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Eight Great Tips for Studying the Parables of Yeshua

I was reading Short Stories By Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy-Jill Levine and found eight great tips for studying the parables of Yeshua – and for Bible study in general.

(1) There’s an old saying in biblical studies (I first heard it from Ben Witherington III) -- a text without a context is just a pretext for making it say anything one wants. The more we know about the original contexts, the richer our understanding becomes, and the greater our appreciation for the artists and composers who created the works initially.

(2) In order better to hear the parables in their original contexts and so to determine what is normal and what is absurd, what is conventional and what is unexpected, we need to do the history.

(3) The parables are open-ended in that interpretation will take place in every act of reading, but they are also historically specific. When the historical context goes missing or we get it wrong, the parables become open to problematic and sometimes abusive readings.

(4) In listening to parables and appreciating them within their initial context, we also do well to listen for echoes of Israel’s scriptures, since the parable evoke earlier stories and then comment on them.

(5) Reading the parable in light of the antecedent narratives creates surprise and challenge; in turn, reading the antecedent narrative in light of the parable opens a host of new insights.

(6) Another maxim that frequently holds for biblical studies is -- the world of the people who wrote and first heard the texts is different from our world. We cannot map onto their cultures and contexts our own values or expectations. What seems odd to us might be perfectly normal to them.

(7) The trick is to determine what is surprising in the parable, and what is not. And there is much in Jesus’s parables that surprises.

(8) When we turn to Jesus’s parables, we do well to hear them as the people who first heard them, Jews in the Galilee and Judea.

I highly recommend Dr. Levine’s great book -- Short Stories By Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi & another book she co-authored -- The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Find links to both book at -- http://biblicalheritage.org/BHC%20Online%20Bookstore/real_yeshua_books.htm

Be Empowered,

Jim Myers

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