulation is, therefore, one of the emotions
rhetoricians should arouse in the audience (Rhet. 1419b). Emulation was also
given importance in rhetorical studies in relation to imitating literary works.
This was often called paraphrasis. Aelius Theon includes this in his rhetorical
exercises and defines it in the following way: “Paraphrasis consists of changing
the form of expression while keeping the thoughts.” This happened, according
to Theon, by variation in syntax, additions, subtractions, substitutions, or the
combination of these (Theon, Progymnasmata 107–8; cf. 62–64, 69).
43
Reading
and performing exercises on poets and prose, including paraphrasing texts,
constituted a large part of literate education in ancient schools.
44
Quintilian urges teachers in ancient literature to teach their students to
paraphrase Aesop’s fables (Inst. 1.9.1–3). He presents paraphrasis as a process
of learning starting verse by verse, proceeding to render their meaning in other
words, “and finally proceed to a free paraphrase (paraphrasi audacious vertere)
in which they will be permitted both to abridge (breviare) and to embellish
(exornare) the original, so far as this may be done without losing the poet’s
meaning (salvo modo poetae sensu).” In Inst. 10.5.2–4, Quintilian contrasts
paraphrasis with translation. Vertere Graeca in Latinumis a useful exercise, he
says, but paraphrasis should not be restricted to the activities necessary to do
this: “its duty is rather to rival and vie with the original in the expression of the
same thoughts (sed circa eosdem sensus certamen atque aemulationem)” (Inst.
10.5.5).
45
This implies that the original is developed and altered. Quintilian
Sandnes: Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism” 723
used as a control at these occasions; see P. E. Easterling and B. M. W. Knox, The Cambridge His-
tory of Classical Literature, vol. 1, Greek Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1985), 722. Macrobius (Sat. 6.3.1) says that it is to the glory of Homer (summus laudis) that he is
copied by so many striving to compete with him.
43
See George A. Kennedy, Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric (SBL Writ-
ings from the Greco-Roman World 10; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003). Some of
Theon’s examples refer to how Homer’s writings were paraphrased. By altering the style, Demos-
thenes repeated himself in such a way that his paraphrasing himself was not necessarily noticed by
his hearers. According to Suetonius (Gramm. 5), exercises in paraphrasis were practiced also by
grammarians who taught some rhetoric.
44
Morgan gives examples of paraphrasis (Literate Education, 198–215). From her examples
we gather that paraphrasis involved considerable changes and manipulation of the texts to be emu-
lated, but that there was still “a highly disciplined autonomy” (p. 208).
45
For the competitive element in imitation, see Longinus, Subl. 13.2–14.3; see D. A. Russell
and M. Winterbottom, Ancient Literary Criticism: The Principal Texts in New Translations
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), 475–76.
emphasizes this by opposing teachers who do not permit their students to do
this, since they consider it impossible to improve what the poets already wrote.
Quintilian is convinced that it is still possible to improve speeches of the ora-
tors: melius posse reperiri. It is thus quite clear from Quintilian that paraphra-
sis or emulation might well improve and change the original, but he assumes
that its sensus must be kept and one must exercise control in the process of
emulation.
46
Quintilian follows the advice given by Isocrates in his Panegyricus,
where he says that it is possible to speak about old things (ta; palaiav) in new
ways (kainw'"): “it follows that one must not shun the subjects upon which oth-
ers have spoken before, but must try to speak better than they (a[ meinon
ejkeivnwn eijpein) (§8–10, cf. 188).
47
Isocrates urges his readers to speak better
than those they are imitating.
Pliny the Younger wanted to have Cicero as his model in writing (aemulari
in studiis cupio) (Ep. 4.7.4–5).
48
Since he mentions this in a context in which he
says that he took up public offices at an earlier age than Cicero, rivalry is clearly
involved. He hopes that the gods will grant him Cicero’s genius (ingenium).
Pliny’s practice of imitating famous orators appears also in his Ep. 1.2. Pliny
writes to a friend, asking him to read and correct his speech. This speech is
written with zh'lo", imitating (imitari) Demosthenes in figure of speech (figuris
orationis). The subject matter (materia ipsa), however, resisted the imitation
(repugnavit aemulationi) and therefore presented a particular challenge to
him. In Ep. 7.9.1–6 Pliny prescribes emulation as an exercise. This exercise
starts with translating Greek into Latin and vice versa. When a passage has
been read sufficiently to remember both res and argumentum, Pliny urges his
friend to participate in a contest (aemulum/certamina), finding out whether the
original or the emulation is best (commodius/melius). In this way, authors who
are imitated might be outstripped (antecessisse). This happens by leaving
things out or adding to or altering the original.
49
This exercise is especially diffi-
cult and thus also beneficial; it is like grafting new limbs on a finished body
“without disturbing the balance (turbare) of the original” (6).
50
The role
assigned to imitation and emulation in these examples is certainly more modest
than the replacement of the Homeric heroes that MacDonald claims to find in
Mark’s Gospel.
724 Journal of Biblical Literature
46
Quintilian mentions emulation also elsewhere; see, e.g., Inst. 10.2.17–19, 21–22, 25–28.
47
Isocrates, Panegyricus (trans. George Norlin; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1928).
48
Pliny, Letters (trans. Betty Radice; 2 vols.; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1997).
49
This corresponds to the modi described by Quintilian (Inst. 10.5) or by Aulus Gellius
(Noct. Att. 9.9; 13.27); see Heinrich Lausberg, Handbook of Literary Rhetoric: A Foundation for
Literary Study (Leiden/Boston/Cologne: Brill, 1989), 482–84.
50
Cicero says that he daily performed this kind of exercise (De or. 1.34.154–55).
In theory as well as in practice, emulation often implied copying and
developing or improving an original, while still retaining traces of the first doc-
ument. The rivalry involved in this kind of emulation requires exactly this ambi-
guity to work. Clement of Alexandria bears witness to such ambiguity in his
Protrep. 12 (91P).
51
His point of departure is his admonition to shun custom
(sunhvqeia) like a threatening Charybdis or the songs of the Sirenes (Od. 12),
thereby advertising his emulation. His instruction to keep away from custom is
soaked in Homeric references. The addressees are urged to flee from “an island
of wickedness heaped with bones and corpses” and from the woman, that is,
pleasure (hJdonhv), who sings there. The echoes from Od. 12 are obvious as well
as advertised in the introduction of his chapter. Clement urges his readers to
sail past the song of the Sirenes, and to remain “bound to the cross,”
52
and thus
to survive, as did Odysseus according to Od. 12:177–79. Then, says Clement,
the word of God will guide his readers “to anchor in the harbours of heaven”
(toi'" limevsi . . . tw'n oujranw'n), which is a clear echo of the nostos motif in the
Odyssey. Here we see an example of Christian emulation at work. While
Odysseus had himself bound to the mast of his ship while passing the island of
the Sirenes, Clement speaks of being bound to the cross. He replaces the
Odyssey’s ijstopevdh (cf. Od. 12.51, 162) with to; xuvlon, thus implying the cross
of Christ. The phraseology “harbours of heaven” reveals a similar ambiguity;
limhvn is frequently used in the Odyssey,
53
while heaven being the goal of the
journey implies Clement’s transvaluation.
Emulation and transvaluation hardly make sense if they are not recognized.
Emulation can work only within a pattern of recognizable imitation; otherwise
the comparison can be neither tested nor affirmed, and rivalry can hardly work.
From MacDonald’s presentation of Mark’s Gospel, I gather that the nostos motif
provides a fundamental intertextual indicator guiding the readers to a Homeric
reading of this literature. In order to establish this indicator, MacDonald relies
on the phenomenon of emulation, and a subtle one at that. If subtle emulation is
called upon already in the process of establishing this point of departure for
comparing Odysseus and Jesus, the foundations are shaky.
III. Seneca’s Epistulae morales 84 and Intertextuality
Seneca’s Ep. 84
54
is interesting because it implies imitation of a subtle and
concealing kind. The text enters a discussion on exactly this point, and thus
Sandnes: Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism” 725
51
The Exhortation to the Greeks (trans. G. W. Butterworth; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1982).
52
Similarly Strom. 6:11/84:1–95:5.
53
LSJ, s.v.
54
Epistles 66–92 (trans. Richard Gummere; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1996).
demonstrates a contemporary debate on emulation. Furthermore, the text is of
interest, since it sheds some light, from a contemporary historical perspective,
on “intertextuality.” The letter depicts the philosopher spending his leisure
time while journeying with literature. The social context echoes very much that
of Pliny the Younger. How to deal with the literature becomes the key question
in this letter.
Seneca refers to a commonly held opinion (ut aiunt): “We should follow
the example (debemus imitari) of the bees” (Ep. 84.3). From various flowers
the bees produce honey. Seneca considers this process a helpful analogy to how
one should deal with literature. He describes this as a process of producing
honey by collecting (colligere/decerpere) and making (facere). The making is
described in detail; it is a process of transformation made possible by conscious
preserving (conditura) and careful storing (dispositio), aided by a fermentative
process (fermentum). Thus, “separate elements are united into one substance
(in unum diversa coalescent)” (§4). Seneca notices that he is about to enter a
related topic, that of honey production, and therefore turns to applying his
illustration. From §5 on, the reading of literature (ex diversa lectione) replaces
the role of flowers from which the honey is collected. The key term applied
now is separare, indicating a process of sifting and transformation: “we should
so blend those several flowers into one delicious compound (in unum saporem
varia ille libamenta confundere) that, even though it betrays its origin (unde
sumptum sit), yet it nevertheless is clearly a different thing from that whence it
came (aliud tamen esse quam unde sumptum est)” (§5).
55
Seneca adds new illustrations on how elements from different things
might form a unity. The food that is digested is changed into a unity. Similarly,
members are added into a sum, and a son resembles his father. This resem-
blance is not in terms of copying a picture (§§6–8). These are illustrations rec-
ommending how one should deal with literature. In §8, Seneca renders an
objection precisely about the possibility of identifying an imitation: cuius imi-
teris orationem, cuius argumentationem, cuius sententias? Seneca answers: “A
true copy (imago vera) stamps its own form (forman suam inpressit) upon all
the features which it has drawn from what we may call the original (exemplum),
in such a way that they are combined into a unity (ut in unitatem illa con-
petant)” (§8). To this he adds yet another illustration, a chorus with many voices
forming a harmonious unity.
Seneca’s presentation on how to deal with literature implies that authors,
Journal of Biblical Literature 726
55
Cf. Macrobius, Sat. Pref. 5. Christian Gnilka has demonstrated the role of the bee illustra-
tion in patristic texts (CHRESIS: Die Methode der Kirchenväter im Umgang mit der antiken Kul-
tur: Der Begriff des “rechten Gebrauchs” [Basel/Stuttgart: Schwabe, 1984]). The bees were
illustrative of both a selective, sifting, and transforming process. This they found helpful to explain
how Christians could relate to the classical Greek literature.
pieces of works, and language become very fluid.
56
According to Ellen Finkel-
berg, Seneca’s illustrations “stress mysterious transformation, or metamorpho-
sis, rather than copying.”
57
By implication it becomes difficult to speak of
authorial intention when this is so much based on creative emulation. Accord-
ing to Seneca, imitating authors involves a process of digestion where borrow-
ing and idiosyncrasy are united to form a new text. Distinguishing between
conscious and unconscious imitation thus becomes very difficult, unless some
imitation is broadcasted. Mark’s Gospel being “the honey” of which Seneca
speaks, it becomes dubious to claim conscious imitation if no advertising is
found in the text.
58
Seneca’s epistle demonstrates a contemporary debate on
the issue of recognizing the origin of an imitation. He says that even when liter-
ature has been digested and has thus become a different thing, the origin (§5) is
still betrayed. This implies that the emulation, albeit subtle, somehow is adver-
tised. The more subtle and less advertised—or to put it in Seneca’s terms,
digested—it becomes, the more difficult it is to claim authorial intention in a
given imitation.
This is not to deny that a reader well versed in Homer’s writings might well
have found some texts in Mark’s Gospel evoking an emulation of Homeric fig-
ures and incidents. This is precisely how intertextuality works when defined in
terms of interactions between texts and in relation to readers, rather than
an assumed intention of authors. That there is a potential for a Homeric-
influenced reading with a certain readership is demonstrated by MacDonald. I
think, however, that the extensive memorization of Homer assumed with refer-
ence to both Plato (Ion)
59
and Xenophon (Symp. 3.5–6)
60
is exaggerated if
applied generally.
61
Knowledge of ancient education certainly substantiates the
primary role of Homer, but not necessarily of Homer’s whole text or plot.
Sandnes: Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism” 727
56
MacDonald makes a reference to Seneca Ep. 84 to support the level of sophistication of
ancient emulation (Gospel of Mark, 6), but he overlooks that Seneca’s presentation seriously under-
mines his concept of intended emulation.
57
Ellen Finkelberg, “Pagan Traditions of Intertextuality in the Roman World,” in Mimesis,
78–90, esp. 83–84.
58
The way MacDonald addresses the phenomenon of intertextuality, it becomes a relapse
into source criticism. A certain movement in MacDonald’s claim to conscious imitation in Mark’s
Gospel might be discernible in Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? 6, where he answers some
of his critics by referring to watching a film: “Some of the changes will be transparent, others more
subtle, and others so cryptic that the viewer may never know what the screenwriter or director
intended. Even so, the viewer gains a new appreciation of the work simply by being aware of the
object of the parody” (cf. Christianizing Homer, 6, “when readers recognize”). This possible self-
critical assessment is not forthcoming in his most recent “Paul’s Farewell.”
59
Ion (trans. W. R. M. Lamb; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).
60
Symposium(trans. O. J. Todd; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979).
61
With reference to these writers, MacDonald raises the question whether Mark in his rela-
tion to Homer “worked from manuscript or memory” (Gospel of Mark, 7).
Teresa Morgan makes a distinction between the ideal portrait to be gleaned
from the literary sources and educational practices as witnessed in fragments of
teachers’ handbooks and pupils’ exercises. These school texts give a complex
picture, suggesting that most students had “a repertoire of references and tags
which would mark him as a Greek, even before he—or even if he ever—
acquired a wider cultural knowledge in which to contextualize it.”
62
This
implies that most students familiar with Homer treated his writings eclectically
and episodically.
63
Knowledge of the Homeric poems in their entirety is not
easily demonstrated. Some authors quoted Homer abundantly, but they had
probably never read the Iliad and the Odyssey.
64
A Homeric interpretation of
Mark’s Gospel should account for a more critical use of the literary sources of
the elite.
IV. Advertising Hypertextuality
In Christianizing Homer, MacDonald says that a “transvaluing text . . .
must advertise its hypertextuality, if ever so subtly.”
65
As I have pointed out
above, I consider this crucial for identifying intended intertextuality, and in his
reading of Mark’s Gospel, MacDonald hardly meets the requirement he him-
self lays down here.
66
The hypotext may be advertised in various ways, some of
Journal of Biblical Literature 728
62
Morgan, Literate Education, 110; see also 118–19, 252–53, 261. MacDonald makes refer-
ence to Morgan’s conclusion that Il. 1–2 was by far the most popular text in schools, which he takes
as proving the accessibility of Agamemnon’s dream as a point of departure for interpreting Acts 10
(Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? 26). He misses, however, that Morgan’s conclusion sub-
stantiates the fragmentary nature of Homeric knowledge among average students; thus also
Raffaella Cribiore, Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt
(Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001), 194–97.
63
See Jon Whitman, Interpretation and Allegory: Antiquity and the Modern Period (Leiden:
Brill, 2000), 35–37, who says that the notion of working with the “whole text” developed later.
64
Thus Robert Lamberton, Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the
Growth of the Epic Tradition (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press,
1989), 193. This is also the conclusion of the detailed investigation of Jan Fredrik Kindstrand,
Homer in der Zweiten Sophistik: Studien zu der Homerlektüre und dem Homerbild bei Dion von
Prusa, Maximos von Tyros und Ailios Aristides (Studia Graeca Upsaliensia 7; Uppsala, 1973).
65
MacDonald, Christianizing Homer, 7; cf. 6, 310–14.
66
As for Acts, I think MacDonald has a somewhat better case to argue. Part of this story has
its setting in geographical areas associated with both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Some distinct
Homeric phraseology is discernible; see F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts (NICNT;
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 498; MacDonald, “Shipwreck,” 95. But still, the methodical ques-
tions pointed out here call for a more critical use of parallels. In reading MacDonald one is
reminded of the caution raised by Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” JBL 81 (1962): 1–13. The
OT and Jewish background is advertised through citations, names, institutions, and problems the
which appear in combinations. In the following I elaborate on examples that
MacDonald mentions but which, in my view, militate against his reading of
Mark. Vergil’s Aeneid is an outstanding example of an emulation of Homer.
67
Vergil draws heavily on the Homeric poems, such as the double action in Olym-
pus and on earth, episodes that clearly recall the adventurous experiences of
Odysseus in Od. 5–8, main characters bringing to mind Homeric heroes, and a
phraseology recalling Homer’s.
68
Vergil’s dependence on Homer was common
knowledge among most Romans, according to Macrobius (Sat. 5.18.1).
69
In
imaginative dialogues on matters of literature, very much in the tradition of
Plato’s Symposium, Macrobius elaborates on how Vergil borrowed
70
from
Homer and imitated him. Thus, Vergil’s whole work (omne opus Vergilianum)
is “a mirrored reflection (speculum) of Homer” (Sat. 5.2.13). Although Vergil
does not always equal the genius of Homer, he also improves Homer’s text (in
transferendo densius excoluisse) (Sat. 5.11.1). He has appropriated the words of
Homer so “as to make them seem to be his own (fecit ut sua esse credantur)”
(Sat. 5.3.16). Vergil is making a new story (res nova) out of Homer’s old stories
(Sat. 5.17.1). His story is directly linked to Homer’s by telling about Aeneas
leaving the destroyed Troy behind. With his eyes fixed on Homer, Vergil emu-
lated (aemulari) him in magnitude, simplicity, presentation, and calm dignity
(Sat. 5.13.40).
Macrobius presents his Vergil/Homer comparisons as common knowl-
edge. But he is well aware that there are passages in the Aeneid where the
author draws in a more sophisticated way on his predecessors
71
—passages
understood only by those who were soaked (haurire) in Greek literature (Sat.
5.18.1). Hence, some of his borrowings are both secret and hidden (dissimu-
lanter quasi clanculo) and therefore difficult to recognize (difficile sit cognitu).
This is the practice of subtle emulation, a phenomenon MacDonald calls upon
Sandnes: Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism” 729
believers were struggling with, and these must be accounted for more sufficiently than MacDonald
does.
67
See R. Deryck Williams, “The Aeneid,” in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature
II (ed. E. J. Kenney; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 339–57.
68
For a detailed comparison, see Macrobius, Sat. book 5, chs. 2–18; Georg Nicolaus Knauer,
Die Aeneis und Homer: Studien zur poetischen Technik Vergils mit Listen der Homerzitate in der
Aeneis (Hypomnemata, Untersuchungen zur Antike und zu ihrem Nachleben H7; Göttingen: Van-
denhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979).
69
Macrobius, Saturnalia (ed. J. Willis; 2 vols; Academia Scientiarum Germanica Berolinen-
sis; Leipzig: Teubner, 1963; trans. Percival Vaughan Davies; New York/London: Columbia Univer-
sity Press, 1969).
70
This is described in terms of trahere (Sat. 5.2.2; 6.3.1), mutare/mutatio (Sat. 5.2.6; 3.16),
transferre (Sat. 5.18.1; 6.3.1), archetypus (Sat. 5.13.40), imitatio (Sat. 5.16.5).
71
In Sat. 6.3.1 Macrobius says that some of Virgil’s emulations may be taken from Latin
authors who had previously transferred texts from Homer to their own poems. This implies that
tracing intertextuality might be more complex than an intended copying of one particular text.
in his reading of Mark’s Gospel. Macrobius thinks of Vergil’s emulation in terms
of a process from the obvious or broadcasted toward the subtle. With regard to
MacDonald’s interpretation, it is one-sidedly dependent on subtle emulation
without sufficient basis in an advertised hypotext. This makes it difficult to con-
sider the Aeneid’s use of Homer as a relevant analogy to a Homeric reading of
Mark’s Gospel. If Vergil’s Aeneid is taken as an example of the alleged Homeric
emulation in Mark’s Gospel, one is more struck by the differences than by the
similarities.
“The best exemplar of this genre” is, however, Lucian of Samosata’s A True
History.
72
This is a satirical imitation of the practice of emulating Homer. Book
1.1–4 is a metatext addressing Lucian’s project. Composing stories with
Homer’s Odyssey as guide and instructor (ajrchgo;" kai; didavskalo") was com-
mon practice (sunhvqe"), which Lucian now puts on a satirical display: “But my
lying is far more honest than theirs, for though I tell the truth in nothing else, I
shall at least be truthful in saying that I am a liar” (Ver. hist. 1.4). This introduc-
tory metatext clearly advertises the hypotext and leaves the reader well
informed on this. He then proceeds to give a parody of a traveler’s tale, which
draws heavily on Odysseus’s adventures as well as on other well-known texts.
The traveler, who is Lucian himself, sets out on a journey that in the end
will take him home. Toward the end of his voyage he approaches his home
(aj fiv xesqai me; n eij " th; n patriv da) (Ver. hist. 2.27). Homer himself, whom
Lucian visited in the Elysian Fields, writes a poem in his style and phraseology,
about Lucian’s voyage: “One Lucian, whom the blessed gods befriend, Beheld
what’s here, and home again did wend (h\lqe . . . ej" patrivda gai'an)” (2.28). On
his return home (2.35–36) he is given a letter by Odysseus about his nostos and
his longing for Penelope. The two stories thus become parallels and are adver-
tised as such (cf. 1.17).
Throughout the story Homer is both cited and alluded to.
73
Characters
from Homer’s poems appear regularly and are given key roles in Lucian’s own
voyage.
74
Lucian met with the Homeric heroes in the Elysian Fields (2.14–24).
He conversed with Homer about his poems, and he was given the opportunity
to watch the Games of the Dead, conducted by Achilles (2.22–24). The Home-
ric heroes had to fight some wicked people who attempted to free themselves
from their punishments among the dead. Homer gave an account of the battle,
and this was given to Lucian, who renders only the first line of this poem: “This
time sing me, O Muse, of the shades of the heroes in battle!” (Ver. hist. 2.24),
Journal of Biblical Literature 730
72
Thus MacDonald, Christianizing Homer, 311; see Lucian of Samosata, A True Story I and
II (trans. A. M. Harmon; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1921).
73
See, e.g., 1.11, 17, 40; 2.32–33.
74
See, e.g., 2.6–8, 15, 17, 19, 25–26.
echoing the opening line in the Odyssey. Lucian’s journey brings him to places
formerly described by Homer, but sometimes he finds out that Homer’s
description is to be corrected (Ver. hist. 2.32–33).
Both the Aeneid and the True Story teach us that hypertextuality is adver-
tised in different ways. In these writings the emulation is not modest but clearly
broadcasted. When this material is taken to provide analogies to Mark’s Gospel,
some fundamental differences should be emphasized. In Mark’s Gospel, no
metatextual preparation for Homer’s poems, no Homeric names, no Homeric
quotations are found. The crucial question is: Does it make sense to speak of
subtle emulation when these characteristics of the genre are all absent? There
is in Mark’s Gospel no movement from obvious to subtle emulation of Homer’s
poems. This does not imply that no hypertext is advertised in Mark’s Gospel.
This Gospel does indeed advertise its hypotexts in ways that are more or less
identical with both the Aeneid and the True Story, but the reader is directed
not to Homer but to the OT.
Mark’s editorial OT citation (Mark 1:2–3) works like the metatext in Ver.
hist. 1.1–4, preparing the reader for a major hypertextuality to appear in the
upcoming story: “In keeping with the role of the opening sentence in literary
antiquity, Mark’s sole explicit editorial citation of the OT should be expected to
convey the main concerns of the prologue and, therefore, his Gospel.”
75
Other
OT quotations or allusions abound in the story,
76
many but by no means exclu-
sively from the book of Isaiah.
77
Names from the OT appear frequently, such as
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mark 12:26), Moses (7:10; 9:4, 5, 11, 12, 13; 10:3, 4;
12:19, 26), David (2:25; 10:4, 7, 8; 12:35–36, 37), Elijah (9:4, 5, 11, 12, 13),
Elisha (6:15; 8:28), and Abiathar (2:26). These names capture in brief the his-
tory of the fathers, the exodus, the Law, kings, and prophets as well as the tem-
ple institution—in short, a survey of key stories in the OT. Mark aims at
presenting a story that links up with the OT. In this way he brings to mind
Vergil’s Aeneid, which was a development of Homer’s poem the Iliad.
These are three significant ways in which Mark’s Gospel advertises hyper-
textuality, and the direction is certainly not to Homer, particularly if authorial
intention is here included. The relationship between continuity and discontinu-
Sandnes: Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism” 731
75
Rikke E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark (WUNT 2/88; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck,
1997), 90.
76
I am here dependent on the NA 27th edition’s list of quotations and allusions.
77
See 1:9–11; 4:12, 32; 7:6, 7, 10; 8:18; 9:34, 48; 10:6–8, 19; 11:9–10, 17–18; 12:10–11, 26,
29–31, 33, 36; 13:14, 24–26; 14:27, 34, 62; 15:24, 34. The importance of Isaiah is emphasized also
by Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of
Mark (Westminster: John Knox Press 1992) and Sharyn Dowd, Reading Mark: A Literary and The-
ological Commentary on the Second Gospel (Macon: Smith & Helwys, 2000).
ity with the OT may well be labeled a theologically inspired emulation: “In
Mark’s Gospel . . . a commitment to the ‘old, old story’ is retained at the same
time that the story itself is transformed by being read in a new way.”
78
V. Summary
Glockmann was reluctant to find traces of Homeric influence in the NT.
His investigation followed in the wake of Karl Ludwig Schmidt, Adolph Deiss-
mann, and Martin Dibelius, who viewed NT literature as Kleinliteratur.
79
Scholarship has since then reviewed this picture and found that most writings
in the NT are consonant with other ancient literature in ways that justify com-
parisons and analogies between the two bodies of literature. MacDonald’s con-
tributions are firmly rooted in this new approach. He claims that the Gospel of
Mark (and Acts) consciously imitated Homeric poems and provided strategic
transformations of an Ersatz Odysseus or Hector. This article questions some of
his analogies, and particularly his use of the rhetorical practice of emulation to
bridge the gap between the alleged Homeric hypotexts and Mark’s Gospel. I
have argued that the practice of imitation and emulation was either modest, in
terms of improving or altering the language and style, but still consonant with
the substance, or a rewriting and replacement of the model. The Aeneid and
the True Story were outstanding examples of this. In both writings, however,
emulation was broadcast in ways that alerted the reader. The authors moved
between advertised intertextuality and subtle emulation. MacDonald isolates
subtle emulation from its advertising context. Subtle and concealed emulation
without basis in a broadcast intertextuality cannot make up for slippery com-
parisons. His reading is fascinating and contributes to a reader-oriented exege-
sis. But he fails to demonstrate authorial intention while he, in fact, neglects the
OT intertextuality that is broadcast in this literature.
Journal of Biblical Literature 732
78
Marcus, Way of the Lord, 203.
79
Glockmann, Homer, 52.

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