Cc: GPG; Klyne Snodgrass
In Response To: Chuck Jones
On: Two Lukan Parables
I remain unconvinced by Chuck's contention that nothing can be told, from
their superficial features, about any of the Synoptic materials. His latest
reformulation of that now prolonged challenge involves two Lukan Parables,
and I take up the matter from that new standpoint.
ASSIGNMENT: "You know what? There isn't a formal or stylistic difference
between the parable of the lost coin (L) and the parable of the lost sheep
(double). So why would I propose that the coin was free composed while the
sheep was based on a written source? I'd need a good philological reason to
do that. Hmmmm."
RESPONSE: It is conceded that the experts are helpless in this area, or if
otherwise, they are keeping that fact to themselves. So other alternatives
may be justified. I thus ask: if the question of these two parables were
referred to any reasonably bright 4th grade class, say Mrs McMillan's, how
might they approach it? I give fair warning that when going that way,
discipline and the following of rules can't be counted on, and food fights
are a constant possibility. But where might the little rascals start?
1. By checking Klyne Snodgrass's book, Stories With Intent. He discusses
these parables, but with a prefatory note on the structure of Lk 15 (p93),
of which he says, "Luke has clearly arranged ch15 for rhetorical effect, and
an understanding of how this section functions assists in interpreting the
individual parables. The flow of the chapter is easily discernible:
v1-3. Editorial description of the reason for these parables in the
grumblings of the Pharisees and scribes at Jesus' reception of and eating
with sinners (though in v3 the word "parable" is singular).
v4-7. Parable of the Lost Sheep
v8-10. Parable of the Lost Coin
v11-32: Parable of the Two Lost Sons
Matthew places the parable of the Lost Sheep in a completely different
context, and GThos also has this parable, but the other two parables have no
parallel. . . ."
[I disagree with Klyne's title for the third of these, and for reasons of
symmetry (not contradicted by the story as I read it), I will call it the
Parable of the Lost Son - EBB].
2. OK, the intro seems to envision only one parable following. Then
presumptively the other two are later addenda to Lk's own Lost Sheep
parable. We follow up on that. Specifically, the three introits are:
v3 "So he told them this parable . . ." [Connected to preceding]
v8 "Or what woman, having ten silver coins . . . [explicit alternate]
v11 "And he said, There was a man who had two sons . . ." [explicit
We [say the class members] also note that the Sheep parable has heavy
Scriptural image connections, whereas the others do not. This dissimilarity
makes two strikes against the latter two being original to this passage.
3. Extroits (to coin, pardon the pun, a term):
v7 "Even so, I tell you, there will be more joy in Heaven . . ." [Seems to
sum up the intended message, and indeed to spell out that message, and thus
to close the situation that began with v1]
v10 "Even so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God . . ."
[Repetition, suitable for addendum]
v32 "It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother . . ."
[End of story, no extroit; message is contained within the self-interpreting
Tentative Verdict: Sheep parable well connected to preceding context; Coin
parable joined on, Son parable simply there.
4. Scale. The third Parable is humongously longer than the others, and
involves a great deal of human interest and detail, complete with inner
monologues of more than one character, none of which is true of the
preceding two. It doesn't look like the same kind of thing as the other two.
Son is much more literarily elaborate, just as it also floats free of
narrative connection in Lk 15. It also has tremendous human interest, in
working up sympathy for the Good Son, and having the father deal with that
we well as rejoice over the Bad Son (which is the point at which it connects
with the other two).
5. Niftiness. Class discussion [not here transcribed from tape] finds that
objections could be raised against the Sheep parable, like, you know, If the
shepherd goes after the lost sheep, he risks losing the 99, which is really
dumb. At least the woman's nine coins will stay put while she sweeps around
looking for the tenth coin. On the other hand, how much of the found coin
will go to pay for this party which the woman then throws? In the last
story, it is emphasized that the good son "is always with me," and so
doesn't risk being lost at all. And since the wealth in question is in the
farm and not in the cash, the farm is not jeopardized by the party for the
Lost Son. The problem for the Good Son is not the risk to which he is put by
the search for the lost brother (as with the Sheep), or the squandering of
the fruits of the search in celebrating the search (as with the Coin), but
his perfectly human resentment at being ignored in favor of his after all
So the three parables might be seen as increasingly less problematic
variations on the same theme. Each eliminates a detail which a rude Sunday
School class might have raised questions about in the preceding one. This
helps to differentiate them, and also suggests that if they had an order of
origination, it was the order in which they now stand in Lk 15.
7. The last parable, taken by itself and not as part of the series, might
have had its origin in the resentment of old members of the movement at the
fuss made over (and the effort to recruit) new members. The old members feel
taken for granted, underacknowledged. This would not have been true of the
nine coins, or the nine and ninety sheep. Then if the first parable is
really responsive to the Pharisees' challenge (and at least it claims to
be), and if the second is an improved variant on it, then the third, while
still being readable as relevant to that concern, may add, or even originate
in, another concern. It may thus be an adaptation as well as an addition.
8. "Hey, wasn't the Lost Son parable the one that also occurs in Lotus Sutra
4?" "Yeah, but the Lotus Sutra one is a thousand times better." "Also, the
Lotus Sutra is later than the Gospel of Luke, you dummy." "OK, but since
it's so sophisticated, couldn't it have had an origin in an earlier Indian
story?" [Silence, and somebody writes it down on a notecard].
9. You know how kids are, they WILL peek where they are not supposed to.
"Hey, according to the Farmer Synopsis, the words identical with Matthew are
not all that numerous. Is the story really that similar? For one thing, Mt
says "IF he finds it," but Lk is more confident: "WHEN he finds it." . . .
And the Mt story takes place on a mountain, where there is a real danger of
losing the other sheep over a cliff, but the Lk story is in the wilderness,
which is at least probably flat." "Yeah, but there are wild animals in the
wilderness, and anyway there are gullies in the wilderness, where a sheep
can easy break a leg." "But Luke could have THOUGHT he was making it safer."
. . .
10. Also, "Looky here, the Mt version of the Sheep isn't in the same
sequence, it's at Mt 18:12-14, and it doesn't make any sense where it is; it
is in the middle of a bunch of things having to do with kids, and there
isn't a Pharisee in sight. Did Mt take it out of Lukan context, and if so
why, or did Luke rearrange earlier material thematically, and if so, where
did he get the other two?
11. "How about this for one of the two: there is a thing about Two Sons in
Mt 21:28-32, it's not very like the Lukan Prodigal Son, but maybe it is
relevant. Maybe it was Luke's inspiration." "Yeah, and looky here, there's
this bit about "the tax collectors and harlots, which is like the setting of
Lk 15:1-3 . . ."
And at this point, the children having said a naughty word, Mrs McMillan
comes in and shuts down the whole thing. Whether there is anything of
developable value in what they did before that fatal indiscretion, I
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst