Author: Louis Markos
Publisher: IVP Academic
I first heard about this author a couple of months ago on a podcast episode. The author was announcing his then-upcoming book, The Myth Made Fact, and everything about it sounded fascinating. As that book wasn’t out at the time, I decided to try one of his that he said was similar, almost a forerunner: From Achilles to Christ. The subtitle informed that this was a book arguing for Christians to read the pagan classics. As someone who loves the classics, I didn’t need much convincing. But I liked the premise laid out in his subtitle. Eager to hear his arguments and learn more about some of my favorite epic tales, I jumped into Markos’ book. Sadly, I was left disappointed with what I found. Though this was an interesting book, it did not live up to my expectations.
To begin, while I do not think you need to have read the classics to get something out of this book, I do feel that you would do well to at least read them while you are reading this book. In fact, Markos encourages the reader to do so. But that is not a great strategy for a book with the goal to get people to read the classics. They shouldn’t need quite so much background. While Markos does explain the stories, I wonder if someone less familiar with these and similar texts would be a little lost.
Yet this is not the greatest drawback to the book. The first of my two greatest criticisms is this: He strays too close to the historical-critical method of viewing Scripture, and he elevates the status of the pagan classics too much. He stretches too many pagan tales to be practically prophesy of scriptural accounts, and he picks apart scripture to make it fit with a pagan tale. Instead of just sticking to the value of the narratives in and of themselves, or even branching out into how the pagans were “a law for themselves,” he essentially claims that these pagan tales were divinely inspired. He always went just a step too far in his arguments and biblical comparisons.
My other greatest issue with this book is that he doesn’t actually achieve his thesis. I feel as though Markos was trying to accomplish too many things with this book. He tried to get Christians to read the classics, he tried to explain and expound upon the narratives to engage the reader, and he tried to make the pagan writings into something like a precursor or foreshadowing of Scripture. In trying to do too much, he doesn’t do enough with any specific point. Ultimately, I don’t see how people who don’t already like the classics would enjoy this book, or find it useful. While I regularly enjoyed his discussions about the texts in and of themselves, and I loved going back over my favorite tales, I don’t feel like he increased my desire to learn from them, nor did he provide much in the way or argument as to why all Christians should read them. His argument fell flat because it wasn’t made.
Instead of trying to mash the pagan writings and Scripture together, he should have stuck with one idea: that it is good to have a well-rounded education of world history as a Christian, especially one living in the West. This includes both Scripture and other writings, Bible/church history, and world history. Really, you cannot divide the two. You shouldn’t try to learn one by excluding the other. All people need to know their history, and we in the Western world owe much of our history to both Athens and Jerusalem, as the saying goes. Sadly, Markos did not make that case from his writing.
I thought this would be a book on why to read the classics because they are connected to our history and how to read the classics through the lens of history, context, and Scripture. Maybe he would even show examples of who all nations were seeking this ultimate hope, and that we know that hope was in Christ. While Markos tried to show Christ in these pagan works, even claiming that the truth could be found in them, all I see are past people seeking a savior without knowing it (the unknown god) and tragically falling short, as all those devoid of God’s truth will do. They cry out for these unchanging truths and fail to find them in their own musings. Unlike what Markos claims, this is not truth. This is a shadow of the Truth and woefully falling short in the chaotic and often vile lives of the pagan mythos.
I did enjoy reliving the tales I already knew, especially the Odyssey, in this interesting book. But ultimately, Markos’ points are disjointed as I believe he attempted to piece together too many points, accomplish too many goals, and succeeding at none. Perhaps I had a poor reading of the book. Many other people seem to think this is a seamless book that excellently connects the pagan writings with Scripture. But I do not see it. Worse, I think Markos has much too high a view of the classics and a much too low a view of Scripture. While I don’t think the book is a waste of time to read, I think the reader should approach it with a skeptical eye, a good foundation on sound doctrine, and something of an appreciation or at least a curiosity of the classics before beginning.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig