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Criterion 1:

Accessibility to the author of the potential borrowed text.

Homer's epics, The Iliad and The Odssey, were basic texts that students who learned to write Greek were immersed in for many years. Many educational exercises required them to re-write stories from these epics from the point of view of different characters or to model new stories on them.

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Criterion 2:

Analogy with borrowings of the text by other authors. (Did other authors also borrow and re-write the same stories?)

Yes, many. Virgil's Aeneid is a re-write of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey to tell a glorified history of the origins of Rome. Some of the Homeric stories imitated by Mark were well known throughout the ancient world, often depicted in art and retold in other myths, and rewritten by other authors in their creations of new stories.

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Criterion 3:

Density of the similarities between the two texts. The more details there are in common and the more closely packed these are in the two episodes the more likely it is that one text has borrowed from the other.

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Criterion 4:

Order or sequence of the parallels between the two. The more closely the similar details in a text follow the same sequence of similar details in another text, the greater the likelihood of borrowing.

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Criterion 5:

Distinctiveness of special features of the two (or more) stories. Features such as sitting down to eat and everyone having enough to eat at feasts are not distinctive enough to assume borrowing. But uncommon features may add weight to even these if in the same stories. See, for example, the two mass feedings in Mark's gospel for highly distinctive or uncommon details in the stories adding weight to the more pedestrian ones.

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Criterion 6:

Interpretability or intelligibility -- the capacity of the original text to make sense of some detail in the new work, or even of the literary style of the work itself (See example 16 below)


  1. The king in both the Odyssey and the Gospel keeps his identity secret till the critical moment at the end, and those closest to him who eventually learn his true identity are ordered to silence. If Mark were drawing on Homer this could explain the strange fact that the oldest manuscripts of Mark say that Jesus was angry rather than compassionate with the leper who asked to be healed (Mark 1:41). It is easy to understand why such an odd statement would be changed to make Jesus compassionate, but not easy to understand why anyone would change the text to make Jesus angry at this point. So the 'angry Jesus' is most likely the original text. Was Mark's Jesus, like Odysseus, angry over the threat of his identity being exposed too soon?

  3. Only Mark (who frequently demonstrates an ignorance of the geography of Palestine) calls the lake of Galilee a "Sea" throughout his gospel, and other ancient authors noted and lambasted him for such exaggeration. Mark appears to have expanded what Porphyry called 'a pond' into a sea in order to allow for adventures more keeping in something the size of the Odyssey's Mediterranean, with great storms, giant waves and winds roaring. No later gospel author using Mark calls it a 'sea'.  Return to story 'structure and settings'

  5. Homer provides motivations for the call of strangers, for mentioning the boat and why the sailors readily followed the stranger. Mark strangely does not explain why strangers follow immediately follow Jesus and there seems little purpose in mentioning the boat. Is this an indication that he was placing Homeric episodes in new settings where the Homeric motivations did not apply? (Luke overcomes this difficulty by adding to Mark's story in having Jesus perform a miracle to show the disciples who he is.) Was the boat mentioned by Mark the one to be used later by Jesus (as was the case for Telemachus in the Odyssey)?  Return to 'similar openings'

  7. Mark's mention of many boats accompanying Jesus (not repeated by any later evangelist who copied Mark) in the leadup to the stilling of the storm story seems an odd and pointless detail. Is their inclusion explained by Mark thinking of Odysseus who travelled with many (twelve) boats? Return to Sleeping Heroes and Storms at Sea

  9. See "Telling Stories While Afloat"

  11. See the similarities between Jesus casting out a demon and Odysseus confronting the witch Circe.

  13. See explanation for the reference to "green grass" in the feeding of the 5000. Some commentators have taken this reference to 'green grass' as evidence that the author was an eyewitness. (If so, then one must account for this same author's otherwise striking lack of knowledge of the basic geography of Palestine.)

  15. See explanation for the second miraculous feeding of thousands.

  17. The goddess Athena told Nausicaa to go ask her father for mules and a wagon for her needs, and when she does so her father grants her request for them; Jesus told two disciples to go find a colt for him, and when they ask one for it he grants permission. A father would naturally grant the request, but Mark has created a problem by exchanging a father for a stranger and it is odd that a stranger grants such a requestReturn to 'Untriumphal entries'.

  19. See 'Untriumphal entries' for a parallel account in Homer to Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt with cloaks thrown over its back. Was Mark, like Homer, parodying the view that many expected Jesus to be a conquering  Dmessiah coming to rule like a king?

  21. See 'Untriumphal entries' for a Homeric episode that might throw light on why Mark had Jesus curse the fig tree for not bearing figs out of season. Odysseus entered a great city in a similarly humble way as Jesus entered Jerusalem and one of the marvels he observed was fig trees bearing fruit in all seasons. Was Mark reversing this detail from Homer by having Jesus symbolically use the fig tree to picture the unworthiness of Jerusalem continue in security and to soon be ruined?

  23. The strange little episode of the young man fleeing naked at the arrest of Jesus is another detail seen by some commentators as a clue that the author was an eyewitness, perhaps even this young man himself. Against this speculation, however, one may set the evidence of a well known literary tradition and Homeric detail in Mark's world.

  25. Mark has no real plot development to explain the role of Judas. His appearance at the end appears to be unnaturally forced into the story. Why was such a one needed to arrest a man who was well-known and whose daily whereabouts were well-known to the authorities? Has Mark borrowed with some awkwardness details of the would-be betrayer in Homer's Odyssey? Return to Judas and Melanthus.

  27. The centurion's words that "This man was really the Son of God!" appear to be an anomaly in the context of irony and scoffing that surrounds the death of Jesus. But if Jesus' death is seen as in many ways an imitation of the death of Hector then they fit in seamlessly with the tone of the rest of this death scene. As Achilles mocked Hector's once god-like status so the centurion mocks the claim that Jesus was the son of God. Return to Scoffing over the victim.

  29. The appearance of the young man at the tomb in place of Jesus is another of the mysteries of Mark's gospel. Mark clearly says it is a man, not an angel, who appeared. (Matthew changed Mark's man to what he saw as the more appropriate angel.) But see the notes at 'Will the dead live again' for Mark's structure and linking this man with the young man who earlier fled naked.

  31. Mark's crude literary style. Mark's famous rough and abrupt Greek style makes sense as an intentional form of literary 'low-class' response to the grand epic style, much as grand princely feasts were replaced by humble meals of loaves and fishes. Homer's epics were a basic element of Greek education and were often imitated and emulated by ancient authors rewriting their scenes and characters for new audiences and purposes.


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