A blog by Dr. David B. Gowler (Oxford College of Emory University) about the reception history of the parables of Jesus. It includes reflections on issues from three of my books on the parables: What are They Saying about the Parables? (Paulist), The Parables after Jesus (Baylor), Howard Thurman: Sermons on the Parables (Orbis).
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.