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.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Revised and Expanded What Are They Saying about the Parables?

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. 

I’ll talk about what’s in each chapter in a series of posts, but here is the new Table of Contents: 

Preface to the Second Edition 
Introduction to the First Edition 
1. Historical-Critical Approaches to the Parables
2. The Emergence of Literary Approaches to the Parables
3. Fully Developed Literary Approaches to the Parables 
4. The Parables of Jesus in/and the Synoptic Gospels: The Dialogues Continue (NEW)
5. The Parables and Their Jewish Contexts
6. The Parables and Their Hellenistic Contexts
7. The Parables and Their Social Contexts
8. From Simile and Metaphor to Symbol and Emblematic Language 
9. What do Parables Want?: Receptions and Ethical Applications (NEW)
Select Bibliography
Scripture Index 

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 Butler 

The 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 

Much has changed in the more than two decades since the first edition of this book appeared. Parable scholarship continues to be a dynamic area of New Testament research, and a number of important studies were published and significant developments have occurred during those years. Jesus’ parables, these simple but profound stories, continue to challenge us, and, even after many readings, continue to reveal new insights. 

Not surprisingly, parable scholarship remains fascinating, and this book explores three distinct but inter-related components of parable interpretation, all of which are connected to the quotes from Butler and Mitchell above. 

First, since parables are teaching tools, parable scholars endeavor to determine what parables mean. I argue that, as a dialogic process, the emphasis should instead be on understanding. 

Second, scholars seek to discover what parables do or how parables work, how they produce meaning/understanding, such as the literary or rhetorical ways in which they seek to communicate and persuade. A critical component, as Octavia Butler puts it, is how they create “pictures in people’s minds,” which is not surprising, since, as C. H. Dodd states, Jesus’ parables “are the natural expression of the mind that sees truth in concrete pictures rather than conceives it in abstractions.” How are we to understand the “pictures” these parables create in our minds? 

Third, insightful interpreters explore what parables —or the pictures they create—want of us. Parables make demands on their hearers/readers; they have ethical implications. Their goal is not just to persuade people to see the world, God, themselves, or other human beings in strikingly new ways; parables also demand that their hearers/readers respond in concrete actions by putting those new or changed perceptions into practice in their everyday lives. 

As noted above, the seven existing chapters were significantly revised and two new chapters were added. The first new chapter (chapter 4) focuses on major recent books with differing understandings of the parables and the historical Jesus, the authenticity of the parables, and whether to interpret parables in their gospel contexts. The second new chapter (chapter 9) broadens the discussions by highlighting studies that focus on what parables want, first by introducing a discipline that only recently has come into prominence—reception history of the Bible—and second by including additional studies that explore practical, ethical applications of parables. This revised and expanded edition thus brings the analyses of scholarship up to date, extends the discussions, and includes diverse studies that may be less accessible to many readers of this book.

I'll post more about each chapter in succeeding posts. 

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