Human-god Relationship in the Hebrew Bible and the Odyssey

Literary works have played an immense role in the society as far as the
entertainment and education of the society is concerned. Indeed, it goes
without saying that the writing of literary works is informed by the
experiences of the writer, poet or even artist in the society within
which he or she lives. This is, in essence, aimed at outlining the ills
that are done in that society and creating a benchmark for an idealized
society in line with the aspirations of the poet or author. On the same
note, these literary works have been aimed at increasing the
understanding of the readers or the audience as to the capabilities of a
deity. As much as the nature of God is usually relegated to the
religious books, some writers have crafted their literary works with
subtle insinuations about His nature. Indeed, a large number of literary
works have revolved around the interrelationships between God and man.
This is the case for Greek mythologies and especially for The Odyssey.
Quite a large number of parallels, similarities and differences can be
seen in the human-god relationship in the Hebrew bible and the Odyssey.
In both of them, however, the relationships are aimed at underlining the
superiority of God.
The Odyssey comes as one of the key ancient Greek poems that are
attributed to homer. Believed to have been written close to the end of
8th Century BC, the poem primarily revolves around a Greek hero called
Odysseus and the journey that he makes home after the defeat of Troy.
After the decade-long Trojan War, Odysseus takes another ten years to
get back to Ithaca. Having been absent for that long, he is assumed to
have died, in which case his wife called Penelope and son called
Telemachus are trying to deal with unruly suitors who are trying to
compete for the hand of Penelope in marriage. His return, nevertheless,
marks the deaths of the suitors after they are challenged to a contest
that Odysseus (disguised as a beggar) won easily.
In both “The Odyssey” and the Hebrew Bible, the relationship
between humans and God or gods is one of a master and subordinate.
Indeed, human beings are depicted in both books as being subject to the
will and aspiration of the gods or God. This would be seen in the varied
instances where the gods or God guides the human beings on what to do in
certain circumstances or gives them directions on certain tasks to
undertake. In the Hebrew Bible, God is seen giving directions to varied
individuals. For example, in Genesis 12: 1, God told Abram to move from
his country, his father’s house and the people that he knew to the
land that he was to be shown by God. He was promised that despite the
fact that he did not have children, he would be blessed and made the
father of a great nation. Similar instructions are given to other people
in the Hebrew bible. For instance, Moses, in Exodus 3 was commissioned
to undertake a tough activity of liberating the children of Israel from
Egypt and take them to the land that God had promised their forefathers,
that is Canaan (Exodus 3). In all these instances, God promises to be
with the people that He sends to such undertakings. Similar episodes are
seen in “The Odyssey” where Athena visits Telemachus in the form of
Mentor and offers advice and information pertaining to his father.
Indeed, Athena suggests that Telemachus dismisses his mother’s suitors
before advising him to set out on a journey to look for news on his
long-lost father. “Fit out a ship with twenty oars, the best in
sight, sail in quest of news of you long-lost father” (Homer 86). On
the initial leg of Telemachus’ journey, he is accompanied by Athena
still in the form of Mentor, offering the anxious prince advice and
boosting his confidence.
In addition, the Supreme Beings in both books are seen to mete out
punishments to the human beings with who they are displeased. Indeed, as
much as God or the gods have assisted a large number of people,
upsetting them may result in human demise. This is also seen in The
Odyssey, where homer informs the reader that King Odysseus failed to
return to his kingdom after the war because he had angered Poseidon, the
sea god. Homer states that “It’s the Earth-Shaker Poseidon,
unappeased, forever fuming against him (Odysseus) for the Cyclops whose
giant eye he blinded” (79). Telemachus confirms the notion that
sometimes the gods were to blame for the evil that befell human beings.
When Penelope blames Phemius (her melodic singer) for the sorrow in her
heart with regard to the disappearance of her husband, Telemachus states
that “Bards are not to blame- Zeus is to blame. He deals to each and
every laborer on this earth whatever doom he pleases” (89). This
underlines the notion that Penelope should not blame the bards for
singing such songs rather the gods (Zeus) brought the calamity to the
family.
The nature of these relationships underlines the obligations that human
beings are supposed to fulfill so as to be in line with the will of the
Supreme Beings. Indeed, human beings have an obligation to consult the
gods or God before they undertake any action and ensure that they follow
the rules of the Supreme Beings to the letter. Failure to do this,
irrespective of the favor that one is shown would result in punishment,
which sometimes may be fatal in nature. This is even in instances where
the mistake is made in anger as was the case for Moses when he dropped
the tablets on which the laws had been written after finding the
children of Israel worshipping idols against the commandments that had
been given by God. It is worth noting that that seemingly simple sin
committed in a moment of anger was responsible for the failure of Moses
to reach the Promised Land. Indeed, Moses was told that he would only
see the Promised Land from afar but not set his foot on it as he had
broken down the tablets in a fit of anger (Numbers 20). This is also the
case in “The Odyssey” where Poseidon is seen holding a grudge
against Odysseus for the killing of Polyphemus, upon which the King is
left stranded in an isolated land incapable of returning to Ithaca.
However, the gods also take the role of protectors for the people. This
is seen in the Hebrew bible especially when Moses was leading the
children of Israel from the Egyptian captivity to the Promised Land.
When the Egyptian soldiers pursued them in an effort to take them back
to captivity, God caused the Red Sea to give way so that the Israelites
could pass only for the walls of water to come back crashing the
Egyptian soldiers and killing them. This was one of the many instances
where God protect the Israelites (Exodus 14). In the case of “The
Odyssey”, the gods are seen intervening in varied instances trying to
change the Odysseus’ fate as he crosses the sea. It is impossible to
determine whether the king would have reached the shore had it not been
for the gods. Underlining the control that the gods had on the fate of
Odysseus is the statement that he makes to the effect that “Now that
Zeus has granted a glimpse of land beyond my hopes..” (Homer 165).
This underlines the fact that Odysseus may not have seen the land had it
not been for the control of Zeus. While it is not clear whether the king
had swam or sailed sufficiently long as to see the land, the king states
that “Athena showered sleep upon his eyes..”(167)., which underlines
the fact that the fate of humans is always in the hands of the gods.
In conclusion, the human-God relationship in the Hebrew bible and The
Odyssey underlines the superiority of God and just how much control He
has over the lives of human beings and the course of events that they
encounter. In the Hebrew Bible, God is seen commissioning Moses to
undertake a mission that will see him rescue the Israelites from the
land of bondage. This is also the same case of Telemuch, to whom Athena
appears in the form of Mentor, and commissions him to go looking for his
lost father. However, God and the gods are known to punish their
subjects in instances where they go wrong. This is seen in the case of
Moses who does not get to the Promised Land thanks to the seemingly
simple sin of breaking the tablets after finding the Israelites. This
was the same case for Odysseus who was left stranded in a strange island
for the killing of Polyphemus.
Works cited
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books,
1996, Print
The Bible. Exodus. New International Version.
The Bible. Numbers. New International Version.
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