Book review: Short Stories By Jesus
by Amy-Jill Levine
If this isn’t Levine’s best, it’s close. She writes from a practical, scholarly Jewish perspective, highlighting the world Jesus lived in. In this book she tackles the more controversial parables Jesus spoke, making an effort to put these stories back in their first-century Jewish setting.
Levine appreciates the depth of Jesus’s parables, and she digs deep in her analysis, but still seems content with an ambiguous meaning. She seldom insists on a single interpretation, yet often discards traditional Christian interpretations when they conflict with what she knows about first-century Palestine. In other words, she often finds the strongest meaning in the most straight-forward rendition, and that’s usually the most edgy interpretation, which fits well with what we know of Jesus-the-storyteller.
The lost sheep is a repentant sinner? Naw, Luke got that wrong. The lost sheep is just a lost sheep, a financial setback like the parable of the lost coin. We should try to identify with the obsessive shepherd, not the wandering sheep. Jesus’s meaning may not be crystal clear, but if you’re not looking at the parable from a down-to-earth perspective instead of the Christian meaning that developed later, you’ll surely miss his point.
I really loved this book. Here are the nine parables Levine illuminates:
Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son
The Good Samaritan
The Kingdom of Heaven Is like Yeast
The Pearl of Great Price
The Mustard Seed
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
The Laborers in the Vineyard
The Widow and the Judge
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Harper One, © 2014, 313 pages