104 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2012
Famous Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan, a popular guide in TV documentaries about the ancient world, hopes his newest book will free more people from the trap of trying to believe that everything in the Bible is literally true. As we follow him in this new tour through the Gospels, Crossan promises a bonus: If we free up our expectations about how the New Testament teaches God's truth, we may discover fresh inspiration in these time-worn stories.
In a nutshell, here's how he takes us down this path: What if the world-famous parables of Jesus--the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son and all the rest--weren't the only parables in the New Testament? What if Jesus's approach to teaching by telling provocative stories became the over-arching style of early Christian teaching? What if the four Gospel writers actually weren't trying to nail down every single historical detail about Jesus like modern archaeologists in scientific reports? Instead, what if the Gospel writers' goal was to tell the most important stories about Jesus in the most memorable and thought-provoking way? After all, that's how Jesus told his parables. What if the Gospel writers were inspired to shape some of the details in their stories about Jesus to make them the most effective parables about Jesus that they could give to future generations?
At this point, some Christians will be upset with Crossan. If you are among them, then you are likely to have trouble with his new book. If you are a Christian who believes the Bible is true in a literal reading, then this kind of analysis is disturbing. But, before you dismiss this book out of hand, consider this: Crossan is regularly invited into mainline congregations almost every weekend throughout the year, where big crowds of people show up to hear him teach and preach about fresh approaches to understanding the Bible. Through public appearances, television and a long string of books, Crossan's message has reached millions. It's worth checking out what he's saying, this year.
Let me clarify one central point: This new book is not claiming that Jesus is pure fiction. In fact, Crossan clarifies this point himself. He writes: "Did Jesus ever exist as a historical figure in time and place? Is he like Julius Caesar--a factual figure, but enveloped in clouds of parable? Or is he like the Good Samaritan--an entirely fictional character of Christianity's parabolic imagination? My answer is that Jesus did exist as a historical figure." And, Crossan sets that final line in italics to make no mistake about this: He's not trying to deny the truth of Jesus as a real-life figure in history.
Is Crossan out on a limb? For traditional Christian Bible readers, he is. But he has lots of company. Compare his arguments with some of the other popular authors who have new books available about Christianity and the Bible: Christian Smith in The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, Diana Butler Bass in Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, and Bart Ehrman in Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, they disagree on many points, but they agree on some of their most basic conclusions.
Even if you reject the second half of Crossan's book, where he argues that the Gospel writers felt it was important to write their Good News in parable formats, you still may find yourself inspired by the book's first half. That portion of the book is a remarkably fresh reading of Jesus's own parables. So, my strong recommendation is: Give this book a chance. You'll find that, in addition to personal inspiration, The Power of Parable is guaranteed to spark spirited discussion in your Sunday School class, Bible study series, or book discussion group.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2012
Crossan ponders, "I had observed that the parabolic stories by Jesus seemed remarkably similar to the resurrection stories about Jesus. Were the latter intended as parables just as much as the former? Had we been reading parable, presuming history, and misunderstanding both?"
In other words, are the stories of Jesus really book-length parables? Crossan presents three such parables in the Old Testament: Job, Ruth and Jonah. Ruth challenges a part of the Bible, Jonah challenges the whole of the Bible, and Job challenges the God of the Bible. But isn't there a major difference between the Old Testament books and the Gospels? Were the characters in these stories historical, the way we think of Jesus? So Crossan presents the story of Caesar at the Rubicon as "parabolic history" to show how even historical characters can be the subject of the development of parables.
Crossan separates parables by their flavor: riddle, example, challenge, and attack parables. I found the discussion of several New Testament parables insightful, but they served only as a lead-in to the bigger topic. In part 2, Crossan takes on the four Gospels each as a whole, presenting the meaning of them as book-length parables ... what they challenge, what they attack.
It is not really the historicity of the Gospels which Crossan contests, but their evangelical purpose. The undercurrent of truth, or lack thereof, is not the focus of his book; it is the way the stories are bent into parable, and what these book-length parables mean. Thought-provoking and well-written, a great read.
36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2012
The Power of Parable is an invitation to reconsider everything one thinks one knows about Jesus' parables in light of the historical development present within the New Testament. To aid in the exploration of Jesus' parables and the megaparables more commonly known as Gospels, John Dominic Crossan suggests four classifications: riddle, example, challenge, and attack. To more fully consider the breadth of material available, he divides the book into two sections ("Parables Told by Jesus" and "Parables Told About Jesus"), separated by a brief interlude. Sufficiently scholarly yet readily approachable, this book is certain to be a must read for years to come by all who seek to better understand Jesus' teaching.
"Part 1: Parables Told By Jesus" begins with chapters considering the three primary classifications (riddle, example, and challenge) that offer definition alongside examples in the Bible (both Old and New Testaments - in varying length: paragraph, chapter, and book) and secular literature. The first half of the book concludes with a chapter that provides additional historical insight and begins to illumine a bridge that is created and crossed in the interlude.
"Part 2: Parables Told About Jesus" provides in-depth considerations of each of the Gospels. These chapters follow a similar format and conclude with an explanation of the classification Crossan deems most appropriate for the given Gospel as a megaparable: Mark is a challenge, Matthew is an attack, Luke-Acts is both an attack (on Judaism) and a challenge (to Rome), and John is an attack (on Judaism) and a challenge (to Empire).
Crossan defines the parabolic types thusly:
"Riddle parables (or allegories) are stories in which each element points outside itself to elements in some other hidden story" (p. 244).
Example parables are ethical models, moral cases, or practical instances inviting participation by comprehension and imitation (p. 244).
Challenge parables are the greatest and most important of the three primarily types: riddle, example, and challenge (p. 47, p.64). These parables "foster not periodic doubting, but permanent questioning" (p.111) that can be seen as attempts "to question ideological absolutes" with the "power of nonviolent rhetoric to oppose violence without joining it" (p. 247).
Attack parables are those that "move beyond challenging what it opposes to attacking it bitterly and even dismissing it all together" (p.153).
Jesus is master challenge parable teller. As time passed the Gospel writers moved farther and farther away from the parables Jesus told in order to more fully construct those teachings to fit their intended purposes. Crossan rightly encourages his readers to look deeper and to embrace the way of Jesus by discovering and pondering the parables that Jesus told while recognizing that "all parables are participatory pedagogy" (p.245).
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2012
John Dominic Crossan is part literary theoretician, part biblical scholar, and part prophet (as Crossan would say: one who speaks for God). In the Power of Parable, Crossan the literary theoretician constructs an overarching typology of parables that stresses their ability to engage audiences in dialogue. Crossan the biblical scholar uses that theory to re-read the parables of Jesus as well as those of Ruth, Jonah, and Job, revealing the agendas four gospel writers, especially as they relate to Judaism. Crossan the prophet calls us back to the underlying message and rhetoric of Jesus's parables: a challenge to rediscover the collaborative work of social justice. For Crossan, the Kingdom of God is now if we want it, though the work be never ending. That's the good news, then and now, no matter the messenger, no matter the language.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2012
I first encountered John Dominic Crossan's biblical scholarship when I studied "The Dark Interval" in my days at a Benedictine seminary. Since then, I have come to expect the very best from him. He has yet to disappoint. In fact, his writing and his scholarship seem to improve through the years. I didn't think he could top last year's "The Greatest Prayer," but his new "The Power of Parable" is also brilliant as well as transforming. For me, the proof that scripture is divinely inspired comes from great scholars like Crossan who continue to peel away and reveal more and more layers of these texts, which ultimately push the reader to a place of never-ending finality. "The Power of Parable" DOES what Crossan describes: it invites the reader into real and active participation with the text and, in the world of parable, that can turn everything upside-down. Get ready. This landmark approach will take you on a biblical journey like you've never imagined. For example, where Crossan's insights take the reader as regards the possible identity of the writer of the gospel according to John will have you shaking your head.... who would have thought?... and yet, it makes so much sense!
From his subtle yet wonderfully humorous comment about infallibility at the beginning of the book til it's brilliant final lines, this book is one you will treasure not only for yourself but it may also open the doors of engagement with others... a new conversation....one that is fresh and challenging and so greatly needed in a world that has lost track of the power of language. Finally, we are presented with a believable Jesus: this nonviolent preacher of God's distributive justice, who not only proved that God's Way is humanly possible, but convinces us that we can do the same.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2013
Even fans of Crossan say he is hard to read, but he does tell you what he's going to say, say it, and tell you what he said. For Part
one of this book, that's valid. He describes the parables of Jesus as three types ( in the synoptic gospels, riddle, example and mostly challenge.) Then. in Part II's in discussion of the gospel of John he comes on with an attack parable.
His portrayal of the book length Old Testament parables of Jonah, Ruth and Job is helpful to know partial background of Jesus' history of parable telling.
The crux of the book, from my point of view is the Interlude and Part II. Here we find the parables about Jesus, mostly in the gospels. The sequence of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John and how they build on each other, but also differ in a contentious way is new insight for many. Some cannot accept that the four gospels are parable and not literal history. How much of the gospel accounts of the Jesus are parable. Who knows? But faith surely doesn't depend on whether the gospels as literal history or parable. In fact, acceptance of the gospels as parable is likely more condusive to faith than some kind of literal history.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2014
John Dominic Crossan is part of the Jesus Seminar group from the 80s, and he comes along with Marcus Borg and Bart Ehrmann as a deconstructionist with an interesting premise: it's not just the parables of Jesus that represent instructive fiction, it's much of the life of Jesus that can be seen that way as well. I'm an old Methodist pastor, and I don't find this book particularly objectionable -- if you have read Borg or Spong, you have looked into the maw of chaos already, and either you get vertigo or you don't -- and a lot of what Crossan says about the stories about Jesus being just as much instructional tale-telling as the stories BY Jesus rings true. This is a book to read by yourself if you want to go "off road" a little bit in your study of the Gospels, fun to read, provocative, but migod, don't take it to Sunday School and use it to teach the parables. Not the right application. Read it personally, highlight the things that make sense -- and you will find many things to highlight -- and argue with Crossan in the margins if you want to. If you want something more historical, read Reza Aslan's "Zealot,: This is theology, not history.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2012
This is an important book, and recommended to all seekers. From the time I was a kid in Sunday School, the differences between the four Gospels puzzled me. I recall a teacher answering my question with "If four of you went to a birthday party, wouldn't each of you tell four different stories?" After reading Crossan's book, especially his comparisons of the Gospel writers' agendas, it is much more clear to me. Crossan presents so many interesting and scholarly facts to add depth and dimension to his theories. What a gift he must have been to his students in his teaching days!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2012
I have been learning from Crossan's work for decades. After Vatican II the Catholic Church asked Crossan to study Jesus in depth. He has been doing it most faithfully [without constantly checking his findings with the Holy See]. I consider him and his work to be God's most blessed gifts for the world in which I live. This book is worth continued contemplation.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2012
This book brings a fresh, helpful perspective on what, why, and how Jesus communicated to his audiences. Crossan's views give an approach to understanding the conflicts within what the New Testament states. The insecure literalists will likely be offended, angered, and even frightened by this book. It's a hard read, but worth reading.