On Parallels

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by Neil Godfrey

Image from a related post: When is a parallel a real parallel?

How do we determine the best way to interpret patterns and parallels between the Gospels and other literature?

Here is one parallel that someone asks us to consider:

Fishing for men.
While at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus predicted that his followers would fish for men.
“From now on you will catch men.” Luke 5:10

Titus’ followers then fish for men on the Sea of Galilee.
“And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels.” Wars of the Jews, 3, 10, 527

I am not convinced for the following reasons:

There is no overlapping of theme or idea. The context of the passage in Luke tells us that the idea of “fishing for men” is to “catch” disciples, converts. The metaphor originates in Jeremiah where it means judgment:

“But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. — Jeremiah 16;16-17

So the evangelist (author of the Gospel) has inverted the metaphor from one of condemnation to one of salvation.

The Josephus passage makes no reference to “fishing” and any normal reading of the slaughter would scarcely bring to mind images of “fishing”.

The reason I am persuaded that the Lukan saying is taken from Jeremiah and not from Josephus is that it matches a core criterion often listed as a vital indicator of a genuine literary relationship:

Dennis MacDonald calls it “interpretability”. I have summarized the idea as:

interpretability or intelligibility — the capacity of the original text to make sense of some detail in the new work (e.g. Is there some detail or theme in a story that has mystified modern readers over why it was included, with a satisfactory explanation appearing if the author knew another text where the same detail made more sense? Sometimes borrowing from another text may produce awkwardness or some incoherence in order to fit it in the new work.)

Andrew Clark calls it “parallel theme” and says it adds meat to other indications of borrowing:

parallel theme – this cannot stand on its own but adds strength where it exists to other criteria

Thomas Brodie also uses the term “interpretability” — “or the intelligibility of the differences”

Differences will sometimes be very great, but what counts is whether the differences can be explained in a way that deepens our understanding of the new text. Sometimes such explanations can reveal new surprises about the nature of the reworked document.

One may object that the proposed parallel between Luke and Josephus in the above example may not work on its own but does carry weight when set in the context of a number of other parallels. My objection to this argument is that there is no reason to see the massacre in the sea as a parallel at all no matter what setting it appears in.

Is it possible that the evangelist has used both Jeremiah and Josephus? Anything is possible, but since the argument for the use of Jeremiah as the source is entirely sufficient there is no need to involve the Josephan passage.

But what about the following parallels between Theudas (in Josephus) and John the Baptist, this time from Lena Einhorn: Continue reading “On Parallels”