In a previous post we discovered how scholarship casts fresh and revealing light on the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus. In a similar vein, revisiting his parables in a clarified historical context can illuminate even more about Jesus and his message. Reading the parables in the context of post-exilic first century Judaism brings them to life in unexpected ways.
Parables are short, allegorical stories designed to engage their hearer’s imagination and challenge patterns of thought. In this way they are not unlike apocalyptic texts, except that they feature decidedly mundane subjects and imagery. Jesus tells many parables throughout the synoptic gospels (though he tells none in the fourth). Most involve a king, boss, landlord, or other authority figure dealing with his subjects, employees, or tenants. Others involve characters discovering or losing valuable treasures, family drama, and lots of agricultural metaphors. Despite their diversity, according to Jesus himself, all of the parables serve the same purpose: to reveal “the secrets of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:11). What does that mean? Great question! But first… Continue reading