Crossan’s book, In Parables, immediately demonstrates his keen intellect and wide range of reading. The great variety of literature he cites certainly indicates his substantial, literary aptitude. One of the more beneficial parts of the book, however, relates more directly to his detailed reading of Jesus’ parables themselves rather than so much to his wide reading in other literature. Specifically, Crossan performs a very valuable service in his detailed analyses of multiply attested parables in relation to the synoptic problem. Crossan’s close reading of these parables and his subsequent notes on points of divergence between the parable froms in the synoptics helpfully summarizes the major critical issues involved with these parables. The solutions he proposes to these difficulties are frequently innovative and seem to be motivated by a desire to recapture the exact wording Jesus used when He originally gave the parables (ipsissima verba) (3–4). Nevertheless, many scholars might, in most cases, propose quite different solutions from those Crossan puts forth (cf. vii, 3–4). The book does have some questionable aspects, such as an excessive skepticism about the historical Jesus (e.g., 4; for a critical realist approach to this question, see Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God). Yet, In Parables definitely provides itself to be valuable by providing the reader with much helpful information concerning the divergences present in Jesus’ multiply attested parables.
Crossan’s work, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus, is based on several articles that Crossan wrote separately and has now compiled into a single collection (xi). Rather uniquely, through citations from various scholars and littérateurs, the introduction and conclusion attempt to provide some literary commentary related to different ways of reading parables. The first major section, “Parables and the Temporality of the Kingdom” (3–36), addresses several broad issues related to literary theory, describes what constitutes a parable, and identifies a method for parable interpretation. At this section’s conclusion, Crossan groups Jesus’ parables by what he sees as their three major themes—namely, the advent of God’s kingdom, the reversal of the worldview of the parables’ addressees, and the calling and empowering of the recipients to live and act in concert with God’s kingdom (36). In each of the following chapters, Crossan comments generally about one of these themes and examines at least one parable that, in his estimation, fits that category.
Under parables of advent, Crossan discusses the relationship that the kingdom’s advent and the joy of its recipients have with the kingdom’s manner of growth (37–39, 49–51). He also analyzes the parables of the sower and the mustard seed in detail. Concerning parables of reversal, Crossan distinguishes between parables and example stories, and he comments about how reversal parables relate to paradox and eschatology (54–55, 73–76). As examples of reversal parables, Crossan treats the good Samaritan in detail and several other reversal parables in brief (55–73). In the book’s last, major section (parables of action), Crossan discusses connections between parables and ethics, particularly regarding the necessity of a parable’s addressee decisively to respond to the parable (78–84). For illustrations in this section, Crossan particularly concentrates on the parable of the wicked husbandmen while also including a more cursory discussion of the “servant parables” (84–117).
In Interpreting the Parables, Blomberg appears to have succeeded quite well in accomplishing his stated task of producing an introduction to and theory of parable interpretation that will benefit a wide variety of readers (10). To this end, he keeps unnecessary, technical jargon to a minimum, yet regularly handles the necessary, technical points quite clearly.
One of this book’s chief values is the methodology Blomberg proposes for a responsible, multi-faceted, allegorical approach to parables. Recognizing the contributions of Jülicher and others, Blomberg seeks to push beyond the classic critique of flagrant, parable allegorizing and suggest a method of parable interpretation that makes room for allegorical elements in the parables while also providing some interpretive controls (163). Yet, as Blomberg himself implicitly recognizes, some exceptional cases may not comport perfectly with the main part of his methodology, but they do fall under an extension that he describes. That is, in addition to looking for allegorical interpretations for the main characters, parable interpreters should note that “elements other than the main characters will have metaphorical referents only to the extent that they fit in with the meaning established by the referents of the main characters, and all allegorical interpretation must result in that which would have been intelligible to a first-century Palestinian audience” (163; emphasis added). This extension is somewhat less discreet than Blomberg’s main statement of his method, but the two together do form a viable basis from which modern readers of the parables can consider them and appreciate their allegorical elements.
Interpreting the Parables begins by summarizing significant findings and methodological issues in recent parable research so that a wide audience can benefit from this historical foundation for Blomberg’s work (13). In reviewing this previous scholarship, Blomberg seeks to interact critically with it and, at some points, propose specific alternatives (14). In Blomberg’s opinion, all Jesus parables are allegorical on some level. To articulate a method of treating the parables in this light, Blomberg discusses numerous hermeneutical issues, appreciating the value of the different positions where possible, critiquing them where necessary, and frequently coming to mediating conclusions about these issues’ relevance for parable interpretation. His most important conclusion, and the one that affects the whole the second part of the work, is that “each parable makes one main point per main character—usually two or three [characters] in each [parable]—and these main characters are the most likely elements within the parable to stand for something other than themselves, thus giving the parable its allegorical nature” (163). Having articulated this principle, the bulk of the second part of Interpreting the Parables contains Blomberg’s systematic examination of many of Jesus’ major parables according to this hypothesis (171–288). Blomberg concludes Interpreting the Parables by discussing some of the theological elements that frequently occur in Jesus’ parables and providing a brief summary of the work’s second part (289–327).
Bailey initially published Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes separately. Yet, they have begun circulating in combined editions like the one shown here, and the works are, in fact, quite amiable partners, since Through Peasant Eyes is, in significant respects, a continuation of Poet and Peasant. Both these works are thought-provoking and fascinating pieces of scholarship, particularly with respect to Bailey’s unique perspectives on Jesus’ parables and the approach he uses to arrive at these understandings. Particularly, Bailey’s practice of interviewing Middle Easterners for their perspectives on the parables highlights some nuances that may easily become muted in purely Western treatments. Because modern, Middle Eastern culture is arguably closer to the culture of first-century, Jewish Palestine than is modern Western culture, Middle Eastern readers begin with a natural advantage over their Western counterparts in interpreting the parables. While some changes in Middle Eastern culture during the last two millennia (most notably, the Muslim conquest) may have introduced significant paradigm shifts into the Middle Eastern worldview, consulting people (whether directly or through Bailey’s work) who live in cultures of seeds and sowers, neighbors and midnight visitors will surely provide valuable grist for the interpretive mills of those who come from other cultural backgrounds.
Bailey’s works, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, explicitly attempt to approach Jesus’ parables from the perspective of an Oriental worldview. Poet and Peasant contains a lengthy section that provides a history of parable research and describes Bailey’s methodology for approaching the parables (13–75). His methodology contains two major parts: “Oriental exegesis” and close attention to parallelism (29–75). For Bailey, “Oriental exegesis” means: (1) examining the interpretations and perspectives present in ancient literature; (2) asking contemporary Middle-Easterners for their insights; and (3) examining Oriental versions of Scripture to see their particular ways of understanding and rendering various portions of the text (27, 30–37). Bailey pays close attention to parallelism because he thinks it can help determine the turning point, or climax, of a given pericope and illumine points of later shaping (50, 74–75). The second part of Poet and Peasant presents the results of Bailey’s methodology as applied to three Lucan sections, including (as Bailey titles them) the parables of the unjust steward, God and mammon, the friend at midnight, the Father’s gifts, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons (77–206). The work concludes by briefly summarizing Bailey’s methodology and findings (207).
Through Peasant Eyes begins with a briefer and less technical history of research and description of methodology and a concise checklist for applying Jesus’ parables to a modern context (ix–xxiii). The work proceeds by presenting Bailey’s views on ten other Lucan parables not covered in Poet and Peasant, including the parables of the: two debtors; fox, funeral, and furrow; good Samaritan; rich fool; tower and fig tree; great banquet; obedient servant; judge and widow; Pharisee and tax collector; and camel and needle (1–170). As in Poet and Peasant, when Bailey comments on these parables, he diligently observes his prescribed regimen of Oriental exegesis and close attention to parallelism. Bailey’s concluding remarks again concisely summarize his methodology and present some of the themes that frequently recur in the parables (171–2).
Rediscovering the Parables has become a modern classic in the field of parables research (see Blomberg 10), and upon even casual perusal, a reader should be able to see clearly some of the reasons for this much-deserved status. In addition, far from being merely a dry, academic treatise, Jeremias sought to recover Jesus’ exact words (ipsissima verba) because “only the Son of man himself and his word can give authority to our preaching” (7; cf. 181). Consequently, for Jeremias, this work represented an attempt to advance both scholarship and piety. Particularly valuable is Jeremias’ extensive knowledge of Palestinian religion, culture, and sociology, which enables him at many points to suggest interpretations for Jesus’ parables, or explanations for their elements, that may genuinely enrich one’s understanding of these parables (cf. 107, 111–12, 142–43, 166).
Even so, a few occasions exist in which more recent scholarship has, perhaps, uncovered better explanations for some facets of some of the parables than Jeremias gives [e.g., 108, 164; see Martinus C. De Boer, “Ten Thousand Talents? Matthew’s Interpretation and Redaction of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50.2 (1988): 217]. Moreover, Jeremias’s stated purpose of recovering Jesus’ exact words (ipsissima verba) can downplay the historical faithfulness of the text as it exists. Yet, this step is needless on the vast majority of occasions, and its effect is wholly so. The Gospels present us with the ipsissima vox (the very voice) of Jesus. Thus, although the Gospels may summarize or paraphrase Jesus’ words at some points, they do so with fidelity to the actual, historical occurrences that they record (cf. Carson, Moo, and Morris 38–45). Nevertheless, while certain portions of the work might require qualification or revision, Jeremias’ little classic, Rediscovering the Parables, remains a veritable treasure trove of historical, cultural, and sociological information for those seeking to understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables in the historical contexts in which they were originally spoken.
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Martinus C. De Boer, “Ten Thousand Talents? Matthew’s Interpretation and Redaction of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50.2 (1988): 214–32
Joachim Jeremias’ work, Rediscovering the Parables, attempts “to go back to the oldest form of the parables attainable and try to recover what Jesus himself meant by them” (7). Jeremias proceeds toward this goal by paying special attention to the Palestinian setting of the parables (7) and by analyzing the parables in terms of ten different categories of modifications that he thinks might be expected to appear in the course of their transmission (16–88)—namely,
Translation from Aramaic into Greek;
Shifts from Jewish to Greco-Roman portrayals;
Increased influence from the Old Testament and story lines or themes current in the first century;
Shifts in audience between accounts;
Conformation of the parables to the church’s task of exhortation;
Increased influence of the early church;
Increased tendency to employ allegory;
Collection and fusion of multiple parables into fewer, composite accounts; and
Shifts in literary setting.
After outlining his methodology, Jeremias addresses many parables individually, while grouping them into general, topical categories concerning: the day of salvation, God’s mercy for sinners, great assurance, crisis and warning, God’s immediately impending judgment, challenge to action, realized discipleship, the suffering and exaltation of Jesus, and the consummation (89–178). In his treatment of these parables, Jeremias attempts to follow Adolf Jülicher’s lead by interpreting the parables as having a single, major point and by avoiding the allegorizing tendencies of many parable interpreters before Jülicher’s time (71; cf. Blomberg 34, 42). In conclusion, Jeremias briefly draws his readers back to Jesus as the original source of the parables and reminders them that the parables, however mysterious they may be in some of their details, reveal something about the one who initially uttered them. This revelation, Jeremias argues, also necessitates some form of decision about actions and life in relation to Jesus on the part of those who hear or read the parables (181).
A corollary problem to the tension between the old and the new was the tension between the absolute and the relative. No one would have dared relativize the words of the Highest, but some heretical sects thought parts of scripture (notably the Old Testament) were products of a lesser god. This position allowed them safely to relativize portions of scripture. Although the rabbis had relativized scripture, to some extent, in halakah, they had limited the operational extent of that halakah by the oral law. In competition with these other positions, the orthodox, Christian position received slightly different articulations based on which factors pressed heaviest on a given author’s context. For example, the Epistle of Barnabas applied whatever method necessary to arrive at a distinctively Christian interpretation of the Old Testament. In contrast to the general, orthodox emphasis on the use of the Old Testament, Ignatius used the New Testament more frequently than he used the Old Testament. Where he did use the Old Testament, however, he took Jesus as the starting point for his interpretation of the Old Testament.
A final constraint prevalent during this period in the area of hermeneutical method was the tension between clarity and obscurity. Because Marcion was certain that the Old Testament did not originate with the God and father of Jesus Christ; thus, he omitted it from his canon and argued for a literal interpretation of (his edited version of) the New Testament. The Valentinians, by contrast, argued for an allegorical approach to the New Testament. The orthodox position attempted to maintain, rather than prematurely resolve, the tension between these two poles by affirming both scripture’s clarity and its obscurity (e.g., clarity: Epistle of Barnabas 1:7, 2:4, 3:6; obscurity: Epistle of Barnabas 5:2–3, 8:7, 10:2).