In “Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?”, Dennis MacDonald seeks to show how Luke / Acts imitates Homer. Luke, he claims very convincingly, uses mimesis –the copying  / imitating previous works for a variety of reasons – by imitating the works of Homer. This then calls into question the factual historicity of the events accounted.


MacDonald show in the introduction how Luke quite obviously uses mimesis with regards to the Old Testament. Over to the author:



“To illustrate my method, let me compare a story in Luke 7:11–16 with a story from the Greek version of 1 Kings 17:10–24. Luke’s access to the story in 1 Kings is certain (criterion one). In fact, earlier in the gospel Luke mentioned this widow explicitly: ‘‘Elijah was sent to . . . a widow in Sarepta [= Zarephath].’’ Criterion two, analogy, assesses if other authors targeted the same text. The Elijah-Elisha cycle influenced Mark as well as Luke-Acts. 2 Kings 4:8–37 tells a similar story of Elisha raising a dead youth, and several interpreters have argued that Jesus’ raising of Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:21–24a and 35–43 was modeled after it. Other scholars have made a similar case for the raising of Dorcas in Acts 9:3642. If Luke used 1 Kings 17:10–24 as a model for a story about Jesus, it would find analogies elsewhere in rewritings of the Elijah-Elisha cycle.


The following columns show the extent of parallels between the two tales …


Many ancient texts narrate resuscitations, but none more closely resembles this story in Luke than this. Although form critics would not rule out Luke’s modeling the story after 1 Kings 17, they would quite rightly question any argument based exclusively on the density and order of parallels insofar as stories of miraculous healings follow a predictable pattern: the healer’s encountering the sufferer, a description of the ailment, the healing act itself, a proof that the person was healed, and an acclamation of the spectators. An argument for direct imitation requires the presence of distinctive traits not found in such stories generically (criterion five). In both stories the healer enters a walled city with a gate. This detail is not noteworthy in itself, except that Nain was not a city but a small village. If the identification of Nain with the present town of Nein is accurate, the village seems to have had a simple stone wall that could have allowed a gate, but no clear evidence of a gate survives. Luke apparently expanded the village into a polis with a wall and a gate because his literary model suggested it. A more distinctive clue that Luke rewrote the story is the phrase ‘‘and he gave him to his mother [kaì ƒedvken a¯utòn tª mhtrì a¯uto˜u]’’ which is identical in both tales. This phrase appears nowhere else in the Septuagint or the New Testament and is not a stock element in ancient miracle stories.


Finally, Luke’s narrative improved his model; Luke not only imitated, he emulated (criterion six, interpretability). In 1 Kings it was the widow who initiated the resuscitation by berating the prophet: ‘‘You came to my house to recall my sins and kill my son.’’ In Luke, Jesus himself initiated the resuscitation. Elijah accused God of injustice and a lack of compassion: ‘‘You have done wrong in killing her son.’’ Luke, however, does not blame God for the boy’s death and says that Jesus ’’had compassion‘‘ for the widow. Elijah could not raise the dead from his own powers but called on God to do so; Jesus himself raised the dead: ‘‘I say to you, arise!’’ According to 1 Kings only the widow responded to the resuscitation; in Luke ‘‘a large crowd’’ observed the event and acclaimed Jesus as a prophet. For Luke, Jesus was a prophet, but more than a prophet.”