Thursday, June 30, 2016

The cover of the book released

James Tissot, The Sower (Le semeur), 1886-1894


I'm at Paddington Station, London, getting ready to head to Heathrow for my flight home today. I have spent the last week in the UK during a tumultuous time here. 

First, the Brexit vote (which was followed by a visit to Scotland by Donald Trump). I was in Cambridge during the Brexit vote and was able to hear the insights of Chris and Catherine Rowland about what all that entailed (Chris was my professor at Cambridge many years ago).

Second, the England loss to Iceland in the Euro Cup (which I watched at The Ship Inn in Pentewan, Cornwall; it was filled with a number of disconsolate people). 

So that's why I have not posted on this blog for a while. I did some work at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (and I also was able to check in with an Emory colleague, Mike McQuaide, while there), and my time in Cornwall was mostly a writing retreat, although my time was spent on a copy-edited version of this book. I have made it through the first three chapters of the copy-edited version and hope to finish the fourth chapter today, while I make my way back home. Some of the work was done in pubs, most notably Tuesday evening while sipping  local Cornish ale--the rest of the pub, which was packed was busy at their weekly Bingo games. The grand prize was 100 pounds.

I was delighted to see a couple days ago that the cover of the book was released. It is posted above. The main image comes from a painting by James Tissot, The Sower (Le semeur), 1886-1894, which is found in the Brooklyn Museum. I'll write more about Tissot's painting and his other parable paintings after I finish the series on the rich man and Lazarus parable.

I'll be home today and will resume regular (or regular irregular) postings upon my return.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Lazarus and the Rich Man parable (part 5): The Characterization of the Pharisees prior to Luke 16:19-31

After Jesus declares that a person cannot serve God and wealth (16:13), the Pharisees scoff at Jesus (literally in Greek: "turned up their noses"). Their murmuring (15:2) has developed into scorn, and, as Johnson notes, they not only reject Jesus' message, they reject him. This term occurs one other place in Luke: in the passion narrative, where the rulers actively scoff at Jesus while he is on the cross (23:35).

The narrator then reinforces Jesus' labeling of the Pharisees by calling the Pharisees "lovers of money" (φιλάργυροι; 16:14). This rare direct definition of the Pharisees builds upon the theme introduced in Luke 11:39-43 (cf. 14:7-24). Two of the three highest voices of authority, then, accuse the Pharisees of rapacity or avarice, and the trait clings to them like barnacles throughout the rest of Luke. Such polemical language also functions literarily to provide an antithesis to the description of the ideal philosopher or teacher, and φιλάργυροι is a term commonly used in Hellenistic literature in polemics against various philosophers (cf. Halvor Moxnes, The Economy of the Kingdom, 4-9, 147; Robert L. Brawley, Luke-Acts and the Jews: Conflict, Apology, and Conciliation, 86).

As we shall see, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus continues this theme. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the rich man in the parable reflects φιλάργυροι, which, in turn, reflects back on the Lukan Pharisees, since they serve as paradigms of those who behave as the rich man behaves.

Jesus participates in this devastating critique of the Pharisees by accusing them of being "those who justify yourselves before human beings" (16:15). Luke 11:39-44 had previously depicted the connection between the Pharisees' rapacity and their greed for public recognition. Jesus' remark about the Pharisees' greed for public honor, then, almost serves as an apodosis to the narrator's protasis about their love of money. The Pharisees' greed and lust for prominence thus become even more closely intertwined.

Jesus also echoes the Lukan reversal theme: Whatever is exalted among human beings is an abomination (βδέλυγμα) before God (16:15). The narrative aside in Luke 7:30 had commented that the Pharisees had "rejected the purpose of God for themselves." Jesus' words here, though, suggest the converse: God does the rejecting. God rejects what is exalted among human beings, and the Pharisees, at this stage of the narrative, are the paradigm of the type of person— like the rich man in the parable—who improperly and rapaciously grasps after such honor.

The next three verses (16:16-18) seem to be present because of the Pharisees' concern for their interpretation of the law. These verses also help clarify Jesus' relationship to the law, as does the last section of the parable (16:27-31). In addition, Luke 16:14-15 is illuminated by the first section of the parable (16:19-26). Thus the connections between these sayings and the parable itself are more extensive than the mere fact that they are all directed to the Pharisees as the primary audience (in the narrative). These connections between the parable and Luke 16:14-16 are also noted by Talbert in Reading Luke (153-9). The Pharisees, of course, are not the only ones indicted by this parable, but in literary terms, they are the narratees at the hypodiegetic level (the ones to whom the parable is directed by the narrative).

The presentation of the Lukan Pharisees draws attention to their opposition to Jesus' ideological point of view: The Pharisees improperly grasp after material goods and honor. This characterization of the dishonorable social behavior of the Pharisees has direct implications for how we interpret the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.


I will begin my discussion of the parable itself in my next post, one of many posts about the interpretation of the parable in Luke before I start talking about its reception history. In reality, however, in those numerous posts we will be examining in detail one of the earliest extant receptions of a parable from Jesus: that of the author of Luke-Acts.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Lazarus and the Rich Man parable (part 4): The Characterization of the Pharisees prior to Luke 16:19-31

A quick update on the book: I have received the second copy-edited version of the book and am working through it in detail one more time before it is formatted into book-form (the next stage allows limited changes). There are also a number of copy-editor queries through which I need to work. I have to admit, this part of the publishing process, albeit necessary, is the least fun.

Back to the literary context of the rich man and Lazarus parable in Luke. Once again, I must stress that the discussion below is only about the Lukan Pharisees, not the historical Pharisees.

The Pharisees who appear in Luke 16:14 are not a blank slate, because the narrative has already generated quite a pejorative picture of them. They initially appear in a chiastic series of controversies (5:17-6:11) that depicts a progression of hostility (See Gowler, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend, 183-215). The progression is clearly seen in the reactions to Jesus' words and deeds: All "glorified God" at the end of the first controversy story (5:26). The final controversy in this series, though, provides a negative response: The opponents of Jesus (including the Pharisees) are "filled with fury" (ἀνοίας) and deliberate "what they might do to Jesus" (6:11). The question remains, though: How will the Lukan Pharisees continue to respond?

The narrator begins to answer that question by the authoritative pronouncement that the Pharisees and lawyers reject the purpose of God for themselves (7:30). The narrator, in a way similar to the "lovers of money" of Luke 16:14 and the rich man of 16:19-31, immediately illustrates his overt evaluations of "all the people and the tax collectors" as opposed to the "Pharisees and the lawyers" (7:29-30) by the differing responses to Jesus by the "sinful woman" (whose sins were forgiven) and (the rather inhospitable) Simon the Pharisee (7:36-50).

The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees then escalates the next time Jesus dines in a Pharisee's home (Luke 11:37-54; see Gowler, "Hospitality and Characterization in Luke 11:37-54: A Socio-Narratological Approach," Semeia 64 (1993): 213-51). The host Pharisee is astonished that Jesus did not wash before the meal. Jesus, as Lord (11:39), replies to the Pharisee's unspoken thoughts with a string of rebukes. The first two sentences of Jesus' speech are quite damaging: "inside you are full of rapacity and the evil of covetousness. You fools!" (11:39-40). Since Jesus the Lord labels the Pharisees fools, this appellation is of momentous importance. Being a fool is the equivalent of being a denier of God, that is, someone "who contemptuously disrupts fellowship between God and [humankind]" (Georg Bertram, "ἀφρων," TDNT 9:225). The accusation labels the Pharisees as moral failures who disregard their social responsibilities (see Malina, The New Testament World, 2001, 50, which makes the connection to the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 more obvious). This devastating attack against the Pharisees also helps to create a consistent pattern of a higher, ever-increasing level of opposition to Jesus.

The next mention of the Pharisees in 12:1 reinforces this impression. The opposition of the Pharisees and scribes greatly contrasts with the many thousands who come out to see Jesus. Jesus then warns the disciples to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees." Yeast, of course, has a permeating influence whether for good or for evil, but the warning of Jesus (προσέχετε αυτοῖς) includes the explanatory comment, ἥτις ἐστὶν ὑπόκρισις. Once again, the Pharisees serve as an example of what to avoid.

Other aspects in Luke 11:37-54 have serious implications for our reading of Luke 16:19-31. First, the Lukan Pharisees are rapacious and filled with avarice (11:39). Second, since the Pharisees are also filled with self-righteous pride, they love to exalt themselves over others (11:43). In Luke 14:1-14, Jesus again chastises the social elite for seeking after honor. The narrator explains that Jesus observed how the guests scrambled for "places of honor" (14:7). Thus the narrative again closely identifies the Pharisees with the desire for self-glorification. The suggestion that their tendency to self-advertisement has eternal consequences (ἔσχατον; 14:9-10; cf. 14:11, 14) increases their negative rating even more. The narrative intimately connects such self-aggrandizement to a love of possessions and a disregard for the poor, as Jesus' words and parable illustrate (14:7-24). Instead, Jesus expects the Pharisees—and the rich man of 16:19-31—when they have a feast to "invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and [they]... will be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (14:12-14).

In the next post, I will conclude with some further comments about how the literary context of Luke prior to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus characterizes the Lukan Pharisees. This characterization affects our reading of the parable in its Lukan context: Luke is sending a warning to a particular group of the elite in his society (which does not really reflect the historical Pharisees very well).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lazarus and the Rich Man parable (part 3): The Characterization of the Pharisees prior to Luke 16:19-31

In the literary context discussion of the previous post, what happens is that if readers recognize the implicit assumptions in the narrative that illnesses have social consequences, then all of Jesus' healing activities actually reflect the proclamation of release in Luke 4:16-30. People assaulted or possessed by unclean/evil spirits, for example, can be properly described as oppressed or held prisoner by demons (note how the spirit/demon in Luke 9:38-39 "seizes" the child, "convulses" him, "mauls" him, and will "scarcely leave" him). As John Pilch notes (The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible), illness removes a person from status and disturbs kinship relationships (77); thus the "good news to the poor" includes both economic and social implications.

The Characterization of the Pharisees prior to Luke 16:19-31

Before I start a discussion of the literary characterization of the Pharisees, I cannot stress too strongly that this examination is of the Lukan Pharisees, not the historical Pharisees. The author of Luke and Acts constructs his own portrait of the Pharisees that sometimes does not reflect the historical Pharisees (cf. John Meier’s reconstructions in A Marginal Jew).

The seemingly disparate elements of Luke 16:14-31 must be analyzed in conjunction with one another, because they are all directed toward a single group: the Lukan Pharisees. As Luke T. Johnson noted, the Lukan travel narrative is often vague concerning spatial and temporal settings, but changes of audience for particular teachings of Jesus are quite specific (e.g., 15:2-3; 16:1, 15; Johnson, The Literary Function of Possessions in Luke-Acts, 107-10). Therefore, to a considerable degree, the content of Jesus' sayings is appropriate to the nature of the group addressed. Jesus often speaks to his disciples, not surprisingly, about the nature of discipleship (e.g., 12:22-53). The crowds are often given warnings and calls to repentance (e.g., 12:54-13:9). Jesus often condemns the Lukan Pharisees (e.g., 11:37-54), but sometimes he includes a call to repentance in those rebukes (e.g., 14:14; 15:3-32; Johnson, Possessions, 109-110). So it is clear from this pattern that the parable of the rich man and Lazarus should be read in light of the narrative's characterization of the Pharisees, because no change of audience is mentioned until 17:1. The parable is mainly directed to the Lukan Pharisees— and people like them—who are "lovers of money" (16:14).

The Pharisees (and scribes/lawyers) in the Lukan narrative serve as legitimation devices via negativa for Jesus. The conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees play a crucial role in their characterizations. When the narrative implicitly and explicitly contrasts Jesus' teachings, authority, and person with those of the Pharisees, all the portrayals become clearer. Because of his victories in verbal contests with various religious leaders, Jesus gains honor and confirms his authority and stature.


I will write much more on the characterization of the Lukan Pharisees in my next post. That will place the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus into its literary context and make it much more understandable.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Lazarus and the Rich Man parable (part 2): The Literary Context of Luke 16:19-31

In literary terms, the character Jesus dominates the narrative of Luke. Beginning with Luke 4:1, he is the center of interest, is at the center of all exchanges, and, until the passion narrative, is in charge as the main actor. Since Jesus is the hero of the story, the narrator expects readers to evaluate other characters in Luke according to their responses to Jesus. Many characters belong to a group (e.g., the Pharisees, scribes, and priests) and can be evaluated—in varying degrees of complexity— together (see Gowler, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend, 177-319). Numerous other minor characters, such as the characters in the parables, flit across the stage of Luke and Acts and are more difficult to define or delineate; but the Pharisees in Luke 16:14 and the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, like all characters in Luke, ultimately direct one's attention to the main character, Jesus. The narrator provides a number of divergent characters so that they can either draw out aspects of Jesus' character and/or provide alternative responses to Jesus; the narrator's own ideology is clearly seen by the way in which responses are seen as "appropriate" or "inappropriate." Jesus, of course, is clearly identified as the authoritative hero of the story: "Lord" (1:43, 76), "Son of the Most High" (1:32), "Son of God" (1:35), "Christ" (2:26-32), and various other positive evaluations (e.g., 2:40,46-47,49, 52; 3:15-17). The entire narrative reinforces this positive portrayal of Jesus.

The earlier sections of Luke portray a conflict that occurs as the good news of God encounters opposition from an often recalcitrant humanity. Signals of such conflicts reverberate throughout the narrative. The narrator intersperses the themes of reversal (e.g., 1:52-52) and Israel's salvation (1:32-33, 54-55, 68-79; 2:25, 30-32, 38) with the incorporation of Gentiles in God's plan (e.g., 2:30-32). After Simeon's prophecy explicitly foretells the conflicts ahead (2:29-35), signs of these conflicts soon appear in the narrative during the episodes prior to Jesus' public ministry (3:1-4:13). The preaching of John the Baptist (3:7-9, Ιοί 7) prepares the way in more than one respect: "all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (3:6, cf. Simeon in 2:30-32). John warns those of Jewish descent not to trust solely on their ancestry (as I will explain in a later post, the rich man in the parable who calls out to "Father Abraham" certainly is in this category), and he also explains why people should "bear fruits worthy of repentance" (3:8, 14).


Luke 4:16-30 contains the inaugural statement of Jesus' mission and is a microcosm of the entire ministry of Jesus. Almost every scene in Luke and Acts can be related to this scene, especially the Galilean ministry (4:14-9:50). Jesus offers a proclamation of release (4:18-21), and the narrator then sets out to demonstrate that Jesus is indeed doing what he was sent to do, according to that programmatic declaration in the Nazareth synagogue, such as bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty for the oppressed, and the acceptable year of the Lord. Then the narrative displays Jesus' activities related to this proclamation: casting out an unclean demon (4:31-37); cleansing a leper (5:12-16); healing a paralytic (5:17-26); healing a man with a withered hand (6:6-11); healing a centurion's servant (7:1-10); raising a widow's son at Nain (7:11-17); and other episodes (e.g., 4:38-41; 6:20-21; 7:36-50; 8:26-33, 40-56; 9:37-43).

More explanation of the literary context in the next post.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Lazarus and the Rich Man Parable (Introduction; part 1)

David Teniers the Younger, The Rich Man being led into Hell


I have been mulling over, now that the book is in its copy-edited stage, how to proceed with this blog. I have decided to dedicate the summer to various receptions of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (yes, I reversed the traditional title, for a reason), receptions that range from the one found in the Gospel of Luke to the most recent interpretations of the parable.

In subsequent posts, before moving on to various receptions of this parable, I will analyze (1) the literary context and function of the parable, (2) possible intertextual connections between the parable and similar stories in the ancient world, (3) the social and cultural implications of the story, and (3) some ideological elements of the parable. In this way, some of the dialogues between text, culture, and ideology in Luke 16:19-31 can be explored.

I will thus begin with an academic study of the parable; I will lay a foundation of critical study that will provide a foundation upon which other receptions of the parable can be understood in a much deeper way.

Here goes:

Modern research on the parables essentially began with Adolph Jülicher's Die Gleichnisreden Jesu in 1886 (Jülicher revised this work, and a later two-volume edition came out in 1888 and 1889), and—although his categories have been superseded—many of his discussions still influence current debates. For example, Jülicher argued that one must distinguish between the parables of the historical Jesus and the parables as they are found in the Synoptic Gospels. Not only were the parables told thirty to fifty years before the gospels were written down, but the Gospels' authors themselves were creative expositors of the 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.

When literary approaches to the parables began to emerge during the late 1960's and 1970's, scholars primarily utilized literary criticism to try to understand parables' natural function as language but still almost always removed parables from their Gospel contexts and used the tools of historical criticism to recreate their "original" forms (see Gowler, WATSA Parables? 3-40).

A more recent approach has been to interpret parables in the literary contexts in which they are embedded (a return, in some ways, to earlier interpretations). Contextual readings of the parables emerged with works such as Charles Talbert, Reading Luke (1982); John Drury, The Parables in the Gospels: History and Allegory (1985); Robert Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation (1986); John R. Donahue, The Gospel as Parable (1988); David B. Gowler, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend: Portraits of the Pharisees in Luke and Acts (1991); Warren Carter and John Paul Heil, Matthew's Parables (1998). These literary approaches realize that parables further the plot development within each Gospel and that characters in the parables give implicit and explicit commentary on the characters in the larger narrative. As Ched Meyers noted, parables stand in fundamental relationship to the story as a whole and cannot be "properly interpreted" apart from it; they function primarily as a kind of "mirror" to assist the reader/hearer (Binding the Strong Man, 169-74). In literary-critical terms, characters in the narrative function at a diegetic level, and characters in parables function at a hypodiegetic level (see Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics, 92-93. Relations between these levels are established by means of analogy, that is, by similarity and contrast. Note, for example, the labeling of the Pharisees as "lovers of money" (Luke 16:14) and the concrete example of such a person given in the rich man in the parable found in Luke 16:19-31. Also, the "grumbling" of the Pharisees and scribes in Luke 15:2 over Jesus' welcoming sinners is reflected in the three "lost and found" parables of Luke 15. In both examples, Jesus directs the parables to the Pharisees (15:2 [and scribes]; 16:14).

Such literary approaches certainly are not the only way to interpret the parables, but they do demonstrate clearly the function of parables as integral elements in the Gospel narratives. Yet tensions inevitably arise between parables and the Gospel contexts in which they are embedded, because no single narrative context can restrain or complete the parable's power to communicate meaning. How, then, should we resolve the sometimes diverging elements of the parables as told by the historical Jesus and the parables as we now find them in the canonical Gospels?

The literary theory of the philosopher and classicist Mikhail Bakhtin offers an answer: The relationship between gospel contexts and parable is dialogic. Once a parable becomes embedded into a larger narrative, its sense changes dramatically. The author's voice enters into a dialogue with the parable; the author's voice reverberates with the original utterance(s) of the creator of the parable; and the narrator's voice reverberates with the utterances of the characters in the parable and the characters in the larger narrative. Yet the dialogic nature of a parable embedded in a larger narrative is also true for the "original" parable itself. Jesus' words were, in essence, a rejoinder in a greater dialogue, incorporating, in different ways, the words of others who had preceded him, whether from the Hebrew Bible, traditional repertoires, or the polyglossia of the first-century Mediterranean world (See Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, 431). These words, in a Bakhtinian sense, were not created ex nihilo, because this parabolic dialogue is a chain of reactions that continued in a radically new way when the historical Jesus first took the conventional language of his first-century Galilean culture and created these poetic narratives. As part of this continuing conversation, parables still call for dialogic responses on the part of hearers/readers, as they become participants in that greater dialogue.7

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 provides an excellent example of how this dialogic approach to the parables might proceed.


Afterward, we can then proceeds toward a more rich examination of how the parable of Lazarus and the rich man parable has been interpreted through the centuries.

Models for Grant Wood's American Gothic

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