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Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127


Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. By Klyne Snodgrass. Pp. xviii + 846. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. $50.00. Klyne Snodgrasss Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus is just what the sub-title claims: a guide for pastors, teachers, and other interested readers needing some initiation into Jesus parables; and a comprehensive guide at that (a point which bears stating in case the 800-plus-page length is not indication enough). The discipline of gospels studies is of course a sub-specialty unto itself, a methodologically eclectic region within the larger realm of New Testament studies. And within gospels studies, to draw the lines even more tightly, is the distinctive quarter of parable scholarship, with its own questions and concerns. For those navigating the winding and variegated streets of this quarter for this rst time (or the rst time since seminary), Stories of Intent presents itself as a kind of tour guide, presenting the range of options but also, at the end of the day, willing to propose an interpretive place for the weary teacher to lay his or her head. Snodgrass begins by way of introducing a parable, is in its broadest sense . . . an expanded analogy, which is used to explain or convince (p. 2, emphases here and throughout are original). Against interpretations of Jesus parables which have forced them to serve various purposesfor ancient theological purposes to modern ideological ones and pastoral ones, our author hopes to get after the intent of the tellerJesus himself with all the power and creativity of his teaching (pp. 2-3). What matters above all is what the good teacher meant by his parables; more precisely, how did Jesus seek to change attitudes and behaviors with this [or that] parable (p. 3). Thus, interpretive pride of place goes to the Sitz im Leben Jesu, less so to the Sitz im Leben Evangelium, and within the postNew Hermeneutic and post-post-structuralist discussion, the authors sympathies align with an author-centered hermeneutic. Jesus parables are not simply propositions tailored ex eventu to the churchs situation, but historically retrievable speech acts, whose historical specicity is no bar to present-day application. The Introduction proceeds by taking up a brief history of parable interpretation (pp. 4-7), further denitional questions (pp. 7-9), strategies for classication (pp. 9-13), reections on allegorization (pp. 15-17), a cataloguing of parable characteristics (pp. 17-22), and some analysis of the distribution of the parables within the gospels (pp. 22-24). Right up front certain important markers are set down. The author invokes Kierkegaards observation on the indirect quality of parables and writes: most of Jesus parables are double indirect communication in that they do not speak of the hearer/reader or the subject at hand (p. 11). This insight in turn serves as a partial basis for Snodgrasss classication system. Distinguishing himself somewhat from those reiterating the old form-critical taxonomies, the author suggests ve broad categories: aphoristic sayings, similitudes, interrogative parables, narrative parables, and How much more parables. Precisely because the parables are considered as speech acts, the basis for this characterization is primarily one of function rather than form. Next comes some discussion regarding how parables should be interpreted (pp. 24-31). This largely consists of eleven principles, all of which are consistent with the argument thus far. Particularly helpful in this section is the following point: The key is knowing when to stop interpreting. As with metaphor, parable interpretation is about understanding the
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.1163/187122010X496522


Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127

limitsand the signicanceof the analogy (p. 28). In other words, if we lose sight of the fact that parables are extended metaphors, we are bound to either over-interpretation or under-interpretation. Moreover, in their metaphorical capacity, parables can neither be reduced to simple propositions nor be subject to a facile formula for attaining their meaning. The act of interpretation is prudential and will have to be determined from the whole of the parable and the whole of Jesus teaching (p. 31). While I personally have no scruple with the content of this prolegomena, perhaps one of its more controversial aspectsand it is hard not to be controversial on these questionswill have to do with the authors assuming the relative transparency of the historical Jesus traditions, which are presumed to echo Jesus voice and show only minor overlay either from oral (form-critical) or editorial (redactional) reworking. That is, compared to the broad stream of historical Jesus scholarship, the author is relatively sanguine about the possibility of recovering the parables as Jesus parables. He writes, parables are indeed the surest bedrock we have of Jesus teaching; they t Jesus prophetic stance (p. 31). Meanwhile, there is caution in the application of form and redaction-critical methodologies (pp. 31-33). Here one nds no radical paring down of the parables so characteristic of form-critical studies; here, too, minimal weight is placed on redactional seams (introductions, conclusions, and interpretive elements) (p. 33). Along these lines it is no surprise that the gospels are not seen as having been primarily written for a particular community; they were written to convey material about the teaching and life of Jesus in order to create followers of Jesus (p. 33). In the next chapter, entitled Parables in the Ancient World, the reader is treated to possible backgrounds to Jesus parables, including the Old Testament, early Jewish writings (intertestamental period), Greco-Roman writings, the early church, and later Jewish writings (rabbinica). The authors judgment is balanced and appropriately reserved. Not wishing to link Jesus parables directly with the philosophical schools, he is willing to grant that these teachings would not have seemed strange to Gentiles (p. 51). Likewise, the similarity of the rabbinic parables to sayings of Jesus precludes any idea of ignoring this material (p. 54), even if it is uncertain that rabbinic examples may reach back into the rst century (p. 59). The point of these comparisons is to show that parables are contextspecic, and for this reason regularly have interpretations (p. 59). Interpretation is demanded by the historical context. Having carefully laid the initial groundwork, Snodgrass dedicates the next ve hundred pages to an analysis of the parables themselves. He identies 32 parables and divides them along the following thematic categories: Parables of Grace and Responsibility, Parables of Lostness, the Parable of the Sower, Parables of the Present Kingdom, Parables Specically about Israel, Parables about Discipleship, Parables about Money, Parables concerning God and Prayer, and nally, Parables of Future Eschatology. The structure of each chapter is roughly the same. First, there is identication of parable type (see the discussion in the introductory matter). Next one nds Issues Requiring Attention, where anywhere between four and a dozen important exegetical or homiletical questions are agged up. Then follows Helpful Primary Source Material, including more relevant background materials. Space is then devoted to Textual Features Worthy of Attention and Cultural Background. The core of each chapter comes under the heading, Explanation of the

Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127


Parable, which canvases the major interpretive options and then begins to settle up on some of the exegetical questions raised earlier in the section. Each section closes with at least a few paragraphs dealing with the practical, present-day implications (Adapting the Parable), and a bibliography for further reading. These various components, shared by the discussion of each parable, are all useful, though to varying degrees. While the section entitled Helpful Primary Source Material is interesting in its own way and perhaps even necessary for the sake of comprehensiveness, most readers will be at a loss as to how the isolated parallels are to be related to Jesus parables. In other words, the relevance of these parallels is not entirely clear, and is usually not made any clearer by the ensuing discussion. This minor criticism aside, I nd Snodgrasss discussion to be consistently judicious, thorough, and illuminating. More than that, he writes with a quality that makes the parables live. Whereas so much writing on parables can be inaccessible and sterile, the prose conveysespecially in his section Adapting the Parablea sense of vitality and dynamism. Since in a book this size it would be impossible to treat the authors discussion of all the parables, I turn by way of example to his discussion of what is often considered the quintessential parable: the Parable of the Sower. After identifying the parable type (p. 146), the author goes on to delineate seven points requiring attention. Here we nd such diverse exegetical questions as: What is the signicance of the structure of the parable? or How are the dicult words of Mark 4:10-12 to be understood? or Why would anyone sow see this way? The choice of questions, though of course not comprehensive, reects a mind that has grappled with the text on a deep level; they ag up the most pressing issues confronting any interpretation of the text. The next several pages contain bullet points of parallel canonical material, relevant early Jewish writings, Greco-Romans writings, early Christian writings, and later Jewish writings (pp. 147-49). Obviously, some parallels are more helpful than others; for better or worse, the reader is left to decide. Then, in the following section, a short one, Snodgrass takes up the issue of dierences between the gospel accounts, including the Gospel of Thomas (pp. 150-51). Here it is reported that on the basis of these dierences and similarities scholars like Luz and Nolland have oered their own judgment on the relevance of the Parable of the Sower to synoptic relationships (both scholars suppose that the later gospels had access to a version of Mark beside Mark): Such theories ought to make us much more cautious about explaining Synoptic tradition (p. 151). In the section entitled Textual Features Worth Noting, Mark 4:10-12 rightly takes center stage. Acknowledging the dierent editorial tendencies of each of the evangelists, the author pays close attention to verbal dierences within the triple tradition (pp. 152-54). He follows Tolbert (among others) in suggesting that the parable has a unique interpretive status among parables. Thus this parable and the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, at least in the second gospel, make up this Gospels basic narrative christology and summarize Marks primary message (p. 154). In all three gospels, the parables themes are mirrored in the gospels (p. 154). How the meaning of Marks Parable of the Sower lines up with the meaning of Jesus parable in the original setting remains less clear. Following Cultural Information, which takes up the discussion of the realistic versus non-realistic fruitfulness of the harvest (p. 155), the author goes on to entertain interpretive options. There are eight, most of which potentially overlap (p. 156). The discussion


Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127

tails back to the questions raised earlier and the handling of the issues is commendable. Suitably engaging important scholarly interlocutors, the discussion is thorough without being overly technical. Particularly relevant in this section (a propos Mark 4:10-12) is a statement on the authors part as to how parables functioned: Parables are not always obvious and self-explanatory, but even when enigmatic, their purpose is to enlighten. The very uncertainty of their reference is part of their appeal and often the means of their eectiveness, but they are not meant to obfuscate. . . . Jesus parables reveal the kingdom of God and give handles for grasping it (pp. 163-64). The key here, as it is for all parables, is in listening. Citing Luz approvingly, Snodgrass agrees that this parable, like many others, was a meditation about the various hearers of Jesus proclamation (p. 164). Put otherwise, this parable, again like others, emphasizes both receptivity and bearing fruit (p. 176); Jesus focus in presenting it (whose original sense and structure is roughly similar to that which we nd in the gospels) is on its revelatory status as well as the dynamics of hearing (p. 176). The sub-text of Isaiah 6 is crucial, for that passage too is meant to goad Gods people into obedience. Snodgrasss chapter ends on a salutary note: The parable is about hearing that leads to productive living, and adapting the parable will mean enabling people to move past merely hearing wordseven with joyto teaching that captures the whole person. People think they can look like giant oaks without putting down deep roots. When they realize how much eort it takes to put down deep roots, they too often settle for being bramble bushes (p. 176). As is clear enough from this quotation, Snodgrasss book does more than convey the exegetical harvest of a scholars minds, it brings in the homiletical fruits of a pastors heart. If I have any lingering questions in regards to the book as a whole, these pertain to issues of method. While the authors central interest in the parables as spoken by Jesus can hardly be criticized and is indeed a breath of fresh air in a long-running conversation which has eectively skirted the Leben Jesu altogether, one wonders whether more could be done towards appreciating the parables from a narrative critical point of view. If we agreeI for one dowith Snodgrass and Tolbert that the Parable of the Sower provides a kind of interpretive key for Marks narrative, the question then remains whether it is possible to do the parable full justice apart from its context within that narrative. I realize this a lot to ask: it is an easy thing for a reviewer to ask for more; it is a dicult thing for an author and publisher to add the same more to a book already exceeding eight hundred pages. So, I raise the point not so much as a criticism but as a reminder. While I am certain that Snodgrass himself would be the rst to admit that there is much more that could be said about the parables meaning as narratologically embedded texts, perhaps the author could have done a little more by way tipping his hat in this direction. All the same, Stories with Intent will serve for years to come as a staple reference work on the parables. Scholars, pastors, and lay-persons alike will prot having it handy in their

Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127


libraries, for as a guided tour to the parables, it serves admirably. In fact, I am pressed to think of anything better on the market. (There is certainly no up-to-date work that is more comprehensive.) Indeed, I might even go so far to say that Snodgrasss opus is more than a tour guide of parables and parable scholarshipit is a tour de force. Nicholas Perrin Wheaton College


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