Rethinking Vinegrowers and Violence (Part Two)

Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Collaert

Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Collaert

Having examined Schottroff’s interpretive concerns in yesterday’s post, we now turn to her reinterpretation of the Parable of the Vinegrowers in The Parables of Jesus (Trans. Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.), in which she critiques a traditional allegorical interpretation of the parable, and reconsiders its meaning for today’s context. The crux of her reinterpretation argues that this parable speaks not to the allegorical rejection of the people of Israel, but rather cries out against the multilayered forms of Roman violence suffered by Israel. Continue reading

Rethinking Vinegrowers and Violence (Part One)

The Parables of JesusLuise Schottroff, in her work The Parables of Jesus (Trans. Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.) writes that the parables of Jesus of Nazareth contain a wealth of information concerning the meaning of his proclamation and vision, information that has historically been both influential and misunderstood (1). In as much as there are as many interpretations of the parables of Jesus as there are New Testament and parable scholars, the purpose of this paper is to examine Schottroff’s feminist perspective in her examination and reinterpretation of the Parable of the Vinegrowers found in the Gospel According to Mark 12:1-12. In her interpretation, Schottroff argues that this parable speaks not to an allegorically based rejection of the people of Israel in favor of the Christian Church, but against multilayered forms of violence against the people of Israel that calls those people to endure Roman oppression and seek non-violent forms of effecting demands. Continue reading

Parable of the Prodigal Son: Conclusions

This post is the final post in our series examining interpretations of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Rembrant's Prodigal Son

Rembrant’s Prodigal Son

Last week we examined the interpretations of Hultgren, Rohrbaugh, and Schottroff and demonstrated the hermeneutical diversity concerning parable interpretation in current scholarship. In today’s final post in this series, we offer some reflection upon the implicit critiques that each respective scholar’s position offers the other interpretation before turning to some final thoughts concerning the diversity of interpretation in parables studies. Hultgren’s perspective, being the one most easily identified as “tradition” receives two strong overarching critiques. A social science perspective has little room for theologizing and relying on traditional historical-critical factors to provide the basis for a parable’s interpretation, and thus such a perspective would seem to call for a wider use of critical sources in Hultgren’s interpretation. From the feminist perspective, Hultgren’s interpretation is faulty in two crucial areas. First, his interpretation makes no reference to the implicit patriarchy exhibited in the father character or in the parable’s lack of reference to female characters who were almost undoubtedly involved in the story. Second, Hultgren makes the fatal error of allegorizing, and interprets the patriarchal father as God. Such an interpretation represents that exact form of traditional understanding that the feminist model seeks to overcome. Turning to a general critique Rohrbaugh’s perspective, we note that a traditional and theologically informed perspective would likely find fault with the often wooden sounding meanings and values that come from Rohrbaugh’s interpretation. From the feminist perspective, Rohrbaugh fails to adequately address the context of patriarchy and the role that female characters would have inevitably had in a narrative account. Looking at a critique of Schottroff’s perspective, one would expect a traditional perspective to offer at least a word of caution in assuming the parable affirms patriarchal structures. The argument could be made that since parables are short stories meant to convey messages to their audience, one would not expect to find much superfluous information or character development. From a social science perspective, Schottroff’s perspective would likely be critiqued on the grounds that inadequate or too traditionally employed socio-historical factors were used in the construction of the context of the parable and that more culturally specific datum should be employed. By this general exercise, we have seen that each interpretation presented can dialogue with and ask critical questions of the other perspectives. Have briefly surveyed some general implicit critiques of each scholar’s perspective from the positions of the other scholars, let us now turn to some final thoughts on the diversity of these perspectives. Continue reading

Parable of the Prodigal Son: Luise Schottroff

This post is part of our ongoing series examining interpretations of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Luise Schottroff

Luise Schottroff

Having surveyed Hultgren and Rohrbaugh’s perspectives in our two previous posts, we now turn to feminist scholar Luise Schottroff’s interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son found within The Parables of Jesus. In this work Schottroff embeds her feminist critique of oppression and patriarchy within the interpretive hermeneutic of the socio-historical method.[1] She employs the socio-historical method with the understood purpose of explaining the details of the text and providing a foundation from which to understand the social function of that text.[2] For Schottroff, parables cannot be understood as allegorical accounts with purely metaphoric meanings and interpretations.[3] Rather, she argues that parables should be understood as a contextually situated literary form that presumes a response by those who hear the narrative and gives rise to a resulting action.[4] Simply put, even with our modern reading of parable narratives “a response is always part of a parable” in Schottroff’s reading.[5] Schottroff also displays a strong critical awareness of several hermeneutical assumptions within New Testament interpretation that she argues need to be critical analyzed and rejected in our modern context, including the assumption of Christian superiority over other religions, dualisms in theological construction, assumptions that provide the foundation for notions of guilt, sin, and suffering through violence, and the common Christian perception of the ‘duty’ to maintain the social status quo and its structures of power.[6] Further, Schottroff emphasizes the importance of rediscovering the Gospel of the Poor within the words and parables of Jesus and rejecting any and all reasons for ignoring or interpreting the words of Jesus that concern domination and poverty other than the proclamation of the Gospel of the Poor.[7] As Schottroff embeds her methodological framework with both a feminist awareness as well as socio-historical methodology, she pays a great of attention to the context of those who would have first been exposed to the literary parables of Jesus, especially their socio-religious context with regard to Torah and their eschatological expectations concerning not the coming kingdom of God, but regarding the ‘nearness’ of God speaking now.[8] To sum Schottroff’s methodological focus, we see that she writes as one critically aware of the traditional socio-historical method, as one fully embedded in the feminist critiques of traditional patriarchal interpretations and methodology, and additionally gives special care to a renewed eschatological understanding that emphasizes the action that results from the delivery of the parable. Continue reading

Parable of the Prodigal Son: Richard Rohrbaugh

This post is part of our ongoing series examining interpretations of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Richard Rohrbaugh

Richard Rohrbaugh

We now turn to the examination of our second perspective in the interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the view of Richard L. Rohrbaugh, which provides us with an example of parable interpretation from the perspective of the social sciences. With regard to methodology, Rohrbaugh approaches the text of the New Testament primarily from the perspectives of sociology and anthropology, arguing that one cannot find proper interpretation of the stories contained in the Gospel accounts apart from their socio-historical context within the Ancient Mediterranean Jewish context.[1] While essentially skirting past any substantial critique formed by literary or redaction criticism, Rohrbaugh bases his parable interpretation out of the received text of that parable found in Luke, arguing the likelihood that at least a portion of both the Historical Jesus and Lucan audiences would have contained the characters that Rohrbaugh employs to situate his interpretation: the ancient Mediterranean peasant.[2] In basing his interpretation out of the world of the typical Mediterranean peasant, Rohrbaugh makes a notable assumption, namely that the contexts of the historically delivered parable and the literary parable were essentially the same. Such a perspective may seem to sit at odds with the long-held understanding of Luke’s gospel to have been written with an imperially informed and non-Jewish community. However, Rohrbaugh’s main concern in his interpretation of Luke 15 lies with the supplemental information that it presents in contrast to and in conglomeration with the traditional interpretation of this parable as one of repentance, forgiveness, and a stubborn older brother.[3] With the social sciences as his primary tool, Rohrbaugh relies heavily upon the works of those scholars who have sought to reconstruct the socio-historical world of First Century Palestine. This interpretation provides very little by way of direct evidence for the socio-historical claims made, with far fewer primary or even secondary accounts being utilized in the construction of the social world that is presented as the norm for the parable, making it difficult to weigh Rohrbaugh’s socially located claims against interpreters who would argue for a different set of social norms. Rohrbaugh’s methodology remains situated within the framework of the historical-critical model by its use of social-scientific and contextually oriented investigations of the socio-cultural world in which the parable was first delivered. Continue reading

Parable of the Prodigal Son: Arland Hultgren

This post is part of our ongoing series examining interpretations of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Arland Hultgren

Arland Hultgren

Arland J. Hultgren’s interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in The Parables of Jesus offers a commentary style interpretation that will function within this paper as an example of several facets of the “traditional” Christian interpretation.[1] Before examining his interpretation of this narrative, we must first note several methodological factors in his hermeneutic. Within the context of his commentary, Hultgren write that “the primary interest within this volume is exegesis and theological reflection on the parables of Jesus as transmitted within the Synoptic Gospels.[2] In examining Luke 15:11b-32, Hultgren employs a variety of historical-critical tools, including textual criticism, philology, a contextual understandings of words and phrases during the Greco-Roman period, literary examination of the parable, and theological engagement of the narrative.[3] Hultgren’s overarching approach to the parables of Jesus lies with his declaration that underlies the perspective that parables are to be considered one of the two undisputed facets of historical datum (the other being his crucifixion), which makes their interpretation central for understanding the message of the historical Jesus and early Jesus movement.[4] Within this interpretation, the Parable of the Prodigal Son can only be understood within its context,[5] especially the literary context of Luke 15, in which Jesus is responding to the Pharisee’s and this parable follows those of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin.[6] As a final note concerning Hultgren’s methodological perspective, he affirms that his interpretations are but one of many possible interpretations, though adding the caveat that a parable should not be understood to mean just anything.[7] Thus Hultgren approaches this parable from a typically Protestant interpretative framework that places emphasis on the theological implications of the parable, as well as the surrounding contextual and especially socio-historical concerns. Continue reading

Parable of the Prodigal Son: Introduction

Parable-of-the-Prodigal-Son-imageThe parables of Jesus have long been perceived by Christians and scholars alike as instances of impressive theological reflection and noteworthiness within the writings of the Church for their simplicity, depth, and history of diverse interpretation. Building upon a long scholastic history of reading and interpreting the parables of Jesus found within the synoptic texts of the Christian New Testament, this series examines the interpretive perspectives of three New Testament scholars concerning their understanding of the “Parable of the Prodigal Son”[1] found in Luke 15:11b-32.  Over the next week we will examine the interpretations of Arland J. Hultgren, Richard L. Rohrbaugh, and Luise Schottroff. Each of these scholars builds upon a similar history of Western interpretation and each has unique perspectives and insights into the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We will examine Hultgren’s interpretation as an example of a traditional perspective, Rohrbaugh’s work within his work in the social-science interpretation of the New Testament, and Schottroff’s view as a representation of the general feminist school of interpretation. This series examines these three interpretations and their critical interactions with other interpretations as a demonstration of the hermeneutical diversity within contemporary parable interpretation in New Testament scholarship. Continue reading