Book review: The Power of Parable

by John Dominic Crossan


Crossan ponders, “I had observed that the parabolic stories by Jesus seemed remarkably similar to the resurrection stories about Jesus. Were the latter intended as parables just as much as the former? Had we been reading parable, presuming history, and misunderstanding both?”

In other words, are the stories of Jesus really book-length parables? Crossan presents three such parables in the Old Testament: Job, Ruth and Jonah. Ruth challenges a part of the Bible, Jonah challenges the whole of the Bible, and Job challenges the God of the Bible. But isn’t there a major difference between the Old Testament books and the Gospels? Were  the characters in these stories historical, the way we think of Jesus?  So Crossan presents the story of Caesar at the Rubicon as “parabolic history” to show how even historical characters can be the subject of the development of parables.

Crossan separates parables by their flavor: riddle, example, challenge, and attack parables. I found the discussion of several New Testament parables insightful, but they served only as a lead-in to the bigger topic. In part 2, Crossan takes on the four Gospels each as a whole, presenting the meaning of them as book-length parables … what they challenge, what they attack.

It is not really the historicity of the Gospels that Crossan contests, but their evangelical purpose. The undercurrent of truth, or lack thereof, is not the focus of his book; it is the way the stories are bent into parable, and what these book-length parables mean. Thought-provoking and well-written, a great read.

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