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Re: [XTalk] The parable of the sower

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  • Frank Jacks
    By way of introduction, let me share with the list that I have been in conversation with Joseph off-board about his earlier posting about the three
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 3, 2005
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      By way of introduction, let me share with the list that I have been in
      conversation with Joseph off-board about his earlier posting about the
      three "predictions of the resurrection" now found in Mark, which he
      seeks to explain in terms of how the original apostles revised their
      views concerning Jesus as a result of their "Easter experiences."

      Since it seemed to me that he was in effect offering an alternative to
      Wrede's lodging this in the redactional editing of the author of Mark by
      relocating this revision to the originating stage of "the Jesus
      tradition." This is of course a possibility but as Tony has so ably
      pointed out already, there are other ways of viewing the process which
      led to what we now find in Mark.

      I must admit that along with Tony I regret that Joseph has not yet
      responded to the questions already raised but I do hope that Joseph
      might yet respond to what Tony has asked on-board and which I have
      raised off-board, although my own principal recommendation has been
      is simply the suggestion that he really ought to read Wrede's book, "The
      Messianic Secret (E.T.)."

      But instead of pursuing this earlier theme/thread, we now find Joseph
      raising other possibilities about other "oddities" found in the Gospel
      of Mark by offering his own take about the "parable of the sower" in Mk.
      4, to which Jeffrey has already asked Joseph to position his views in
      terms of various notable scholars who have already treated this material
      and treated it well.

      But it seems to me that we must expand Jeffrey's suggested list, for I
      find that the real issue has to do not so much with this parable as the
      nature of parables in general, since the author of Mark offers a
      particular explanation about why Jesus taught in parables, an oddity
      which Joseph properly objects to. Thus, I would add to Jeffrey's list
      at least C. H. Dodd, if only because he insisted that Jesus himself
      never allegorizes the parables, which Dodd (correctly, I think) finds
      in the Gospel of Mark; indeed, I would myself yoke up this particular
      Marcan approach to Jesus' parables with the over-all theme we call "the
      Messianic secret," since Mk. 4 seems to find as the "secret meaning"
      of this parable (and the others as well) as that Jesus the Messiah is
      already present and active as the "hidden agenda" of both his actions
      and his teachings.

      In this regard, Joseph has come close to "getting it right," at least in
      terms of what we now find in the Gospel of Mark, but I do have one
      slight but significant revision to the basis for his analysis, for he

      >In Mark's fourth chapter, the word "parable" is used in two meanings.
      >Normally a parable is an analogy which helps understand the spiritual
      >reality of the Kingdom. But when the parable of the sower is told
      >without its explanation, it becomes a riddle. Instead of helping
      >understand the spiritual message, it obscures it. This amounts to a
      >radical corruption of the concept and of the entire operation.

      Almost but not quite on target - yes, a "parable" (which in the Greek
      simply means to "lay alongside one another two different things," i.e.
      to "make a comparison") is an analogy ... but not necessarily about
      "spiritual things" or about just "the kingdom" or any other religious
      topic or theme, since it is simply the common literary device of using a
      "metaphor" or a "simle" by which the speaker seeks to assist the hearer
      in understanding his/her points by using something familiar in order to
      explain something unfamiliar. Yes, it might well be a topic of
      theological or religious discourse but as a literary technique, it can
      be employed in explicating any topic deemed unfamiliar to those
      listening. In this case, the "things/subjecting being explained" is
      surely "the kingdom," but why does this parable need any follow-up or
      explanation, in order to be understood?

      If any parable really does require a "part II" in order to be
      understood, would not this simply mean that it is a "bab" parable, one
      that has not "done the job"? Perhaps I have miread Joseph's point here,
      but any parable or comparison that requires explanation or explication
      is not so much a "riddle" but is simply a "bad parable," on that just
      has not "done the job." And here is another point which Dodd (and
      others) helped me learn, that despite the statements in the canonical
      gospels, if Jesus in fact did use parables in his teachings then if he
      were an effective public speaker then further explanation or commentary
      would be quite unnecessary. Here I am reminded about what the poet
      Robert Frost used to say about those who asked him about the meaning of
      his poetry; his standard comment was that he saw these persons as asking
      him to say in other AND WORSE words what he had already expressed! It
      thus seems to me that "no explanation" ought be required or expected to
      be attached to any of Jesus' parables, a view NOT held by the author of
      Mark ... whom Joseph has apparently but unfortunately followed.

      The problem then (as I see it) is not so much that this author has
      separated the parable from its explanation but rather that the author
      has presented Jesus' parables as riddles, which are NOT understandable
      except for those who "know the secret" or have the "key" that unlocks
      this secret or hidden meaning. Thus, I doubt the accuracy of Joseph's
      claim that Mk. 4:33 means that Jesus spoke in order to be understood.
      Yes, I think that such was likely the case "in actual history," just not
      as we now find the presentation by the author of Mark.

      >Was he so contemptuous of the crowds who came to hear him as to throw at
      >them bones that had no meat on them? The evidence is overwhelmingly
      >against this allegation.
      >In the conclusion of the parabolic discourse, Mark writes:
      >***With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able
      >to hear it.*** (Mk 4:33)
      >This implies that Jesus spoke the word in such a way as to make it
      >understandable. He used the parables correctly, as analogies which were
      >particularly conducive to help the audience understand the spiritual
      >realities about which he was instructing them.

      Thus, since the author in this chapter has already laid out his own
      "theory" about "why Jesus taught in parables," we must turn our
      attention back to vv. 10-12, which Joseph does in his next section,
      where he says,

      >Let us turn our attention to verses 10-12, which divide the parable in
      >two parts.
      >***10 When he was alone, those who were around him with the Twelve asked
      >him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, "To you has been given
      >the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything
      >comes in parables (riddles); 12 in order that <<they may indeed look,
      >but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that
      >they may not turn again and be forgiven."

      Yes, this IS a crucial part of this lengthy pericope, as it lays out
      this author's surprising thesis, that Jesus taught in parables SO THAT
      "the outsiders" could not grasp their meaning, but would indeed be
      simply unintelligible riddles. Thus, Jesus "taught in parables" to
      "keep secret things secret," which is as Joseph surmises NOT the reason
      for employing comparisons in public discourse. But it clearly IS what
      we find in Mark.

      So yes, indeed, this author has created difficulties for us by his own
      "take on things" but then my attitude is simply, "Welcome to the Gospel
      of Mark"! But unlike Joseph who feels the need of some new hypothesis,
      I find myself quite content with the hypothesis proferred so long ago by
      Wrede, that this treatment of the parables is simply congruent with the
      overall theme in Mark, that Jesus is already "the Christ/Messiah" and
      already at work "doing the necessary things" but does not want such
      "known to the public" ahead of time, knowing that when this "secret"
      gets out that he will be killed, as in fact happens in c. 15!

      So to Joseph, I now say in public what I have said off-board for the
      past week, that both Jeffrey and Tony (and others) have been raising
      good questions, which your continued inability or unwillingness to
      answer is at least part of the reason for some of us not being able to
      react with the respect for you ideas that you apparently consider would
      be appropriate; you have joined in a conversation that has been going on
      for more than a century now and while it is perfectly legitimate to
      disagree with any of the note-worthy scholars of the past, to situate
      your own presentation in terms of their views is an appropriate way to
      present yourself. This is not "disrespect" but quite the opposite, for
      it is an invitation to join in the continuing talk ... but not to ignore
      what has preceeded us, as you seem to be doing! So please do address
      the questions and concerns already raised.

      Clive F. Jacks, Th.D.
      Professor of Religion, Emeritus
      Pikeville College
      Pikeville, KY

      (but now happily retired back home in the metro Atlanta area!)
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