Meier rejects the critical history of the parables tradition written by J. Jeremias in 1947.1 Jeremias demonstrated that “the primitive church related the parables to its own concrete situation and by doing so produced a shift of emphasis” in the parables.2 Thus the church reshaped the character of the parables by allegorizing them3 even to the extent of introducing allegorical features into the narratives to insure ecclesial interpretations.4 The critical distinction between parable and allegory was established in 1888 by A. Jülicher in his two volume work Die Gleichnisreden Jesu.5 N. Perrin summarized the distinction that Jülicher established between parable and allegory in this way: “parable means what it says, using pictures to express its meaning. Allegory, on the other hand…does not mean what it says, but hides its meaning in symbol.”6 Since these two pivotal studies on the parables (Jülicher and Jeremias) critical scholarship has regarded the allegorical flourishes in the parables like barnacles on a clam—the clam is not defined by the barnacle, rather the barnacle by the clam. In short Jeremias found that “most of the allegorical traits in the present form of the parables are not original.”7
Meier defines parables as “comparisons…that have been ‘stretched out’ into short stories with at least an implicit beginning, middle, and end—in other words, a mini-narrative with at least an implicit plot line.”8 But since allegorical narrative is used in ancient Israelite texts and in the synoptic parables “one must come to each Synoptic parable with an open mind rather than a rigid grid” (p. 87) as to the presence of allegory in the parables.9
Nevertheless Meier regards the narrative parables as “riddle speech” when compared to Jesus’ “legal teachings” (p.4, 34). The parables require a context. Without a context the parables are open to multiple meanings (p. 32-33). He works out his understanding of the historical context of the parables in the career of Jesus in his first three volumes, summarized for the reader in the volume on parables (p. 3). This “historical context” is heavily indebted to the synoptic reconstructions of the career of Jesus. Hence a reliable interpretation of a parable of Jesus requires that it be analyzed in “its redactional context in a Gospel and its historical context in the ministry of Jesus” (p. 5) in order for an exegete to have any hope of recovering the “intention” of Jesus.10 Both requirements, therefore, ensure the continuing influence of allegorical analysis in the interpretation of the parables of Jesus.
At the end of his chapter on allegory (pp. 85-87) it becomes clear that allegorical motifs in the parables will be regarded as legitimate parts of the parables’ tradition, and such is the case with his discussion of the four parables he finds to be authentic (pp. 230-362). Interpreting the parables allegorically, however, is a denial of the inherent nature of the parables as realistic fictitious narratives about everyday life in Palestinian peasant villages.11 Meier’s view is that while some of the parables might be realistic, not all are (pp. 42-43). The basic realism of the parables, however, challenges Meier’s allegorical method of parables’ interpretation. On the other hand, acknowledging their realism disfranchises allegory thus freeing the parables to come into their own as ancient texts un-encumbered by early Christian theology and rhetoric.12
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
*Meier uses the word “blunder” to describe a position with which he disagrees (40).
1This is the date of the first German edition of Jeremias, Parables of Jesus (first English translation, 1954); see N. Perrin, Rediscovering the Teachings of Jesus, (1967), 258. Perrin was a student of Jeremias.
2Parables of Jesus (revised edition, 1963), 48.
5Jülicher’s two volume work has never been translated.
6Perrin, Rediscovering, 257.
7Jeremias, Parables, 89.
8Meier, Probing the Authenticity of the Parables, 37.
9Ibid., 87. See his brief discussion of allegory pages 82-88.
10Meier’s goal in interpreting the parables is the following: “our quest concerns what the historical Jesus intended when he decided to use parables in general and to speak this or that parable in particular,” p. 33. From my perspective, however, one never really knows what people intend; one only knows what they tell us they intended.
11Meier specifically rejects the idea that parables are inherently realistic fictions that draw upon everyday life in Palestinian villages (42-43).
12Hedrick, Many Things in Parables, 36-44.