Sunday, December 15, 2013

What led me to write this book on the reception history of the parables?

One last introductory post before I start discussing aspects of the reception history of specific parables: How did my research over the past 25+ years lead me to write this book?

My early research and publications were in three main, overlapping areas: I started as a historian but then ventured into literary-rhetorical criticism and social-scientific criticism (e.g., my 1991 book, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend).

My first real introduction to reception history occurred when I was visiting my former professor, Chris Rowland, at the University of Oxford (in 1999, when I was teaching in London). Chris asked me if I would be interested in writing a volume in a new reception history commentary series he was editing for Blackwell. At the time, though, I was finishing my book on the parables and getting ready to start my book on the historical Jesus.

In 2004, the first volume of the Blackwell Bible Commentary series appeared, the volume on Revelation by Chris Rowland and Judith Kovacs. When I saw it, I realized just how fascinating it would be to do a volume in the series. I spoke with Chris and decided to submit a proposal to write the commentary on the Epistle of James after I finished my book on Jesus.

Then in 2006, Chris Rowland and I team taught a course called “Portraits of Jesus,” a course that explored the NT Gospels and how they had been interpreted in visual art. I then taught the course in Emory’s British Studies program at the University of Oxford (summer 2007). I have taught the course ever since at Oxford College of Emory University and will be doing so again this spring (2014). In the process of teaching that class, I started working more with visual art and integrating it with biblical interpretation. That research also, to my delight, took me to many art galleries around the world.

My reception history commentary, James Through the Centuries, has just appeared, but I have published some other reception history articles in the meantime. I was asked, for example, to write a reception-history article for the Journal for the Study of the New Testament (“Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation: Textures of a Text and its Reception,” JSNT 33:2 (2010) 191–206).

I was also asked to write an article for a volume of the Review and Expositor:  “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. The volume consisted of articles by parable scholars, and we were asked to include something about how the parable was interpreted in another medium. As I was trying to decide which parable to work on, I attended the Society of New Testament Studies conference in Berlin (July 2010). While I was there, I went to the Gemäldegalerie to do some research. When I walked into the Rembrandt room, my decision was made: I would write on the parable of the Rich Fool and the painting that many scholars think is Rembrandt’s interpretation of it.

The experience of writing that article led me to start thinking about writing a book on Rembrandt and the three parables he interprets. When I broached this possibility to James Ernest at Baker Academic, he suggested that a reception history of the parables would be an excellent supplementary textbook, one that I should write to complement my earlier book on the parables. I realized that his idea was a better one at this stage and may be the perfect bridge to writing the Rembrandt book next.


That's a brief history of how this book project came to be. Now I will turn to parable interpretation, and the next few posts will discuss the parable of the Rich Fool and Rembrandt’s painting, including some ways that textual and visual exegeses are similar.

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