King Parables

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One of the many results of synoptic research is the discovery of parallels between the sayings of Jesus and those of other Jewish sages. A knowledge of these parallels can provide added insight into what Jesus was teaching.

This article is one of a six-part series entitled “Rabbinic Parallels.”


The “king parable” is a special form of parable often used by Jesus. The Reform rabbi and scholar Ignaz Ziegler collected 937 “king parables” from rabbinic literature and published them in 1903 in his Die Koenigsgleichnisse des Midrasch (Parables of Kings in the Midrash) in Breslau, Poland. The following is an example, preceded by a typical dialogue between a teacher and his disciples:

Rabbi Eliezer [last half of first century A.D.] said: “Repent one day before your death.”

His disciples asked him: “But can a man know on what day he will die?”

He said: “All the more reason for him to repent today; perhaps he will die tomorrow. It follows that a man should repent every day. Thus in his wisdom Solomon said: ‘Let your garments always be white,[1] and never let your head be without ointment’ [Ecclesiastes 9:8].”

Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai [Eliezer’s teacher] told a parable: “It is like a king who invited his servants to a feast and did not set the time for them to arrive. The wise adorned themselves and waited by the door of the palace, for they said: ‘Is there anything lacking in a palace?’ The foolish continued working, for they said: ‘Is a feast ever given without preparation?’ Suddenly the king summoned his servants. The wise entered the palace adorned as they were, and the foolish entered in their work clothes. The king rejoiced when he saw the wise, but was angry when he saw the foolish, and said: ‘Those who adorned themselves for the feast shall sit down and eat and drink; but those who did not adorn themselves for the feast shall stand and look on.’” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 153a)

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This article originally appeared in issue 45 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

  • [1] Compare 1 John 3:3, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”
  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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