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.

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