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Crossan and Jesus and Parables (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) April 7, 2012: Harold Bloom, a secular Jew, is a remarkably prolific literary critic at Yale University. He has adjusted the framework for determining the kinds of imaginative literary works so that he as a literary critic could discuss all of biblical literature in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible.

In his thought-provoking book JESUS AND YAHWEH: THE NAMES DIVINE (2005), Bloom makes the following observation:

"Whoever you are, you identify necessarily the origins of your self more with Augustine, Descartes, and John Locke, or indeed with Montaigne and Shakespeare, than you do with Yahweh and Jesus. That is only another way of saying that Socrates and Plato, rather than Jesus, have formed you, however ignorant you may be of Plato. The Hebrew Bible dominated seventeenth-century Protestantism, but four centuries later our technological and mercantile society is far more the child of Aristotle than of Moses" (page 146).

I basically agree with Bloom's observations here. If you have received a formal education in Western culture, you have been acculturated in the way of thinking pioneered by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in ancient Greek culture.

As Bloom intimates, it will be a strenuous undertaking for people who have received a Western formal education to recover the thought-world of pre-philosophic thought such as the thought-world in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible (except for the prologue to the Gospel of John, which is indebted to ancient Greek and Roman Stoic philosophic thought, as I explain below).

I should point out that the pre-philosophic thought-world in ancient Greece was dominated by the Homeric epics. Homer was the teacher of Greece. Eric A. Havelock has studied the imagistic thought-world of the Homeric epics in detail in his fine book PREFACE TO PLATO (1963) and elsewhere. I would borrow Havelock's terminology and characterize the pre-philosophic thought-world in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible as an imagistic thought-world.

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In effect, the biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan undertakes to explore the imagistic thought-world of the Christian Bible in his ambitious and important new book THE POWER OF PARABLE: HOW FICTION BY JESUS BECAME FICTION ABOUT JESUS (2012). However, even though Crossan is obviously examining and discussing imagistic thought,

he does not happen to use Havelock's terminology about imagistic thought.

In the four canonical gospels, Jesus is portrayed as using parables. So Crossan examines parables in detail, especially those attributed to Jesus -- the fiction by Jesus mentioned in the subtitle of Crossan's book. The fiction about Jesus mentioned in the subtitle refers primarily to the four canonical gospels. To be sure, the four gospels are based on the historical Jesus and contain passing references to certain other historical persons and events. Nevertheless, the authors of the four canonical gospels were writing historical fiction, fiction based on certain historical persons and events. Crossan moves from characterizing as parables the fictions that Jesus used in teaching to characterizing as megaparables the four fictions known as the four canonical gospels. In a word, each of the four canonical gospels is a parable in spirit, or parabolic. As Crossan cleverly puts it, each canonical gospel is parabolic history or historical parable.

I would make several observations here regarding Crossan's terminology.

CROSSAN'S USE OF THE TERM PARABLE

Crossan works carefully to define and explain what he means by the term parable. Nevertheless, I see what he means by parables as narrative proverbs. The book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible contains a number of collections of proverbs. Most of the proverbs collected in that book are short pithy proverbs. But some others in that book could be characterized as narrative proverbs.

In the novel THINGS FALL APART (1958), the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe portrays certain characters as using both short pithy proverbs and narrative proverbs. In his perceptive article "Narrative Proverbs in the African Novel," Emmanuel Obeichina discusses the narrative proverbs in Achebe's novel THINGS FALL APART. Obeichina's article was published in the journal ORAL TRADITION, volume 7 (1992): pages 197-230. (This article and others can be accessed at the journal's website.)

Scholars have studied proverbs from different cultures around the world. For an extensive bibliography of studies of proverbs, see Wolfgang Mieder's INTERNATIONAL BIBLIOGRAPHY OF PAREMIOLOGY AND PHRASEOLOGY, 2 volumes (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009).

I belabor this point about proverbs to say that what Crossan discusses as parables fit into a far bigger category of short narratives known as narrative proverbs.

REGARDING CROSSAN'S TERM MEGAPARABLES

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell

Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible do not co... by Thomas Farrell on Saturday, Apr 7, 2012 at 9:51:30 AM
but as a Buddhist mystic once told me, "You doubt ... by Richard Girard on Saturday, Apr 7, 2012 at 12:21:10 PM
well said ,I fully agree with you :  Yest... by tao on Sunday, Apr 8, 2012 at 10:21:15 AM
  Crossan and Jesus and Parables (REVIEW ESSA... by tao on Sunday, Apr 8, 2012 at 10:56:54 AM