Monday, August 31, 2015

Adolf Jülicher and the Parables (1857-1938)

It's been over a week since my last post--the longest gap, I think, in the almost two years that I have written this blog. The beginning of the academic year and other issues have kept me away. 

I was able to steal some time to continue editing and, since my time was limited, to start putting together the bibliography for the book. That task is easily started and stopped, so even in a few minutes, I can accomplish something--unlike real research and writing.

I also could not decide which topic to cover next. Last night I decided to do Adolf Jülicher. The section I wrote about his work probably will make it into the book, but since I cover him and other scholars in a previous work, What Are They Saying about the Parables?, I do not focus on many modern scholars in this book (David Flusser and Elsa Tamez are the only two in Chapter 5; Jülicher is in Chapter 4, for now).

So here goes:

Adolf Jülicher was born in Falkenberg, Germany, in 1857. He attended the University of Berlin, where he earned a doctorate in 1880, and then served as a Lutheran pastor at Rummelsburg. He also worked as a private lecturer (Privatdozent) in Berlin, and during that time, he wrote the first volume of his seminal work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu (The Parables of Jesus), which was published in 1886. As a result, Jülicher was invited to join the faculty at the University of Marburg, where he remained until he retired in 1923 (the famed New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, was one of his students).

Die Gleichnisreden Jesu is the most famous and influential scholarly book on the parables ever written, and it inaugurated a new era in the modern research of the parables. The first volume of the work discusses interpretative issues, and the second volume, published along with a revised first volume in 1888-1889, gives detailed interpretations of all the parables found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Although many of Jülicher’s categories have been superseded by subsequent interpreters, some of his discussions still influence current debates (for much of the following, see Gowler 2000 and the sources listed there). For example, Jülicher argues that scholars must distinguish between the parables as told by Jesus and the parables as they are found in the gospels. Jesus uttered his parables perhaps as much as fifty years before the gospels were written, and the gospel authors creatively reworked those traditions. For Jülicher, the major problem is that the gospel authors obscured the parabolic message of Jesus with an overgrowth of allegory, descriptive supplementation, and interpretive application, with the “incontrovertible” (Unangreifbar) result that the gospels actually obscure the meaning and function of the parables as Jesus had uttered them:
The authenticity (Echtheit) of the Gospel parables is not absolute. They did not emerge from the mouth of Jesus as we now read them. They are translated, displaced, and internally transformed. . . . Without careful examination, one can nowhere identify the voice of Jesus with voices of the Gospel authors (Jülicher 1963: I.11).

In addition, in a survey of previous interpretations of the parables, Jülicher demonstrates that, with a few exceptions such as John Calvin and John Maldonatus, virtually all interpreters imposed allegorical interpretations far exceeding those found in the gospels themselves. As Joachim Jeremias observes, “It is positively alarming to read . . . [Jülicher’s] story of the centuries of distortion and ill-usage which the parables have suffered through allegorical interpretation” (1972: 18).

Sunday, August 23, 2015

"The Characterization of the Two Brothers in the Parable of the Prodigal Son"

Last week I turned in an essay that will appear as a chapter in a volume edited by Frank Dicken and Julia Snyder. The entire volume covers a subject I started working on over twenty-five years ago--characterization in Luke-Acts--which ended up as being the subject of my first book, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend: Portraits of the Pharisees in Luke and Acts (1991). 

Here is the title of the current essay and the book information:

“The Characterization of the Two Brothers in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): Their Function and Afterlives,” in Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts. Edited by Frank Dicken and Julia Snyder. London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming, 2016.

Julia and Frank have some great contributors for this volume, and I really look forward to reading the book when it comes out.

As far as my own essay, it reinforced for me just how important reception history is for biblical interpretation in a number of ways, including the analysis of characters and characterization. I won't summarize the essay or talk about its basic elements, but perhaps 470 words from a draft of the essay's conclusion will illustrate (you will have to read the full essay when it comes out to see how I reach this conclusion):

‘The question to ask of [parables] 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’.[1]

The quote above actually is about ‘pictures’, not ‘parables’, but in this instance pictures and parables function the same way (especially since parables tend to form pictures in their hearers/readers’ minds). In addition, the characterizations of the two sons in the parable, including ambiguities about both characters’ portrayals, generate a variety of interpretations.

Receptions that self-identify with the prodigal are illuminating, as are the receptions of the elder son where often ‘the dog does not bark’[2]: Ignoring or downplaying the role of the elder brother can lead to more superficial readings. John Ruskin, for example, complains that the elder brother is often relegated to a ‘picturesque figure introduced to fill in the background of the parable agreeably’.[3] His point was that interpreters neglected whatever lessons the elder sibling’s portrayal could generate. Very few people, in fact, want to identify with the elder brother; people usually only want to identify others as fitting that role.

Parables and other narratives, by their nature, do not function as telegraph messages that require a mere decoding. Parables, as indirect communication, serve to generate new meanings, and they, to a certain extent foresee and anticipate our responses. Parables do not give the final word, because Jesus the parabler created them with one ear already listening for our answers.[4] In addition, both parables and characterization themselves are rhetorical in the sense that they seek to persuade their readers, asking them to make particular choices.[5]

But readers do not have to acquiesce to the narrator’s attempts at persuasion, and the varying reactions to the prodigal son and his brother exemplify the enigmatic power inherent in such subtle characterizations. They also demonstrate the gap in most attempts at character evaluation, including some of my own previous attempts: It is informative not just to evaluate rhetorical aspects of characterization in narratives and the supposed effects on implied and intended audiences; it is also informative to evaluate the receptions of such characters by ‘real’ audiences over the centuries.

[1] W. J. T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), xv. I have replaced ‘pictures’ with ‘parables’ in this quote.
[2] As per the ‘curious incident of the dog in the night-time’, when it ‘did nothing’: Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Adventure of Silver Blaze’, in The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes (Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1979), 196.
[3] Siebald and Ryken, ‘Prodigal Son’, 641. John Ruskin, Praeterita (Boston: Dana Estes, 1885), 397.
[4] David B. Gowler, What Are They Saying about the Parables? Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2000, p. 103.
[5] As Bennema notes, ‘character evaluation inevitably leads to self-evaluation’ (emphasis his), Theory of Character, 186.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Progress: August 16, 2015

Since I started the book, Emory's Pitts Theology Library has moved to a new home. The number of books I had checked out made their move easier, since they had a lot fewer books to move.

The fall semester at Emory University is fast approaching, and I turn to faculty meetings, meetings with entering students/advisees, syllabi, and so forth, but I can report research/writing progress on three fronts.

Yesterday I submitted my chapter for the book on characterization in Luke-Acts that is being edited by Frank Dicken and Julia Snyder: Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts

My chapter builds upon the foundation of the work on characterization in Luke-Acts that I did over twenty-five years ago that was published in Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend: Portraits of the Pharisees in Luke and Acts. The chapter demonstrates how the afterlives" of the two brothers in the parable build upon the characterization in the parable itself. 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 volume will be published by Bloomsbury in (I think) 2016.

Today I submitted my review of Charles W. Hedrick's The Wisdom of Jesus: Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church to the Review of Biblical Literature (published by the Society of Biblical Literature). The book includes significant sections on the parables of Jesus, and it builds upon the results of the Jesus Seminar. Since I disagree with the Jesus Seminar's conclusions about Jesus and the "authentic" sayings (but appreciate Hedrick's past and current scholarship), that review was interesting to write.

Now, as the semester permits, I return to the reception history of the parables book (and a couple of other things) to continue to edit the five main chapters and to begin to construct an integrating introduction.  

As I reflect over the last one and a half years of writing the book, the variety of the materials engaging the parables that I have been able to read is amazing. One imperfect measure: I have checked out (and used) over 500 books from four of Emory University's libraries (Pitts Theology, Woodruff, Oxford, and the Media Library) while researching and writing this book (you wouldn't believe what my office at home looks like with all those books!). I am now in the very slow process of returning those books to their proper homes.  

I am extremely grateful for the resources that Emory makes available to students, faculty, and the general public. 

Interior view of the new Pitts Theology Library

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Venerable Bede and the parables (part 2)

Bede the Venerable

Bede’s best-known parable interpretation is his allegorical reading of the Good Samaritan. Bede first observes that the lawyer who stands up to test Jesus exemplifies a “wise” person from whom God had “hidden these things” (Luke 10:21), and the lawyer is pretending not to know the Law’s command. Bede initially interprets the parable as an example story that “sets before us the perfect road to the life of heaven,” where humans are called to act with mercy as did the Samaritan, who showed his love not in word alone but in his concrete actions: “Remember that it is with such prompt mercy you must love and sustain your neighbour who is in need.” Love must be “proved also by deed, which brings us to eternal life.”

Bede then moves to an allegorical interpretation: the parable teaches us that a neighbor is one who shows mercy, but it also “at the same time” describes Jesus himself who became our neighbor through his incarnation, and interpreters must use allegory to understand the full message. Like earlier interpreters, Bede identifies the wounded man as “Adam, who stands for mankind” and its fall into sin, the robbers as “the devil and his angels,” and the stolen clothing as symbolizing the loss of Adam’s immortality.
The man was left wounded and “half dead,” and Bede adds a nuance to Augustine’s interpretation: The man’s attackers, the devil and his angels, did not really “go away”; their attacks instead become more crafty and subtle:

The wounds are sins, by means of which they implanted in his weakened body a sort of seedbed (if I may say so) of growing death, profaning the integrity of human nature. They went away, but not as ceasing from their assaults, but to conceal their attacks by craft. They left him half dead; for though they were able to strip him of the blessedness of immortal life, they were not able to deprive him of the power of reason. For in that part of him in which he can taste and know God, man is alive. But in the part that is grown weak from sin and faints from wretchedness, he is dead; defiled by a mortal wound.

Using Augustine’s language, Bede agrees that the priest and Levite “signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament,” but he elaborates that the “decrees of the Law” could only point out the wounds of sins and not cure them. The Samaritan (Defender/Guardian) is Jesus

who for us men and for our salvation, coming down from heaven, took the road of this present life and came near him who there lay perishing of the wounds inflicted on him; that is, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as man (Phil. 2:7), came close to us in his compassion, and became our neighbour through the consolation of his mercy.
            And, going up to him, bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine. He binds up the sins, which he finds in men, by rebuking them; inspiring with the fear of punishment those who sin, and with hope those who repent . . . .
            And, setting him upon his own beast, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The beast is his own flesh, in which he deigned to come to us. On it he placed wounded man, because he bore our sins in his body upon the tree (1 Peter 2:24); and according to another parable, laid upon his shoulders the lost sheep that was found, and brought it back to the flock (Luke 15:4) . . . . The inn is the present Church, where travellers, returning to their eternal home, are refreshed on their journey. And well does he bring to the inn the man he placed upon his own beast; for no one, unless he who is baptized, unless he is united to the body of Christ, shall enter the Church.

Bede concludes that Jesus’s parable makes clear that being a neighbor means showing mercy to one another, and no one is more a true neighbor than Jesus, because he healed our wounds of sin. In response, we should love him as a neighbor in return and love one another as neighbors:

And Jesus said to him: Go, and do thou in like manner; that is, show that you truly love your neighbour as yourself; doing with love whatever you can do to help him, also in his spiritual necessities, to the praise and glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Bede's tomb in Durham Cathedral

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman   Howard Thurman’s poem, “The Work of Christmas” is my favorite Christmas poem, and I p...