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For and Against Narrative: The Hermeneutics of the Parable in Early Christian Gospels

BREWER, TODD,HAMILTON (2015) For and Against Narrative: The Hermeneutics of the Parable in Early Christian Gospels. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (For and Against Narrative: The Hermeneutics of the Parable in Early Christian Gospels) - Accepted Version


This thesis examines the narrative and non-narrative interpretive approaches to Jesus’ parables employed in early Christian Gospels (Thomas, Matthew, Mark, and Luke) in order to understand some of the inherent tendencies of these hermeneutical approaches. Chapter One outlines the narrative and non-narrative interpretations, what I call ‘mural’ and ‘data’ approaches, with special reference to the works of Hans Frei and Rudolf Bultmann as their modern representatives. In his form criticism and hermeneutical approach, Bultmann aptly represents a ‘data’ approach to the Jesus tradition, analogous to the Gospel of Thomas. Conversely, Hans Frei represents the ‘mural’ approaches of the narrative gospels by understanding the narrative unfolding of Jesus’ life to be constitutive of his identity.

Through an investigation of Thomas’ compositional history, Chapter Two justifies a comparison between Thomas and Mt/Mk/Lk by placing Thomas next to these texts as a fourth synoptic witness. As a textual tradition in constant motion, Thomas cannot be located outside of the synoptic tradition as either an early, pristine testimony to a non-narrative Jesus tradition, or a late deviation from a prior narrative trajectory. Consequently, the employment of either a ‘mural’ or ‘data’ approach by these early Christian Gospels is a hermeneutical choice reflecting these texts’ interpretive aims.

Chapter Three investigates the understanding of history espoused by the ‘mural’ and ‘data’ approaches through a comparison of Matthew, Thomas, and Luke’s interpretations of the parable of the lost sheep. Existing along a common spectrum in their understandings of the relationship between the past of Jesus’ ministry and its present-day significance, Luke’s biographical hermeneutic exclusively articulates the parable’s past meaning without reference to the present, Thomas’ de-historicizing hermeneutic sacrifices the past in favor of the present, while Matthew resides between the two, narrating the past of Jesus’ ministry in an exemplary fashion with an eye toward its present-day significance.

Chapter Four takes up the issue of Christology entailed by the ‘data’ and ‘mural’ approaches to the parable of the tenants. In their renderings of the parable, it is the narrative contexts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke which enable vivid Christological readings as the narrative of the parable interfaces with the narrative world of Jesus’ ministry. Without such an anchoring in a narrative of Jesus’ life, Thomas’ ‘data’ interpretation fails to assume Christological significance and reflects a wider indifference to Jesus’ particular personhood.

In these ways, narrative preserves Jesus’ history, thereby providing a more fertile ground for Christological reflection, while a non-narrative approach intrinsically expresses little interest in either Jesus’ history or his identity.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Jesus, Parables, Gospels, Hermeneutics, Hans Frei, Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of Thomas,
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:24 Apr 2015 08:57

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