Let the One Who Has Ears to Hear, “Hear!”

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Gospel parables are probably the most widely identifiable teaching form of Jesus. However, readers seldom recognize Jesus’ sophisticated skill as a first-century Jewish parabolist. Indeed, many Christians are unaware that his use of story parables is one of the strongest links between Jesus and contemporary Jewish piety. His parables also demonstrate that Jesus taught in Hebrew.

Revised: 23-Feb-2009

While Christian scholars in this century have written volumes attempting to reconstruct Jesus’ parables in Aramaic, they have largely overlooked the simple fact that there exists no story parables in Aramaic, Greek or Latin. All are in Hebrew! In stark contrast to the dearth of story parables in these languages, literally thousands of Hebrew parables are preserved in Rabbinic literature.

In this study of The Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-8) we want to look closely, not only at the message of Jesus’ parable, but how he told it, with particular attention to its Hebraic elements and its Jewish background. Let me encourage the reader, while we course our way towards the eventual destination of understanding what Jesus meant to say to his hearers, to enjoy the journey of discovering how Jesus communicated that message. My hope is that you not only hear and understand more clearly the words of Jesus, but that you appreciate more fully what a masterful teacher he was.

Cultural Context of Jesus’ Parables

Like other Rabbinic parables, our story reflects the physical and social realities of the local setting. Ours is a farming parable, and it assumes that we already know how people living in the eastern Mediterranean planted crops. The relatively haphazard style of broadcasting seed prepares the reader for the “four-fold” outcome of the sowing. While in this instance, most of us can imagine the setting, sometimes the essential background is unfamiliar to us. Unlike the original hearers of the parables, we are separated by time, land, culture and language.

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  • R. Steven Notley

    R. Steven Notley

    R. Steven Notley is professor of Biblical Studies at the New York City campus of Nyack College. A member and past director of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, Notley earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Religions at the Hebrew University (1993). He studied in Jerusalem…
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