Hear Then No More Parables: The Case against ‘Parable’

in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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Scandalous racial ideas are woven into the very fabric of some of the most cherished concepts of modern biblical scholarship. In his book Racializing Jesus, Shawn Kelley argues that race plays an essential role in the construction of a dizzying amount of cherished scholarly categories. Central to his argument is the claim that the category of parable is decidedly problematic because it emerges from, and is rendered coherent by, some of the most toxic elements of modern racialized ideology. Parable scholarship has long drawn its fundamental interpretive ideas from specific, modern views concerning the nature and power of symbolic and metaphoric language. Unfortunately these categories have a long and rather unseemly history, and they derive their power from this history. Behind the moving language of art, freedom and higher consciousness lurk the less appealing world of nationalism, race and ethnic purity. Escaping the later almost certainly means, at least for a time, learning to live without the former. This means that New Testament scholars and historical Jesus scholars would do well to put aside the category of parable. Parable scholarship envisions the powerful words forcing the hearer to make a stark choice, but perhaps the choice belongs instead to the biblical scholars: embrace these aesthetic categories along with their deeply troubling ideological baggage, or give up on the scholarly category of parable in its entirety.

Hear Then No More Parables: The Case against ‘Parable’

in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus




Shawn KelleyRacializing Jesus: Race Ideology and the Formation of Modern Biblical Scholarship (London: Routledge2002). See also Shawn Kelley ‘Race Aesthetics and Gospel Scholarship: Embracing and Subverting the Aesthetic Ideology’ in Laura Nasrallah and Elisabeth Fiorenza (eds.) Prejudice and Christian Beginnings: Investigating Race Gender and Ethnicity in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2009) pp. 191-210.


KelleyRacializing Jesus pp. 190-209.


 See Hubert DreyfusBeing-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press1994) pp. 141-44 225-37; Michael Zimmerman The Eclipse of the Self: The Development of Heidegger’s Concept of Authenticity (Athens: Ohio University Press rev. edn 1986) pp. 100-132.


KelleyRacializing Jesus pp. 107-111.


Anders GerdmarRoots of Theological Antisemitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews from Herder and Semler to Kittel and Bultmann (ed. Hava Tirosh-Samuelson and Giuseppe Veltri; Studies in Jewish History and Culture; Leiden and Boston: Brill2009) pp. 389 401-405.


GerdmarRoots p. 404 n. 158.


C.H. DoddThe Parables of the Kingdom (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, rev. ed.1961) p. 16.


John DonahueThe Gospel in Parable: Metaphor Narrative and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press1988) pp. 5-11. While Brandon Scott modifies Dodd’s definition he still largely works within the post-Funk consensus. See Brandon Scott Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1989) pp. 8-62.


 See Kelley‘Race Aesthetics’ pp. 202-206.


Amos WilderEarly Christian Rhetoric: The Language of the Gospel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2nd edn1971) pp. 13-17.


Robert FunkLanguage Hermeneutic and Word of God (New York: Harper and Row1966) pp. 11 13.


J.D. CrossanIn Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (New York: Harper and Row1973) p. 9.


CrossanIn Parables p. 16.


CrossanIn Parables p. 33.


 See CrossanIn Parables pp. 10-22. For my analysis see my Racializing Jesus pp. 189-90. For my analysis of later Crossan’s praiseworthy but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to rehabilitate allegory see Racializing Jesus p. 235 n. 11.


FunkLanguage p. 155.


CrossanIn Parables p. 17.


CrossanIn Parables pp. 17 22.


CrossanIn Parables p. 22.


CrossanIn Parables p. 22.


CrossanIn Parables p. 66.


FunkLanguage p. 155.


FunkLanguage p. 156.


CrossanIn Parables p. 36. For the connection to Heidegger or to Heidegger as mediated by Bultmann see Kelley Racializing Jesus pp. 192-99.


 See Norman PerrinA Modern Pilgrimage in New Testament Christology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press1974); Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom: Symbol and Metaphor in New Testament Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1976); Rediscovering the Teachings of Jesus (New York: Harper and Row 1976); The Resurrection According to Matthew Mark and Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1977). For my analysis of how the categories drawn from parable scholarship found their way into the new methodologies see Kelley ‘Race Aesthetics’ pp. 199-208.


Robert FowlerLet the Reader Understand: Reader-Response Criticism and the Gospel of Mark (Minneapolis: Fortress Press1991) p. 183.


ScottHear Then p. 8.


ScottHear Then p. 14. See also his extensive analysis of mashal in both the Hebrew Bible and in rabbinic tradition (pp. 9-19).


ScottHear Then p. 14.


ScottHear Then pp. 18-19.


ScottHear Then p. 45.


ScottHear Then p. 44.


ScottHear Then p. 47.


 See ScottHear Then pp. 213 223 246 251 253 344-45.


ScottHear Then p. 46.


Paul de Man‘The Rhetoric of Temporality’ in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (London: Methuen 2nd edn 1983) pp. 187-208; ‘Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant’ in G. Shapiro and A Sica (eds.) Hermeneutics: Questions and Prospects (Amherst: University of Massachusetts 1984) pp. 121-44; ‘The Epistemology of Metaphor’ Critical Inquiry 5.1 Special Issue on Metaphor (Autumn 1978) pp. 13-30.


Paul de ManResistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press1986) p. 5.


De ManResistance p. 11.


De Man‘Phenomenality’ p. 141.


ScottHear Then p. 47.


ScottHear Then pp. 46-47.


 See for example ScottHear Then pp. 86 91 125 159 187 265 328 342 377.

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