Early Christianity and Classical Culture: Comparative Studies in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe

By Abraham Johannes Malherbe | Go to book overview

THE PARABLE OF THE FOOLISH RICH MAN
(LUKE 12:16–20) AND GRAECO-ROMAN
CONVENTIONS OF THOUGHT AND BEHAVIOR

Ronald F. Hock


Introduction

Abraham J. Malherbe, universally admired for his studies of Paul,1 has also written with equal learning and insight on the gospels. One such study focuses on Luke’s warning against

or “greed” (Luke 12:15), within its larger literary framework (12:13–34).2 His study relates this warning more coherently than previous scholarship to the literary context, and he bases this coherence, in turn, on Luke’s use of the topos on greed as it was developed especially among the Hellenistic moralists, such as Dio Chrysostom. Dio’s seventeenth oration, which is titled “On Greed” is representative of the topos and thus is used to set out the themes that appear regularly in various philosophical treatments of the vice of “greed.” Like Dio, Luke warns against greed because it involves a desire for superfluities (12:15); is associated with a hedonistic lifestyle, as reflected in the parable that follows about the example of the rich man who utters the slogan “eat, drink, and enjoy yourself” (12:16–20, esp. v. 19); is foolishly ignorant of the uncertainty of wealth (12:20), not to mention the unnecessary daily anxieties that come with it (12:22–23); and in the end is punished by God (12:21).3

Malherbe also points out that Luke’s use of materials from the Hellenistic moralists is not restricted to this topos.4 It will be my purpose in this article to continue the effort to interpret Luke’s gospel in terms of this broader cultural horizon.5 I will limit myself, however, to that

1 See the collection of his studies, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).

2 Abraham J. Malherbe, “The Christianization of a Topos (Luke 12:13–34),” NovT 38 (1996) 123–35.

3Ibid., 125–27.

4 For Luke’s awareness of other Hellenistic topoi, particularly in Acts, see Malherbe, “Christianization of a Topos,” 130. For a thorough introduction to the Hellenistic moralists and their importance for New Testament studies, see Abraham J. Malherbe, “Hellenistic Moralists and the New Testament,” ANRW II.26.1 (1992) 267–333.

5 For such an attempt with the Lukan parable of the rich man and Lazarus, see

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