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Mythologizing Jesus

Dennis MacDonald shows how Gospel stories parallel many Greek and Roman epics-from walking on water to visiting the land of the dead-to compel first-century readers into life-changing decisions to follow Jesus. MacDonald doesn't call into question the existence of Jesus but rather asks readers to examine the Gospels through a new, mythological lens.
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Table of Contents

Dedication Mythological Names and Places (Greek and Roman) List of Figures Introduction: The Christian Superhero 1. Born Divine and Human 2. Empowered from Above and Enlisting Sailors 3. Feeding Thousands 4. Master of the Winds 5. Tamer of Monsters 6. Curing an Old Woman and Bringing a Girl back to Life 7. Water Walker 8. Land of the Dead 9. Blind Seer 10. Daring Hero Eats with the Enemy 11. Hero in Disguise Transformed 12. Curing a Boy with a Demon 13. Entering a City in Disguise 14. Clearing out a Den of Robbers 15. Prophet Anointed by a Woman 16. Following a Water Carrier 17. Preparing for Death while Friends Sleep 18. Traitor in the Midst 19. Cowardly Promise Breaker 20. Preferring a Rascal to a Hero 21. Heroic Death and Mourning Women 22. Rescuing a Corpse 23. Living Dead 24. Disappearing into the Sky Conclusion: The Mythologized Jesus and Modern Culture Appendix: The Gospels of Matthew and John Works Cited Further Reading on the Homeric Epics and Greek Mythology Further Reading on the New Testament and Classical Greek Literature

About the Author

Dennis R. MacDonald is professor of New Testament and Christian origins at Claremont School of Theology. He is the author of several books, including The Gospels and Homer and Luke and Vergil.


The Christian scriptures took shape within a rich literary landscape, as the gnostic gospels and the Dead Sea Scrolls make clear. But MacDonald, a biblical studies professor at Claremont Graduate School and Claremont School of Theology, sheds light on a different dimension of literary dependence: Homeric material, especially the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. MacDonald (author of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, to which he directs interested readers for more scholarly treatments) aims here to distill his findings and present a cogent comparison of Homeric tropes with the Christian gospels of Mark and Luke. To that end, in brief chapters, the author shows some 24 major parallels explored chapter by chapter, from 'Born Divine and Human' to 'Disappearing into the Sky.' ... The evidence certainly seems to demonstrate ... dependence by the gospel writers on their masterful Greek predecessor in their stories about and portrayals of Jesus. Publishers Weekly MacDonald provides a substantive and careful comparison of early Christian writings with cherished literature of the ancient world (e.g., Homer, Hesiod). Using examples and thorough comparisons of Greek and Roman sources, MacDonald explains how the authors of the Gospels understood that Jesus was in contention with the images of Odysseus, Heracles, and Romulus and, as a result, created fictions to prove that their hero exemplified those figures and more. VERDICT MacDonald doesn't intend to assail belief; this is not an atheist's or a scoffer's approach but rather a post-Rudolf Bultmann view of the Christian ideal, suitable for believers who are ready to embrace a Christianity that acknowledges its own myth. Library Journal [T]his book is an intriguing read and worth the time to dig through it... Faith Matters Mythologizing Jesus convincingly explains the numerous correspondences between the synoptic Gospels of Luke and Mark and the Greek poet Homer; too many, in fact, to be just coincidences and thereby shedding new light on old texts and unmistakably illuminating an important area of research. San Diego Jewish World The author of this work, a professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Claremont School of Theology, has dedicated much of his professional work to comparing the New Testament literature with ancient Greek and Latin classics. This work on Jesus is something of a summary of his more extensive previous studies on this subject. His thesis is clear. The Bible Today This book is a rare treat. It breams with knowledge of Homer, the Gospels, and early Christian writings... Read Mythologizing Jesus. It is courageous, refreshing and timely. It unearths a huge truth and breaks ground in scholarship and theology. The Huffington Post Exceptionally well written, organized, and presented, Mythologizing Jesus: From Jewish Teacher to Epic Hero is enhanced with the inclusion of eight pages of Notes; an Appendix (The Gospels of Matthew and John); a two page Bibliography; a two page Index to Classical Greek Literature; and a two page Index to the Gospels and Acts. Highly recommended for both academia and non-specialist general readers alike, Mythologizing Jesus: From Jewish Teacher to Epic Hero is very highly recommended for community, seminary, and academic library Christian Studies reference collections. Midwest Book Review This book distills much of MacDonald's decades of scholarship on the Homeric debt of popular literature at the time of Jesus. Mark's and Luke's stock of story motifs were in many cases influenced by Homer: the storm on the sea, the mentally ill man who lived among the caves, the hero walking on the water, the message from the dead to the living, the hero turning over the tables in his house, and many others. Early Christian authors and Byzantine scholars alike noticed the similarities, and now MacDonald has laid out the case clearly and forcefully. -- Lawrence M. Wills, Ethelbert Talbot Professor of Biblical Studies, Episcopal Divinity School In this fascinating and provocative book, MacDonald shows how the concept of Jesus as superhero made sense to people of the ancient Mediterranean world. He argues that tales of epic heroes fed into portrayals of Jesus in the Gospels, especially in terms of miraculous elements. This is a book sure to fire debate, written with vibrancy and aplomb by an accomplished scholar wielding classical, biblical, and early Christian sources with equal dexterity. -- Joan Taylor, King's College London

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