Friday, December 24, 2021

Howard Thurman's "The Work of Christmas"


"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman’s poem, “The Work of Christmas” is my favorite Christmas poem. It provides a vision of a society informed by Jesus’s parable of the Sheep and Goats in the Gospel of Matthew and the biblical principle of hospitality:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.  

Thurman reminds us of how Jesus wants us to respond to our fellow human beings in ways that God demands and in ways that echo, as Jesus of Nazareth declared in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, how God loves and treats us. 

May we truly make "music in the heart" for others and therefore ourselves in 2022.

Monday, November 1, 2021

What are They saying about the Parables? (Chapter 4 , part 5): More contributions from Ruben Zimmermann

Zimmermann’s single-authored book, Puzzling the Parables of Jesus, introduces his “integrative method” to English-speaking audiences in order to bridge a perceived gap between parable scholarship in continental Europe (especially in Germany) and the United States and to map out a “postmodern hermeneutic” that integrates historical, literary, and reader-oriented approaches. As a result, Zimmermann offers several methodological challenges to both parable and historical Jesus scholarship.

The first five chapters of the book (Part I) introduce hermeneutical issues that face parable interpreters, including apparently contradictory aspects of Jesus’ parables (e.g., “Parables are incomprehensible in order to lead to comprehension”; 6). Zimmermann’s “hermeneutical approach” endeavors to explore the dynamic interaction of the historical author, text, and readers, and he declares that “meaning is constituted in and through their reciprocal engagement” (11). 

Chapter 2 gives an overview of parable research categorized in three arenas: historical approaches, literary approaches, and reader-oriented and theological approaches, and the following three chapters provide detailed analyses of each one. In Chapter 3 on historical methods (57–103), for example, Zimmermann concludes that the best approach is the “memory paradigm” that focuses on the “remembered Jesus” in the Gospels, since the “historical Jesus” is inaccessible (87). Zimmermann argues that genres have a tradition-creating function, a community-creating function, and a meaning-creating function, so these aspects open up a new mode of investigation of the Gospels as “different written artifacts of a memory process” (88). This new approach also emphasizes, through its inclusion of the “meaning-creating function” of parables, the necessity of a focus on “the contemporary applicability of parables” (96). The goal of “parable understanding,” Zimmermann concludes, is the “binding of the entire person to Jesus and his message”: “parables want to lead us to faith or more concretely, to a life of belief in Jesus” (98). 

Part II of the book begins with a brief chapter describing Zimmermann’s “integrative method” of parable analysis that offers a “methodological guideline” for parable interpretation (183). Since each source for the parables is a “memory text that has remembered and preserved a version of Jesus’ parables” and since the “macro-text in which the parable is embedded plays an important role in interpretation,” rather than analyzing parables in categories, Zimmermann examines them in the contexts of the sources in which they have been transmitted (189). 

Subsequent chapters demonstrate how this approach works in practice in specific texts and their contexts: the Lost Sheep in Q (211–36), Mustard Seed in Mark (237–59), Ten Virgins in Matthew (261–92), Good Samaritan in Luke (293–331), Dying and Rising Grain in John (333–60), and Empty Jar in Thomas (361–92). 

As I analyze in detail in What Are They Saying about the Parables?, Zimmermann’s “integrative and open model” is well illustrated by his analysis of the Good Samaritan (cf. his chapter in the Kompendium, 538–55). I also argue that, although Zimmermann’s analysis of the Good Samaritan includes significant insights, more integrative work is needed. For example, the contrast between the teachings of Jesus and other first-century Jews is not as great as Zimmermann sometimes implies (e.g., “Jesus opens up a completely new scope of questions concerning ethics”—although Zimmermann also notes that it “is part of the Jewish ethos”). The use of a Samaritan as a “neighbor” may be shocking, but it is a further reflection on the Jewish scripture that the lawyer quotes and Jesus affirms: Leviticus 19:34 gives the same command to love the “alien” as it does to love one’s “neighbor” that the lawyer cites and Jesus affirms (Lev 19:18). When Jesus includes the Samaritan as a “neighbor,” he takes one more distinctive step down the path already blazed by Jewish Scriptures. 

In addition, any attempt to make the parables of a first-century Galilean Jew relevant for contemporary Christians should try, as best it can, to avoid the “peril” of domesticating Jesus’ message—ignoring his radical message and social critique—and the “peril” of modernizing Jesus anachronistically. The challenge is to modernize Jesus and his message authentically to make them more relevant, not to domesticate Jesus—a first-century, poor, Galilean Jewish prophet of an oppressed people—or anachronize his radical message. For example, Zimmermann correctly rejects the interpretation of the Good Samaritan as only applying to “individual ethics” (326) but also suggests that the parable’s characterization of the Samaritan and the innkeeper may lead interpreters to “conclude that the ethos of the individual is protected by social and institutional insurance systems” (327). For example, Zimmermann argues that the Samaritan’s injunctions to the innkeeper about repaying him can be interpreted as approval of the idea of “working with fiscal deficits” (328). Such a reading minimizes the vastly different religious and political systems between the first century and ours. In practice, then, Zimmermann’s interpretation of the parable can emphasize its polyvalent nature more than the guiding nature of its socio-historical contexts.

The next post will give an overall evaluation of Zimmermann's contribution to parable studies.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

What are They saying about the Parables? (Chapter 4 , part 4): Contributions from Ruben Zimmermann (edited works)


Ruben Zimmermann's "Integrative Approach” to Parables (summarized from Chapter 4 of WATSA Parables?)

Ruben Zimmermann has published a plethora of studies on the parables over the past two decades, including three co-edited volumes and one authored book. The first of these volumes, the 1101-page Kompendium der Glechnisse Jesu (Compendium of the Parables of Jesus), is the result of a two-year project with forty-seven contributors. The volume examines 104 texts that, according to their working definition, are “parables” (25–28): (1) a short narratival, (2) fictional (3) text that is realistic in that it tells of plausible events or experiences in the world (sie erzählt von der erlebbaren Welt), (4) but which indicates through implicit and explicit “transfer signals” that the meaning of the narrative must be differentiated from the literal wording of the text, and that (5) in its appeal structure or dimension, (6) challenges readers to carry out a “metaphoric transfer of meaning” (einen metaphorischen Bedeutungstransfer) that is guided by “co- and contextual information” (25). 

The Kompendium consists of seven main sections that examine parables in: the Q source (49–254; Mark (257–382); Matthew (385–509); Luke (513–695), John (699–847; e.g., “Jesus as the new Temple”); parables found in the Gospel of Thomas that have no parallels in Matthew, Mark, or Luke (851–93); fifteen parables found in the Agrapha (literally, “unwritten [things]”), purported sayings and deeds of Jesus that are not written in the Gospels but are found in other New Testament texts (e.g. Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”) or additional early Christian writings (“Be skillful money-changers,” Agraphon 31). 

Although the definition of parable used in this volume is too expansive—not all figurative sayings qualify as parables (e.g., Mark 7:27)—the Kompendium is a significant milestone in parable scholarship and a tremendous resource for interpreters of the parables (and other related texts). 

The essays in the book, Hermeneutik der Gleichnisse Jesu, also stem from papers presented during the conferences on parables out of which the Kompendium came. This volume focuses primarily on theories and methods of interpretation—with contributors who have different perspectives on parables and their interpretation—and it is more explicitly in dialogue with North American parable research. 

After three introductory essays (e.g., proposing an “integrative parable hermeneutic,” 3–24, and a review of parable research, 25–51), the volume’s essays are grouped into three categories: (1) historical and socio-historical perspectives that include notable essays on parables and memory research by Zimmermann and Karl-Heinrich Ostmeyer (cf. Ostmeyer’s essay on the Prodigal Son in the Kompendium, 610–17); (2) perspectives on tradition and redaction that incorporate insights from research on parables in Jewish traditions by Andreas Schüle (205–16) and Catherine Hezser (217–37) and Greek rhetoric by Zimmermann (238–58); (3) linguistic and literary perspectives that include essays on using parable as a means of categorization (“Parabeln – sonst nichts!” by Zimmermann, 383–419) and allegory, allegorical interpretation, and allegorization and the parables (by Kurt Erlemann, 482–93); (4) aesthetic responses and theological interpretations of parables, such as Eckart Reinmuth’s “Vom Sprachereignis zum Kommunikationsereignis” (“From Speech Event to Communication Event,” 541–57); Stefan Alkier’s “Himmel und Hölle” (“Heaven and Hell,” 588–602), which uses the parable of the Fishnet (Matt 13:47–50) to argue that the message of the parable is incomplete if it is interpreted as an “autonomous work of art” or as an isolated speech event rather than in its particular context; and Mary Ann Beavis’s reflections on the “parable” of the Woman with Seven Husbands (Mark 12:20–23)—an exemplary story that portrays the woman “as a paragon of virtue who marries the seven brothers in obedience to the law of Moses” (616) but is “somewhat disturbing” to modern (feminist) readers (617). 

The volume Metaphor, Narrative, and Parables in Q includes an Introduction by Zimmermann (3–30) and fifteen essays—ten in English and five in German—in three sections that explore, respectively, “Metaphor in Q” (31–137), “Narrative in Q” (139–252), and “Parables in Q” (253–396). Sarah Rollens’s chapter is especially notable because of its use of relevant documentary papyri “to flesh out the meaning of metaphors and concepts” of justice and injustice that Q uses in its attempt to persuade its audience (93–113; cf. John Kloppenborg, “The Parable of the Burglar in Q: Insights from Papyrology,” 287–306; Erin Vearncombe, “Searching for a Lost Coin: Papyrological Backgrounds for Q 15,8–10,” 307–37). 

In sum, Metaphor, Narrative, and Parables in Q, continues and extends the discussions begun in the Kompendium and Hermeneutik and provides additional avenues of investigation for the study of Q as well.

The next post will examine Zimmermann's single-authored book, Puzzling the Parables of Jesus.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Hot off the press!: Author's copies of What Are They saying about the Parables?

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, July 23, 2021

The Stations of the Cross by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Station 7 
of The Stations of the Cross
by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

One work of art on which I am writing for The Virtual Commentary on Scripture (King's College, London) is from The Stations of the Cross by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. As he says in his 1980 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: [The life and teachings of Jesus show the way] “to achieve by nonviolent struggle the abolition of injustice and the attainment of a more just and humane society for all.” The image above is Station 7. The entire Stations of the Cross may be found here.

Pérez Esquivel’s Stations of the Cross reflects on Jesus’s death and connects his suffering with contemporary Latin American people suffering from colonialism, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, economic inequality, and other oppression—including torture, imprisonment, and death.

These contexts mirror the oppression of the Jewish people during the time in which Jesus lived, taught, and was martyred.

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 

The conclusion that the parabolic tradition contains bedrock authentic sayings of Jesus has been foundational in New Testament scholarship. Even historical Jesus scholars less confident in the authenticity of Jesus traditions accepted the basic authenticity of the parables in their reconstructions of the teachings of Jesus. The Jesus Seminar, for example, agreed that Jesus primarily taught in aphorisms and parables, that parables were distinctive creations of Jesus, and, as a result, have “certain distinguishing marks.” In the end, members of the Seminar voted for the basic authenticity of twenty-one of the thirty-three parables on which they deliberated (see my WATSA Historical Jesus? for details). 

In his fifth volume in his series of books entitled, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, John P. Meier challenges the consensus that scholars should use the Synoptic parables as foundational elements of the Jesus tradition to reconstruct the teachings of the historical Jesus. For Meier, historical Jesus means “the Jesus whom we can recover, recapture, or reconstruct by using the scientific tools of modern historical research” (I:1). These “criteria of authenticity” include the criteria of embarrassment, discontinuity (dissimilarity), multiple attestation, coherence, and rejection and execution. Other secondary criteria, such as traces of Aramaic, Palestinian environment, and vividness of narrative, are much more problematic and should only be used to reinforce impressions gained from the five primary criteria. 

Meier’s views on the parables’ authenticity changed over the course of writing these volumes. In his first volume, he concludes that parables play a significant role in Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom, and, in his second volume, Meier is confident in the parables’ basic authenticity: “That parables were a privileged form of Jesus’ teaching is a fact accepted by almost all questers for the historical Jesus...The abundance of parables in the Synoptic tradition, distributed among all the sources, plus the absence of equally deft, artistic parables elsewhere in the NT, argues well for the origin of many—though not all—of the Gospel parables in Jesus’ teaching” (II:145). Meier argues that Jesus’ powerful preaching and teaching, especially the riddle-like parables, confronted his listeners with a kingdom of God that challenged their present ways of thinking and living. Through the parables, people experienced the kingdom as present in their everyday lives (II:1043). 

Meier offers a much different perspective on the parables in his fifth volume, where he challenges the “free pass” most scholarship gives the authenticity of the parables (xii). A crucial factor for Meier’s conclusions about the authenticity of the parables is his decision that the Gospel of Thomas does not represent an earlier, independent tradition of Jesus’ parables (44–47). This elimination of the Gospel of Thomas as an independent witness is devastating to Meier’s ability to demonstrate the authenticity of Jesus’ parables because of the importance of the criterion of multiple attestation to his approach (e.g., no parable found only in Matthew, Mark, or Luke can meet the criterion of multiple attestation). 

In the fifth volume, subtitled Probing the Authenticity of the Parables, Meier argues that relatively few parables attributed to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels can be authenticated with a good degree of probability (48). In fact, after applying “thorough testing,” Meier concludes that only four parables can be determined to derive from the historical Jesus: Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30–32; Matt 13:31–32; Luke 13:18–19; Thomas 20), Wicked/Evil Tenants (Mark 12:1–11; Matt 21:33–43; Luke 20:9–18; Thomas 65), Talents/Pounds (Matt 25:14–30; Luke 19:12–27), and Great Supper (Matt 22:2–14; Luke 14:16–24; Thomas 64). 

Only the parable of the Mustard Seed is clearly attested in multiple independent sources (The “Mark-Q overlap”), and it also passes the criterion of coherence, since it “fits perfectly with the eschatological message” of the prophet Jesus (239–40). The criterion of embarrassment suggests the authenticity of the Wicked Tenants (210). The cases of the Great Supper and the Talents/Pounds are more “muddled” (253), but Meier judges them to be created by Jesus because, in his view, they are not from the source Q shared by Matthew and Luke; instead they are multiply attested in the independent sources M and L (278). 

Meier notes that just because a parable cannot be determined as authentic by his criteria does not necessarily mean that it was not created by the historical Jesus. Since Meier, however, does not use those words and deeds he considers to be non liquet (not clear either way) to reconstruct his historical Jesus, his conclusion that just four parables can be definitively attributed to Jesus leads him to decide that parables can play only a marginal role in reconstructing the message of Jesus of Nazareth. 

Like other historical-critical approaches, Meier’s methodology cannot overcome the inherent limitations of the criteria of authenticity. Meier is especially dependent on the criterion of multiple attestation, so the decisions scholars make about source theories (e.g., Markan priority) determine in which direction a long line of dominos of (in)authenticity fall. Can multiple attestation, dissimilarity, and other criteria of authenticity give us adequate reconstructions of Jesus? Even Meier admits that the application of these criteria is “more art than science” (V:19), and, as Steve Bryan notes, many of Meier’s historical judgments could “easily go the other way.”

Ironically, one impact of Meier’s A Marginal View series is to illustrate the limitations of the historical methods he employs, and to shift more attention to scholars who rely on other approaches, such as ones who incorporate contemporary cognitive studies of memory (e.g., Dale Allison’s “communal memory”). Some recent parable studies have followed this path, as illustrated, for example, in the work of Ruben Zimmermann, whose work I will discuss in the next post.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Evan Christensen's "Virtual Museum" Reception History Website

"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. 

Evan created the website for one of the assignments in the parables class that he took with Dr. Vitalis Hoffman. In that class, students select a parable on which to focus, and one of the assignments is to provide a “re-presentation” of receptions relating to or interacting with the parable. 

Evan chose the Rich Man and Lazarus parable (Luke 16.19–31) and created this virtual museum of media artefacts that effectively presents differing receptions of the parable from which we can learn. Check it out here.

I am grateful for Evan’s excellent work. I love his inclusion, for example, of the Golden Gospels of Echternach, James Janknegt, Martin Luther King, Jr. (“The Impassible Gulf” sermon), Nigel Lawrence, Jose Arana (Solentiname), Laura Jeanne Grimes, Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt,” and many others (I’m still pondering David Bowie’s music video, “Lazarus”). 

Take a look for yourself. There are many ways to talk about the importance of this type of work that Evan does here and how much we can learn from it. Four of the ways I have mentioned already on this blog include: 
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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). 
Reception history like that encouraged by Dr. Vitalis Hoffman and accomplished by Evan Christensen helps to overcome these shortcomings and to remove exegetical blinders from interpreters, especially when such diverse voices from various perspectives are included in the conversations. 

Congratulations to Evan for his great work--I learned a lot from it--and best wishes for his future endeavors!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Initial Page Proofs of WATSA Parables?

Delighted to have received the initial page proofs for the revised and expanded second edition of What Are They Saying About the Parables? The volume will appear this fall, at least before the annual meeting of Society of Biblical Literature in November.

After corrections are made in the initial proofs, I will then receive a copy of the final page proofs and create the indices. The first volume only had a Scripture Index, but it's clear that I need to add a Index of Names to the volume as well, because there are a large number of additional scholars whom I discuss/cite in this volume.

I have a couple other posts to do before I resume the summary of the chapters of this new edition.  

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) 

The second section of this chapter, The Parables and Jesus’ “Intention,” focuses primarily on Klyne Snodgrass’s Stories with Intent, now in its second edition. Snodgrass states that interpreters should strive to understand the “intent of Jesus to his contemporaries—his disciples and fellow Jews”—and then “appropriate” Jesus’ messages in the parables in our current contexts for “people who are ready to learn and follow his instruction” (2–3). Snodgrass argues that Jesus’ parables presuppose and seek to disclose the kingdom of God: to explain the kingdom, demonstrate God’s character, and elucidate God’s expectations for human beings to believe and act (3). In most cases, Snodgrass concludes: “a parable is an expanded analogy used to convince and persuade” (9, emphasis his).

Snodgrass describes eleven characteristics of Jesus’ parables (17–22):
  • 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. 
Not all parables work the same way, and gospel authors have distinctive redactional tendencies, so, Snodgrass cautions, each parable should be analyzed separately to determine its meaning, how it functions, and how it calls its readers to respond. 

Snodgrass then offers guidelines or “regular practices” for how to interpret individual parables (24–31). Interpreters should, as much as possible, set aside their presuppositions and analyze each parable thoroughly. Snodgrass’s goal is the communicative intent of Jesus, so he urges interpreters to seek to hear a parable as Jesus uttered it in the oral culture of his first-century Palestinian audience. In Snodgrass’s view, not only are the parables “the surest bedrock we have of Jesus’ teaching” (31), but the gospels are also generally reliable guides to the contexts of the parables in the ministry of Jesus. Therefore, interpreters should examine the redactional “shaping” of each parable and how it fits into each author’s plan and purpose before determining “specifically the function of the story in the teaching of Jesus” (26). The major issue is to ascertain how the analogy of the parable works, including where to start and where to end (e.g., not all elements of a parable mean or correspond to something). Finally, interpreters should strive to determine the theological intent and significance of the parable, including where the parable intersects with other teachings of Jesus: “If you cannot validate the teaching you think is in the parable from nonparabolic material elsewhere in the Gospels, you are almost certainly wrong” (30). 

The book devotes over five hundred pages to exploring thirty-three parables grouped into nine categories, and Snodgrass follows a roughly similar format in his analyses (see his book or WATSA Parables? for details). 

Snodgrass’s Stories with Intent is a significant contribution to parable scholarship, a comprehensive guide to the interpretation of these thirty-three parables, and a mandatory component of any exploration of the parables of Jesus. One limitation in his approach—despite his reservations about the ideological points of view of other modern interpreters (e.g., social scientific and feminist interpretations)—is that Snodgrass underestimates the fact that all decisions on approach and methodology, including his, are ideological decisions. He is a modern interpreter reading the parables in their gospel contexts and (optimistically) reconstructing both the historical Jesus and Jesus’ first-century Palestinian audience from those contexts. Thus it would be more helpful to consider not only important primary sources but also additional cultural, social, and other contexts of the first-century Mediterranean world. For example, Snodgrass’s interpretations of such parables as the Rich Fool would be enhanced by incorporating dynamics of economic oppression of the non-elites by the elites in the first century. This perspective of those with their “backs against the wall” is reflected in a significant proportion of the teachings of Jesus, not just the parables (see Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited). Snodgrass argues that these social and cultural insights assume “that the concerns of these stories are not theology but political and economic oppression” (585), and therefore he does not fully appreciate that these aspects are not mutually exclusive; they are integrally related in the teachings of the Jewish prophet Jesus of Nazareth, as they were in earlier Jewish prophets. 

The next post will discuss more of Chapter 4 of WATSA Parables?, including the focus on the parables of the historical Jesus by the Jesus Seminar, John Meier, and others.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Chapter 4 (totally new chapter!) of revised/expanded What are They Saying about the Parables, Chapter 4 (part 1)

What are They Saying about the Parables (second edition), 
Chapter 4: The Parables of Jesus in/and the Gospels: 
The Dialogues Continue (Part 1: Arland Hultgren) 


Parable scholarship consists of diverse and sometimes diametrically opposed points of view. Diversity, however, is not chaos. Parable scholarship can best be described as heteroglossia, which the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin describes as the dynamic interaction of a number of voices, ideologies, and positions (see Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination). Scholars speak in various discourses, from different perspectives, and using diverse approaches. Yet Bakhtin’s dialogical perspective, even though heteroglossia contains voices that can contradict each other (262–63), also can include polyphony, where many contesting voices representing a variety of ideological positions engage as equals in dialogue (see Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, 6–7). Similar to the concept of heteroglossia, the term polyphony—in all of its profoundly pluralistic aspects—is certainly analogous to current parable scholarship. Such divergent voices are essential, because, as Bakhtin notes, “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” (Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, 110. Cf. David B. Gowler, “Heteroglossic Trends in Biblical Studies: Polyphonic Dialogues or Clanging Cymbals,” Review and Expositor 97:4 (2000): 443–66). 

That search for truth in parable scholarship continues, and scholars have made significant progress in recent years, for example, in placing parables more firmly in their Jewish, Hellenistic-Roman, and social contexts. Those aspects are covered in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of What are They saying about the Parables? In addition, although scholarly works since 2000 are discussed in every chapter of this book, this new chapter (Chapter 4) analyzes recent discussions that exemplify a continuing focus on familiar topics: whether, to what extent, or how Synoptic parables should be interpreted as parables from the historical Jesus. It also is different in that a smaller number of scholars and their recent books/articles are examined in greater depth. 

The first section of this chapter, In the Shadow of Jeremias: The Synoptic Parables of Jesus for the Church, focuses primarily on Arland Hultgren’s The Parables of Jesus. This book seeks to fill a void that Hultgren saw within parable scholarship, namely, “a study of the parables that is comprehensive, drawing upon the wealth of parable research, and that is at the same time exegetical and theological” (xi). Hultgren thus primarily interprets the parables of Jesus “within the Christian church” and for proclamation in the church (17), an aspect central to Christian theology and experience, since parables are Jesus’ principal mode of teaching (1). 

In Hultgren’s view, Jesus’ parables have universal appeal as stories that connect with the “human condition,” but they also have been “preserved, taught, and interpreted in the preaching of the church precisely because they are parables of Jesus, regarded as the crucified and resurrected Redeemer.” The parables, then, must be interpreted as communicating Jesus’ distinctive experience, understanding, and proclamation of God’s kingdom (11–12). Although discerning the “original setting” of the parables in Jesus’ ministry is extremely difficult, Hultgren does not want to abandon this historical task completely. Yet since he seeks to interpret the parables of Jesus in the context and proclamation of the Christian church, he advocates examining them in their literary contexts in the (canonical) gospels, not in light of the “Jesus of one’s construction” (17) or “within a preconceived notion” of how Jesus “really” used parables. His main goal remains the exegesis of and theological reflection on “the parables of Jesus as transmitted within the Synoptic Gospels” (19). 

Hultgren’s interpretations are often insightful, and he includes significant discussions of parables’ first-century contexts and the resulting implications for how modern readers should understand the parables. His important exegesis of Matthew’s “Final Judgment” (25:31–46), for example, cogently argues that the judgment portrayed is universal—“all of humanity stands before the Son of man awaiting judgment” (313)—and that the acts of mercy to “one of the least of these my brothers and sisters” means helping any person in need (pace interpretations that argue it designates helping Christians in need, such as early Christian missionaries; 317–26). 

Yet Hultgren’s interpretations sometimes appear to domesticate Jesus’ more provocative parables. For example, he tends to downplay the economic contexts of parables such as the Rich Fool (104–9) and the Rich Man and Lazarus (110–16). Jesus’ parables tend to step on his listeners’ toes harder than Hultgren often allows. 

The next post (Part 2 of Chapter 4) will discuss the section of this chapter, The Parables and Jesus’ “Intention,” that focuses primarily on the second edition of Klyne Snodgrass’s Stories with Intent.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Hope and Despair in Rembrandt's 'The Good Samaritan'

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.

To be clear, the parable does not focus on what should happen to the perpetrators of such injustices, whether individual or structural; instead, it illustrates how one should treat the victims of injustices, no matter who they are.

The great theologian Howard Thurman believed that the parable of the good Samaritan demonstrated that the transformation of society ultimately depends on the transformation of individual human beings and that this personal transformation should create not just transformed individuals but a community of like-minded human beings (e.g., a "beloved community") dedicated to social transformation in response to the human need that surrounds them.

In times of personal and societal distress, it is often difficult to believe, as did Theodore Parker (and Martin Luther King Jr.) that the arc of the moral universe, albeit long, "bends toward justice." Thurman realized that the pervasiveness of injustice does not provide an "escape hatch" of despair that one's actions will not make a difference in creating a better society. He believed that there is a persistent struggle between good and evil, both in oneself and in society, and that all are responsible for acts of justice, mercy and compassion in the world of parable and in the world in which we live.

The command at the end of the parable, to go and do likewise, to show compassion and mercy to those who suffer injustices, focuses our attention on the need to transform ourselves into people who work actively on the behalf of other human beings who suffer similar injustices, doing our part to try to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

The parable of the good Samaritan and Rembrandt's response to it accurately portray the injustices in their worlds and ours. They also do not downplay the fact that the results of one's actions to assist other human beings may be seen as foolhardy or even fruitless. Yet we will never know, unless, as Jesus urged at the end of the parable, and as Thurman himself suggested, that we "try it and see."

Not bad advice from Jesus ("Go and do likewise") and Thurman ("Try it and see"). 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Chapter 3 of the second edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables? (Part 2)


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? (Part 1)

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. 
Additions to the second edition of WATSA Parables? includes that fact that, as Crossan notes in his autobiography, A Long Way from Tipperary (2000), the word parable is also constitutive for all of Crossan’s work on the historical Jesus and earliest Christianity. He argues that when Jesus wanted to say something important about God, he did so through a parable, and when the church wanted to say something important about Jesus, they too used parables: “the parabler had become parabled” (168). Crossan believes that the earliest followers of Jesus created “parables” about Jesus (136). For example, the nature miracles described in the gospels “scream parable” at Crossan; not history, not miracle, but parable: “They were not historical stories about Jesus’ power over natural forces, but parabolical stories about Jesus’ power over community leaders” (167). 

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

Chapter 2 of the second (revised and expanded) edition of What are They Saying about the Parables

Chapter 2 of the second edition of What are They Saying about the Parables, The Emergence of Literary Approaches to the Parables, is also significantly revised but not as extensively as the later revised chapters. This chapter covers the “seismic shift” in parable study that began in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. 

At the forefront of these creative innovations, and in the middle of those often tempestuous discussions, stood Amos Wilder and Aesthetic-Rhetorical Criticism, beginning with his chapter on the parables in The Language of the Gospel. The chapter is only eighteen pages long, but it established the parameters for discussions for years to come. For example, influenced by contemporary literary-critical discussions of metaphor, particularly the work of the poet and literary critic Ezra Pound, Wilder contends that a metaphor imparts an “image with a certain shock to the imagination which directly conveys a vision of what is signified” (80). The hearer participates in this reality and is, in fact, “invaded” by it (92). 

Wilder is concerned with the historical Jesus, and this can be seen in his discussion about the parables of the kingdom (90–96). Standing on the shoulders of Dodd and Jeremias, Wilder argues that the parables must be extricated from their gospel contexts, and that the “original form” must be reconstructed (90). He does not offer a program for recovering the original parables but asserts that true parables of Jesus have a “tight form” that resists change (cf. the “communal memory” of Dale Allison and the “memory paradigm” of Ruben Zimmermann that I discuss in chapter 4 of this book). 

The section, The Parable as Metaphor, investigates how Robert Funk entered the metaphorical door opened by Wilder and furthered the study of parables as narrative metaphors by focusing not on parable as direct communication about something, but as a language event that reshaped the world of the listener to the point where a judgment was necessary about the everyday world. Thus, like Wilder, Funk stressed the “secularity” of the parables and studied the function of poetic language, as well as the formal features of the parables (e.g., in a chapter entitled “The Parable as Metaphor” in his book Language, Hermeneutic, and the Word of God). In Funk’s view parable/metaphor juxtaposes two discrete and not entirely compatible elements. This juxtaposition is “creative of meaning” and induces a vision that “cannot be conveyed by prosaic or discursive speech” (137). The metaphor confronts us; it produces an impact upon the imagination; it is the bearer of reality. This move is a crucial one, because Funk completely reverses the conclusion of Jülicher by saying that similes/parables are extended metaphors and are not extended comparisons (I also discuss other books/articles about parables and metaphors here and in a later chapter). 

The section, The Parable as Aesthetic Object, begins a discussion with Dan Otto Via’s investigations of parables as “aesthetic objects,” which leads to an analysis, The Varying Legacies of Wilder, Funk, and Via that discusses such scholars as Sallie McFague (e.g., Speaking in Parables), Mary Ann Tolbert (e.g., Perspectives on the Parables), and James Breech (e.g., The Silence of Jesus: The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man). 

The Brief Reign of Structuralism covers, for example, the Society of Biblical Literature’s Seminar on the Parables, whose first meeting in 1973 focused on “A Structuralist Approach to the Parables.” A prime example is Dan Otto Via’s 1974 Semeia article, “Parable and Example Story: A Literary-Structuralist Approach” that adopts the structuralist model of Algirdas Greimas, as developed by Roland Barthes 

The Conclusion to this chapter notes that these scholars who had begun to focus on parables as literary works of art, saw the parables in a different light. Amos Wilder and Robert Funk, for example, reversed Jülicher’s contention that similes/parables are expanded comparisons by arguing that parables are extended metaphors. Another important shift occurred, however. Although these scholars, as previous scholars had done, almost always remove parables from their gospel contexts and use tools of historical criticism to recreate their “original forms,” they now also primarily use literary criticism to try to understand parables’ natural function as language in the new setting of modern interpretations. Thus new methods and skills, such as linguistic and structural emphases, are applied within these literary analyses and interpretations. But, as other chapters in the book make clear, much about the language of and about the parables themselves remained to be explored.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Good Samaritan in Peter Lovesey's Killing with Confetti

Bath Abbey, monument to Fletcher Partis died 1820, depicted as the Good Samaritan

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

Chapter 1 of the revised expanded edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables?

Chapter 1: Historical-Critical Approaches to the Parables 

Chapter 1 of the revised expanded edition, although it is the least revised of the seven original chapters, still contains some significant additions. The section on Adolf Jülicher’s Die Gleichnisreden Jesu is greatly expanded, since most people do not have access, in one way or another, to this still-untranslated work. 

Although I could have begun with earlier scholars. I decided to start with Jülicher, since my The Parables after Jesus covers people before him and since modern historical-critical approaches essentially (in earnest) begin with him. Although his categories and aspects of his approach have now been superseded, many of his discussions still influence current debates (e.g., whether to distinguish between the parables of the historical Jesus and the parables as they are found in the Synoptic Gospels, how to handle allegorical elements/interpretations, etc.). 

The chapter includes a section on Historical-Eschatological Approaches, such as found in C. H. Dodd’s The Parables of the Kingdom, B. T. D. Smith’s The Parables of the Synoptic Gospels, and the work of Joachim Jeremias. Like with Jülicher’s work—and all others covered in this book—I assess the strengths, weaknesses, and contributions of these scholars. 

The next major section covers Redaction-Critical Approaches, including the important work of Jack Kingsbury’s redactional study of the parables in Matthew 13 and Charles Carlston’s The Parables of the Triple Tradition. Redaction criticism made many advances, but despite its productive move back toward the texts, it still focuses primarily on the gospel authors, or, more specifically, on the author’s specific historical situation behind what is supposedly reflected by the text—such as Kingsbury’s detailed theory of the close interaction of Matthew’s “community” with “Pharisaic Judaism.” I would argue, however, that such specific historical reconstructions, whether of events in the ministry of Jesus (e.g., Dodd, Jeremias) or of situations in the communities of the evangelists (e.g., Kingsbury), attempt to peer through the murky window clouded by the processes of communication. Ideology, cultural and social locations, and many other factors distance us from the authors’ particular historical situations. Our hypothetical reconstructions are complicated by the tendentious nature of the primary sources themselves. We should approach these reconstructions with appreciation, but also with mature skepticism and critical acumen. 

The chapter then discusses Parables and the New Hermeneutic, including Ernst Fuchs (with a background discussion of the approach taken by his teacher, Rudolf Bultmann and the work of Martin Heidegger), one of the leaders of the “New Quest” of the historical Jesus (For an overview of the New Quest, see David B. Gowler, What Are They Saying About the Historical Jesus? (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 18–30). As Fuchs states very clearly: “I am convinced that the question of the immediate meaning of Jesus for us cannot be answered apart from the question of the ‘historical’ Jesus” (Studies of the Historical Jesus (Naperville, IL: A. R. Allenson, 1964), 7). 

Fuchs is not talking about “facts” in the sense of specific historical events in the life and ministry of Jesus. Instead, this New Quest is aided and abetted by the “New Hermeneutic”: parables are “language events” in which Jesus’ understanding of his own existence, situation, and faith “enters language,” and his understanding of existence is still available for us to share. The faith of Jesus, the “resolute decision” he made for God and God’s kingdom, comes to us today through the language event of parables. The literary form of the parables promotes this performative aspect: They function primarily as similitudes—as analogies or indirect speech—in that their point of comparison (between, for example, the kingdom of God and the story told in a parable) can enable the faith journey of Jesus to become that of the believer. 

This section also discusses in detail the early work of one of Fuchs’s students, Eta Linnemann, who wrote a book on the parables that, according to Fuchs, made this complex approach “completely intelligible.”: Eta Linnemann, Jesus of the Parables: Introduction and Exposition (London: SPCK, 1966). Linnemann explains that a parable is a form of communication, a dialogue between narrator and listener. As such, it is an urgent endeavor, because the narrator wants to do much more than just impart information. The teller of a parable wants to influence the other person, to win agreement, to force a decision in a particular, concrete historical situation. The parable is the means of overcoming any resistance the hearer might have. 

To a certain extent, both Fuchs and Linnemann retain an interest in a historical understanding of the text. In addition, they see the parables as either the medium for conveying Jesus’ understanding of the world (Fuchs) or as Jesus’ verbal bridge to his opponents (Linnemann). The practitioners of the New Hermeneutic, though, despite their concern for literary form and language, did not adequately examine the literary aspects of the parables. Though their stress on the hearer of the parable was indeed a step forward, in their interest to respond to questions of contemporary existence they (re)expressed the parables in existentialist terms and used the dominant model of the sermon. What remained undone was the construction of a literary method that would serve as a more solid foundation for examining parables as parables. That literary path would be blazed by such scholars as Amos Wilder, Dan Via, Robert Funk, and John Dominic Crossan. 

The next post will cover chapter 2 of the revised, expanded edition of What Are They Saying about the Parables? in which I analyze the works of these and other scholars.

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman   Howard Thurman’s poem, “The Work of Christmas” is my favorite Christmas poem, and I p...