Academic Programs 

The Parables of Jesus and the Imaginative Dimension of Scripture
Summer 2003

This course offers an in-depth study of the parables of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and early non-canonical literature from a literary and historical-critical perspective, with special attention to the role of imagination and symbol in Scripture, theology and life. 

Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
June 23-27, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wayne Rollins
Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9500

Course Syllabus

Note:  If you are registered for this course, please read the letter to the participants from Professor Rollins:     letter in .pdf       letter in Microsoft Word


“Indeed he said nothing to them without a parable.”  Matt. 13:34

“. . . we live in story like fish in the sea.”    - John Dominic Crossan

“Because there are innumerable things beyond the range of human understanding, we constantly use symbolic terms to represent concepts that we cannot define or fully comprehend. This is one reason why all religions employ symbolic language or images.” -C. G. Jung

“Whoever can give his people better stories than the ones they live in is like the priest in whose hands common bread and wine become capable of feeding the very soul, and he may think of forging in some invisible smithy the uncreated conscience of his race.”
-Hugh Kenner

“Parables are profoundly dialogic and do not pretend to be the last word because, in parable, the last word is continually granted to others . . . . .”
-David Gowler

“Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words.”
- St. Francis

Books for Purchase

Gowler, David B. What Are They Saying About the Parables? New York: Paulist Press, 2000.

Hultgren, Arland J. The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary, The Bible in Its World. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Scott, Bernard Brandon. Re-Imagine the World: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus: Polebridge Press, 2001.

Throckmorton, Jr., Burton, ed. Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels  (5th ed.; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992) [= GP in syllabus]


1. To appreciate the historical, literary, social, cultural, religious, and psycho-spiritual matrix from which the Gospel parables have come.

2. To explore the roster of forty-two parables found in the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas, with an in-depth study of selected parables.

3.  To appreciate the place of the parable in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and to come to a fuller understanding of the “kingdom of God” or “reign of God” as the central motif of Jesus’ teaching in parables.

4. To appreciate the history of parable research and scholarly contribution to our understanding of the nature and meaning of  parable, past and present.

5. To explore the role of imagination, story, and symbol in the life of the human species, as exemplified in the rich literary tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and beyond.


1.  Daily attendance at all sessions. Classroom exchange is as important as the reading. (For credit and CEU students, each hour of absence = reduction of one third of the letter attendance grade; consistent tardiness also reduces the grade. See the instructor for “makeup” in case of an emergency). (1/6 of the grade)

2.  Readings. See the attached letter to participants.

3.  Book Report*:  Credit/CEU participants will make one book report presentation [a five-minute class presentation (ungraded), plus a written version to the instructor for grading; see below]. Select a title from the attached list of books on Reserve in the library and register your choice with Reserve librarian, Marie Rovero. (If someone has already selected the title you must choose another.)  Be prepared to present your book review any time on Tuesday through Friday (a definite time for your report will be set at our first session on Monday).

The class presentation should include one xeroxed sheet for class distribution, citing author, title, and publication data,  listing a quotation or two that captures the essence of the book, and a few statements or examples that spell out the contribution (or lack of same) to the subject of parables.  Would you recommend the book?

The written review (due not later than August 15) is to include the following: (a) a fairly detailed précis of the book and its purpose, (b) a thoughtful discussion of five to ten ideas you have found helpful, informative, or problematic, explaining why, and (c) a conclusion evaluating the book’s relevance and value for the course.  Maximum length: seven pages. (2/6 of the grade).

4.  Participation in a group parable analysis (ungraded), requiring a little thought and a small piece of the  preparation.

5.  Final Project* for credit/CEU participants: a 10-15 page paper on a parable of your choice, following a set of guidelines to be distributed on Monday. The paper is due approximately four to six weeks after the conclusion of the course but not later than August 15 (with extensions possible; see below). A 3x5 card listing your parable selection and the reasons for your choice is due the last day of class for approval by the instructor. Final papers are due four to six weeks after the course and must be mailed/delivered to the instructor’s address in hard copy with a SASE for return. Students electing an “incomplete” are responsible to submit the Hartford Seminary “incomplete course form” to the instructor prior to August 15. (3/6 of the grade)

*Required of credit and CEU participants only. All academic papers are to conform to conventional technical, grammatical, and stylistic standards referred to in the General Guidelines for a Research Paper. The Hartford Seminary Grading Guidelines will be the standard of evaluation for the course.

Schedule and Reading Assignments

(Because of the compactness of the week, reading assignments are best done prior to the course, bringing notes from your reading to class.)

Monday   Prospectus: Setting the Stage for Parable Study and Priming the Pump for Gospel Study. Background Reading:  Gowler, chaps. 4, 5, and 7; Scott, pp. 1-20, and Hultgren, pp. 1-19. 

Historical Approaches to the Parables: An Archaeology of Meaning

A.  Background Reading: Gowler, chap. 1; Scott, Chaps. 3  “Leaven,” 4 “Mustard Seed,” & 11 “Dinner Party ; Hultgren, pp. 453-464 

B.  Workshop: Please note that Hultgren’s commentary is cited for each parable below with the symbol “H” plus the section number, e.g. 2.2, noted in Hultgren’s  Table of Contents, pp. vii - ix  

a.  Parable of the Leaven     Mt 13.33; Lk 13.20-21; Thomas 96 (H 8.36)
Parable of the Mustard Seed    Mk 4.30-32; Mt 13.31-32; Lk 13.18-19; Thomas 20 (H 8.35) 
   Parable of the Guests Invited to the Feast (the Wedding)    Mt 22.1-14; Lk 14. 16-24; Thomas 64 (H 7.31 and 7.32)  
Parable of the Persistent Friend at Midnight    Lk 11.5-8 ( H 5.20)

Literary Approaches: The Parable as a Work of Art

A.  Background Reading: Gowler, chaps. 2-3; Scott, chaps. 6 “Hidden Treasure,” 7  “Samaritan.”

B. Workshop

a.  Parable of the Hidden Treasure in the Field    Mt 13.44; Thomas 109 (H 8.37)
 Parable of the Good Samaritan    Lk 10.25-37 (H 3.6)
  Parable of the Sower and the Seed    Mk 4.3-8, 13-20; Mt 13.3-8, 18-23; Lk 8.5-8,11-15; Thomas 9 (H 5.16)
Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus    Lk 16. 19-31 (H 3.8)

Social-scientific Approaches: The Parable as Subversive

A.  Background Reading: Gowler, chap. 6; Hultgren, pp. 430-452; Scott, chaps. 8 “The Prodigals,” & 5 “The Empty Jar.”

B.  Workshop

a.  Parable of the Prodigal Son     Lk 15. 11-32 (H 2.5)  
Parable of the Woman Carrying a Jar (Gospel of Thomas(H pp. 443-44) 
c.  Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Publican)    Lk 18.10-14 (H 3.9)  
d.  Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard    Mt 20. 1-16 (H 2.2.)


Friday  The Parable and the Imaginative Dimension in the History of the Species

A.  Background Reading:  Scott, chaps. 9 “The Shrewd Manager,” 10 “The Unforgiving Slave,”  11 “Re-Imagining the World,” and 12 “Epilogue”

B.  Workshop 

a.  Parable of the Unjust or Shrewd Manager    Lk 16. 1-8 (H 4.13) 
Parable of the Unforgiving Slave    Mt 18.23-25 (H 2.1) 
  Parable of the Talents   Mt 25. 14-30 (H 5.26)  
d.  Parable of the Final Judgment    Mt 25.31-46 (H 6.30)

Book Report Selection List for Credit Students  

(Most of these books are on library reserve for signing up and taking out. You may also choose from the fuller academic bibliography in Hultgren The Parables of  Jesus, 477-85)

Boucher, Madeleine. The Parables. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1981.

Breech, James. The Silence of Jesus: The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.        

Crossan, John Dominic. In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus. New York: Harper & Row, 1973           

Culbertson, Philip L. A Word Fitly Spoken. Albany: SUNY Press, 1995.   

Donahue, John R., SJ. The Gospel in Parable: Metaphor, Narrative, and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.

Drury, John. The Parables in the Gospels: History and Allegory. New York: Crossroads, 1985.

Ford, Richard Q. The Parables of Jesus: Recovering the Art of Listening. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997.   

Hedrick, Charles. Parables as Poetic Fictions: The Creative Voice of Jesus. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994.

Herzog, William R. Parables as Subversive Speech. Louisville: Westminster/ John Knox, 1994.

Lambrecht, Jan. Out of the Treasure: The Parables in the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.

Linnemann, Eta. The Jesus of the Parables: Introduction and Exposition. London: SPCK, 1966.         

McArthur, Harvey K. , and Robert M. Johnston. They Also Taught in Parables: Parables from the First Centuries of  the Christian Era. Grand Rapids: Zondervan,, 1990.

McFague, Sallie. Speaking in Parables:. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975.

Outcalt, Todd. Candles In The Dark: A Treasury Of The World's Most Inspiring Parables: John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Parker, Andrew. Painfully Clear: The Parables of Jesus. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.

Perkins, Pheme. Jesus as Teacher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Perrin, Norman. Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976.

Phipps, William E.         The Wisdom and Wit of Rabbi Jesus. Nashville: Westminster/John Knox, 1993.

Scott, Bernard Brandon. Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989. 

Scott, Bernard Brandon. Jesus, Symbol-Maker for the Kingdom. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981. 

Shillington, V. George, ed. Jesus and His Parables. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997.

Stern, David. Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Thoma, Clemens , and Michael Wyschogrod, eds. Parable and Story in Judaism and Christianity. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1989.

Via, Dan Otto. The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimension. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967.

Westermann, Claus. The Parables of Jesus in Light of the Old Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.

Wilder, Amos. The Language of the Gospel: Early Christian Rhetoric. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Willis, Abigail. The Parables of Jesus: And Their Place in Christian Art: Penguin Studio, 1998.

Wink, Walter. The Human Being: Jesus and The Enigma of the Son of the Man. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001.   

Wink, Walter. The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium. New York: Doubleday, 1998.   

Young, Brad H. The Parables: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.

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