Dennis R. MacDonald Defends Mimesis Criticism

He writes:

For more than two decades I have been investigating the influence of classical Greek literature on early Christian texts and have published four books and nearly a dozen articles on the topic, especially on the influence of the Homeric epics on the New Testament writings ascribed to Mark and Luke. I call this controversial methodology “mimesis criticism” to distinguish it from source, form, social-scientific, rhetorical, and literary criticisms. To this point I have not answered my critics directly, but two published reviews of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark have picked a fight that I cannot avoid. One by Margaret M. Mitchell of the University of Chicago appeared in The Journal of Religion; Karl Olav Sandnes of Norway published an article on my methodology in The Journal of Biblical Literature.

Simply stated, a mimesis critic assesses a text for literary influences that one might classify as imitations instead of citations, paraphrases, allusions, echoes, or redactions. In ancient narratives such imitations usually obtain to characterizations, motifs, and plot—seldom to wording. Many such imitations disguise their dependence on an “antetext” (a term I prefer to the more ambiguous word “intertext”) by creating a hybrid that borrows from several models, what one might call “mimetic eclecticism.” Sophisticated imitations, on the other hand, may advertise their dependence so that readers benefit from a comparison of the text to its model. Such a rivalry or emulation may “transvalue” its target by replacing the perspective of the model with another.

It’s an engaging and provocative article.  Read on here:

2 Responses

  1. Frankly, I disagree with MacDonald about his mimetic sources, but mimetic criticism is a viable option, the more so for Mark, Genesis 1, and Deuteronomy.

  2. Let me add that I think that MacDonald has done a great job at introducing mimesis into biblical studies, but as with most first generation explorers, his view is limited.

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