On the Path: Part 1
As a youngster, I liked to ask questions of the teacher in Sunday School class. I would ask questions about one of the many stories that we were told. How tall was Goliath? How long did it take for Noah to build his ark? Did Jericho really fall down after some horns were blown? It was often answered with a chuckle and pat on the head from the teacher. I did not feel that I had my answers from this person, but later the preacher would have a sermon on the very stories that I had questioned. I learned quickly to not question the stories vocally. It was a sin to question God and his Word. It was a sin that led me to an eternal damnation. So, I stopped in order to gain approval from the adults and not be punished with banishment from the comforts.
However, this was the seed that began to grow into a sapling of a tree of knowledge. I needed to water and care for this tree. To find the water and food, I changed my posture on the questioning and began to ask from the point of view that was not from innocence. I asked challenging questions that would force the preacher or teacher to examine their own beliefs to find the answers. Essential, I investigated the Bible by understanding what others interpreted a verse or story to mean. What does this parable mean? What is the break down of the Sermon on the Mount? How does one view the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness? Who Jesus is preaching to? Who was Jesus? Why was he a threat in Jerusalem? What was his message?
It was a wellspring of information of opinions and interpretations of doctrines and dogma. I often suggest that this mountain of knowledge compares to the idea of reading numerous reviews of a movie that you have never seen and forming an opinion. However, I was able to pull together a skeleton of various doctrines and map out how different the minds of the Church can think.
The next step was to actually read the source and examine it in the method of a historian. The historical context was the macrocosm while each book and chapter in the bible was examined as a whole. If you take a single verse out of the bible, you can apply it to an interpretation that may not fit into the entire context of the chapter or book. In the past, I have encountered numerous preachers, faithful members, and verse-spewing fanatics who love to pull out a verse to support their thoughts on a subject. Of course, I remember that during the temptation of Jesus that he was tested by the devil doing the same thing.
By the time I learned enough from this historical method, I was ready to search for the deeper notions of the texts and compare them with the texts of the time. I had studied enough of the contemporary history of the first century BCE and the first century CE that I felt that I could draw on it to answer my questions.
My first question was about the parables and why this form was used to convey the message that Jesus had brought. It was very difficult question as the texts of the region that Jesus was supposed to have lived in were not known for its mass-produced texts. In fact, it is easy to conclude that nearly all were illiterate. The language of the early texts of the New Testament was mostly ancient Greek. Most of the lands had come to know Greek during the Hellenization of the region after Alexander the Great’s conquest.
Parables have a higher rate of understanding due to their length and lack of complexity for the people of the region to understand. These people were not thinking about the world beyond their daily routine. A minister roaming the land that works to connect with his people is best served when he changes his words into short stories that can be easily memorized and told to others. It is an example of early social networking.
On the thought of the language used, the texts of Gospels are accepted to be dated later in the first century CE, so this places them a few decades after the crucifixion. In addition, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE. It is difficult to believe that the Gospels were eye witness accounts written during Jesus’ time. All are dated to the period after the Jewish Revolt, so it makes logical sense that the parables were passed along in an oral tradition until they were recorded and protected from destruction. The Parables of Jesus survived as a simple vehicle in a region of illiterate people.
It is this group of people that became the core of the beginnings. They were simple people on the rural edge of a sea that kept them away from all the politics of the world. It is no surprise that the powers of the Empire did not give them much thought. But this conclusion only answers one of my questions and not with much solid evidence. The puzzle is missing pieces.
I will be working to explore this subject further and would love to hear from others on their ideas of parables and their use in the New Testament. I have plenty questions to further understand.