Amy-Jill Levine on the Parables of Jesus

Amy-Jill Levine on the Parables of Jesus October 22, 2017

The Center for the Study of Christian Origins shared the above video featuring Amy-Jill Levine talking about the parables of Jesus.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John MacDonald

    I remember reading “The Power of Parable” by John Dominic Crossan and being a little surprised that he sort of uncritically supposes that the most ethically notable parables, what he calls the “challenge parables,” are also the ones that happen to go back to the historical Jesus. It’s kind of like figuring the “love your neighbor” and “love your enemy” statements must go back to Jesus because we assume Jesus was a super nice guy, and so if it is recorded that he said something super nice, then of course he must have said it! lol

    • John MacDonald

      If I’ve raised anyone’s curiosity about Crossan’s “The Power of Parable,” here is a brief article on it for the Huffington Post:

    • jekylldoc

      I suppose I should be jazzed by the link, but actually it may be a long time before I get around to looking at it. Without having read the Crossan piece, it occurs to me that many of the criteria used in judging what goes back to the historical Jesus, like separate, independent sources and criteria of embarrassment, have nothing to do with “things we really hope Jesus actually said.” The fact that many cool parables are also judged historical may have to do with not having some other ax for Matthew or Luke or John to be grinding, and if they are also ethically interesting they provide some reason why borrowings from Gamaliel or Philo or whomever might have been adopted by such a movement (i.e. one with a rabbi who said ethically interesting things). Well, I am out way past the stepping stones provided by my actual education, so I hope for an interesting response (but, again, with no promise to follow the link).

      • John MacDonald

        If you follow the link, you’ll see the author also questions why Crossan limits the ethically amazing “Challenge Parables” as being traced back to the historical Jesus. lol

      • james warren

        If you are looking for a perfect, objective and unbiased historical Jesus scholar [or even an unbiased human being], then good luck!

    • Neko

      Enough about Amy-Jill Levine, let’s talk about John Dominic Crossan!

  • John MacDonald

    Dr. Bart Ehrman recently shared what he sees as the essence of Jesus’ apocalyptic message, and I wanted to share it here. I found it very helpful (Paul also understood that the apocalypse was imminent, and Jesus as the “first fruits” of the general resurrection of souls at the end of days (1 Corinthians 15:23)):

    The Kingdom of God: Jesus’ preaching was principally about the coming Kingdom of God. Like other Jewish apocalypticists, Jesus did not mean by “Kingdom of God” what most Christians today seem to mean. Jesus was talking about an actual kingdom: an actual kingdom, a place here on earth, which would be ruled ultimately by God through his chosen representative, the king. He did not mean the place your soul goes in heaven when you die, or some kind of spiritual kingdom. He meant a kingdom. With a king. People will be able to enter into the kingdom; other people will be thrown out of it; there will be eating and drinking there; it will be the place where all God’s people are gathered together.

    Judgment: Different apocalypticists had different ways of imagining how the kingdom would arrive. But almost all of them maintained that it would arrive in a powerful act of judgment in which God would overthrow the kingdoms that are currently ruling the earth through the powers of evil, and that God would destroy everyone and everything that stood opposed to him in a cataclysmic break in history. We are not going to progress and improve our lot leading to a utopian place here on earth. The whole thing is going to come to a crashing halt through a decisive act of God. For Jesus, God is soon to enter into judgment with the world to destroy the forces of evil – the Devil, his demons, the current ruling authorities, and all who side with them.

    Son of Man: Many apocalypticists believed that this judgment would be delivered through a personal agent sent from God, a powerful angelic-like being who would either lead God’s armies from heaven or simply accomplish the deed himself. This divine figure was called by various names. Jesus referred to him (as did some others) as the Son of Man – in reference to the vision that the prophet Daniel had in which the wicked kingdoms of earth, represented in his dream by wild beasts, were overthrown by “one like a son of Man” (see Daniel 7:13-14). For Jesus, the Son of Man is soon to come from heaven in judgment. Those who accept Jesus’ teachings and follow him will be prepared for this cataclysmic event. Those who don’t will be destroyed. I do not think that Jesus understood himself to be that Son of Man. He was talking about someone else. (I probably need to explain why I think that; maybe I’ll devote a post or two to it. In the meantime, see this earlier post: ) The Son of Man was soon to come from heaven in judgment; Jesus urged people to prepare for the event.

    Reversal of Fortunes: When the Son of Man arrives, there will be a complete reversal of fortunes. It is the wealthy and powerful in the world now (emperors and kings and aristocrats) who have sided with the forces of evil to accumulate their wealth and power. They will be destroyed. It is the poor and the outcast who are on the side of God. They will be rewarded. The first will be last and the last first.

    Imminence: And when is all this going to happen? Like other apocalypticists, Jesus maintained that it would take place very soon. It is right around the corner. It will happen within his disciples’ lifetimes: “Truly I tell you, some of you standing here will not taste death before they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power” (Mark 9:1); “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place” (Mark 13:30).

    Need to Prepare: In view of this imminent catastrophic and cosmic event, people need to prepare. Those who side with Jesus and follow his teachings will enter into the kingdom. Those who do not will be destroyed. And what must one do in preparation? One must turn to God. God indicates what people should do in the Torah, the Law of Moses, which can be summarized in two of its teachings: you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) and you should love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). Really doing that requires a radical change in life. If your fellow-human is hungry and homeless and needy, and you are not – if you love him/her as you do yourself, you will tend to their needs. Jesus’ ethical teachings are entirely delivered in the context of the proclamation of the coming kingdom. Jesus did not teach social ethics so we could make society better and all get along for the long haul. For Jesus there wasn’t going to *be* a long haul. The end is coming soon. We need to live lives dedicated to God and to love and to one another NOW, so we can enter the kingdom THEN.

    The Beginning of the Kingdom. Jesus believed that those who followed his teachings were already experiencing a foretaste of what life would be like in the coming Kingdom of God. In the kingdom there will be no hatred, and Jesus’ followers lived lives of love now; in the kingdom there would be no war, and Jesus’ followers were peace-makers now; in the kingdom there would be no poverty, and Jesus’ followers gave their goods to those who were poor now; in the kingdom there would be no disease, and Jesus’ followers tended to the sick now; in the kingdom there would be no demons, and Jesus’ followers cast out the demons now. Already people are seeing what the kingdom would be like. And so the kingdom is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but which becomes an enormous bush. The kingdom is manifest in a tiny way now, in the lives of Jesus’ followers, but it is soon to come in a very big way, as God intervenes in history to destroy all that is opposed to him and set up a utopian kingdom, to be ruled by his chosen one, very soon.

    • james warren

      It might well have been called “Kingdom of God” because of the Roman Empire.
      What would it be like if God sat on the ruling throne instead of Caesar?

      As Crossan once summed up, the early followers were saying something like “Jesus is Lord and Caesar AIN’T !!!”

      • John MacDonald

        As we get closer to the earliest vision of Christianity, I don’t know if there were concerns about replacing Caesar. Paul said:

        Submission to the Authorities

        “13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1)”

        • John MacDonald

          Maybe the answer to this apparent contradiction is that the Paul of 1 Corinthians viewed Jesus as the “Firstfruits” of the general resurrection of Souls at the end of the age, but by the time he wrote Romans, since the Kingdom of God hadn’t come, maybe he changed his apocalyptic interpretation and instead urged the early church to revere their rulers so the wouldn’t be stamped out if some of the flock were into political or social insurrection (like Jesus and his assault on the temple). Maybe the apocalyptic interpretation resurfaced in Mark’s time because the destruction of the temple made many think it actually was the beginning of the End.