Stories that change the world

Crossan - ParableEarly in his academic career, John Dominic Crossan developed an interest in parables, which resulted in a book, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (published in 1973).

Four decades later, he continues these studies in The Power of Parable ((New York: HarperOne, 2012) in which he uses parable as the primary method for understanding the content and character of Jesus’s message. He then employs this literary form to develop master narratives for the four gospel accounts and inspire his critique of the ways that the gospel writers reshaped Jesus’s message in response to theological and political challenges they were encountering.

 Most of this review consists of a précis of Crossan’s book that I have prepared in order to understand and remember his thesis and the way he develops it. Before offering this personal summary, however, I want to indicate my general response to the book. Crossan shows how fiction and fact often are woven together, sometimes wittingly and often unwittingly, so that they can serve as metaphorical narratives.

Crossan’s analysis of one set of writings suggests a way to recognize a similar process in many other writings in academic history, secular literature, and religious literature. Although Crossan believes that the historicity of narratives is an important issue to be settled, he makes it possible for readers to suspend temporarily the need for historical validation of narratives in order to recognize their parabolic functions.
Not only does this approach help Christians understand the character and power of their religious tradition, but it also provides a way to understand literature that is outside of their experience, such as the Qur’an and Book of Mormon. To read more, click Crossan on Parables.
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