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[HJMatMeth] Re: Parables

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  • John Dominic Crossan
    I think your comments on the parable of the talents is a very good example, David, of the function of Jesus parables. First of all, thank you for what you
    Message 1 of 3 , Feb 28, 2000
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      Re: [HJMatMeth] Re: Parables I think your comments on the parable of the talents is a very good example, David, of the function of Jesus' parables. First of all, thank you for what you said about Bill Herzog's book. When I said I "agreed" with it, I did not mean that I knew it all beforehand and simply found him in agreement with me. I did not know anything about Paulo Friere and his pedagogy of the oppressed until I read Bill. I found his whole book very illuminating. I also think that once you take a parabolic performance out of its orally interactive matrix, you will almost inevitably make it boring. In a live presentation of the parable of the Talents within Antipas' Galilee you would get exactly the dialectic of responses you mentioned. Some would say: That was exactly the right thing to do. Some would say; That was exactly the right thing to do but they will bring down vengeance not only on themselves, but on their entire village. Some would say That was the wrong thing to do because it desecrated the land with murder. Etc., etc. In actuality, the spectrum of debate is probably wider than we can imagine although, in my own experience with under graduate students, that spectrum has always been fairly wide. In any case, with regard to that particular problem, I think there would be a rather strong debate along two lines: (1) Resistance versus nonresistance and (2) violence versus nonviolence, not to speak of (3) pragmatic versus theoretical reasons for any position.
      Maybe when you have a captive audience under general control one may prefer a sermon rather than a parable. But in any situation when you want to work from the bottom up, you will have to trust your audience, raise their consciousness and see what happens. But I insist once again that all of that makes sense to me only within the general vision/program of the kingdom of God.

      From: David Amador <thevoidboy@...>
      To: hjmaterialsmethodolgy@egroups.com
      Subject: [HJMatMeth] Re: Parables
      Date: Sat, Feb 26, 2000, 4:32 PM

      Kindly use this post, as the previous one I sent required editing. I didn't notice the few, and comical, interpretations my voice-to-text processor made of my dictation.

      Thank you!
      Dom -

      I was a student of Bill Herzog's and wrote my Master's Thesis under his tutelage (later published by JSNT) on the Parable of the Tenants. I alluded to this parable in an earlier post and it was his concepts and approaches to parables that brought about a very interesting, even " revolutionary " insight into the nature of so-called " consciousness-raising". See, Bill had taken the great deal of inspiration from the work of Paulo Friere and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. As you may recall, Paulo's pedagogy consisted in bringing a group of observers into a given locale who would watch the operational forces of theology at work in the day to day lifted and interaction of the village. The would then return from the village, compile their observations, develop a pedagogy dedicated to raising awareness by dramatizing key fictional but " typical " daily events or interactions. There would then return to the villagers and teach them in conversation by means of these dramatic stories.

      The parallel seemed obvious to Herzog. I suppose it also seems obvious to you, insofar as you adhere to belief that Jesus had a particular message or messages, a program perhaps of social criticism that he wished to get across. Set within this context or background, the parables become a very important way of engendering discussions that rabies the level of awareness concerning how the world works. Perhaps even, how the world ought to work.

       There are of course a couple of difficulties here: the first, and perhaps the least important, but also the one with a broadest ramifications, is that it presupposes a program. (I say 'least important', because its seems we all agree there was a program to Jesus' movement.  I'm not so sure, insofar as if there were one, it must have been of a type that allowed for so much misunderstanding that upon his death so many different fantasy chains could be ascribed to him).  I suppose one could suggest that parables as a genre in and of themselves might be "consciousness raising", but the one problem Bill and I both wrestled with was "to what end"? After all, unless we are going to describe a particularly unique function to Jesus' parables (which is possible, given his "program(s)"), we have to admit that these kinds of stories were frequently used in educational settings not in order to critique the status quo, but instead to reinforce it. (Paideia as enculturating force.)

       But, supposing we could discern a program (and your own scholarly efforts have persuasively presented one possible way of reconstructing that program or programs), the question is how parables might help us to understand that program. And here is where we run into difficulty: Bill's concept of consciousness raising ended up being (at least at that time) just that: pithy and insightful examples of the everyday fictional truths and observations. But if that's all it's about, then the parable becomes a two-edged sword: take, for instance, the parable of the tenants. As far as I was able to discern, this quadruply attested parable with double independent attestation, presented a circumstance where tenant farmers at the edge of destitution seize the opportunity that they believed would secure them their rights to the land again. The parable ending at the tragic or revolutionary murder of a landlord's son, two radically different responses were indicated in the tradition: on the one hand, a response to the effect that, "Boy those guys are gonna get it!" On the other hand, " Hey! Check it out: they got back the land." (The theme of reversal of the Psalm quotation.)

      Now this is an interesting situation. What does the parable mean? Well, it "means" nothing. Parables " do ". But what does this parable do? Does it raise a pre revolutionary consciousness? Not necessarily. An ideological insight into the operations of exploitation? Again, not necessarily. Or, to put it differently, it does both. How does this foster or support a program? Again, maybe it doesn't. The tradition suggests both the desire for change, and a desire for maintaining the status quo. Both responses being quite legitimate receptions of this story.

      Which may be exactly what parables are all about: as you indicated, to help people " to think for themselves". But what they end up thinking need not necessarily be a hope for or desire towards egalitarianism. Instead, it might just be a very conservative, reactionary love of what we would from our perspective call an ideological oppression.  A very risky business, making parables as a source of historical reconstruction difficult to use, except in the broadest terms.

      Ironically, this is exactly the kind of fate Paulo Friere's pedagogy ended up facing.


      P.S.  Your more important point of parables as a way of thinking/describing the life of Jesus was also something Bill was very keen on getting us to understand: parables of Jesus became parables about Jesus.  Very interesting, that.
       "(4) That interaction, that "raising of
      consciousness," is exactly the purpose of the parable (I am agreeing here
      with Herzog). If there is silence,, it has failed. If all agree it means X,
      it has failed. It trusts its audience to react across a spectrum of
      diversity and to learn from and within that diversity: in plain language, to
      think for themselves. It is, actually, the only proper pedagogy for radical
      egalitarianism. (5) They were all, whether so specified are not, parables of
      the Kingdom (as Dodd put it). It is within that vision/program and about
      that vision/program, that "consciousness is being raised" and reaction is
      being provoked.

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