From Performance to Casket Copy
Comparing the Homeric Epics with the Tanakh as Scriptures
Keywords:Iliad, Odyssey, Homer, Tanakh
Does the central role of the Iliad and the Odyssey in ancient Greek culture indicate that they functioned as scripture? Taking the role of the Tanakh in Jewish culture as the standard of comparison, this essay argues that, while the Tanakh and the epics functioned similarly as foundational texts in their respective cultures, the ways in which Homer was used in Hellenic culture differ markedly from the ways in which the Tanakh was used in ancient Jewish culture. The Homeric epics were primarily thought of as orally delivered or performed events throughout most of their history, only coming to be thought of as primarily written texts in the Hellenistic era and later, whereas almost from its origins the Tanakh commands and exemplifies a textcentered community in which that which is written is most important.
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