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.

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