Friday, May 29, 2015

Godspell and the Parables (Part 6)

Godspell: Judas/John the Baptist

The next two parables, the Good Samaritan (who is portrayed as drunk) and the Rich Man and Lazarus, also emphasize the responsibilities that human beings have to take care of one another. As the disciples celebrate the compassion and actions of the Samaritan, Jesus warns them not to flaunt their acts of charity in public. Judas misunderstands, but Jesus corrects him. Judas is again rehabilitated, though, because he gets to narrate the next parable, the Rich Man and Lazarus. In this parable, Jesus does not offer a final conclusion; instead, they all start singing, “Bless the Lord.”

A dialogue between Jesus and Judas—done, as often is the case, in a vaudeville-like way—perhaps illustrates the whimsical nature of the Godspell Jesus and the dialogic nature of parables themselves:

Jesus: Now, how can you take the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye when all the time there’s this great plank in your own?

Judas: I don’t know. How can you take the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye when all the time there’s this great plank in your own?

Jesus: You hypocrite!  First you take the plank out of your own eye so you can see clearly to take the speck of sawdust out of your brother’s.

Judas: Wait a moment!  That’s no answer to the question.

Jesus: Did I promise you an answer to the question?

Judas: No.

The question is how applicable that response is to other questions in Godspell.

The next parable is the Sower, which Katie narrates to Jesus. She successfully tells the parable itself (Matt. 13:3-8), but she misunderstands its meaning. Jesus, then, has to give the correct interpretation of the parable (the seed is the “word of God”; Matt. 13:18:23). The group then sings “all Good Gifts,” which demonstrates that God is behind the growth of the seeds and that all good things come from God:

We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by god’s almighty hand.
He sends the show in winter, the warmth of swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine and soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us are sent by heaven above.
So thank the lord,
O thank the lord,
For all his love.


The group then moves to Cherry Lane Theater, the off-Broadway location where the play became a success. It is there that the group narrates and acts out the parable of the Prodigal Son, one of the most interesting of the interpretations offered in the play/film. That's up next.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Two things and a word of thanks

First: I have switched gears on the parables book from researching and writing to reworking, rethinking, and rewriting. This blog has helped me maintain a writing style that is accessible to students and others, but I am working to "craft" the book more, not only to separate the wheat from the chaff (hopefully there are no tares to be ripped out!) but also to make it more readable and profitable for those who do read it. The Honors Seminar on the reception history of the parables last semester helped with that as well; the students were very affirming that the sections they read were clear, enjoyable, and profitable. After I get closer to those goals in the rewriting process, I will later write the introduction to the book and tie some things together.

In addition, as I have mentioned many times before, this process includes cutting tens of thousands of words from the first draft. This week, for example, I rewrote Chapter 3 and in the process eliminated 14,000 words (from ~37,500 to ~23,500 total words; 4000 from the Bunyan section alone). The process of cutting words will only get tougher the further along I get, but this past week was a great start to getting within striking distance of the word count.

Second: I will start a new project tomorrow. It is a chapter for a book being edited by Frank Dicken and Julia Snyder: Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts, which will be published by T & T Clark in their Library of New Testament Studies series. My chapter is entitled, "The Characterization of the Two Brothers in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): Their Function and Afterlives." The chapter will be in part a return to work on characterization I did over 25 years ago for my first book (Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend: Portraits of the Pharisees in Luke and Acts), but it also will incorporate my more recent reception historical research. I'll post more about that book chapter later. 

For the next few weeks, then, I will alternate between rewriting the drafts of the reception history of the parables book and the researching and writing of the book chapter. Working on the book chapter will give me a "break" from the rewriting/rethinking/editing of the reception history book--it's easier to lose focus on those latter types of tasks, because you keep reading/revising/editing the same material over and over again, which can lead to a more sanguine approach than is helpful for such tasks.

Finally, a word of thanks: James Ernest, my editor for the parables book, recently announced that in June he will begin a new adventure: He will be Editor in Chief and a Vice President at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Congratulations, James! I will miss working with you--I couldn't have asked for a better editor--but I am delighted that you have received this well-earned position. Best wishes!

A year and a half ago, I contacted James about an idea I had for a book, a somewhat technical work about visual and textual exegesis that used Rembrandt and the parables as a test case. James suggested, if I recall correctly, that Baker Academic might be interested in the volume I was proposing, but he also suggested (correctly) that there was a much more important book that needed to be written first: an introductory reception history of the parables volume. So he deserves the credit for the fact that this book is being writing in the first place.

Thank you, James, for everything; it's been great working with you, and I wish you all the best at Eerdmans. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Godspell and the Parables (part 5): The Sheep and Goats parable

The four goats who (at first) are left behind 

The next parable, Sheep and Goats, reinforces the point that this universal kingdom includes everyone. This time Jesus narrates the parable, while the disciples act out the various roles:  
Now when the Son of Man comes in all his glory—with all his angels with himhe will sit in state upon his throne with all the nations gathered before him.  And then he will separate men into two groups as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And then he will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
At this point the disciples mill around, and eventually separate into the two groups of sheep and goats.
And he will say to all of them on his right. “Sheep, you have my father’s blessing. Come and enter the kingdom that has been ready since the world was made. For when I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was naked and without a home, you took me to your house. And when I was ill and in prison, you came to my aid.”
Jeffrey, a “goat,” tries to sneak into the group of sheep, but Jesus prevents him and says, “Sorry! No goats!” Two sheep, Robin and Jerry, ask Jesus when they saw him hungry and gave him food, thirsty and gave him drink, or in prison and helped him. Jesus responds, “Anything you did for one of your brothers, however humble, you did for me.” 

Jesus then turns to the goats and says: “A curse is upon you!” and follows it up with these words:  “Anything you did not do for one of my brothers, however humble, you did not do for me!”


Although Jesus then says that the goats “will take their place in eternal punishment, but the righteous shall have eternal life!” an interesting twist in the story occurs. He says, “Come on!” to the sheep, and they all run up the steps, to the great disappointment of the goats left behind at the bottom of the steps. 

But after a few moments, Jesus then returns to the top of the stairs and speaks to the goats who were left behind. He smiles, gestures at them, and says again, “Come on!” The goats delightedly scamper up the steps after him, and then, last of all, Judas does as well, and they all receive welcome and hugs as they rejoin the group. It seems that all are saved in Godspell’s kingdom of heaven.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Finished with the First Draft?

I might actually have finished the first draft of the reception history of the parables book. That depends on whether I can get permission to use one of the works of art on the parables that I have requested permission to use. I have two options from Africa that I am trying to obtain. If I can get one of them, then I have one more section to write. If not, I think I will go with what I already have.

The drafts of the first two chapters are now in pretty good shape, and both of them are also within striking range of the 20,000 words per chapter goal. I spent some of last week cutting 4000 words from Chapter 2.

The first draft of the five chapters is still ~54,000 words over the word limit for the book (I've already cut ~10,000 words), but Chapters 3-5 are in very rough shape. I am in the process of working through Chapter 3 now and have cut significant sections of what I wrote on Luther, Anna Janz, Calvin, and Maldonatus. The section on Bunyan alone is over 6000 words, at least 4000 of which I need to cut. I will include those sections on the blog, however, so they won't be completely lost.

Another major change is that I have replaced the section on Chaucer with a section on John Gower. I had deleted Gower because Chaucer is more well-known and the sections on the parables were rather entertaining (e.g., where some Friars live in The Summoner’s Tale!). What I realized, however, is that Gower's work interacts with the parables more deeply and significantly, so I returned that section to the chapter and deleted the Chaucer section. 

So, here is the list of what is now included in the book, although I have time to change some things:

 A Chorus of Voices: The Afterlives of Parables,

Chapter 1: The Early Church (~26,000 words)
1.     Irenaeus
2.     Gospel of Philip
3.     Clement of Alexandria
4.     Tertullian
5.     Origen
6.     John Chrysostom
7.     Augustine
8.     Macrina the Younger
9.     Ephrem the Syrian
10.  The Good Shepherd in Early Christian Art (Roman catacombs; Dura Europos)
11.  Illuminations from the Rossano Gospels  
12.  Byzantine mosaics; S. Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy.
13.  Romanos the Melodist

Chapter 2: 500 – 1500 CE (~23,000 words)
1.     Gregory the Great
2.     Bede the Venerable
3.     Ahadith of the Laborers in the Vineyard in Sahih al Bukhari
4.     Wazo of Liège
5.     The Golden Gospels of Echternach
6.     Theophylact
7.     Hildegard of Bingen
8.     Chartres Cathedral
9.     Thomas Aquinas
10.  John Gower
11.  Antonia Pulci
12.  Albrecht Dürer

Chapter 3: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (~37,000 words)
1.     Martin Luther
2.     Anna Jansz of Rotterdam
3.     John Calvin
4.     William Shakespeare
5.     Rembrandt
6.     John Bunyan
7.     John Maldonatus
8.     Domenico Fetti
9.     George Herbert
10.  Roger Williams

Chapter 4: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (27,000 words)
1.     William Blake
2.     John Everett Millais
3.     Fanny Crosby
4.     Leo Tolstoy
5.     Adolf Jülicher
6.     Frederick Douglass
7.     Charles Spurgeon
8.     Emily Dickinson
9.     Søren Kierkegaard

Chapter 5. Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries (~38,000 words)
1.     Flannery O’Connor
2.     Thomas Hart Benton
3.     Parables and the Blues
4.     Elsa Tamez
5.     Octavia Butler
6.     David Flusser
7.     Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
8.     Godspell
9.     Thich Nhat Hanh
10.  Rich Man and Lazarus, (a painting from Solentiname) or

11.  African painting/art (?)

Do you see any glaring omissions or something that I should cut?

Models for Grant Wood's American Gothic

Grant Wood, American Gothic  (Art Institute of Chicago) I just finished my chapter, “The Belated Return of the ‘Son’: Thomas Hart Bento...