Common themes in the Bible and Homer.

I am a big fan of classic literature, the older the better. It is very beneficial to have a deep knowledge of the Bible and other scriptures. I have no special expertise in comparative mythology, but it has occurred to me that this might interest my readers. The similarities are shared by many other great scriptures and epics in the world, but here I will focus on just the Bible and the two Homeric epics. I could do a lot more if I had read the epics of “Gilgamesh”, since this mythos is ancestral to both the Bible and Homer. However, even without this, it is shocking just how many similarities there are between them, even when at first glance they might seem different.

Old Testament/ Illiad:

  1. In both, we have a group of tribes/city-states who share a common language, descent and religion.
    1. The Twelve Tribes
    2. The Greeks.
  2. The gods demand that the leader sacrifices a child.
    1. Abraham and Isaac.
    2. Agamemnon and Iphigenia.
  3. They both form a military coalition at the behest of a leader.
    1. Moses
    2. Agamemnon
  4. Because of divine affairs, there is a conflict.
    1. God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
    2. The Judgement of Paris.
  5. Which cause them to invade another country and kill everyone there.
    1. Canaan – even the women, children and livestock are not spared.
    2. Troy – they kill the entire royal family, and only a few people escape.
  1. In both Homer and the Bible, the war lasted 10 years.
  2. The antagonists lived in a large city, whose walls were vast and seemingly impregnable.
    1. Troy’s walls.
    2. The walls of Jericho.

 

  1. During the siege of the city, the protagonists:
    1. Raid nearby towns.
      1. Ai (Joshua 6)
      2. Towns near Troy
    2. And they contact spies within the city whose treason leads to victory.
      1. Rahab the prostitute. (Joshua 2)
      2. The Trojan traitors. – Antenor and Sinon.
        NOTE: Sinon is not mentioned in Homer, but is in Virgil’s “Aeneid”. But keep in mind that most of the full story of the Trojan War (including the Judgement of Paris, the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and the Trojan Horse) is not included in Homer at all. We rely on other works to fill in the details.
        ALSO NOTE: Both of these people are included among the traitors in Dante’s Inferno. For some reason, Rahab the Harlot is remembered rather kindly by being an ancestor of Jesus in the Gospel’s genealogies. But the fact that she is a whore in itself preserves the idea that treason is wrong in itself, even when it benefit’s the “good guys”.

 

  1. During the war, they have rather difficult relations with God(s), which lead to divine punishments.
    1. The lapses into idolatry and various violations of the Law.
    2. Improper sacrifice to Artemis, refusal to release the daughter of the priest of Apollo, stealing Apollo’s cattle.
  2. There are lots of rebellions among the protagonist’s coalition that questions their authority.
    1. The grumblings of the children of Israel.
    2. The complaints of Achilles against Agamemnon, and his refusal to fight.
  3. In the end, the protagonists win and slaughter the antagonists completely.
    1. The children of Israel occupied the land of Canaan and lived there for many years.
    2. In the story of the Trojan War, the Greeks went back home, although in Homer’s time and after ward, the coasts of Asia Minor were occupied by Greek colonies who replaced the original Anatolian or Celtic inhabitants. The Greeks occupied Asia Minor for nearly 1000 years until the Ottoman Turks forced them out in 1923.

Odyssey/ New Testament

  1. The protagonists, though victorious in the short run, do not see their cause last very long due to the vagaries of the inscrutable divine will.
    1. The Israelites lose their independence to the Persians, Greeks and Romans.
    2. Odysseus fails to return home and suffers more than any other man:
      1. Whoever you know that bear the heaviest burden of suffering, I might compare myself to them in sorrow. Yes, and the tale of all the troubles that by the gods’ will I have endured, would be longer.” (Book VII 182-239)
      2. My queen, it would be difficult to recount the story of my sufferings from start to end, since the gods in heaven have inflicted so many on me.” (Book VII 240-297)
  2. They keep alive the memory of their promised homeland and sovereignty.
    1. The israelites have the prophecy of their long-awaited Messiah.
    2. The Ithakans still hope for the return of Odysseus.
  3. In the end, the hero comes back into his promised Kingdom to prepare the way for its liberation.
    1. The Messiah came to his people, who had kept alive his prophecy for so long.
    2. Odysseus returned in disguise, finding that his people still revered his memory, and cherished the possibility that he might return, even though it seemed that this was mererly wishful thinking.
  4. He comes as the most debased member of society, whom the current rulers cruelly abused and threaten to destroy his dynasty forever.
    1. The tyrants mistreat him and drive him out of their presence.
      1. The Pharisses and Saducees reject Jesus’ teaching and anointing. He is “the stone that the buiders refused, which shall become the main cornerstone”.
      2. The suitors abuse the disguised Odysseus, who to them is merely a beggar dressed in rags.
    2. Others, such as the rightful heirs and his faithful servants, treat him well despite his apparent low station.
      1. The believers and disciples have faith that Jesus is the Messiah.
      2. Telemachos and Eumaios both accept the Odysseus in disguise. This is one of the most touching scenes in world literature, where the heir to the throne treats this old bum in rags with the such manners as would befit an old friend of the family. You know that no father could be more proud of their child that was Odysseus.
  5. The Messiah reveals his true nature and mission to a faithful inner circle.
    1. Jesus has his own plan to Sacrifice for the people’s redemption.
    2. Odysseus reveals to Telemakos his plan to lure the suitors to their deaths.
  6. They then lure the arrogant tyrants into the final battle and defeat them.
    1. The Powers of This World think that crucifiction will finish this upstart pretender forever.
    2. The Suitors think that through this archery contest they can finally win the throne of Ithaka.
  7. Then they bring justice back to the kingdom and the dynasty is restored.
    1. Well, apparently there is some doubt as to whether Jesus actually won, but in any case Christians still think he did.
    2. Odysseus slaughters the suitors and restores his rightful dynasty.

You should also recognize many other tales in this pattern: the Niebelungenlied / Volsungs Saga, King Arthur, Robin Hood, the Mahabharata, Lord of the Rings, et cetera.

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