My author's copies of What Are They saying about the Parables? just arrived! It was a privilege to publish with Paulist Press again. The first two times were great, and the third time was the charm (I hope)!
Friday, September 17, 2021
Friday, July 23, 2021
Monday, June 28, 2021
What are They saying about the Parables? (revised new content in Chapter 4 ): The Parables of Jesus in/and the Gospels: The Dialogues Continue (Part 3)
Chapter 4 (part 3): Authenticating the Synoptic Parables as Parables of the Historical Jesus
Monday, June 14, 2021
|"The Rich Epicure and Poor Lazarus" by Jose Arana|
Included in Evan Christensen's "Virtual Museum"
My thanks to Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman of United Lutheran Seminary for sending me this reception history of the parables website from one of his students, Evan Christensen.
- Mikhail Bakhtin: “Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction” (The Problem of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, p. 110).
- The title of this blog comes from a quote from Gregory the Great, who also uses an example from music to make a similar point (although in a different context) about the need for dialogue. In his Pastoral Rule (III.22), he cites the admonition of Psalm 150:4—to praise God with tambourine and chorus—to point out that with a tambourine, “a dry and beaten skin resounds, but in the chorus voices are associated in concord.” One person plays a tambourine; many people work together in a chorus.
- John of Salisbury, quoting Bernard of Chartres: We are like those of small stature “on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”
- As I note in The Parables after Jesus, interpreters tend to find what they expect to find in a narrative. What interpreters expect to see influences what they see. This selective attention places blinders on interpreters, blinders that can only be removed when interpreters join in dialogues with other interpreters who have different perspectives (cf. the famous “invisible gorilla” experiment by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons illustrates how our perceptions of what we things is “reality” are skewed by our preconceptions; almost half of the viewers of the video did not see the gorilla).
Thursday, June 3, 2021
Friday, April 2, 2021
Chapter 4 (Part 2) new content of revised What are They saying about the Parables? The Parables of Jesus in/and the Gospels: The Dialogues Continue (Part 2: Klyne Snodgrass)
Chapter 4: The Parables of Jesus in/and the Gospels: The Dialogues Continue (Part 2: Klyne Snodgrass)
- They are brief and straightforward, usually excluding unnecessary details.
- They are marked by simplicity (e.g., at most two characters or groups interact in the same scene) and symmetry (e.g., repetition).
- They mostly focus on humans, mirror the commonness of first-century Palestinian life, and their main purpose “is to goad people into response.”
- Although they may draw on historical events, they are fictional descriptions taken from everyday life that do not necessarily portray everyday life. They are pseudo-realistic in that they can contain hyperbole (e.g., a debt of 10,000 talents) and elements that shock.
- They are engaging; their intent is to elicit thought and require a decision, so “[f]inding the implied question a parable addresses is key to interpretation.”
- Since parables often seek to change one’s thinking and behavior, they regularly contain elements of reversal (e.g., a Samaritan as hero).
- Like a punch line of a joke, the crucial aspect of a parable usually comes at the end.
- Parables are addressed to specific contexts in Jesus’ ministry, serve a specific teaching purpose, and seek to bring about change in people’s beliefs and actions; they are not general stories with universal truths.
- Parables illuminate God, God’s kingdom, and the new reality God seeks to establish on earth (e.g., fathers, kings, and masters in parables generally are archetypes of God).
- Parables frequently refer to Hebrew Bible themes, ideas, and texts (e.g., the Good Samaritan illustrates the love commands at the heart of Judaism).
- Most parables appear in larger collections of parables, such as the Lost Coin, Lost Sheep, and Lost Sons in Luke 15.
Friday, March 12, 2021
Chapter 4 (totally new chapter!) of revised/expanded What are They Saying about the Parables, Chapter 4 (part 1)
Saturday, March 6, 2021
I am delighted that my essay, "Hope and despair in Rembrandt's 'The Good Samaritan'" just appeared in today's National Catholic Reporter.
This essay builds upon one of the four short essays I did for the Visual Commentary on Scripture published by King's College, London, which they entitled with the rather distinctive, "Sh*t Happens."
The National Catholic Reporter essay not only has a more family-friendly name; it also, I think, has a very timely message for the difficult era in which we live, specifically because interpretations of Rembrandt's etching shed light on divergent yet interlocking ways in which human beings respond to difficult circumstances.
One response is of hope; the other is of despair.
I won't post the entire essay (even though the essay is brief), but here is the conclusion:
Another way to approach this image and the parable itself, however, is that this act of compassion and mercy takes place not just in the midst of evil or even in spite of evil, but as a radical and in some ways redemptive act against evil.
Not bad advice from Jesus ("Go and do likewise") and Thurman ("Try it and see").
Thursday, March 4, 2021
This is the second part of a summary of some of what is found in Chapter 3 of the second edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables?: Fully Developed Literary Approaches to the Parables. Examples of other scholars and works included in this chapter are Bernard Brandon Scott’s Jesus, Symbol-Maker for the Kingdom (1981) and Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus (1989). In addition to analyses and critiques in this chapter, other related scholars/works are found in subsequent chapters, such as in chapter 6 (e.g., William Herzog) and chapter 8 (e.g., Charles Hedrick; Luise Schottroff). In Chapter 3, I also briefly mention Scott’s 2002 Re-Imagine the World, an introduction to the parables for non-specialists that contains a brief overview of Jesus and the parables and concludes with an essay on parable, historical Jesus, Q studies, and recommended readings.
The section, Contextual Readings of the Parables, begins with a discussion of John Drury’s The Parables in the Gospels: History and Allegory (1985) and Mary Ann Tolbert’s Perspectives on the Parables (1979; and her 1989 Sowing the Gospel that analyzes the parables as parables of the gospels, not as parables of Jesus).
Robert Tannehill’s The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation (1986) is significant because it focuses on how parables function within the Gospel of Luke itself.
This section of WATSA Parables? also includes analyses of Ched Myer’s Binding the Strong Man (1988) and my own Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend (a "socio-narratological analysis" later developed into an even more interdisciplinary mode of analysis, a “dialogic reading”: See, for example, David B. Gowler, “The Enthymematic Nature of Parables: A Dialogic Reading of the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16–20),” Review and Expositor 109:2 (2012): 199–217; and “‘At His Gate Lay a Poor Man’: A Dialogic Reading of Luke 16:19–31,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 32:3 (2005): 249–65.), where I examine, in part, how parables become, on the narrative level, indirect presentations of character traits of the Lukan Pharisees.
Other important works in this era include John Donahue’s The Gospel as Parable (1988) and Warren Carter and John Paul Heil’s 1998 Matthew’s Parables. The latter focuses on what happens as Matthew’s audience interacts with the parables in their present form and in their current placement within the plot of Matthew’s gospel, and this sections analyzes four important features of this approach (which I won’t summarize here). See also, John Paul Heil, The Gospel of Mark as a Model for Action (1992) for another example of how parables can be interpreted within their literary contexts, as well as Peter Yaw Oppong-Kim, Matthean Sets of Parables (2013) and John Kilgallen’s explorations of twenty parables in their Lukan contexts: Twenty Parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (2008).
Another more recent work is Lauri Thurén’s 2014 Parables Unplugged that reads the Lukan parables in their “rhetorical context” in an attempt to get beyond the “bewildering diversity of interpretations” and move toward a “natural listening” by “detaching the parables from all other perspectives.” The aim is “to read the parables of Jesus ‘naked’ or ‘unplugged,’ without any presuppositions, alterations, or later problems” (10). To attempt this task, Thurén endeavors to “get back to the text, back to the message and function of the parables in their real context” (and by “real,” Thurén means their gospel contexts; 11).
Thurén’s focus on the text is commendable, since a critical first step in interpretation focuses on “inner texture”—rhetorical features such as the literary context, structure, and details and thus the specific ways in which texts attempt to persuade their readers. Yet because texts are more complex than Thurén’s model assumes, additional steps are needed, such as including “intertexture”—a text’s representation of, reference to, and use of phenomena in the “world” (That is, a text’s citations, allusions, and reconfigurations of specific texts, events, language, objects, institutions, and other specific extra-textual contexts with which the text interacts)—and social and cultural texture—how the text shares the general social and cultural attitudes, norms, and modes of interaction which are known by everyone in a society. For a student-friendly early discussion of these textures, see Vernon K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts (1996).
Thurén’s interpretations of parables are often insightful and contain helpful correctives for those interpreters who stray too far from the text. In the end, however, Thurén’s reading includes too many of his own presuppositions, which ironically confirms Dieter Roth’s conclusion that “Parables can never be unplugged, and parables never should be unplugged” (Review of Biblical Literature, January, 2017).
I write a lengthy “Bakhtinian rejoinder” to all of these analyses (of the first three chapters) and then close with a few additional remarks. As far as the scholars/works in Chapter 3: The advent of “fully developed” literary approaches to the parables of Jesus inaugurates a significant shift in orientation, methodology, and language. Debates still occur about simile/metaphor, parable/allegory, and other related matters (see chapter 8 below), but implicitly or explicitly, most scholars accepted a view of parable as primarily metaphoric in a context of which metaphoric elements actually extend to all language (cf. Charles Hedrick).
As always, scholarship is an ongoing discussion, with new insights and approaches appearing, including old questions being addressed in innovative and different ways. The development chronicled in the first three chapters entails a shift from a primarily historical focus to a focus on the nature of language in its social, cultural, literary, historical, ideological, and rhetorical contexts. Current scholarship, as the following chapters demonstrate, continues to explore the nature of parables and the nature of language in a multitude of ways, but most of them, in varying amounts and degrees, incorporate at least some of the insights of these literary approaches—if not their orientation, methodology, and language.
The next post or two (next week) will be about a brand new chapter in WATSA Parables?: Chapter 4: “The Parables of Jesus in/and the Gospels: The Dialogues Continue.”
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Chapter 3 of the second edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables?, Fully Developed Literary Approaches to the Parables, is another significantly revised/expanded version of the chapter in the first edition (stay tuned: Chapter 4 is a completely new chapter!).
This chapter begins to explore how literary approaches to the parables began to be applied in a programmatic way to the entire parable corpus or to key parables within a particular gospel. It analyzes how earlier studies on the literary aspects of the parables began to bear fruit in the works of other scholars. John Dominic Crossan is the primary example because he pulls together the advances of his predecessors and furthers their work with innovative insights from contemporary literary criticism. John Drury and others also represent an important turning point; they return the parables to their gospel contexts but now examine them afresh with a literary sensitivity to how parables function as narratives within larger narratives.
The lengthy section about John Dominic Crossan’s prolific contributions to parable study includes revisions of what was already in WATSA Parables? and new analyses of his works over the past twenty years (including some insights I also covered in my What are They Saying about the Historical Jesus?, also with Paulist Press). Some of the works examined are:
- In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (1973), where Crossan examines the “historical Jesus,” not in the sense of his religion, faith, or self-understanding, but in the sense of the language of Jesus—specifically that of “the reconstructed parabolic complex” (xiii). The distinction Crossan makes in this work between parable and allegory is crucial for his thesis. He compares allegory—which expresses the intelligible—and symbol—which expresses the inexpressible. Crossan argues that parables reflect the temporality of Jesus’ experience of God, establish the historicity of Jesus’ response to the kingdom, and “create and establish the historical situation of Jesus himself” (32). In other words, Jesus was not crucified for speaking parables, but for ways of acting that resulted from the experience of God presented in the parables. These poetic metaphors, Crossan asserts, portray a “permanent eschatology,” the continuous presence of God as the one who challenges the world and repeatedly shatters its complacency. This kingdom of God and its parables manifest an advent of a radical new world of possibility, a reversal of ordinary expectations and the past, and a call to action as an expression of the new world with new possibilities (26–27).
- The Dark Interval (1975), which uses the structuralist models of Claude Lévi-Strauss (as adapted by the anthropologists Elli and Pierre Maranda) and Algirdas Greimas (as modified by Roland Barthes) and asserts that “reality is language” (37).
- Raid on the Articulate (1976) that juxtaposes sayings and parables of Jesus with works by the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. Tania Oldenhage speculates that Crossan’s book might be the “first instance of a biblical scholar trying to make Jesus’ stories speak to a post-Holocaust situation” (Parables for our Time: Rereading New Testament Scholarship after the Holocaust, 2002, 7).
- Finding is the First Act (1979) that examines the structures of the parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matt 13:44) by mapping out its plot options (finding, acting, buying) in comparison with other Jewish treasure stories and an array of “treasure plots” in world folklore.
- Cliffs of Fall (1980) that shares Jacques Derrida’s belief that all language is metaphoric. Metaphor creates a “void” of meaning that generates the free play of interpretations. Language thus is judged to be polyvalent; it allows no single and definitive reading/hearing to emerge. For Crossan, theology therefore must be seen as devoid of absolutes and of all pretense of knowing any secure reality by which to test other reality claims: “Parable becomes the deconstructive medium par excellence” (cf. the critique by Brown and Malbon, “Parabling as a Via Negativa”).
- Brief discussion of The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991); Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994); Who Killed Jesus? (1995); and, with Jonathan L. Reid, Excavating Jesus (2001). Crossan notes that he wrote about a million words about the historical Jesus in the 1990s alone.
The section thus concludes with an extended analysis of Crossan’s 2012 book, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus became Fiction about Jesus, where he proposes a threefold typology of parables—stories that “point metaphorically beyond themselves to some external referent that has to be discovered by their recipients” (136). The most accurate way to categorize the parables of Jesus, according to Crossan, are as challenge parables, “extremely gentle” provocations that are pedagogical and instructive, not primarily polemical and aggressive: “They want to seduce you into thought rather than beat you into silence and batter you into subjection” (137). All three types of parables—riddle, example, and challenge—are “participatory pedagogy,” but Jesus preferred challenge parables because they are nonviolent pedagogy, thus the medium of the message coheres with the content of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God (245), whereas riddle and example parables are more adversarial (136). The second section of Crossan’s book then argues that the four New Testament Gospels are actually parables told about Jesus, similar in function to the books of Ruth, Jonah, and Job in the Hebrew Bible (73–88).
I’ll write about the rest of Chapter 3 in the next post.
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Monday, February 22, 2021
I am assuming that the Good Samaritan relief mentioned in the novel Killing with Confetti is the monument to Fletcher Partis (d. 1820), who is depicted as the Good Samaritan in the relief pictured above. You can also see, as is most often the case, the priest and Levite walking away in the distance (with the animal looking at them with disgust/disappointment?).
For a few decades, as a break from my research and writing, I have tried to make time to read mystery novels. It started, actually, as part of my research into characterization theory and characterization in both ancient and modern literature that I began in the 1980s with my dissertation topic, the characterization of the Pharisees in Luke-Acts (which became my first book, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend). Some of that work made its way into the book; Sherlock Holmes, for example, makes an appearance.
I used other mystery novels in my work. When I taught a course in London in 1999 on Roman Britain, for example, my students read Lindsey Davis's Silver Pigs for fun, and she actually came to our class to discuss the novel (and expressed surprise that a college class would read her book). That book, set in the ancient Roman Empire led me to begin reading while in London Roman Blood by Steven Saylor, also set in ancient Rome, and I highly recommend the first five books in that series (Roma Sub Rosa).
Later, when living in Oxford (UK), I would stop by the used bookstore near our flat (in the Castle area; the bookstore is no longer there, unfortunately) to pick up old mystery paperbacks for just 3 pounds each. I of course read the entire Colin Dexter series about Detective Morse, set in Oxford as well as every one of Ian Rankin's Rebus novels (set in Edinburgh, one of my favorite cities) and P.D. James’s novels with Adam Dalgliesh.
While there, I also read an excellent article in The Sunday Times about mystery novels set outside of the UK, so I started reading such examples as Deadline in Athens by Petros Markaris (and many others set around the world). I also started reading every novel by Henning Mankell with Kurt Wallander (Sweden).
As far as U.S. mysteries, there are again too many to name, but I never miss a work by Walter Mosley. I recommend starting with the Easy Rawlins series.
I could mention many, many others, but needless to say not many of them incorporate the parables of Jesus.
Last weekend, though, I read Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey in his Peter Diamond series. I have read a few in this series--the setting in Bath is a definite plus--but this one incorporates the parable of the Good Samaritan.
It is minor and not worth serious investigation, but I found it amusing and clever.
Many of the events occur in the Roman Baths, but an early scene is set in the Bath Abbey. Diamond is there with two of his "superiors" in the police department, Deputy Chief Constable George Brace and Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore, to whom Diamond directly reports.
After Diamond and Dallymore enter the abbey, the narrator lets readers know about Diamond's religious beliefs, in contrast to ACC Dalymore's: "Diamond's religion was rugby and real ale" (79)
Then readers find out that Brace and Dallymore are forcing Diamond to do, in his official capacity, what amounts to a personal favor for Brace. As Brace and Dallymore press their case, Dallymore "stepped close to Diamond, uncomfortably close, pinning him against a relief of the Good Samaritan" (80).
As Brace and Dallymore inform Diamond of the situation, he becomes even more uncomfortable. Brace has a problem and has not yet explained what he wants Diamond to do. And here the narrator provides readers with Diamond's interior thoughts:
. . . Diamond thought, but why tell me? This didn't bode well. Standing so close to the Good Samaritan, he was mentally with the priest and the Levite who walked by (83).
Of course, since many of his readers would not be overly familiar with the parable, Lovesey provides the explanatory "who walked by."
Diamond is forced, however, to play the role of the Good Samaritan and, as is often the case, the result is to the chagrin of his boss(es).
It's Monday morning, though, so it's back to work.
Friday, February 19, 2021
Monday, February 15, 2021
|What Are They Saying About the Parables?|
Good news for those of you who use my What Are They Saying about the Parables? as a textbook: A second, revised and expanded version will be published in fall 2021. This second edition includes significant revisions of and additions to the original seven chapters as well as two entirely new chapters. The paperback is sold out at Paulist Press and is currently over $600 on Amazon! The Kindle version is $8.22.
My father loved parables—stories that taught, stories that presented ideas and morals in ways that made pictures in people’s minds...Because he believed stories were so important as teaching tools. – Octavia ButlerThe question to ask of pictures from the standpoint of poetics is not just what they mean or what they do but what they want—what claim they make upon us, and how we are to respond. – W. J. T. Mitchell
Friday, January 22, 2021
Delighted and honored that the new edition of my book, The Parables after Jesus: Their Imaginative Receptions across Two Millenia, now can be ordered via the publisher, Baylor University Press (and Amazon, etc.).
I am grateful to Cade Jarrell, BUP Managing Editor, the other members of the editorial team, and the University Press Committee for their enthusiastic "reception"of and support for this project. In particular, I am thankful for the excellent work of David Aycock, Jenny Hunt, Kasey McBeth, and Bethany Dickerson that culminated in the publication of this volume. The entire BUP team is truly impressive.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Here is part two of my recent article on how the parables of Jesus can be relevant for today: "The Domestication of Jesus's Parables" (Credo Magazine, December 30, 2020). The first part may be found here: “'Go and do Likewise': The Continuing Relevance of Jesus’s Parables” (Credo Magazine, November 13, 2020).
"The Calling of St. Matthew," Caravaggio
My author's copies of What Are They saying about the Parables? just arrived! It was a privilege to publish with Paulist Press again. ...
Good Samaritan mural, St. Catherine's Monastery (4th century) Can you find the Good Samaritan's "animal" (Luke 10:...
The Good Shepherd; Catacomb of Callixtus/Callisto Catacombs are underground cemeteries that contain numerous tombs, often consistin...
In a recent commentary for Fortune , I included the following: Jesus told a wealthy man to sell all his possessions and to give the pr...