Wednesday, August 31, 2016

NT Scholars blurbs about the book (#1)


I'm starting to work on the "shells" for the three indices; more on that later.

In this post, I thought I would start sharing the "blurbs" that some New Testament scholars have written for the book (they were sent advance pdf copies).  

The first is from Professor Christopher Rowland (Oxford University):  

"David Gowler is a master of the reception history of the Bible, and he demonstrates his wisdom and experience in this wonderful book about the reading of the parables of Jesus down the centuries. It shows the richness of the resources that await us and the benefits for biblical interpretation which come from this approach, particularly when they are so sensitively and lucidly applied. I am grateful to him for sharing his discoveries with us, his fortunate readers, on this stage of his intellectual journey." 
Christopher Rowland, Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture Emeritus, University of Oxford

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Rich Man and Lazarus Parable (part 11): Texts and Cultural Contexts in Dialogue in Luke 16:19-31


During our stay in Montreal, we were able to attend part of the Montréal First Peoples Festival. The above photo was taken during the August 4 concert by Digging Roots. Some of their songs evoke the same themes of oppression, justice, and liberation that the Lukan Jesus proclaims (e.g., Luke 4:16-21). 


The last post described such things as the "subsistence ethic" of "peasants" (not the best term to describe first-century non-elites, but the most common one) and patronage. This post will begin to explore how the narrative of Luke expects the elite in ancient society to live (which explains how evil the rich man in this parable actually was envisioned): 

Interpersonal social interaction in the narrative of Luke occurs on a continuum of reciprocity ranging from those exchanges based on altruism to those based on self-interest. There are three main categories of reciprocal exchanges:
1) Generalized reciprocity: An open sharing founded on altruism, which focuses completely on the needs of the other person. Assistance is given without a specific obligation to return the favor (e.g., family relationships). 
2) Balanced reciprocity: An exchange based on the common interests of the two parties. Social norms judge the gifts to be equivalent; there is a symmetrical quid-pro-quo agreement (e.g., exchange of goods or services). 
3) Negative reciprocity: An exchange of pure self-interest in which one party attempts to receive from another without giving anything in return (e.g., lying, cheating, or theft). Such behavior is acceptable in an agonistic society when one is dealing with strangers. No ongoing social relationship occurs (see Gowler, "Hospitality and Characterization in Luke 11:37-54," 231-32).
The rich man—because he reflects the characterization of the Pharisees in 11:37-44 and 16:14—operates from a system of negative reciprocity. Rapacity drives the speech and actions of such elites, and Jesus' command to give alms calls for a radical shift in their perspective. No longer are the "lovers of money" to operate in the mode of exchange that involves negative reciprocity; Jesus requires them to participate in almsgiving—vertical generalized reciprocity—a redistribution from the advantaged to the disadvantaged that expects nothing in return (Moxnes, Economy, 127-8).

Luke 11:11-12 gives an example of generalized reciprocity in a familial setting, and Luke 14:21-23 is an example of generalized reciprocity in a meal setting. Since God—the referent in both cases—showers humankind with vertical generalized reciprocity, humankind should follow God's lead in their relationships with each other (See Jerome Neyrey, "Ceremonies in Luke-Acts," in The Social World of Luke-Acts, 385).

Jesus makes this point in the meal scene in 14:12-14, where he advises the elite not to engage merely in balanced reciprocity. Such elite invite friends, brothers, kinsmen, and rich neighbors to their feasts (14:12). Jesus advises them instead to invite the poor, maimed, lame, and blind (vertical generalized reciprocity). Luke 16:14 will add another building block in this portrayal, because lovers of money do not operate from Jesus' perspective of vertical generalized reciprocity. The elites' concern for money is balanced by their lack of concern for human beings, a point made excruciatingly clear by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Unrighteous mammon can only be gained at the expense of God's commandment to love one's neighbor (J. Duncan Derrett, Law in the New Testament, 80-82), and the connection between riches and unrighteousness can only be broken through vertical generalized reciprocity (e.g., almsgiving, Luke 14:13-14; 16:9). 

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, though, the redistribution of goods from the elite to the non-elite does not take place, and the rich man symbolizes a recalcitrant idolater who worships material possessions.


The cultural script of honor and shame plays a role here as well. Honor, in the broadest sense of the word, is compliance with traditional patterns of behavior. Thus honor, in this sense, is nearly identical with "goodness" or "virtue." A man of honor is a virtuous man, with honor being attained and maintained by conformity to prevailing cultural norms. What Jesus does in Luke, however, is to transform those cultural norms in a way that insists that the elite operate from a system of vertical generalized reciprocity. The crucial test for any character is whether or not he or she accepts Jesus' authority as Lord and then begins to live accordingly. The rich man, with his rejection of Moses and the prophets and his failure to operate from a stance of vertical generalized reciprocity, fails this test.

I'll write more about first-century cultural aspects that influence our reading of the parable (e.g., purity rules) in my next post. 

I will conclude this post, though, with another photo about First Peoples and Montreal. Below is a photo of one of the many striking murals that you find on the sides of buildings in Montreal. 

I also highly recommend the First Peoples Gardens in the Montreal Botanic Gardens, by the way.



Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Rich Man and Lazarus Parable (part 10): Texts and Cultural Contexts in Dialogue in Luke 16:19-31

October, by James Tissot (1877)
Tissot is the artist whose sower painting is featured on the cover of my forthcoming book
I took this photo in early August at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


The vast majority of people in the first century were at the mercy of power-holders outside their social realm. Their sense of powerlessness was often reinforced by the climate and lack of natural resources in many areas of the Mediterranean world. Such persons had little or no control over the conditions that governed their lives. This more-or-less determined existence was verified by experience and led to the cognitive orientation that all desired goods—social (e.g., honor), economic (e.g., land), and natural (e.g., health)—existed in a finite quantity and were always in short supply (e.g., George Foster’s "Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good" in American Anthropologist).

One of the strategies in these "limited good" societies is the formation of horizontal and vertical alliances. See S. N. Eisenstadt and L. Roniger, Patrons, Clients, and Friends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). For an excellent list of the characteristics of such alliances, see K. C. Hanson and Douglas E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 72. Peter Garnsey and Richard Sailer give an overview of social relations (e.g., patrons, clients, and friends) in The Roman Empire: Economy, Society, and Culture (London: Duckworth, 1987), 148-59. An important study of patronage and Luke-Acts may be found in Halvor Moxnes, "Patron-Client Relations and the New Community in Luke-Acts," in The Social World of Luke-Acts (ed. Jerome H. Neyrey; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991), 241-68.

In brief, relationships among those of equal rank are based on an informal principle of reciprocity, an implicit obligation that is enforced by the honor and shame system. This implicit contract is an informal binding of pairs in an ongoing series of acts of mutual support. Asymmetrical contracts can also be established between people on differing social levels. Persons on a higher social level can serve as patrons for their clients on a lower social level, but the goods or services in this reciprocal relationship are not similar. Patronage thus occurs whenever someone adopts a posture of deference to another deemed more powerful and therefore gains access to resources as a result. See John Davis, The People of the Mediterranean (p. 132).

James C. Scott describes how this patronage works in the "moral economy of the peasant.” See James C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976). As a side note, although the social location of the implied author of Luke is above that of a peasant, the "voices" of the peasants (e.g., the peasant artisan Jesus) can still be heard. As Mikhail Bakhtin argues, speakers do not use pristine words—"untainted" straight out of a dictionary—but rather these words have already existed in the mouths of others and thus already partially belong to others. Each word "tastes" therefore of the contexts in which it has lived its socially-charged life in previous speakers' personal, cultural, social, and ideological contexts. See Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, 293-5.

Back to Scott’s arguments: Peasants are like people who are standing permanently up to their chins in water, so that even a ripple is sufficient to drown them. Such peasants are not radically egalitarian but instead—living in a limited good society—believe that all persons are entitled to a living out of the resources of the village (Scott, Moral Economy, 1, 5).

The peasants' "subsistence ethic" involves both a norm of reciprocity and an ethical belief in a right of subsistence. Patron-broker-client ties, then, are a ubiquitous form of "social insurance." Although the peasants' bargaining power is minimal, patronage includes a moral obligation; people who have resources are expected to help in difficult circumstances (Scott, Moral Economy, 11, 27, 51).

In a similar way, I would argue, the narrator of Luke uses characters like the Roman centurion in 7:1-10 as a moral example to emulate. In contrast, characters such as the rich man in 16:19-31 serve as warnings to persuade readers that they should—if they have the economic means—behave in a fashion similar to the centurion, not the rich man. Thus the centurion is one of many models in Luke-Acts of the proper attitude and behavior that socially advantaged patrons should have—both to Jesus and to members of their local community. The rich man, in contrast, is an example of what will happen if they do not follow this exhortation.

In the next post, I will comment on how the narrative of Luke expects such elite to live.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Rich Man and Lazarus Parable (part 9): Intertextual Dialogues in Luke 16:19-31

The SowerMontreal City Hall (Hôtel de Ville de Montréal)

Above is another photo from my recent trip to Montreal: A statue The Sower in Hôtel de Ville de Montréal. I have a few other photos from Quebec City and Montreal that I will include in the next few posts, including a painting from James Tissot, whose painting of the sower graces the cover of my forthcoming The Parables after Jesus.

But, back to my extended discussion of the rich man and Lazarus parable.

Ronald Hock has persuasively argued for a broader comparative framework—including Hellenistic-Roman sources—for interpreting this parable. He notes that the "parallels [between the parable and the Egyptian story] are neither compelling nor as explanatory" as suggested in scholarship and suggests that the Lucían texts Gallus and Cataplus can be seen as important comparative texts. His arguments can be found in his "Lazarus and Micyllus: Greco-Roman Backgrounds to Luke 16:19-31," JBL 106 (1987): 447-63:

Micyllus, a poor, marginalized artisan, goes hungry from early morning to evening, and he must bear the slights, insults, and beatings of the powerful. At their deaths, Micyllus and the rich tyrant Megapenthes make the trip to Hades. Megapenthes, like the rich man in Jesus' parable, tries to strike a bargain to alter his situation, but to no avail. Finally, Micyllus and Megapenthes face Rhadamanthus, the judge of the underworld. Micyllus is judged to be pure and goes to the Isle of the Blessed. Megapenthes's soul, however, is stained with corruption, and he will be appropriately punished. In Hock's opinion, both this story and the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, betray Cynic views on wealth and poverty. He also correctly argues that this parable partakes in the broader arena of the social and intellectual life of traditional Mediterranean society (461-463).

In Bakhtinian terms, this means that discourse is a social phenomenon. No narrative, discourse, or utterance is created in a literary, cultural, social, or historical vacuum. Parables thus were created in conversations with their cultural environments, and they vigorously partake in that dialogical social discourse. The early Christian era, indeed the entire Hellenistic era, was an age of active heteroglossia. Scattered throughout the Mediterranean were cities, settlements, and other areas where several cultures and languages directly "cohabited," and they interwove with each other in distinctive patterns. The parables of Jesus, then, germinated and flourished in these fields of active heteroglossia. As active participants in these social dialogues, these texts also serve as rejoinders in the greater social dialogues, whose style and content are influenced—directly and indirectly—by their interrelationships with the other rejoinders in the greater social dialogues (here I reworked to apply to the New Testament ideas from Mikhail Bakhtin’s, The Dialogic Imagination, 291-2).  

Therefore we should not point to any particular ancient story as being a generative influence for the creation of this parable (Vernon K. Robbins, Jesus the Teacher; in the revised 1992 paperback edition, xxvi). Instead, the Lukan parable appears to be a written performance of a cultural tradition (cf.  Because of the nature of language, many voices actually speak, on some level, "through any individual person's use of language" (see Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, 293-5.

 In addition, all texts are "rewritings" of previous texts and a reaction to current texts, where texts may be seen as a literary text or as a general "text of culture." Therefore, intertextual study should not merely be limited to "parallels"—similar and different phenomena considered to be directly influenced by each other in a causal or diachronic way. Instead, intertextuality should be expanded to include "cultural discourse," because parables are excellent examples of words that lived, in Bakhtin's terminology, "a real life ... in an environment of social heteroglossia" (Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, 292).

What almost all interpreters of this parable have missed is that the first-century cultural setting of this parable demands—from the perspective of peasants and peasant artisans such as Jesus—that the rich man be seen as wicked and deserving of such punishment, even though (unlike the Egyptian tale) his evil deeds are not delineated within the parable itself. The significant exception, of course, is that the rich man engages in conspicuous consumption in the face of great need. Most modern scholars vastly underestimate the iniquity of the rich man, because they have not incorporated the cultural scripts inherent in the parable into their interpretations. This element is key to a better interpretation of the parable.

The parables of Jesus, as William Herzog has shown, not only provide a vision of the reign (kingdom) of God, but they also portray and critique the gory details of how oppression serves the interests of the ruling class. Parables explore how human beings could respond to break the spiral of violence and the cycle of poverty created by such exploitation. Therefore the parables of Jesus were forms of social analysis just as much as they were forms of theological reflection (Parables as Subversive Speech, 3). Attention, then, must be given to that aspect of this parable.


In the next post, I will turn to elements of the dialogue between texts and cultural contexts.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Rich Man and Lazarus Parable (part 8): Intertextual Dialogues in Luke 16:19-31


In Montreal (8/4/2016) on Mont Royal with my favorite person in the world
(the one on the right celebrating her birthday!)

For almost a hundred years, the intertextual comparisons between this parable and other ancient literature basically followed the parameters established by Hugo Gressmann. Gressmann argued that the first part of the parable (16:16-26) was derived from an Egyptian tale about the journey of Setme Chamois (led by his son Si-osire) through the realm of the dead and his witnessing a similar reversal of a rich man and a poor man. This Egyptian folk tale, Gressmann believed, circulated among the Jewish people. Jesus then took this story but created the second half of the parable himself (16:27-31). See Hugo Gressmann, Vom reichen Mann und armen Lazarus: Eine literargeschichtliche Studie (1918). Rudolph Bultmann dissented from this view, arguing instead that this parable is probably a "similitude" that had been "taken from the Jewish tradition by the Church and put into Jesus' mouth" (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 1963, 196-7, 203).

In a similar vein, Joachim Jeremias posited that "Alexandrian Jews brought this story to Palestine, where it became very popular as the story of the poor scholar and the rich publican Bar Ma'jan" (The Parables of Jesus (2d. ed.; 1972). Jeremias argued that Jesus was familiar with this legend and also "used it in the parable of the Great Supper" (183).

Most scholars and commentaries, with some variations, tend to follow the conclusions of Jeremias. Some scholars have also pointed to comparative texts such as 1 Enoch 22, which contains ideas such as a division of the righteous from the unrighteous. There are four "hollow places" or pits for the "spirits of the souls" of the dead (7 En. 22:1). One pit is for the souls of the sinners for whom "judgment has not been executed upon them in their life" (22:10) and their "lamentation goes up" (22:6). There also is a separate place for the righteous, which has the "bright fountain of water" (22:9). George Nickelsburg rightly concludes that the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is "an interesting example of the early Christian use of the kind of cosmology presumed [in 1 En. 22] The cosmology of the parable differs somewhat from the present chapter in details, but not in its function," 1 Enoch 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 307. The text of 7 En. 22 can be found on page 300. Still other scholars have pointed to parallels with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as found in Virgil and Ovid. See Wim Weren, "Het dodenrijk. Een vergelijking van Lucas' verhaal over Lazarus en de rijke mer de mythe van Orpheus en Eurydice bij Vergilius en Ovidius," in Intertextualteit en Bijbel (Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok, 1993), 65-92.

Richard Bauckham, however, notes some limitations inherent in the trail blazed by Gressmann and Jeremias: (a) the story may have existed in popular folklore before its incorporation into the Egyptian story, (b) Jewish stories similar to the Egyptian story thus may have existed independently of the Egyptian story; in other words, this reversal of rich and poor may be a "folkloric motif around which many stories were constructed, (c) we need to examine both similarities and differences among the various comparative texts, and (d) at this point no comparative text should be given a "privileged role. See Bauckham’s 1991, "The Rich Man and Lazarus: The Parable and its Parallels," in NTS 37, 225-46. Bauckham, however, does not fully realize the role that cultural scripts play in characterizing the "evil deeds" of the rich man (228, 232-3, 235).

In the next post, I will examine Ronald Hock’s interesting hypothesis concerning a Hellenistic-Roman context for interpreting the parable.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Where have I been?

Not me swimming

Also not me swimming



Humpback Whale in the St. Lawrence Seaway

We were away in Canada for eleven days, in Quebec City and then in Montreal. One day we drove up to go whale watching, and the humpback whales put on a real show. We saw a few other whales as well, including the spout of a blue whale from very, very far away--another boat was close enough to confirm it was a blue whale. The NWF says that the spout of a blue whale can reach 30 feet; we could only tell that it was huge from that far away.

The whales were magnificent. That three-hour boat ride alone made the whole eleven-day trip worthwhile.

On the other hand, it was not a vacation. I did some research and also spent a lot of time with this thing:


Proofreading the final page proofs of The Parables after Jesus

The final page proofs of The Parables after Jesus arrived the day I left, and I had a two-week turn-around. I returned my corrections Tuesday, so the only thing I have left to do before the book is published is to create the indices, which is always an unpleasant task.

Our faculty retreat (at Callaway Gardens this year) was this Wednesday night through Friday noon, so I just returned from there with a lot of work to do before meetings begin on campus on Tuesday.

Tomorrow, however, I will hopefully get the time to resume my series of posts on the rich man and Lazarus parable. I still have a lot of material to cover about the arable itself before I even start talking about its reception.

I also saw this painting in the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal:

Can you guess the artist and the person he painted?




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...