There is only one version of this parable: it comes from Luke's special parables tradition. Joachim Jeremias, the distinguished German New Testament scholar, pointed out that of the ninety examples of the Greek historic present1 appearing in Mark's gospel, Luke has only used one from their shared material (Luke 8:49).2 In Luke's special parables tradition, however, he has used the historic present five times in narrating parables (13:8; 16:7; 19:22), two of which appear in Rich Man and Lazarus (16:23, 29). Jeremias argued from these observations that the contrast in the use of the historic present between Luke's broader gospel narrative and his parables constitutes "clear evidence of an underlying pre-Lucan tradition."
He further pointed out that the first part of this parable (Luke 16:19-26) reflects well-known folk material deriving from Egyptian traditions (The Journey of Si-Osiris to the Underworld), which was transported to Palestine as the story of the poor scholar and rich Publican, Bar Ma'jan.3 His view is that Jesus made use of the underlying folk narratives to compose his own story. The second part of the parable (Luke 16:27-31) is a new epilogue that Jesus added to the traditional folk material in the first part; hence the emphasis of Jesus' parable lies in the second part. Further, the parable's title should be the "Parable of the Six Brothers."
The result of the discussions of this parable by members of the Jesus Seminar concluded that this parable did not originate with Jesus for several reasons: because folk tales about a rich man and a poor man whose fates were reversed in the next world were well known in the ancient Near East; in no other genuine parable of Jesus were characters given names; and that an interest in the plight of the poor is a special interest of the author Luke. The result of the combined vote of the Fellows was that the first part of the parable is questionable as a parable originating with Jesus. The second part, which described the six brothers, concerns the characteristic early Christian theme of the Judean lack of belief in the resurrection. For these reasons ninety percent of the fellows voted against the parable as originating with Jesus.4
Hence, on balance, there are enough questions about the pedigree of this parable to seriously question it as a parable composed by Jesus of Nazareth. Not all agree, however. For example, one critically trained scholar is aware of most of these challenges to the parable as a composition by Jesus, but nevertheless argues the following: "Although the parable in its present wording has clearly been transformed by Christian allegorization, it would seem that a nucleus of the parable can be attributed to Jesus."5 And he even uses a 12th century painting of Lazarus at the rich man's gate on the dust jacket of his hard-back book, in a sense symbolizing all the parables.
Perhaps it is time that critical scholars formulated a history of religions rule for evaluating parables that states: "The more certain it is that a parable reflects themes, plots, values, and traditional religious views of antiquity, the less certain it is that the parable originated with Jesus of Nazareth." The rationale for the rule is the following: because the parable makes extensive use of well-known traditional material it is far less certain that it might have originated with Jesus. The problem is not that one has thereby disproven its origin in the mind of Jesus, but that one cannot disprove that it originated with the gospel writer or elsewhere in antiquity. In attributing the parable to Jesus one runs the risk of attributing ideas to Jesus that were not his own. And for those reasons it should not be included in a database for determining the characteristic ideas of Jesus.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1 The Greek "historic present" is the use of a present tense where one would have expected a past tense. For example, in telling a story a narrator says: "and he says…" instead of the expected "and he said…" The historic present is a characteristic literary feature of Mark's gospel, but not of the other two.
2 Jeremias, Parables of Jesus (6th edition), 182-86. See Hawkins, Horae Synopticae,149.
3 Jeremias, Parables, 183, 178-189.
4 Funk and Hoover, Five Gospels, 360-62.
5 Hultgren, Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2000), 115.
Charlie, I had never noticed the use of historic present before. I'm glad you pointed it out because I will be more aware of it in future reading. Is it your obersrvation that most of the gospels were written using "the historic present?"
With regard to the origin of this well known parable... Do you think it is remotely possible to attribute to Jesus ideas that were his own? Speaking for myself, I have no way of knowing whether an idea is purely from me or picked up from conversations, reading material, childhood experiences, etc. The concept of having an "original idea" is very rare indeed, if at all. Your thoughts?
Thank you, Elizabeth
Charlie, you might also like this post on the Lazarus tale in Luke https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-resurrection-of-lazarus-questions.html
Thank you for reposting the essay on your blog!
Good Sunday Morning Elizabeth,
The historic present is pervasive throughout Mark; it is comparatively rare in Matthew and extremely rare in Luke (Hawkins, 143). For the raw data see John C. Hawkins, Horae Synopticae. Contributions to the Study of the Synoptic Problem (2nd ed.; Oxford, 1968) 143-49.
I am not describing Jesus as having "original ideas" (as you put it), but I am describing ideas that more probably originated with Jesus rather than from within the contexts of Judaism, pagan antiquity, or early Christianity. Because of the severe limitation of sources for comparison I could not make the claim that his ideas are "original," that is that no one else ever had them before. But I am claiming that ideas attributed to him are distinctive when compared to the other social contexts I mentioned above.
I am struck that there is nothing "illusive" in this story. It does not seem to have parabolic features either linguistically or thematically. Everything is straightforward. A well off man ignores the suffering of the poor and thereby suffers in the afterlife. A poor man languishes in body sores and dies of hunger and thereby is comforted in the afterlife. There can be no passing from the one to the other. No interpretation is required and we are not left to wonder about the meaning of this or that story element. In other words the story does not seem to have the characteristics of Jesus-speech. It does seem to have a connection to probable sayings of Jesus like God's kingdom belongs to the poor and its practically impossible for rich folk to get in.
The story appears to be part of the proto-Luke material collected by Marcion (95-165CE). It is found almost word for word in the 2nd-4th century Church Father references to the Marcionite gospel. (Epiphanius, "Scholia" 44, 45, 46; "Elenchoi" 56, 59; Tertullian, "Marc." 4.34.10-27; cf. 3:24; Adamantius 2.10) See BeDuhn, Jason D. "The First New Testament: Marcion's Scriptural Canon," Polebridge Press, 2013, p. 116-117, 173.
The really historical question is not whether one can (or should) BELIEVE that Jesus MIGHT have said something but rather whether there is GOOD EVIDENCE that he actually did. In the case of the Rich Man & Lazarus Luke is the only extant source that claim Jesus said this. But by his own admission Luke was not an eyewitness but only an ear witness to traditions passed down by other anonymous sources. Matthew's omission of this parable indicates that it was not likely in their common non-Markan written source of Jesus sayings (Q). So the original source of this parable was probably hearsay & is impossible to pinpoint with any degree of historical accuracy. Jeremias MAY have a point in this parable's use of the historic present. But all that indicates is that Luke probably (?!) did not invent it. IF one trusts Luke's claim that he has followed all things carefully & wishes to write an accurate account (Lk 1:1-4), one MAY believe that Luke was not the first to ascribe the plot of this parable to Jesus. Other elements in the plot point to a matrix in the mind of a Jew (e.g., Lazarus in the bosom of father Abraham) rather than a Gentile Christian. But it is still an unsupported leap of faith to identify that mind as belonging to the historical person named Yeshu bar Yosef of Nazareth in Galilee who was PROBABLY the author of the 90+ sayings that the Jesus Seminar credited ultimately to him. I personally voted a dark gray on this saying (meaning Possible but Extremely Uncertain) since its plot is in sync with other Jesus sayings that are almost certainly red (nearly verbatim from Jesus)or pink (core from Jesus but with some obvious later editing in transmission). E.g., "Congratulations, you paupers [ptochoi] for yours is the Kingdom of God", "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." So IMHO even if Jesus was not the original author of this parable it is not far from things he actually did say, which is more than can be said about other parables (such as Matthew's version of the wedding banquet)!
I have been pondering your first two sentences in the above post for several days now. I am not certain what you intend for me to understand by a feature of "illusiveness" in the parables of Jesus. Can you elaborate? Have you possibly mistakenly written "illusiveness" rather than an intended "allusiveness"?
The word that I meant to use was "elusive", meaning that I take Jesus-speech to be at least partially described as: 1. tending to evade or escape perception or comprehension: e.g., an elusive theory. 2. Difficult to define or describe: e.g., an elusive charm. "Allusive" would also probably work: 1. indirect mention 2. indirect, but pointed or meaningful reference. (American Heritage dictionary).
I take the Six Brothers story to be neither elusive or allusive.
But we could also ask, I guess, is the story "illusive," having the nature of an illusion? Does the story have either realistic or symbolic value for expressing the mysteries of justice, or does it convey an erroneous and misleading perception?
Those words sound very much like they fit into a reader's response to a story rather than something that can be verified at the level of narrative. What say ye? Can you give some specific examples?
You had asked for an example of elusive (evading comprehension) and allusive (indirect, but meaningful reference) language in Jesus’ teachings. I was looking at Mark 12:17 (and //s): “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The context is, “Should we pay the poll tax to the Roman emperor?”
Where he is quoted elsewhere as saying one cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13 and //s), Jesus here advocates serving two masters, or does he? Obviously, in some sense everything belongs to God, so does that rule out any allegiance to Caesar? What are some things that God might approve of that would justify supporting Caesar? Concurrently, Jesus’ opponents, who happen to be carrying in the temple coins of the realm which ascribe deity to Caesar, show themselves, thus, to be committing idolatry. Paying taxes, turns out, is an act of worship of Caesar, which God would view as a traitorous act, would he not. Is the core of the matter a choice of living with Caesar or dying with God? One knows what will happen if he refuses to pay taxes to Caesar. Should he, therefore, throw his life and family to the wind, and join one of the revolt groups? Or are both steps required to survive? Pay the tax to Caesar but at the same time join a revolt, thus “satisfying” both masters. Jesus offered some type of revolt opportunity himself. But would he really ok an idolatry trade-off?
Although his words are quite straight forward, they refer in an evasive and indirect way to the options for behavior.
For a more detailed examination of options, go to:
Tuesday, April 8, 2017
I agree with you about the character of certain sayings attributed to Jesus that I would describe as originating with Jesus. I described these sayings as not straightforward, but oblique" (See Wisdom of Jesus, 85-90). But here we are talking about the stories. Can you give me some examples of elusiveness and/or allusiveness from the stories?
It seems to me that any teaching with the phrase "....is like ...." can be classified as having a rather strong evasive and indirect component. Among the Jesus Seminar parables attributed to Jesus, those which have a main theme with that structure are:
Seed and Harvest (Mk)
Mustard Seed (Mk, Mt, Lk, Thom)
Leaven (Mt, Lk, thom)
Treasure (Mt, Thom)
Pearl (Mt, Thom)
Unforgiving Slave (Mt)
Vineyard Laborers (Mt)
Empty Jar (Thom)
Good afternoon Gene,
There are 19 parables that are not introduced by an introductory comparative frame and 4 stories of multiple versions where the evidence is divided. For example, the Thomas version of the Lost Sheep is introduced by an introductory comparative frame but Matt and Luke have no comparative frame (See Hedrick, Poetic Fictions, 257-58). The Seed and Harvest in Mark 4:26-29 is introduced by a comparative frame but the version of the story in Thomas (21d) has no such frame.
To characterize the story by an introductory comparative frame is something like having the tail wag the dog, I should think, since the introductory comparative frame is not a part of the world of the story. It is instead a part of the evangelists literary framework.
Can you point me to a story which in itself gives you this sense of allusiveness or evasiveness, etc., which does not depend upon what I would call the evangelists' comparative frames or interpretive conclusions?
I describe how to isolate the story world from the literary context of the evangelists in the Epilogue of Many Things in Parables, 100-104.
Two matters seem to be at issue:
(1) Comparative frames (e.g., "The kingdom of God is like...."): Scholars seem to differ on whether or not a comparative frame is part of the story. In my list of stories (above) I did my best to include only those where the Jesus Seminar scholars voted (pink, red) for the frame as being part of the story. I did not list The Lost Sheep because there is no frame in Lk and Mt and the story in Thomas was not voted to be original with Jesus.
(2) Can any story content in and of itself be considered evasive/indirect in its major theme? I suggest a tentative "yes" with regard to Jesus' attempt to use motivational strategies: e.g. Persistent Widow, Dishonest Manager, Assassin, Treasure and Pearl, are all examples of taking extreme measures to achieve a goal, which could have been experienced as an indirect influence on each listener.
Good Morning Gene,
Thanks as always for pushing back. That the comparative frames are not part of the parables is simply logical. They are not in the plot and action of the story, but are addenda to the story--the evangelists way of trying to control the reader to think as they do about the story. One half of the stories attributed to Jesus do not have a comparative frame. And the association of the stories with the kingdom of God comes only in the frames. Only 13 stories in all versions associate a parable with the kingdom of God. Twenty-five stories do not! Hence most of the stories do not prompt the reader to think figuratively about the stories.
With regard to your last paragraph: I agree that virtually all the stories are evasive if one is looking for a certain single point, or central truth, or moral. They are just stories and solicit a reader's response. They invite all readers to take up roles in the story and see how it plays out. More often than not, however, the stories interpret the reader by the reader's response.
How do you differentiate Jesus the storyteller from Jesus the teacher, or are they essentially the same?
Would you say that teachers and storytellers have different purposes: for example, would a teacher be more likely to try to motivate and inspire, and would a story teller be more likely to try to entertain? And so forth.
Thanks for the continued thought stimulation.
Good Morning Gene,
The synoptic gospels present the reader with a Jesus that is both teacher and storyteller. John presents a Jesus that is light bringer and teacher, but not storyteller.
I think of teaching and storytelling as essentially two different professional functions, but depending on the occasion teachers can aim at entertaining as well as informing, and storytellers can aim at informing/motivating as well as entertaining.
I consider myself an educator (with a goal of informing students and so shaping the student's character) and Garrison Keiller is basically a storyteller/entertainer (with a overall goal of entertaining an audience and leaving them happy/laughing), but on occasion each of us dips into the other's bag of tricks.
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