Saturday, March 6, 2021

Hope and Despair in Rembrandt's 'The Good Samaritan'

I am delighted that my essay, "Hope and despair in Rembrandt's 'The Good Samaritan'" just appeared in today's National Catholic Reporter. 

This essay builds upon one of the four short essays I did for the Visual Commentary on Scripture published by King's College, London, which they entitled with the rather distinctive, "Sh*t Happens."

The National Catholic Reporter essay not only has a more family-friendly name; it also, I think, has a very timely message for the difficult era in which we live, specifically because interpretations of Rembrandt's etching shed light on divergent yet interlocking ways in which human beings respond to difficult circumstances.

One response is of hope; the other is of despair.

I won't post the entire essay (even though the essay is brief), but here is the conclusion:

Another way to approach this image and the parable itself, however, is that this act of compassion and mercy takes place not just in the midst of evil or even in spite of evil, but as a radical and in some ways redemptive act against evil.

To be clear, the parable does not focus on what should happen to the perpetrators of such injustices, whether individual or structural; instead, it illustrates how one should treat the victims of injustices, no matter who they are.

The great theologian Howard Thurman believed that the parable of the good Samaritan demonstrated that the transformation of society ultimately depends on the transformation of individual human beings and that this personal transformation should create not just transformed individuals but a community of like-minded human beings (e.g., a "beloved community") dedicated to social transformation in response to the human need that surrounds them.

In times of personal and societal distress, it is often difficult to believe, as did Theodore Parker (and Martin Luther King Jr.) that the arc of the moral universe, albeit long, "bends toward justice." Thurman realized that the pervasiveness of injustice does not provide an "escape hatch" of despair that one's actions will not make a difference in creating a better society. He believed that there is a persistent struggle between good and evil, both in oneself and in society, and that all are responsible for acts of justice, mercy and compassion in the world of parable and in the world in which we live.

The command at the end of the parable, to go and do likewise, to show compassion and mercy to those who suffer injustices, focuses our attention on the need to transform ourselves into people who work actively on the behalf of other human beings who suffer similar injustices, doing our part to try to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

The parable of the good Samaritan and Rembrandt's response to it accurately portray the injustices in their worlds and ours. They also do not downplay the fact that the results of one's actions to assist other human beings may be seen as foolhardy or even fruitless. Yet we will never know, unless, as Jesus urged at the end of the parable, and as Thurman himself suggested, that we "try it and see."

Not bad advice from Jesus ("Go and do likewise") and Thurman ("Try it and see"). 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Chapter 3 of the second edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables? (Part 2)


This is the second part of a summary of some of what is found in Chapter 3 of the second edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables?: Fully Developed Literary Approaches to the Parables. Examples of other scholars and works included in this chapter are Bernard Brandon Scott’s Jesus, Symbol-Maker for the Kingdom (1981) and Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus (1989). In addition to analyses and critiques in this chapter, other related scholars/works are found in subsequent chapters, such as in chapter 6 (e.g., William Herzog) and chapter 8 (e.g., Charles Hedrick; Luise Schottroff). In Chapter 3, I also briefly mention Scott’s 2002 Re-Imagine the World, an introduction to the parables for non-specialists that contains a brief overview of Jesus and the parables and concludes with an essay on parable, historical Jesus, Q studies, and recommended readings. 

The section, Contextual Readings of the Parables, begins with a discussion of John Drury’s The Parables in the Gospels: History and Allegory (1985) and Mary Ann Tolbert’s Perspectives on the Parables (1979; and her 1989 Sowing the Gospel that analyzes the parables as parables of the gospels, not as parables of Jesus). 

Robert Tannehill’s The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation (1986) is significant because it focuses on how parables function within the Gospel of Luke itself. 

This section of WATSA Parables? also includes analyses of Ched Myer’s Binding the Strong Man (1988) and my own Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend (a "socio-narratological analysis" later developed into an even more interdisciplinary mode of analysis, a “dialogic reading”: See, for example, David B. Gowler, “The Enthymematic Nature of Parables: A Dialogic Reading of the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16–20),” Review and Expositor 109:2 (2012): 199–217; and “‘At His Gate Lay a Poor Man’: A Dialogic Reading of Luke 16:19–31,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 32:3 (2005): 249–65.), where I examine, in part, how parables become, on the narrative level, indirect presentations of character traits of the Lukan Pharisees. 

Other important works in this era include John Donahue’s The Gospel as Parable (1988) and Warren Carter and John Paul Heil’s 1998 Matthew’s Parables. The latter focuses on what happens as Matthew’s audience interacts with the parables in their present form and in their current placement within the plot of Matthew’s gospel, and this sections analyzes four important features of this approach (which I won’t summarize here). See also, John Paul Heil, The Gospel of Mark as a Model for Action (1992) for another example of how parables can be interpreted within their literary contexts, as well as Peter Yaw Oppong-Kim, Matthean Sets of Parables (2013) and John Kilgallen’s explorations of twenty parables in their Lukan contexts: Twenty Parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (2008). 

Another more recent work is Lauri Thurén’s 2014 Parables Unplugged that reads the Lukan parables in their “rhetorical context” in an attempt to get beyond the “bewildering diversity of interpretations” and move toward a “natural listening” by “detaching the parables from all other perspectives.” The aim is “to read the parables of Jesus ‘naked’ or ‘unplugged,’ without any presuppositions, alterations, or later problems” (10). To attempt this task, Thurén endeavors to “get back to the text, back to the message and function of the parables in their real context” (and by “real,” Thurén means their gospel contexts; 11). 

Thurén’s focus on the text is commendable, since a critical first step in interpretation focuses on “inner texture”—rhetorical features such as the literary context, structure, and details and thus the specific ways in which texts attempt to persuade their readers. Yet because texts are more complex than Thurén’s model assumes, additional steps are needed, such as including “intertexture”—a text’s representation of, reference to, and use of phenomena in the “world” (That is, a text’s citations, allusions, and reconfigurations of specific texts, events, language, objects, institutions, and other specific extra-textual contexts with which the text interacts)—and social and cultural texture—how the text shares the general social and cultural attitudes, norms, and modes of interaction which are known by everyone in a society. For a student-friendly early discussion of these textures, see Vernon K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts (1996). 

Thurén’s interpretations of parables are often insightful and contain helpful correctives for those interpreters who stray too far from the text. In the end, however, Thurén’s reading includes too many of his own presuppositions, which ironically confirms Dieter Roth’s conclusion that “Parables can never be unplugged, and parables never should be unplugged” (Review of Biblical Literature, January, 2017).

 I write a lengthy “Bakhtinian rejoinder” to all of these analyses (of the first three chapters) and then close with a few additional remarks. As far as the scholars/works in Chapter 3: The advent of “fully developed” literary approaches to the parables of Jesus inaugurates a significant shift in orientation, methodology, and language. Debates still occur about simile/metaphor, parable/allegory, and other related matters (see chapter 8 below), but implicitly or explicitly, most scholars accepted a view of parable as primarily metaphoric in a context of which metaphoric elements actually extend to all language (cf. Charles Hedrick). 

As always, scholarship is an ongoing discussion, with new insights and approaches appearing, including old questions being addressed in innovative and different ways. The development chronicled in the first three chapters entails a shift from a primarily historical focus to a focus on the nature of language in its social, cultural, literary, historical, ideological, and rhetorical contexts. Current scholarship, as the following chapters demonstrate, continues to explore the nature of parables and the nature of language in a multitude of ways, but most of them, in varying amounts and degrees, incorporate at least some of the insights of these literary approaches—if not their orientation, methodology, and language. 

The next post or two (next week) will be about a brand new chapter in WATSA Parables?: Chapter 4: “The Parables of Jesus in/and the Gospels: The Dialogues Continue.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Chapter 3 of the second edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables? (Part 1)

Chapter 3 of the second edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables?, Fully Developed Literary Approaches to the Parables, is another significantly revised/expanded version of the chapter in the first edition (stay tuned: Chapter 4 is a completely new chapter!). 

This chapter begins to explore how literary approaches to the parables began to be applied in a programmatic way to the entire parable corpus or to key parables within a particular gospel. It analyzes how earlier studies on the literary aspects of the parables began to bear fruit in the works of other scholars. John Dominic Crossan is the primary example because he pulls together the advances of his predecessors and furthers their work with innovative insights from contemporary literary criticism. John Drury and others also represent an important turning point; they return the parables to their gospel contexts but now examine them afresh with a literary sensitivity to how parables function as narratives within larger narratives. 

The lengthy section about John Dominic Crossan’s prolific contributions to parable study includes revisions of what was already in WATSA Parables? and new analyses of his works over the past twenty years (including some insights I also covered in my What are They Saying about the Historical Jesus?, also with Paulist Press). Some of the works examined are: 

  • In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (1973), where Crossan examines the “historical Jesus,” not in the sense of his religion, faith, or self-understanding, but in the sense of the language of Jesus—specifically that of “the reconstructed parabolic complex” (xiii). The distinction Crossan makes in this work between parable and allegory is crucial for his thesis. He compares allegory—which expresses the intelligible—and symbol—which expresses the inexpressible. Crossan argues that parables reflect the temporality of Jesus’ experience of God, establish the historicity of Jesus’ response to the kingdom, and “create and establish the historical situation of Jesus himself” (32). In other words, Jesus was not crucified for speaking parables, but for ways of acting that resulted from the experience of God presented in the parables. These poetic metaphors, Crossan asserts, portray a “permanent eschatology,” the continuous presence of God as the one who challenges the world and repeatedly shatters its complacency. This kingdom of God and its parables manifest an advent of a radical new world of possibility, a reversal of ordinary expectations and the past, and a call to action as an expression of the new world with new possibilities (26–27). 
  • The Dark Interval (1975), which uses the structuralist models of Claude Lévi-Strauss (as adapted by the anthropologists Elli and Pierre Maranda) and Algirdas Greimas (as modified by Roland Barthes) and asserts that “reality is language” (37). 
  • Raid on the Articulate (1976) that juxtaposes sayings and parables of Jesus with works by the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. Tania Oldenhage speculates that Crossan’s book might be the “first instance of a biblical scholar trying to make Jesus’ stories speak to a post-Holocaust situation” (Parables for our Time: Rereading New Testament Scholarship after the Holocaust, 2002, 7). 
  • Finding is the First Act (1979) that examines the structures of the parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matt 13:44) by mapping out its plot options (finding, acting, buying) in comparison with other Jewish treasure stories and an array of “treasure plots” in world folklore. 
  • Cliffs of Fall (1980) that shares Jacques Derrida’s belief that all language is metaphoric. Metaphor creates a “void” of meaning that generates the free play of interpretations. Language thus is judged to be polyvalent; it allows no single and definitive reading/hearing to emerge. For Crossan, theology therefore must be seen as devoid of absolutes and of all pretense of knowing any secure reality by which to test other reality claims: “Parable becomes the deconstructive medium par excellence” (cf. the critique by Brown and Malbon, “Parabling as a Via Negativa”). 
  • Brief discussion of The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991); Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994); Who Killed Jesus? (1995); and, with Jonathan L. Reid, Excavating Jesus (2001). Crossan notes that he wrote about a million words about the historical Jesus in the 1990s alone. 
Additions to the second edition of WATSA Parables? includes that fact that, as Crossan notes in his autobiography, A Long Way from Tipperary (2000), the word parable is also constitutive for all of Crossan’s work on the historical Jesus and earliest Christianity. He argues that when Jesus wanted to say something important about God, he did so through a parable, and when the church wanted to say something important about Jesus, they too used parables: “the parabler had become parabled” (168). Crossan believes that the earliest followers of Jesus created “parables” about Jesus (136). For example, the nature miracles described in the gospels “scream parable” at Crossan; not history, not miracle, but parable: “They were not historical stories about Jesus’ power over natural forces, but parabolical stories about Jesus’ power over community leaders” (167). 

The section thus concludes with an extended analysis of Crossan’s 2012 book, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus became Fiction about Jesus, where he proposes a threefold typology of parables—stories that “point metaphorically beyond themselves to some external referent that has to be discovered by their recipients” (136). The most accurate way to categorize the parables of Jesus, according to Crossan, are as challenge parables, “extremely gentle” provocations that are pedagogical and instructive, not primarily polemical and aggressive: “They want to seduce you into thought rather than beat you into silence and batter you into subjection” (137). All three types of parables—riddle, example, and challenge—are “participatory pedagogy,” but Jesus preferred challenge parables because they are nonviolent pedagogy, thus the medium of the message coheres with the content of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God (245), whereas riddle and example parables are more adversarial (136). The second section of Crossan’s book then argues that the four New Testament Gospels are actually parables told about Jesus, similar in function to the books of Ruth, Jonah, and Job in the Hebrew Bible (73–88). 

I’ll write about the rest of Chapter 3 in the next post.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Chapter 2 of the second (revised and expanded) edition of What are They Saying about the Parables

Chapter 2 of the second edition of What are They Saying about the Parables, The Emergence of Literary Approaches to the Parables, is also significantly revised but not as extensively as the later revised chapters. This chapter covers the “seismic shift” in parable study that began in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. 

At the forefront of these creative innovations, and in the middle of those often tempestuous discussions, stood Amos Wilder and Aesthetic-Rhetorical Criticism, beginning with his chapter on the parables in The Language of the Gospel. The chapter is only eighteen pages long, but it established the parameters for discussions for years to come. For example, influenced by contemporary literary-critical discussions of metaphor, particularly the work of the poet and literary critic Ezra Pound, Wilder contends that a metaphor imparts an “image with a certain shock to the imagination which directly conveys a vision of what is signified” (80). The hearer participates in this reality and is, in fact, “invaded” by it (92). 

Wilder is concerned with the historical Jesus, and this can be seen in his discussion about the parables of the kingdom (90–96). Standing on the shoulders of Dodd and Jeremias, Wilder argues that the parables must be extricated from their gospel contexts, and that the “original form” must be reconstructed (90). He does not offer a program for recovering the original parables but asserts that true parables of Jesus have a “tight form” that resists change (cf. the “communal memory” of Dale Allison and the “memory paradigm” of Ruben Zimmermann that I discuss in chapter 4 of this book). 

The section, The Parable as Metaphor, investigates how Robert Funk entered the metaphorical door opened by Wilder and furthered the study of parables as narrative metaphors by focusing not on parable as direct communication about something, but as a language event that reshaped the world of the listener to the point where a judgment was necessary about the everyday world. Thus, like Wilder, Funk stressed the “secularity” of the parables and studied the function of poetic language, as well as the formal features of the parables (e.g., in a chapter entitled “The Parable as Metaphor” in his book Language, Hermeneutic, and the Word of God). In Funk’s view parable/metaphor juxtaposes two discrete and not entirely compatible elements. This juxtaposition is “creative of meaning” and induces a vision that “cannot be conveyed by prosaic or discursive speech” (137). The metaphor confronts us; it produces an impact upon the imagination; it is the bearer of reality. This move is a crucial one, because Funk completely reverses the conclusion of Jülicher by saying that similes/parables are extended metaphors and are not extended comparisons (I also discuss other books/articles about parables and metaphors here and in a later chapter). 

The section, The Parable as Aesthetic Object, begins a discussion with Dan Otto Via’s investigations of parables as “aesthetic objects,” which leads to an analysis, The Varying Legacies of Wilder, Funk, and Via that discusses such scholars as Sallie McFague (e.g., Speaking in Parables), Mary Ann Tolbert (e.g., Perspectives on the Parables), and James Breech (e.g., The Silence of Jesus: The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man). 

The Brief Reign of Structuralism covers, for example, the Society of Biblical Literature’s Seminar on the Parables, whose first meeting in 1973 focused on “A Structuralist Approach to the Parables.” A prime example is Dan Otto Via’s 1974 Semeia article, “Parable and Example Story: A Literary-Structuralist Approach” that adopts the structuralist model of Algirdas Greimas, as developed by Roland Barthes 

The Conclusion to this chapter notes that these scholars who had begun to focus on parables as literary works of art, saw the parables in a different light. Amos Wilder and Robert Funk, for example, reversed Jülicher’s contention that similes/parables are expanded comparisons by arguing that parables are extended metaphors. Another important shift occurred, however. Although these scholars, as previous scholars had done, almost always remove parables from their gospel contexts and use tools of historical criticism to recreate their “original forms,” they now also primarily use literary criticism to try to understand parables’ natural function as language in the new setting of modern interpretations. Thus new methods and skills, such as linguistic and structural emphases, are applied within these literary analyses and interpretations. But, as other chapters in the book make clear, much about the language of and about the parables themselves remained to be explored.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Good Samaritan in Peter Lovesey's Killing with Confetti

Bath Abbey, monument to Fletcher Partis died 1820, depicted as the Good Samaritan

I am assuming that the Good Samaritan relief mentioned in the novel Killing with Confetti is the monument to Fletcher Partis (d. 1820), who is depicted as the Good Samaritan in the relief pictured above. You can also see, as is most often the case, the priest and Levite walking away in the distance (with the animal looking at them with disgust/disappointment?).

For a few decades, as a break from my research and writing, I have tried to make time to read mystery novels. It started, actually, as part of my research into characterization theory and characterization in both ancient and modern literature that I began in the 1980s with my dissertation topic, the characterization of the Pharisees in Luke-Acts (which became my first book, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend). Some of that work made its way into the book; Sherlock Holmes, for example, makes an appearance.

I used other mystery novels in my work. When I taught a course in London in 1999 on Roman Britain, for example, my students read Lindsey Davis's Silver Pigs for fun, and she actually came to our class to discuss the novel (and expressed surprise that a college class would read her book). That book, set in the ancient Roman Empire led me to begin reading while in London Roman Blood by Steven Saylor, also set in ancient Rome, and I highly recommend the first five books in that series (Roma Sub Rosa).

Later, when living in Oxford (UK), I would stop by the used bookstore near our flat (in the Castle area; the bookstore is no longer there, unfortunately) to pick up old mystery paperbacks for just 3 pounds each. I of course read the entire Colin Dexter series about Detective Morse, set in Oxford as well as every one of Ian Rankin's Rebus novels (set in Edinburgh, one of my favorite cities) and P.D. James’s novels with Adam Dalgliesh.  

While there, I also read an excellent article in The Sunday Times about mystery novels set outside of the UK, so I started reading such examples as Deadline in Athens by Petros Markaris (and many others set around the world). I also started reading every novel by Henning Mankell with Kurt Wallander (Sweden).

As far as U.S. mysteries, there are again too many to name, but I never miss a work by Walter Mosley. I recommend starting with the Easy Rawlins series. 

I could mention many, many others, but needless to say not many of them incorporate the parables of Jesus. 

Last weekend, though, I read Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey in his Peter Diamond series. I have read a few in this series--the setting in Bath is a definite plus--but this one incorporates the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It is minor and not worth serious investigation, but I found it amusing and clever.

Many of the events occur in the Roman Baths, but an early scene is set in the Bath Abbey. Diamond is there with two of his "superiors" in the police department, Deputy Chief Constable George Brace and Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore, to whom Diamond directly reports.

After Diamond and Dallymore enter the abbey, the narrator lets readers know about Diamond's religious beliefs, in contrast to ACC Dalymore's: "Diamond's religion was rugby and real ale" (79)

Then readers find out that Brace and Dallymore are forcing Diamond to do, in his official capacity, what amounts to a personal favor for Brace. As Brace and Dallymore press their case, Dallymore "stepped close to Diamond, uncomfortably close, pinning him against a relief of the Good Samaritan" (80).

As Brace and Dallymore inform Diamond of the situation, he becomes even more uncomfortable. Brace has a problem and has not yet explained what he wants Diamond to do. And here the narrator provides readers with Diamond's interior thoughts:

. . . Diamond thought, but why tell me? This didn't bode well. Standing so close to the Good Samaritan, he was mentally with the priest and the Levite who walked by (83).

Of course, since many of his readers would not be overly familiar with the parable, Lovesey provides the explanatory "who walked by." 

Diamond is forced, however, to play the role of the Good Samaritan and, as is often the case, the result is to the chagrin of his boss(es).

It's Monday morning, though, so it's back to work.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Chapter 1 of the revised expanded edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables?

Chapter 1: Historical-Critical Approaches to the Parables 

Chapter 1 of the revised expanded edition, although it is the least revised of the seven original chapters, still contains some significant additions. The section on Adolf Jülicher’s Die Gleichnisreden Jesu is greatly expanded, since most people do not have access, in one way or another, to this still-untranslated work. 

Although I could have begun with earlier scholars. I decided to start with Jülicher, since my The Parables after Jesus covers people before him and since modern historical-critical approaches essentially (in earnest) begin with him. Although his categories and aspects of his approach have now been superseded, many of his discussions still influence current debates (e.g., whether to distinguish between the parables of the historical Jesus and the parables as they are found in the Synoptic Gospels, how to handle allegorical elements/interpretations, etc.). 

The chapter includes a section on Historical-Eschatological Approaches, such as found in C. H. Dodd’s The Parables of the Kingdom, B. T. D. Smith’s The Parables of the Synoptic Gospels, and the work of Joachim Jeremias. Like with Jülicher’s work—and all others covered in this book—I assess the strengths, weaknesses, and contributions of these scholars. 

The next major section covers Redaction-Critical Approaches, including the important work of Jack Kingsbury’s redactional study of the parables in Matthew 13 and Charles Carlston’s The Parables of the Triple Tradition. Redaction criticism made many advances, but despite its productive move back toward the texts, it still focuses primarily on the gospel authors, or, more specifically, on the author’s specific historical situation behind what is supposedly reflected by the text—such as Kingsbury’s detailed theory of the close interaction of Matthew’s “community” with “Pharisaic Judaism.” I would argue, however, that such specific historical reconstructions, whether of events in the ministry of Jesus (e.g., Dodd, Jeremias) or of situations in the communities of the evangelists (e.g., Kingsbury), attempt to peer through the murky window clouded by the processes of communication. Ideology, cultural and social locations, and many other factors distance us from the authors’ particular historical situations. Our hypothetical reconstructions are complicated by the tendentious nature of the primary sources themselves. We should approach these reconstructions with appreciation, but also with mature skepticism and critical acumen. 

The chapter then discusses Parables and the New Hermeneutic, including Ernst Fuchs (with a background discussion of the approach taken by his teacher, Rudolf Bultmann and the work of Martin Heidegger), one of the leaders of the “New Quest” of the historical Jesus (For an overview of the New Quest, see David B. Gowler, What Are They Saying About the Historical Jesus? (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 18–30). As Fuchs states very clearly: “I am convinced that the question of the immediate meaning of Jesus for us cannot be answered apart from the question of the ‘historical’ Jesus” (Studies of the Historical Jesus (Naperville, IL: A. R. Allenson, 1964), 7). 

Fuchs is not talking about “facts” in the sense of specific historical events in the life and ministry of Jesus. Instead, this New Quest is aided and abetted by the “New Hermeneutic”: parables are “language events” in which Jesus’ understanding of his own existence, situation, and faith “enters language,” and his understanding of existence is still available for us to share. The faith of Jesus, the “resolute decision” he made for God and God’s kingdom, comes to us today through the language event of parables. The literary form of the parables promotes this performative aspect: They function primarily as similitudes—as analogies or indirect speech—in that their point of comparison (between, for example, the kingdom of God and the story told in a parable) can enable the faith journey of Jesus to become that of the believer. 

This section also discusses in detail the early work of one of Fuchs’s students, Eta Linnemann, who wrote a book on the parables that, according to Fuchs, made this complex approach “completely intelligible.”: Eta Linnemann, Jesus of the Parables: Introduction and Exposition (London: SPCK, 1966). Linnemann explains that a parable is a form of communication, a dialogue between narrator and listener. As such, it is an urgent endeavor, because the narrator wants to do much more than just impart information. The teller of a parable wants to influence the other person, to win agreement, to force a decision in a particular, concrete historical situation. The parable is the means of overcoming any resistance the hearer might have. 

To a certain extent, both Fuchs and Linnemann retain an interest in a historical understanding of the text. In addition, they see the parables as either the medium for conveying Jesus’ understanding of the world (Fuchs) or as Jesus’ verbal bridge to his opponents (Linnemann). The practitioners of the New Hermeneutic, though, despite their concern for literary form and language, did not adequately examine the literary aspects of the parables. Though their stress on the hearer of the parable was indeed a step forward, in their interest to respond to questions of contemporary existence they (re)expressed the parables in existentialist terms and used the dominant model of the sermon. What remained undone was the construction of a literary method that would serve as a more solid foundation for examining parables as parables. That literary path would be blazed by such scholars as Amos Wilder, Dan Via, Robert Funk, and John Dominic Crossan. 

The next post will cover chapter 2 of the revised, expanded edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables? in which I analyze the works of these and other scholars.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Revised and Expanded What Are They Saying about the Parables?

What Are They Saying About the Parables?

Good news for those of you who use my What Are They Saying about the Parables? as a textbook: A second, revised and expanded version will be published in fall 2021. This second edition includes significant revisions of and additions to the original seven chapters as well as two entirely new chapters. The paperback is sold out at Paulist Press and is currently over $600 on Amazon! The Kindle version is $8.22. 

I’ll talk about what’s in each chapter in a series of posts, but here is the new Table of Contents: 

Preface to the Second Edition 
Introduction to the First Edition 
1. Historical-Critical Approaches to the Parables
2. The Emergence of Literary Approaches to the Parables
3. Fully Developed Literary Approaches to the Parables 
4. The Parables of Jesus in/and the Synoptic Gospels: The Dialogues Continue (NEW)
5. The Parables and Their Jewish Contexts
6. The Parables and Their Hellenistic Contexts
7. The Parables and Their Social Contexts
8. From Simile and Metaphor to Symbol and Emblematic Language 
9. What do Parables Want?: Receptions and Ethical Applications (NEW)
Select Bibliography
Scripture Index 

My father loved parables—stories that taught, stories that presented ideas and morals in ways that made pictures in people’s minds...Because he believed stories were so important as teaching tools. – Octavia Butler 

The question to ask of pictures from the standpoint of poetics is not just what they mean or what they do but what they want—what claim they make upon us, and how we are to respond. – W. J. T. Mitchell 

Much has changed in the more than two decades since the first edition of this book appeared. Parable scholarship continues to be a dynamic area of New Testament research, and a number of important studies were published and significant developments have occurred during those years. Jesus’ parables, these simple but profound stories, continue to challenge us, and, even after many readings, continue to reveal new insights. 

Not surprisingly, parable scholarship remains fascinating, and this book explores three distinct but inter-related components of parable interpretation, all of which are connected to the quotes from Butler and Mitchell above. 

First, since parables are teaching tools, parable scholars endeavor to determine what parables mean. I argue that, as a dialogic process, the emphasis should instead be on understanding. 

Second, scholars seek to discover what parables do or how parables work, how they produce meaning/understanding, such as the literary or rhetorical ways in which they seek to communicate and persuade. A critical component, as Octavia Butler puts it, is how they create “pictures in people’s minds,” which is not surprising, since, as C. H. Dodd states, Jesus’ parables “are the natural expression of the mind that sees truth in concrete pictures rather than conceives it in abstractions.” How are we to understand the “pictures” these parables create in our minds? 

Third, insightful interpreters explore what parables —or the pictures they create—want of us. Parables make demands on their hearers/readers; they have ethical implications. Their goal is not just to persuade people to see the world, God, themselves, or other human beings in strikingly new ways; parables also demand that their hearers/readers respond in concrete actions by putting those new or changed perceptions into practice in their everyday lives. 

As noted above, the seven existing chapters were significantly revised and two new chapters were added. The first new chapter (chapter 4) focuses on major recent books with differing understandings of the parables and the historical Jesus, the authenticity of the parables, and whether to interpret parables in their gospel contexts. The second new chapter (chapter 9) broadens the discussions by highlighting studies that focus on what parables want, first by introducing a discipline that only recently has come into prominence—reception history of the Bible—and second by including additional studies that explore practical, ethical applications of parables. This revised and expanded edition thus brings the analyses of scholarship up to date, extends the discussions, and includes diverse studies that may be less accessible to many readers of this book.

I'll post more about each chapter in succeeding posts. 

Hope and Despair in Rembrandt's 'The Good Samaritan'

I am delighted that my essay, "Hope and despair in Rembrandt's 'The Good Samaritan'" just appeared in today's Nati...