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Re: [XTalk] Parable of the Sower

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  • William Van Wyke
    Thanks, Loren, for your summary of views. Here s some more on the 30-60-100-fold yields and the parable itself. You plant a corn seed and get corn on the cob,
    Message 1 of 34 , Jul 2, 2001
      Thanks, Loren, for your summary of views. Here's some
      more on the 30-60-100-fold yields and the parable

      You plant a corn seed and get corn on the cob,
      probably 100 or more seeds per ear, several ears per
      stalk. Of course HJ wasn't talking about new world
      maize but the same general thing happens with wheat,
      sorghum, millet. I don't follow what is meant by a
      2-5x return on planting grain seeds.

      Wheat is planted about 20 lbs to the acre (1),
      which yields about 35 bushels if you live in Kansas in
      2001 (2). Since a bushel of wheat weighs somewhere
      around 60 lbs., those 20 lbs. of seed (1/3 bu.)
      producing +/- 35 bu. of grain is like 1 bu. of seed
      yielding about 100 bu. Brandon Scott cites Pliny as
      speaking of a 100-fold increase as very good, and
      400-fold as incredible (literally). (Hear Then the
      Parable, 357). I would think a reference to
      30-60-100-fold increases made sense to Jesus's
      listeners as describing their everyday reality.

      (1) wheat is sown at 20 lbs & upward per acre

      (2) 34.8 bu/A in KS this year

      If the parable goes back to HJ and the allegorical
      explanation does not, I suspect the allegory is a far
      cry from what HJ meant and what peasant listeners
      heard. The listeners, sowers themselves, would
      probably have identified with the sower, not with an
      abstraction like the good ground (or bad). Peasants
      were passing this story along because it moved them,
      but Mark just didn't get it, and demonstrates as much
      by projecting his bafflement on the disciples and
      compensating with a simplistic 1-to-1 correspondence
      between the elements of the story and his own
      contemporaeous reality.

      So when Jesus, not Mark, tells the story, what do
      the peasants hear? Do they question or judge this
      farmer who is scattering seed on inarable ground as
      not knowing what he's doing? As careless? Do they do
      the same thing? The structure of all versions tells
      us the seed fell while the sower was "sowing," not
      that it spilled out of his bag while he was walking
      down the path or over some rocks. The sower meant to
      do this, or at least did not avoid it. Why? Like the
      listeners, he probably was not that careful along the
      edges of the plot he was sowing. Peasants probably
      figured that since there's only a limited amount of
      good ground, it was better to waste some seed at the
      borders with the path, the rocks and the scrub than to
      leave even a small part of that good ground bare. "In
      broadcast sowing it is inevitable that a certain
      amount of seed will be lost," says Scott, generalizing
      from sources who disagree with each other about the
      details, p. 353. Jesus knew their practice, and used
      it to make a point. But while some of the seed was
      lost (or maybe, in Jesus's version, just mingled with
      the rest of nature -- animal, vegetable, mineral, and
      the sun -- by the human sower's action) the miracle of
      multifold regeneration made up for it. Jesus's story
      wasn't prescriptive, literally or ethically. He was
      not telling farmers how to plant (or how not to), or
      how to listen (or how not to listen) to him, or even
      how to live. He was just describing what he observed
      the farmers doing. Did they wonder, or argue, or feel
      guilty about whether they should be a little more
      careful along the borders, perhaps not wasting so
      much? I suspect real sowers heard in this story a
      message like -- "OK, you screw up and lose some seed
      to thorns and birds and rocks and worms, and you've
      all known that and wondered about it, but that's not
      such a big deal. God makes up for it by the miracle
      of turning your work into much more than you have
      lost, and you've known this all along too, I'm sure."
      A little like the story of the talents: you don't hide
      out of fear of potential loss, but live courageously
      with faith in God's abundant care. That's just the
      way things work, and you're already doing it, he seems
      to say. There's no moral lesson for the hearers in
      that they should "be" one kind of ground or the other,
      but an acceptance of them as farmers who, in trying to
      get their work done, sometimes miss the mark. The
      story dramatically focuses on the missing of the mark,
      but concludes that God blesses the sower's work
      anyway, as evidenced by God's mysterious and
      miraculous regeneration of the seed that dies in the
      good earth rather than in a bird's stomach. Peasants
      can go to sleep at night and wake up later to see that
      without their effort "the earth produces fruit of its
      own, first a shoot, then a head, then mature grain on
      the head," according to another saying (Mark 4:26-29),
      referred to by other posters, that has the same flavor
      as this one and that Mark puts in the same section.
      The wonder Jesus points to is the same wonder we all
      have felt when contemplating that any seed has in it
      the potential not only to create an altogether
      different sort of being -- a whole plant -- but that
      that plant creates in turn many more seeds that all
      embody the same miracle, repeating the cycle endlessly
      and exponentially. Prefaced by "God's kingdom is like
      this..." the hearers hear utter forgiveness,
      abundance, and miracle relating to their everyday
      work, or, as Brandon Scott puts it, "a hearer is left
      with a kingdom in which failure, miracle and normalcy
      are the coordinates." P. 361.

      I appreciate Russ Conte's y=5x^2+15x+10 because
      it humorously points to a reality that Jesus himself
      may have only intuited when he told the story, that
      mind-boggling exponential growth is one of the ways
      nature expresses her mystery of abundance. The same
      goes for Richard Mallett's scenario of this teacher
      setting grains on the ground, first 1, then a row of 2
      next to it, then a row of 3, then 4, and his listeners
      being so enthralled that they may have remembered the
      numbers and tried the illustration later themselves,
      and told their friends, and recalled the numbers like
      incantations reminding them of the story that had such
      a poweful effect on them.

      I read the following in one of Alan Watts's books a
      few days ago, which, I think, points to a possible
      barrier for us modernists and post-'s, that prevents
      us from hearing the gush of excitement in an ancient
      story like the sower: "We have assumed the Darwinian
      struggle for existence as our personality, and say of
      the exuberance of flowers and the abundance of fruit
      that they flourish only to ensure survival -- but this
      is truly an impoverished view of life, a secular view
      in which the person in the world is divorced from the
      womb. In the womb the baby floats, and the floating
      baby does not know the difference between what is
      inside its skin and what is outside.... Oscar Wilde
      described the womb-flower of existence as 'the flowers
      in which the gold bees dream.' Yet that golden flower
      isn't at the end of the line -- you are living in it."
      (Still the Mind, p. 71, compiled posthumously and
      published in 2000.)

      William Van Wyke
      York, PA

      PS Encyclopedia Britanica says that the Sumerian
      shekel "equaled the weight of 180 wheat grains."
      That'd be 30+60+90. Is there any chance the 30-60-100
      grains is a reference to money or standard
      trade-weights in those days? We still have "grains"
      as a unit of apothecary weight, something like 7000 to
      a pound. (How much would 7000 wheat berries weigh?
      Or 7000 sesame seeds...?)

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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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