Friday, September 11, 2015

Adolf Jülicher and the Parables (part 3)

Adolf licher

Jülicher explores the form and nature of parables and, depending primarily on Aristotle’s Rhetoric (III.4), argues that parables are similes not metaphors. Metaphors are indirect enigmatic speech that say one thing but mean another; they can remain incomprehensible without proper context and interpretation. An example borrowed from Aristotle, “A lion rushed on” (der Löwe stürmt los), can function as a metaphor for “Achilles rushed on,” depending on the context. Metaphors thus easily and naturally extend into allegories, something that Jülicher argues Jesus never used.

Similes, though, are direct, simple, and self-explanatory speech, such as the clear comparison also used by Aristotle: “Achilles rushed on like a lion” (der löwenmutige Achill stürmt los; I.52). Jülicher concludes that Jesus used similes and that they develop into three categories:

1. Similitude (Gleichnis): A similitude reflects a typical or recurring event in daily life, and it has two components—the “picture” (image part: Bildhälfte) created by the story and the “object” (or reality part: Sachhälfte) contained in in the story. The details of the similitude merely provide a colorful context for the “picture” the “object/reality” portrayed, and a single point of comparison (the tertium comparationis) connects the two parts with a “like” or “as.” The similitude’s tertium comparationis challenges its readers with the necessity of either forming a judgment or making a decision (I.58-80). The saying about the children playing in the marketplace (Matt. 11:16-19; Luke 7:31-34), the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Matt. 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-10), and the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29) are all similitudes.

2. Parable or Fable (Parabel; Fabel): The parable is a fictional story that has all of the attributes of a similitude and functions the same way. The “resemblance” in the parable refers readers to an external reality; it is different from a similitude in that the parable is a story that takes place in the past. Jülicher considers this form to be a fable, but since fables are often confused with stories that involve animals, he prefers the term parable (I.92-111). The majority of Jesus’s parables, Jülicher adds, are fables similar to the fables attributed to Stesichoros or Aesop. The Workers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-15), Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and Sower (Matt. 13:1-9; Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8) are all parables, although the parable of the Sower’s allegorical interpretation does not stem from Jesus.

3. Example Story (Beispielerzählung): An example story is also a fictional narrative—like the parable—but it differs from the similitude and the parable because it actually illustrates the reality/truth it is meant to demonstrate; it doesn’t just refer to an external reality (I.112-115). Jülicher only lists four example stories from the Gospels: the Good Samaritan, Rich Fool, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Pharisee and the Publican. The distinctive feature of this type is that they present examples that are supposed to be emulated by others. The Good Samaritan, for instance, is an example story, because it illustrates the moral principle of loving one’s neighbor. God esteems loving compassion, so even a despised Samaritan demonstrates through his compassion what it means to be a neighbor in contrast to the priest and Levite (II.596). Thus all the allegorical interpretations by people like Origen completely miss the point: The injured man does not symbolize Adam, the Samaritan does not denote Jesus, the inn does not designate the church, Jerusalem does not symbolize paradise, and Jericho does not denote “the world.” Attempts to find symbolism in such elements are doomed to fail because details like Jerusalem and Jericho are only used to give local color to this example story. Instead, Jülicher contends, interpreters should focus on the one basic point of comparison—the neighborly actions of the Samaritan—to understand the meaning of the parable as Jesus intended it: the compassion we should have for our fellow human being  (II.585-598).


The problem, for Jülicher, is that a parable’s pictorial elements (Bildhälfte) must be understood literally (eigentlich), whereas the pictorial elements of an allegory must be understood figuratively (uneigentlich), and “this contrast allows no mixing of forms” (I.76). The parables, after they have been examined and restored to the form taught by Jesus, are “masterpieces of popular eloquence” that are “wholly unpretentious” and give their readers an overpowering feeling of the exalted nature of Jesus: “as far as we know, nothing higher and more perfect has ever been accomplished in this area” (Kümmel 1972: 187).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Answers to some questions from Paul Moldovan about the parables of Jesus

I was delighted to answer a few questions from Paul Moldovan about the parables of Jesus. Paul is an Masters of Divinity student at George F...