“The Iliad” Vs “The Pentateuch”

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A casual reader of The Iliad could wonder why the book is part of the “great books” collection. This poem is about men constantly in battle with each other, frequently disturbed by the meddling of gods. It is easy to understand why the Bible, on the other hand, fits into the great books; although, the importance of the Pentateuch in specific can be confusing. The Catholic reader understands the importance of God’s Word in his life. This is why, as a freshman in college, I struggled with understanding the point of reading a poem about war, while I had no trouble accepting the assignments in regards to the Bible. Upon further study of both books, however, it can be seen that their similarities and differences in goals place them in the same category.

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The Pentateuch begins with the story of creation and the fall of man. By giving Adam and Eve the freedom of eating from any tree, God expressed his love and devotion to them. However, at the same time, he requires that they leave the fruit of one tree untouched. This requirement was, in a way, a test of whether or not they trusted God. Because our first parents failed God’s test, the following generations for the rest of eternity were subsequently punished. In Genesis the consequence is revealed by God proclaiming, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). Pain, death, and sin filled the earth. This sin is found even later in Exodus with the enslavement of the Hebrews due to their disobedience and actions that went against God. The Father of Creation, due to his bountiful mercy, sent Moses on the people’s behalf to intercede for them. By giving the Ten Commandments to Moses, God sent the key to salvation. Leviticus continues with more detailed laws concerning actions one would encounter more commonly. This book seems to be a simple list of laws, while setting out laws of the priesthood. Similarly, it is very difficult to understand the relevance of the book of Numbers. It opens with several censuses, but is then followed by the comparison of the holy people versus the unholy. “And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes; and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated” (Num 11:1-2). As seen in this episode, the book of Numbers portrays the punishment that the unholy receive compared to the respect that Moses, the holy one, received from God. Deuteronomy ends the Pentateuch very similarly to the previous four books, while stressing the importance of devotion and faithfulness towards God, Our Lord and Creator.

God wrote the Bible for more reasons than to simply read it. In fact, He meant it as a guidebook for our lives. Although we each have to suffer from man’s fall, God has mercy and does not thrust us into a world of sinners without some source of direction. He provides many sources, such as the Catholic Church, priests and other religious peoples, and the Bible. The goal of the Pentateuch, as stated previously, is to help direct wandering souls. The superiority of Our Creator is made clear along with the knowledge of his generous mercy and forgiveness. The gift of the Ten Commandments is where God clearly lays out all that would be evil in His eyes. The story contained in Exodus, in reference to the enslaved peoples, is a prefigurement to Christ. Moses was sent as a savior to the Hebrew people to lead them to the Promised Land, just as Jesus Christ was later sent by His Father to lead us, his fallen children, to heaven, our own ‘Promised Land.’ The stories contained in the Pentateuch also express the consequences of things such as greed, anger, and selfishness. When someone committed one of these Deadly Sins, great sorrow was brought forth, such as in Genesis when “the flood of waters came upon the earth”, and the death of the people who had “made a molten calf” in Exodus (Gen 7:10, Ex 32:4). The goals of the Pentateuch are to enlighten us about how we could better ourselves and more fully love and worship our Creator.

The Iliad is nothing like the Bible. Its origin started as an ancient Greek poem rather than a book. However, Homer received it through oral tradition and converted it to writing. This literary work, unlike the Bible, is founded on fiction and gorey violence. The story plot is consisted of battle after battle, death after death, and revenge on top of revenge. The gods were constantly interfering in the battle, from whisking people from danger to redirecting arrows and even strengthening the people they favored. This is seen in book three of The Iliad when Aphrodite saves Paris from Menelaus (Iliad III, 380-382), and then again when Athena redirects an arrow headed directly for Menelaus in book four (Iliad IV 130-131). Rage and greed, being the key characteristics of several of the characters, are the core of the story. Every action taken by the warriors is driven by both of these flaws. A story full of hate and death seems to be one without morals. Therefore, it could be confusing as to why students are made to read it.

The Iliad is a poem that originated in ancient Greece and was very beneficial for the people of that time. However, in today’s society, there seems to be no rhyme or reason for it. Soldiers who read it in those times were motivated by the rage and revenge in the story. This seemingly does not apply now, due to the change of the method of fighting. However, delving deeper into the story, a realization occurred that the goal now pertains more to the people rather than the war. The characters are portrayed as monsters while the virtues they do possess are overlooked when simply reading without thinking. Several of the warriors each possessed at least one, if not all, of the following virtues: wisdom, cleverness, nobleness, ambitiousness, heroism, sacrifices, and sufferings. Besides these virtues, there is the obvious failure of being overwhelmed with greed and selfishness. In every case, there was always a consequence. Agamemnon is a great example of this. He stole a woman and then, upon being forced to return it, stole another man’s woman. This caused anger to be aroused in the cheated man, Achilleus, who, being the strongest and most useful of the men, refused to fight on Agamemnon’s behalf. This story, along with many others, shows the evilness of greed and the outcome of acting upon desires for materialistic things. The Iliad, although a fictional story, has many realistic insights such as what it means to be a human. In today’s society, this is extremely relevant with all of the temptations that surround us. There are constant reminders that there is always something to be had; therefore, greed and selfishness is not rare.

Both the authors of the Bible and of The Iliad differ in their goals in regards to what they want the reader to take from them. The word of God seems to be directed at the whole of the people, but, it keys in to the education of the soul in regards to Christianity. The Iliad, similarly, is for all people. The difference is that The Iliad is not to convert anyone to a religion, but to change the reader to acquire more virtues. Though different in how drastically they want to change the reader, both authors of the books made the goal to be the betterment of the reader. They did not want the reader to put the book down feeling unchanged. They wanted them to read something full of meaning and become a better human.

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