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Parable of the Sower

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  • Loren Rosson
    Ted, Bob, Dave, Jan -- everyone: I am pleased to see the flury of conversation regarding yield figures, and I hope the thread will continue. Now might also be
    Message 1 of 34 , Jul 1, 2001
      Ted, Bob, Dave, Jan -- everyone:

      I am pleased to see the flury of conversation
      regarding yield figures, and I hope the thread will
      continue. Now might also be an opportune time to
      consider plausible interpretations of the parable of
      The Sower itself, especially apropos Dave's recent

      > 30, 60, and 100 fold are way too inflated to
      > be taken seriously. I wonder, then, what function
      > this exaggeration served?

      Here are some ideas:

      1. I've already alluded to Brandon Scott. He believes
      that the accent in the parable is on the failure of
      the first three sowings, which "challenges the
      expectation of success associated with the Kingdom"
      (Hear then the Parable, p. 361). "The parable draws
      attention to failure." (ibid) What success is reported
      -- 30x, 60x, 100x -- is, in fact, quite normal and
      commonplace. Thus, "in failure and everydayness lies
      the miracle of God's activity... the Kingdom does not
      need the apocalyptic solution of overwhelming
      harvest". (p. 362)

      But I hold trustworthy that normal Palestinian yields
      were generally between 2x-5x -- certainly not
      30x-100x. (Discussion in this thread is focusing more
      closely on this issue, however, since it's not
      precisely clear what the "yields" refer to.) Anything
      much higher than 5x would have had peasants laying
      siege to heaven with praises for Yahweh's miraculous

      2. Ted Weeden, while recognizing the impossibility of
      the 30x, 60x, 100x figures, nonetheless follows Scott
      in making much of the numerical sequences themselves.
      He compares the 30,60,100 sequence with the triad
      found in The Good Samaritan (priest, levite,
      Samaritan), and suggests that "100" (as much as
      "Samaritan") would send hearers into cognitive
      dissonance, or existential encounters (?!), as "100"
      had no more to do with "30,60" than "Samaritan" did
      with "priest, levite". This is logically true, of
      course, but I'm baffled as to how we move from this
      simple fact to "cognitive dissonances" and
      "existential encounters". Are we really to believe
      that "100", instead of "90", would have had such a
      dramatic effect?

      3. Donald Peters seems to recognize the stupendous
      nature of 30x, 60x, and 100x, and offers a fairly
      traditional allegorical interpretation, suggesting
      that the story "echoes the eschatological nature of
      Jesus' ministry and the vulnerability of God's
      eschatological activity through the work of Jesus" (in
      Jesus and His Parables, edited by Shillington, p.
      73.). "Despite difficulties, God will bring a
      triumphant conclusion to the messiah's work." (p. 80)

      4. R. David Kaylor copies (what I take to be) Scott's
      error, understanding 30x, 60x, 100x as commonplace,
      but from there offering perhaps a more plausible
      interpretation: Jesus told the parable to encourage
      peasants "to trust the soil and the seeds, regardless
      of their limitations, and fundamentally trust in
      God...a good farmer does not neglect to plant out of
      fear of a failed harvest". (Jesus the Prophet, p.

      5. Tom Wright suggests an eschatological reading, but
      with a twist involving his trademark
      "return-from-exile" theology. "Israel's god is acting,
      sowing his prophetic word with a view to restoring his
      people, but much of the seed will go to waste, will
      remain in the 'exilic' condition...the eventual
      [eschatological] harvest, though, will be great".
      (Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 234).

      6. Bruce Malina and Dick Rohrbaugh note the
      impossibility of 30x, 60x, 100x, but they refrain from
      drawing eschatological conclusions on grounds that the
      impossible yields described are simply "typical
      parabolic hyperbole" (Social Science Commentary on the
      Synoptic Gospels, p. 202). To them, the parable is a
      folk tale which portrays a "hired laborer or tenant
      farmer struggling with hostile conditions...with a
      connection to God as a generous provider, which would
      be seen as good news". (ibid) Malina and Rohrbaugh are
      close to Kaylor here, but they see 30x, 60x, 100x as
      impossible (and thus exaggerations to make a point),
      while Kaylor understands 30x, 60x, 100x as actual
      yields which could be expected.

      7. Bill Herzog, like Malina/Rohrbaugh, also refrains
      from an eschatological conclusion on grounds of
      parabolic hyperbole. He veers off in a different
      direction from them, however, in suggesting that the
      story "encodes a hidden transcript that analyzes the
      problem of scarcity in an abundant land" (Jesus,
      Justice, and the Reign of God, p. 195). The birds, the
      sun, and the thorns are metaphors for the ruling
      elite, "who take almost everything from the poor and
      leave nothing" (ibid). As much as I follow Herzog's
      interpreation of other parables, this one strikes me
      as a bit far fetched.

      I remain unsure as to what the parable of The Sower
      may have meant from the lips of the historical Jesus,
      regardless of how we view the possibility or
      impossibility of the yield figures. In truth, I have
      found this parable to be one of the most elsusive in
      the gospels. (This, despite that the story seems so
      simple and strightforward!) Some commentaries in the
      above samples are helpful, but "the message" is still
      murky. Perhaps others will chime in and comment on the
      above interpretations (or offer their own). In any
      case, I look forward to more discussion regarding the
      yield figures.

      Loren Rosson III
      Nashua NH

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    • David C. Hindley
      ... seeds.
      Message 34 of 34 , Jul 2, 2001
        William said:

        >>I don't follow what is meant by a 2-5x return on planting grain

        In ancient times, and even recently in regions where subsistence
        (i.e., relatively unmechanized) farming is common, the yield is not
        represented as volume of grain but by the volume of grain returned
        divided by the volume of grain sown. If you sow a bushel of wheat
        (using modern US measure), you expect (maybe pray for) 5 bushels
        reaped. The yield seems to have varied between 4x and 6x, according to
        the Turkish study (circa 1950, and using relatively primitive farming
        techniques resembling that of 1st century Palestine) mentioned in an
        earlier post.


        Dave Hindley
        Cleveland, Ohio, USA
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