2. Jesus in the wildernesses -- his baptism; his temptation by Satan
|The Spirit drove ('ekballo'='threw out') Jesus into the wilderness||Gods (Zeus and Poseidon) physically cast up Odysseus into wilderness places (far distant cave and forest dwellings)|
|after emerging from river||after washed up from seas|
|In wilderness for long time (40 days)||Long periods (7 years and 1 year)|
|Tempted by Satan||Tempted by divinities|
|Had the Spirit of God to resist and win||Was given divine power (magic plant) to resist|
|Jesus resisted all temptation||Temporarily yielded to temptation|
|With the wild beasts||With the wild beasts|
|Angels served him||Divine maidens served him|
|Leaving the wilderness was the beginning of his ministry and destiny||Leaving the wildernesses were the beginnings of his return to his kingdom|
Achilles was never in a wilderness setting like Odysseus. Nontheless there appear to be points of contact between Jesus and Achilles that may best fit here:
|Son of God||Son of a goddess|
|Greatest man ever (elsewhere he is heir to the kingdom of God)||Greatest warrior/hero (in another source he is heir to throne of Zeus)|
|submits to the greatest prophet||refuses to submit to the greatest king||eventually submits to the greatest king|
|Jesus is baptized by John||ritual bathing by Agamemnon's order for all except Achilles|
|comes up from the waters to be met by his divine father||divine mother rises up from waters to meet him|
|divine father addresses him - 'my beloved son ...'||divine mother speaks to him - 'my child ...'|
|engages in struggle with Satan||immediately begins a fast till his first victory in battle -- but 'cheats' because he is sustained by a goddess giving him divine food|
|No fast is mentioned by Mark -- instead he says that Jesus was sustained by angels who served him||engages in combat with gods|
Comparison with Moses and Elijah
The only points of contact Mark's story has with these biblical characters are:
- Moses and Elijah each cross dividing waters
- Mark's story has not the waters, but the heavens, dividing. This is very likely something suggested by the crossings of water by Moses and Elijah -- "Look what a greater we have here: Not the waters but the very heavens move apart...."
- In Moses' case this leads to wilderness
- Matthew later added Mosaic-like wilderness temptations to the Jesus in the wilderness story, but as Mark originally wrote it there appears more in common with Homer's wilderness temptations of the hero (see points 1, 3, 6, 7, 8) than with Moses'.
- 40 days -- fasting and/or being fed divine food?
- The length of time in the wilderness, 40 days, is the clearest and most obvious link between the Jesus and the Elijah story. Moses was also twice spent 40 days fasting in the presence of God in the wilderness and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years being tested by God. Mark does not mention fasting, however. That was later added by Matthew and Luke. Yet Mark does say Jesus was served by angels. This would suggest that, like Achilles who was fasting from human food, Jesus was protected from the pangs of hunger by divine food from a goddess. So Mark's Jesus here is actually closer to Homer's Achilles than he is to Moses. Moses fasted without divine aid. Both Elijah and Achilles were initially given sustaining food by an angel and a goddess respectively. So which one was the most likely in the gospel author's mind? Neither Moses' nor Elijah's fast corresponds with any special spiritual struggle: both are more an act of purification or greater holiness as they prepare to face God. Much ado in the Iliad, however, is made of Achilles' insistence on fasting until he had fought against and won victory over his foes -- and his foes were directly aided by a host of gods. Achilles' companions try to tell him such a fast, particularly for all and sundry, is unwise and will weaken them in the coming combat. Achilles separates himself from them all by insisting he can do nothing else until he overcomes his enemies. One might suggest, therefore, that Jesus' being sustained by angels in the wilderness as he overcame Satan had more in common with Achilles than with either Elijah or Moses.
Comparison with Odysseus
Twice Odysseus endures lengthy tests against divinities who seek to tempt him away from his reclaiming his kingdom. Odysseus was washed up on to the island of Ogygia where the cave-dwelling nymph Calypso tempted him for seven years to stay with her forever (she even offered him immortality) and forget his destiny. Though he yielded for much of that time to her temptations, his heart was really set on return, and in his final 7 days he found all her temptations something of a most painfully suffering! The great messenger of Zeus, Hermes, bound his special sandals on his feet and travelled the vast expanses to have Odysseus sent on his way. When the time came for him to go he was served food by the divine maidens of Calypso and then sent on his way. He was destined to reach the next stage of his journey in 20 days.
Compare Jesus being tempted for 40 days by Satan. Of course Jesus proves to be made of stronger moral fiber than his pagan counterpart and resists all temptation totally. And instead of eating the dainties from the goddess that Odysseus enjoyed Jesus fasted, and at the end of that period he was fed by angels.
But the Calypso temptation has a story-double in the temptations of another nymph, again in a very remote forested wilderness area with desolate beaches and craggy rocks and where one could no longer discern the rising and setting of the sun. Again Odysseus must delay facing his destiny by another very tempting lengthy stay with the beautiful witch Circe. Fortunately Odysseus has just been given special divine power by the messenger god Hermes to resist her spells. Though he afterwards yields again to temptation for a time, his inner heart is really set on his kingdom. Again he is fed by divine maidens. And this time he is also initially in the company of terrifying wild beasts -- prowling wolves and lions with fearful claws. But they mysteriously refrained from attacking Odysseus, and even attempted to be friendly. And here, too, Odysseus was served by the divine maidens of Circe, as Jesus was by the angels.
Interpretability (Criteria 6): If Mark was inspired by the Muses in his account of Jesus in the wilderness then we may be able to make sense of the puzzling way he says Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. Each time Odysseus was helplessly swept up by Poseidon, the sea-god and enemy of Odysseus, to the scenes of his wilderness temptations. We tend to think of Jesus going willingly to face the tests of Satan, but Mark strongly suggests he did not go willingly. Was Mark thinking of Jesus, like Odysseus, being helplessly sent to this remote place against his will? We also have an explanation for Mark's unique reference to Jesus being 'with the wild beasts' while there.
Comparison with Achilles
After Achilles, though a greater warrior and with a divine parent, finally humbles himself and submits to Agamemnon, he is ready to face his destiny and win glory before his early death.
His first decision is to commence a fast until he has achieved his first victories in the conquering of the kingdom of Troy. This shocks his companions who remind him that they can in no way match his stamina for such a feat in the heat of battle. But is he really fasting? Achilles receives physical sustenance from the food of gods secretly implanted into him by a goddess acting on behalf of Zeus. Is this why Mark does not say Jesus is fasting but merely appears to imply it? Was he thinking rather of only what he does say, that Jesus was served by angels? And was this thought prompted by his knowledge of Achilles being sustained by food from a goddess thus rendering a bit meaningless his fast from human food? (See Criteria 6 - Interpretability) Contrast Matthew who clearly wanted to create a Jesus who emulated Moses, and who does consequently explicitly say Jesus fasted for 40 days. Also contrast Luke who equally made his Jesus, not John, in the image of an emulated Elijah, and also explicitly has him fast 40 days.
Achilles then goes out and faces combat against what are in fact divinities: a host of gods come to the direct aid of those humans he fights, and sometimes Achilles directly fights against these gods themselves.
See further details above under the 3rd point of 'Comparison with Moses and Elijah'.
A Divine parent speaks to a mortal son
MacDonald teases out the many similarities between Athena addressing Telemachus and God speaking to Jesus from heaven. Another small and incidental detail, perhaps of ironic reversal, may be found in a comparison between the parental address to Achilles in the Iliad and Jesus.
After semi-divine Achilles partially submitted to the authority of Agamemnon to the extent of quickly surrendering a prized girl to him, the divine mother of Achilles appeared to him not from heaven, but by rising swiftly from out of the waters to address him endearingly as "My child." Conversely after Jesus submitted to John in baptism, the same moment he emerged out of the waters his divine father addressed him from heaven as "You are my beloved son." Was Mark presenting Jesus as one greater than Achilles by having a father-god from heaven address him the moment he (Jesus) emerged from the waters? Achilles, also near the beginning of the story, had a mother-goddess rise swiftly from the waters below to address him as her son.