Comparing trends in Homeric and biblical studies, a historian asserts that critics of the Bible apply artificial criteria that Homeric scholars have long since repudiated

About a century ago one could assume that the average college student was well versed in both the classics and the Scriptures. He spent his first two years concentrating on Greek and Latin and the last two years on ethics and Christian evidences. Indeed, in order to enter college he had to show that he could translate Latin passages from Virgil and Greek passages from the Gospels. Today we no longer assume this background on the part of the student. We also find that even the biblical scholar and the classical scholar are not always aware of the developments in each other’s fields. The paths of their disciplines, once very close, have diverged considerably through the years. It is instructive to compare the developments.

Homeric Criticism

It had been the unanimous belief of the Greeks that Homer had composed both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and that the Trojan War had actually taken place. In 1795 a German scholar, F. A. Wolf, wrote an epochal treatise, Prolegomena ad Homerum, in which he asserted that the poems as we have them were not composed by Homer. He argued (1) that writing was unknown in Homer’s time; (2) that the poems were too long to have been originally composed in their present length; and (3) that the poems were first written down in the sixth century under Peisistratus—with no greater explicit evidence than the theory which holds that Deuteronomy was composed in the seventh century under Josiah.

Wolf was followed by other scholars, known as analysts or separatists, who dissected the poems into various lays. Lachmann (1837) dissected the Iliad ...

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