410: PARABLES ARE SUBVERSIVE

“No Christ, No God, Just Jesus”

“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the subversive blog that brings it all together- today’s radical theology, yesterday’s liberation theology, and a heavy dose of my personal biases thrown in for good measure. If you don’t enjoy this unique cocktail, don’t  read it! There are plenty of milksop conformist  churchy blogs out there – they’re my next target!
In solidarity,
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”

Parables are subversive:

Blame Professor William Herzog for this, it’s all his ideas. All my forthcoming Posts on Jesus’s parables will be based on his ground breaking book “Parables as subversive speech”. This is an introduction to the topic, where he sets out his stall, so to speak.

Reviewers said: “This book revolutionizes the study of Jesus’ parables. The classics in the field are rendered instantly obsolete… an entirely new approach…His results have become salf-validating.” “Challenges most of our cherished assumptions.”

Herzog is clear that this is ‘an engaged study within a liberationist framework.’ As ‘academic neutrality serves the interests of some group’.

Parables are not earthly stories with heavenly meanings, they are earthy stories with heavy meanings! They are ‘weighted down by an awareness of exploitation in the world of their hearers. They don’t focus on the glory of the kingdom of God, but on the gory details of how oppression serves the interests of  a ruling class. Instead of reiterating the promise of God’s intervention in human affairs, parables explore how human beings could respond to break the spiral of violence and cycle of poverty created by exploitation and oppression.’

Introductory points

  • The word parable comes from the Greek word parabole (Hebrew mashal) meaning ‘riddle’.
  • Parables are not meant as stories with a clear moral or a single meaning that could be gleaned by reading them correctly
  • They are discussion starters meant to raise questions or pose dilemmas for the hearers (although there is no actual recorded evidence of this)
  • Without knowing its context a parable cannot be decoded, it remains just a riddle
  • They are open-ended, inviting the listener to explore the social scenes presented; indeed they connect the hearers to the realities of their lives as well as to larger systemic realities
  • Each one needs to be analysed to find the deeper implied structure behind the surface structure
  • Parables present ordinary life situations and extraordinary departures from them
  • Like peasants throughout history, Jesus’ hearers had internalised the world of their oppressors and settled for the elite’s interpretation. Therefore, the parable had to jar the hearer out of almost instinctive acquiescence to the rulers’ reading of reality
  • Jesus was not conducting a literacy campaign or a political campaign for democratic reform. No, Jesus was opposing the way the Torah (First 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament) was used by the Temple (Jerusalem’s ruling elites, and the Herodian client rulers) to control the lives of ordinary people. Jesus’ prophetic reading of the the Torah critiqued injustice and appealed to another order, the kingdom of God
  • The parables were part of a larger strategy, which included a prophetic critique of the systems of oppression and of the ruling class and proposals for prophetic action.

Academic disciplines drawn upon in this study of the parables

  • Form criticism
  • Redaction criticism
  • Macrosociology of advanced agrarian systems
  • Characteristics of bureaucratic and aristocratic empires
  • The nature of Mediterranean societies
  • How ‘economies’ worked in antiquity
  • Peasant studies
  • The nature of village life
  • The nature of politics, i.e. patron-client relations in the ancient world
  • The role and meaning of the legal system.

What you need to know to interpret just one parable: the Parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16)

  • Who appeared in this parable?
  • What class or social group do they represent?
  • What roles do they play?
  • What are the social and economic relationships between the landowner and the day labourers?
  • Why do the workers stand in the agora all day?
  • Why were they hired to work in the vineyard?
  • Why were they hired only for one day and paid at the end of the day?
  • Why were some hired for less than one day and what could they have expected to be paid?
  • What is one denarius worth in their social setting?
  • Why did the owner pay them in reverse order?
  • Why were they offended at the owner’s generosity?
  • How do the particulars of the parable fit into the infrastructure and superstructure of Palestine under Roman rule?

Zingcreed comments:
(i) All those areas to be mastered – Herzog should have been given the Nobel Prize, not just a professorship!
(ii) Analysis of the parables will, I believe, show Jesus to have been very radical, not to say ‘red’. I wonder why the gospel writers down play this, and why the church never emphasises it? Today in Britain he would be labelled an ‘agitator’, or an ‘anarchist revolutionary’, and his followers would respectfully and accurately call him ‘Comrade Jesus’ or ‘Comrade Yeshua’ as they passed him the red flag to stick on top of his barricade built with his carpenter skills!
(iii) Jesus’s leftwing tendencies justify my inclusion of so many left wing Posts in what is nominally a Christian blog.

Source:
Herzog, William R. “Parables as subversive speech. Jesus as pedagogue of the oppressed” John Knox Press (1994)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Church and empire, or Why was Jesus Crucified?
Jesus was subversive
Jesus was a lower class power broker
Small, dark, ugly and illiterate – the real Jesus?
Jesus’s dark side
Jesus’s 14 authentic parables
Jesus’s real political message
Naked Jesus – a cock and bull story?

[410, i&l,t&c]

 

 

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