Prof. Anne McGuire
610 896-1028

The Parables of Jesus

Religion 301a, Haverford College

Prof. Anne McGuire, Fall 2009 


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This seminar will focus on a close study of the parables of Jesus in their cultural and literary contexts. Special attention will be given to recent literary analysis of the parables in the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas.

The parables of Jesus are found in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the Gospel of Thomas. We will be studying all or most of the parables found in these texts. Click here for a list of the parables and a comparative table of the gospel texts in which they appear. In our examination of these stories, we'll consider their literary form and placement within each gospel and the ways scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity have analyzed these texts. Special attention will be given to recent literary analysis of the parables in the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas.

New Testament scholars believe that Mark's gospel was the first gospel to be written, and was used as a source by both Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke also had access to other sources, both oral and written, for their accounts of Jesus' teaching. One of these hypothesized sources is known as "Q" (for German Quelle, or Source), and is usually taken to refer to material shared by Matthew and Luke. But the parallel versions of the parables point to a more complicated picture: some parables appear in all three NT gospels and Thomas; some appear only in Matthew and Luke; some in Matthew and Thomas; some in Luke and Thomas. Scholars of the synoptic problem are interested in these inter-relationships and the formation of the gospel traditions in their oral and written form.

Our concern in this course is not so much with the sources, but with the analysis and interpretation of the parables as individual stories, in different versions, and as parts of larger compositions (i.e., Mark, Matt, Lk, Thomas). In this course, we'll examine the parables as parts of these gospel texts, but we will also consider their life as parabolic stories both before and after the writing of the gospels. Most important, we'll consider our own contexts as scholars and interpreters of the parables.


A. Weekly postings on the course's Discussion Board at the Blackboard site (30%) and active participation in class discussion. This is a seminar course. All students are expected to come prepared to participate actively in discussion, to make presentations in class, and to respond actively to others' presentations and comments.

B. Three 5-Page Papers with oral presentations (40%): Each of these papers should offer a more sustained analysis of some aspects of the primary and/or secondary texts assigned for class, together with an interpretive argument about their significance. At least one of these must have a primary focus on analysis and critique of the secondary literature assigned for class; at least one must focus on analysis and interpretation of the letter assigned.

C. A Research Paper of 15-18 pages (30%).



[See the full syllabus for complete syllabus assignments]

9/1 Parables and Their Interpreters: Oral Tradition, Gospel Writers, Theologians, NT Scholarship

9/8 From Oral Tradition to Written Texts; Case Study: The Parable of the Sower and its Interpreters

9/15 Comparison of Selected Parables in Mark 4, Matthew 13, Luke, and Thomas: Sowers, Seeds, Wheats and Tares; The Banquet Parable

9/22 Parables and Figurative Speech in the Gospel of Mark

9/29 Looting the Strong Man's House: Parables and Figurative Speech in the Gospel of Thomas






No Class 11/24 - Attending Annual Meeting of Society of Biblical Literature


12/8 Interpreting the Parables

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