Parables and Conflict in the Hebrew Bible

By Gallagher, Edmon | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2010 | Go to article overview
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Parables and Conflict in the Hebrew Bible


Gallagher, Edmon, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Parables and Conflict in the Hebrew Bible. By Jeremy Schipper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, xiv + 168 pp., $85.00.

The Hebrew term mashal (pi. meshalim) appears thirty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. Its basic meaning of "comparison" encompasses various types of discourse, especially the proverb (e.g. Prov 1:1) and parable (cf. Ezek 17:2; 24:3; nrsv: "allegory"). The use of the term in Ezekiel, where it stands as a title (along with hidah in 17:2) for the subsequent short stories allegorically applied to Ezekiel's listeners, establishes it as the appropriate Hebrew term for other OT instances of what we call parables, though these other instances lack the title mashal itself. In his new book, Jeremy Schipper analyzes the parables in the prose portions of the Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Deuteronomistic History), thus aiming "to reinvigorate the scholarly study of Hebrew Bible parables by providing innovative readings of selected texts and by framing these readings within established scholarly conversation" (p. x).

Chapter 1 tackles the usual questions concerned with defining the object of study. Schipper states that scholars now define meshalim by function rather than by genre, as had been the case in previous decades. Each mashal functions as a comparison (whether it be proverb, parable, or other), but only parabolic meshalim receive treatment in this volume. As for their definition, the author asserts, "We define parables in the Hebrew Bible as short stories from any narrative genre that function as explicit comparisons created by a biblical character rather than the reader" (p. 2).

Since the term "parable" does not concern genre but rather function (comparison), Schipper sees it as one of his main goals to bring the question of genre more prominently into the discussion of each parable (pp. 7-10). As each chapter examines in turn one parable from the historical books, we learn the genre of the parable under discussion and how the use of this genre contributes rhetorically toward the goals of the speaker. Thus, Schipper (chap. 2) identifies the genre of Jotham's parable (Judg 9:7-21) as a fable containing a curse that sees fulfillment in the subsequent narrative; Nathan's parable (2 Sam 12:1-14) as a fable (not a juridical parable) that allows Nathan to focus attention away from international politics and onto David's destruction of a family unit (chap. 3); the parable of the Wise Woman of Tekoa (2 Sam 14: 1-20) as a petitionary narrative that enables David to defer to Joab in the case of Absalom without himself losing face (chap.

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