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Hear Then No More Parables: The Case against ‘Parable’

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image of Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Scandalous racial ideas are woven into the very fabric of some of the most cherished concepts of modern biblical scholarship. In his book Racializing Jesus, Shawn Kelley argues that race plays an essential role in the construction of a dizzying amount of cherished scholarly categories. Central to his argument is the claim that the category of parable is decidedly problematic because it emerges from, and is rendered coherent by, some of the most toxic elements of modern racialized ideology. Parable scholarship has long drawn its fundamental interpretive ideas from specific, modern views concerning the nature and power of symbolic and metaphoric language. Unfortunately these categories have a long and rather unseemly history, and they derive their power from this history. Behind the moving language of art, freedom and higher consciousness lurk the less appealing world of nationalism, race and ethnic purity. Escaping the later almost certainly means, at least for a time, learning to live without the former. This means that New Testament scholars and historical Jesus scholars would do well to put aside the category of parable. Parable scholarship envisions the powerful words forcing the hearer to make a stark choice, but perhaps the choice belongs instead to the biblical scholars: embrace these aesthetic categories along with their deeply troubling ideological baggage, or give up on the scholarly category of parable in its entirety.

Affiliations: 1: Daemen College,


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