The Parables: Jewish Traditions and Christian Interpretation

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The Parables: Jewish Traditions and Christian Interpretation, by Brad H. Young. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998. 332 pp. $24.95.

Brad H. Young's The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation is written in a readable style to suit a variety of audiences. Greek and Hebrew words and quotes are not transliterated; however, they are accompanied by a translation. The use of footnotes rather than endnotes, the effective formatting of chapter sub-sections, and a valuable and somewhat extensive bibliography all contribute to the value of the book.

Young, founder of the Gospel Research Foundation, begins with the thesis, which he has previously defended in his Jesus and His Jewish Parables (1989), that the historical Jesus was primarily a wisdom teacher and not an apocalyptic preacher. This thesis guides his selection of parables to be attributed to the historical Jesus and his evaluation of the manner in which they have been redacted by Christian tradition. Using a variety of materials from rabbinic tradition in opposing an older generation of scholars, such as J. Jeremias, who had argued that the parable form was created by Jesus, Young seeks to demonstrate that the use of parables as a teaching tool was firmly embedded in Jewish tradition. David Flusser, who wrote the foreword for the book and was Young's mentor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, concurs with Young's assessment that it is the lack of familiarity with rabbinic parables that has led to the "erroneous impression that Jesus invented this literary form." It should be noted, however, that their definition of a parable appears to be broader than the traditional definition and is based more on the story's function than on formal literary characteristics.

Organizing his presentation theologically (prayer, grace, reconciliation, discipleship, and God's reign), Young's comparisons of the Jesus parables with the Jewish traditions emphasize theological rather than literary parallels. Based on the results of his research on the parallels between the Jesus parables and the materials found in rabbinic tradition, he argues against the appropriateness of the criteria of discontinuity used by such scholars as J. P. Meier and J. D. Crossan in the current quest for the historical Jesus. In addition, he is critical of "a preoccupation with eschatology, which pervades many current studies on the parables" (p. 41). Though some scholars question the validity of using primary sources which are dated after the period in question, Young reasons that it was likely that this rabbinic teaching method had evolved over time. This means that while one may not be able to demonstrate that a particular parable had been part of a pre-existing oral tradition, it is not unlikely that this particular teaching style and its associated tradition of parable responses pre-dated these documents.

By citing examples of how the meaning of traditional rabbinic parables has been altered by the retelling of the same story in response to different situations, he demonstrates that the meaning of a parable is constructed by the teacher when it is applied to a concrete context. …