Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Rich Man and Lazarus Parable (part 13): The Ideological Point of View of Luke 16:19-31

This is the next-to-the-last post about the interpretation of the parable in its Lukan context before moving on to selected receptions of the parables:


Luke provides models, such as the Roman centurion of Luke 7:1-10, of the proper attitude and behavior that socially advantaged patrons should have—even toward "expendables" such as Lazarus. In contrast, the rich man of Luke 16:19-31 (and the Lukan Pharisees of 11:37-54 and 16:14) is an example of the consequences of disobeying the teachings of Moses, the prophets, and Jesus.

But this parable is not merely a story about the rich man and Lazarus or a story symbolizing the Lukan Pharisees. As William Herzog correctly argues, this parable is about representatives of two social classes: the wealthy urban elites who had almost everything and the desperate expendables who had almost nothing. This wealth, Herzog notes, was obtained by a systematic exploitation of the poor—the type of injustice that Amos had condemned—a wealth that could only be maintained by a redistribution of goods from the disadvantaged to the elite. There were "Lazaruses at every gate and on every corner," and each one was a sign displaying the oppression of the poor by the wealthy elite. Unlike the example of Abraham—a wealthy person famed for his hospitality (e.g., Gen 13:2; 25:7-11)—the social status of the rich man was not God's reward for his piety or a sign of God's blessing. Instead it is a sign of his utter sinfulness and of sinfulness of others like him (see Herzog’s Parables as Subversive Speech, 128).

Mikhail Bakhtin's sophisticated understanding of the dialogic nature of language—one which stresses that a single voice must be heard as one member of a complex choir of voices—provides us with more receptive ears that can hear more clearly the divergent and sometimes distant voices that reverberate throughout this text. In this way, we can still hear dialogic echoes of the voice of the historical Jesus, reflecting his peasant artisan anger at the exploitative, dominant class and predicting future punishment for their deeds. He therefore gives a warning to the elite of his day. And this voice of Jesus provides hope to his fellow peasants, as well as to the expendables and others, that God will bring about—one way or another—a reversal of fortunes with eternal consequences.

The author of Luke-Acts gives a dialogic rejoinder to this voice of Jesus, and that's what I will explore in the next post. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Rich Man and Lazarus Parable (part 12): Texts and Cultural Contexts in Dialogue in Luke 16:19-31

Before I continue my discussions (from quite a few posts back) of the Rich Man and Lazarus parable, let me update the progress on my book:

On Saturday, I turned in revisions of the two indices, and I heard back from Eric Salo (the production editor) yesterday. He included a couple other improvements and suggestions, and I agreed that the indices were finished. So now it appears that all my work is concluded, and the final stages of production can continue. Although the book is not scheduled to be published until January 2017, I am hopeful that a sample of the pdf in notebook form will be available for scholars to peruse at the AAR/SBL meeting in San Antonio this November.  

Now back to the parable. One thing I forgot to explain about honor and shame in the Gospel of Luke is that the descriptions of honor and shame are so numerous that I did not repeat them. For early analyses of its importance in Luke (both from 1991), though, see Gowler, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend; Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, "Honor and Shame in Luke-Acts: Pivotal Values of the Mediterranean World," in The Social World of Luke-Acts, 25-65.

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus also is intimately connected to the cultural script of purity rules. Purity refers to the system of boundaries that human beings develop in order to make sense of their environment. To give their world a sense of order, human beings establish these margins in social time and social space. Purity and its antithesis, pollution, refer to the socially shared map of space and time, with special emphasis on boundaries. The boundaries become focal points because they separate the socially acceptable from the unacceptable and give a basis for evaluation of all socially experienced phenomena. When persons, places, or things are within these specified boundaries, they are pure (clean); when they are outside these margins, they are seen as impure (unclean; see, for example, Bruce J. Malina, Christian Origins and Cultural Anthropology).

Luke 11:44 compares the Pharisees to unseen graves that imputed uncleanness to those who unknowingly walk over them. A similar irony exists in Luke 16:15: The "lovers of money" have become an abomination (βδέλυγμα) in the sight of God (16:15). Any person or thing that is abhorrent in the sight of God is something that violates God's system of purity, and thus is unclean (cf. Werner Foerster, "βδέλυγμα," TDNT 1:598-600). The social and economic behavior of the rich man in the parable, then, not only has made him dishonorable but it has also made him unclean before God. True to the Lukan reversal theme, it is Lazarus—who is ritually unclean because of his sores and the dogs licking those sores (16:20)—who was made clean by God.


The Lukan Jesus often heals persons who are viewed as unclean; these persons would be seen as incapable of full social relationships and/or are barred from the Temple (e.g., Luke 8:43-48; cf. Lev 15:25-31). Jesus even touches some of the unclean persons whom he heals (e.g., Luke 5:13). Readers learn also that such healings took place during a period of sacred time (e.g., Luke 14:1-6), as well as in a sacred place during a period of sacred time (e.g., Luke 6:6-11; 13:10-17). In addition, Jesus neglects to cleanse himself ritually before eating a meal (Luke 11:37-38) and eats with toll collectors and sinners (e.g., Luke 5:29-30). Jesus also is not concerned about impurity that would result from contact with a corpse (e.g., Luke 7:14, cf. Num 19:11). Jesus declares that "pollution" does not result from such things as unwashed hands—the outer surface of the body—but the sins that come from inside a person, such as rapacity and the evil of covetousness (e.g., Luke 11:39-41). Thus the Lukan Jesus provokes debates about sacred persons, time, and space; he questions and indeed challenges the general social purpose of these rules and the way in which they are interpreted in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus transcends the socially defined limits in this agrarian culture as depicted in Luke, and within that ideological transformation the rich man stands condemned.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

NT Scholars blurbs about the book (#6) and an update about the indices



The endorsement blurbs just keep coming. The sixth one recently appeared on the Baker Academic page for the book.

This one comes from Dr. Mark Allan Powell, who has written some excellent books himself, including Jesus As A Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee and the extremely popular, and deservedly so, textbookIntroduction to the New Testament, which is also published by Baker Academic.

Here is what Mark wrote:
"A volume bursting with potential! I have come to appreciate any publication by David B. Gowler--and this is his best book so far. A fascinating survey that sheds new light on the meaning of well-worn texts. Any teacher, student, or reader of the parables will find pearls and treasures in these pages--talents to be invested, seeds sure to bear fruit." 
Mark Allan Powell, professor of New Testament, Trinity Lutheran Seminary; author of Introducing the New Testament

In another development, last week I received the final pdf version of the book (where the page numbers are set), and I spent last weekend constructing the indices. I sent the indices in last weekend. Since I had already created the index "shells," it did not take as long as it normally would. The shells were actually harder to create and more painstaking work.  

I just received the indices back (with some questions about them) from Eric Salo, the production editor, and I will start working on them tonight. I should have the final (I hope) version of the indices done by tomorrow or Monday at the latest. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

NT Scholars blurbs about the book (#5)



I'm not sure how many more endorsement blurbs for the book will appear on the Baker Academic website, but here is the next one that recently appeared. This one is from Mikeal Parsons of Baylor University:
For most of its history, parable research has, perhaps rightly and often as part of the larger quest of the historical Jesus, focused on the composition history of Jesus's parables from the oral period in which they were spoken to their placement in the Christian Gospels. David Gowler has studied, taught, and written about the parables for many years, and in this fascinating study he has trained his eagle eye on the latter part of the parables' 'career'--the impact of their afterlife on the literature, music, and art that stand as heirs to this remarkable corpus of stories. Arranged chronologically, Gowler's study spans two thousand years of reception and ranges from Clement of Alexandria to Martin Luther King Jr., from the Roman catacombs to Thomas Hart Benton, and from Romanos the Melodist to Godspell. This treasure trove belongs in the library of anyone interested in the ways Jesus's parables have challenged our hearts, minds, and imaginations, and it confirms that the world the parables has produced is no less interesting and complex than the world that produced the parables. 
Mikeal C. Parsons, professor and Macon Chair in Religion, Baylor University

Friday, September 9, 2016

NT Scholars blurbs about the book (#4)


Reading these endorsement blurbs about my forthcoming book is both exciting and humbling. All of them have been from respected New Testament scholars, so that makes them even more meaningful to me. I am grateful to all of them who read the book carefully and were willing to share their thoughts.

All of them are meaningful, but two of them, however, are especially significant:

Professor Christopher Rowland (Dean Irelands Professor emeritus, Oxford University) is also one of the premier scholars in Reception History, the focus of my book. His important work, such as on William Blake, help to inaugurate the current era of significant Reception History investigations (e.g., the Blackwell Bible Commentary series). I posted his blurb on August 31.

Dr. Christine Joynes, also of Oxford University, is the other person who is especially significant, because she is also one of the premier Reception History of the New Testament scholars. Her blurb about the book recently appeared on the Baker Academic website, so I will post it below.

Christine will be attending the SBL Conference in San Antonio, TX (SBL = Society of Biblical Literature). If she is presenting a paper again (she has done so every year for a while), I recommend that anyone attending AAR/SBL go see it. Christine's work is always interesting and thought-provoking. Last year her paper, "A Gender Agenda? Exploring the Politics of Biblical Art," was fascinating. I look forward to reading her forthcoming reception history commentary on the Gospel of Mark in the Blackwell series.

Here is what Christine wrote about my forthcoming book:

"This wonderfully engaging volume offers a rich array of insights, as the author introduces us to a chorus of diverse voices from a wide variety of media. David Gowler's immense learning is expressed with superb clarity, making interpretations of the parables across two millennia accessible to all. Highly recommended." 
Christine Joynes, director, Centre for Reception History of the Bible, University of Oxford

From what I understand, at least one more blurb about the book is forthcoming. I'll post it when it appears, but I also will soon resume posting about the Rich Man and Lazarus parable.



Monday, September 5, 2016

NT Scholars Blurbs about the Book (#3)



The third endorsement blurb on the Baker Academic website is from Duane Watson:
"David Gowler invites us to participate in a two-thousand-year-old dialogue with those seeking to understand and implement the simple, yet often perplexing, parables of Jesus. Gowler has assembled fifty conversation partners from literature, poetry, hymns, the visual arts, and theater that span the Christian era. These voices hail from a broad and diverse range of historically, theologically, and culturally significant contexts. By entering into this dialogue, Gowler hopes that rather than find what we expect to find in the parables, we can take off our own interpretive blinders and come to a fuller understanding of the meanings and applications of the parables to our lives. He succeeds! The conversation in which he engages us here is truly an eye-opening and enriching experience." 
Duane F. Watson, professor of New Testament studies, Malone University
If and when Baker Academic posts other endorsement blurbs, I will also post them here. So far so good!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

NT Scholars blurbs about the book (#2) and two milestones



This weekend I am creating the "shells" for the indices of the book. The pdf of the final version should arrive in the next week or so.  

Here is the second endorsement on the Baker Academic website; this one is from Mariam Kovalishyn

"This delightful book romps rapidly through the history of interpretation of the parables. David Gowler introduces us not merely to the familiar greats and how they interpreted the parables--and even their own variations--but also to lesser-known interpreters: women, artists, and musicians all feature in this text. We meet a woman amongst the church fathers, we read excerpts from the Qur'an alongside Gregory the Great, we find interpretations that cycle in and out of fashion over the centuries, we discover poets who shock us into hearing again the familiar words of Jesus. Blues musicians and catacomb paintings rarely feature in the same book, nor abolitionists alongside the politically powerful, but here they are all given their chance to speak. This is not a commentary. Rather, Gowler reveals a history made up of contextualized people interpreting Jesus's quintessential teachings for their times. For those who read Scripture knowing that we read it in community with those who have studied it before us, and for those who love the parables for their unexpected inversions and slantwise telling of the truth, this book is a gift." 
Mariam Kovalishyn, assistant professor of New Testament, Regent College
Also, a couple milestones to note: 

First, this post is the 300th one of the blog about the book. I suppose I will continue the blog for a while longer, probably through the first few months the book is out, but perhaps after that the blog might evolve into something else.

Second, yesterday was the 350th day in a row that I have walked/run over 10,000 steps/5 miles per day, something I started doing this every day during Emory University's "Move More" challenge last September. I then decided to try to walk/run 10,000 steps every day for an entire year in memory of my dad, who started a regimen of walking after his quadruple bypass in 1999. So I have 16 more days (it was a leap year) to go.


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