Monday, June 22, 2015

James Weldon Johnson and The Prodigal Son

I have been away for a family obligation for a few days but now have returned home and will start working in earnest on a chapter for a book on characterization in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. The volume, Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts, is edited by Frank Dicken and Julia Snyder and will be published by 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." It builds on the foundation of work on characterization in Luke-Acts that I did in the late 1980s, especially the conclusions reached in my 1991 book, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend: Portraits of the Pharisees in Luke and Acts. The chapter will start there but go on to examine some receptions of the two sons that depend/build upon their characterization in Luke.

The afterlives of the two sons are especially interesting. A poem by James Weldon Johnson, for example, illustrates how people tend to identify or be identified as one of those two sons.  

James Weldon Johnson, The Prodigal Son:

Young man—

Young man—

Your arm's too short to box with God.

But Jesus spake in a parable, and he said:
A certain man had two sons.
Jesus didn't give this man a name,
But his name is God Almighty.
And Jesus didn't call these sons by name,
But ev'ry young man,
Ev'rywhere,
Is one of these two sons.

Go read the rest of the poem. A friend and colleague, Kipton Jensen, sent me a copy of it recently.




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