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Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  750 ratings  ·  138 reviews
The renowned biblical scholar, author of The Misunderstood Jew, and general editor for The Jewish Annotated New Testament interweaves history and spiritual analysis to explore Jesus’ most popular teaching parables, exposing their misinterpretations and making them lively and relevant for modern readers.

Jesus was a skilled storyteller and perceptive teacher who used
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 9th 2014 by HarperOne (first published April 8th 2014)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Clif Hostetler
Oct 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
The first century audience listening to Jesus speak parables were Jewish and unaware that a religion distinct from their own would exist in the future based partly on the things that their speaker was saying. Their response to and understanding of the parables at that time was based on their existential cultural, religious, economic, and political circumstances. It was an environment and orientation different from later generations including the authors of the Gospels who were apologists for ...more
Judy
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I am calling this "read" even though I must confess I didn't read every word. I have been a part of most of the classes at church where we studied the book. It's interesting, I think, to consider what a New Testament scholar from a Jewish background can teach us about the parables attributed to Jesus. Levine describes herself as a: "Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian Divinity school in the buckle of the Bible belt." Because of her heritage, she points out the likely ...more
Michael Austin
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
This was a frustrating book to read, and a hard book to review, but this is primarily because so much of it is very good, and what (in my view) falls short is inconsistent and hard to describe. But I'm going to try because, well, that is what book reviews do.

First, the really good stuff. The major argument in the book is that the Christian tradition has misunderstood the parables of Jesus Christ by turning them into attacks on the Jews, which requires that they always represent Judaism as
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Lee Harmon
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If this isn’t Levine’s best, it’s close. She writes from a practical, scholarly Jewish perspective, highlighting the world Jesus lived in. In this book she tackles the more controversial parables Jesus spoke, making an effort to put these stories back in their first-century Jewish setting.

Levine appreciates the depth of Jesus’s parables, and she digs deep in her analysis, but still seems content with an ambiguous meaning. She seldom insists on a single interpretation, yet often discards
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Paul
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Appropriately enough, Amy-Jill Levine's look at 11 of Jesus' parables – which she argues were intended to be provocative and challenging – is itself provocative and challenging. With only a couple of exceptions, she dismantles what might be considered the mainstream or popular interpretation of each parable, as well as showing how liberals and conservatives alike have domesticated the parables to better fit inside their respective ideological comfort zones.

The book is most useful in correcting
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Roy Howard
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Conventional interpretations have domesticated the parables of Jesus. Nowadays when the parable of the Good Samaritan is read in worship, eyes glaze and minds wander, anticipating the standard bashing of passersby while lifting up the heroic Samaritan outsider for listeners to emulate. It’s obvious. Heads nod, slightly bored. Similarly, listeners know the “point” of the parable of the Prodigal Son before it’s launched. More troubling than the implicit supersessionism that permeates conventional ...more
June Lee
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Favorites:
Lost sheep, lost coin, lost son
The Good Samaritan
The Pearl of a Great Price
The Laborers in the Vineyard
The Rich Man and Lazarus
James Klagge
This is the sort of book I love, and for a while I was planning to give it 5 stars. Then it dropped to 3 stars.
I love the idea of the book b/c of the background it offers to the parables. The author is a Jewish scholar, and reads the parables in light of Jesus' Jewish background and context. She uses the Hebrew Testament and lots of Jewish literature from the time to suggest what resonances words and story lines would have for Jesus and his listeners. And she emphasizes that much Christian
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Paul
Sep 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
Not her best.

Amy-Jill Levine's books are usually argued very cleanly, straight forward. This reasoning in this, however, is opaque and forced. Still provides some good insights and the characteristic humor (that wears pretty thin).
Brandon
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Levine problematizes facile interpretations of the parables: Good. She points out latent or outright anti-Semitism in those interpretations: Even better. But what are we left with after she has decimated 2000 years of exegesis? Writings in the sand.

Though, perhaps this is as it should be, I don't know. Perhaps the parables were never meant to be written down and dissected. Perhaps we the readers too often kill the spirit in order to affix the letter, once and for all. Like the pharisees
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David Campton
This look at Jesus' parables through a literary lens is an important corrective to some of the neo-allegorical exegeses offered in the wake of Craig Blomberg's important refutation of the earlier, simplistic "one parable - one point" approach. She warns us to be wary of anachronistic readings that would not have made sense to Jesus' immediate audience, and to banal/obvious readings, because parables are there to make us think, asking questions of us rather than offering easy answers. As a Jewish ...more
E.
Dec 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fall our Wednesday Night Bible Study at church covered the parables of Jesus, particularly in the Gospel of Luke. I ordered this book, which wasn't yet available the last time I had preached on the parables. And it was a helpful contribution to our study.

Levine is best at deconstructing bad interpretations, particularly the anti-Semitism and supersessionism that can seep into Christian interpretations of these stories.

But I wasn't always persuaded by her own interpretations of the parables.
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Carol
May 21, 2019 marked it as did-not-finish
Shelves: at-the-library
I ran out of time and couldn't renew. Interesting so far; I'll come back to this later...
Suzanne McLaughlin
Nov 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a Jewish New Testament scholar, Levine sees the parables from a unique point of view. Well done.
Sharman Wilson
Brent and I really enjoyed reading this book together. Amy-Jill Levine is a Jewish scholar who takes the parables of Jesus and puts them into first-century Jewish context, helping us to see how Jesus' audience may have heard them. She also shows how some of the Gospel writers (particularly Luke) have taken these provocative and challenging stories and "domesticated" them. She takes on centuries of Christian scholars who have either tamed them further with their clichéd interpretations, or turned ...more
Emma
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Levine argues that (in part due to bad interpretation, in part to sheer familiarity) Jesus’s parables are not surprising to us, and therefore we don’t understand them. So for each of the parables she tackles, she spends most of the time digging into the historical and biblical context, unearthing the things we don’t see — and every time I thought “oh now I get it” she would jump in with “nope, that’s not it!” So I’d say she’s successful in rendering these “domesticated” stories unfamiliar. Much ...more
Chris Hokanson
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amy-Jill Levine has become one of my favorite writers. Not because I agree with all her arguments (I don't), but because she's challenging, thorough, and unafraid to question assumptions on every side of an argument. Levine's in-depth knowledge of Judaism helps uncover how many traditional and modern mis-readings of the parables contribute to anti-Jewish stereotypes, and how many of those same mis-readings often neuter parables that, when read with their ancient Jewish context in mind, serve to ...more
Andrew Chandler
While she makes some good points, Levine has an agenda (highlighting anti-Jewish stereotypes and exploring feminist perspectives) that distracted me from her interpretations of the parables and really took over the focus of the book. Her agenda and her frequent potshots at groups she disagrees with (the boy scouts, conservative christians) were perplexing as it wasn't what I expected from a scholar. In the end I felt that I would need to read another book on the same topic to form my opinions, ...more
Naomi
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bible
A terrific and important contribution to understanding and appreciating Jesus' parables. Strongly recommended for those interested in scriptural studies, both for the methodology employed and to benefit from Amy-Jill Levine's insights and contextualization. This book belongs in the hands not only of religious leaders for teaching, but in the hands of those who wrestle and take seriously Jesus' teachings.
Maureen
Sep 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The parables are radical, provocative and challenging when read and heard with Jewish eyes and ears. Levine gives new insights into how the first century audiences would have heard the parables. Great book.
William Abraham
Oct 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very insightful. Heady discourse punctuated with blips of humor. All-in-all Levine presents a compelling argument for a fresh interpretation of the parables. Her readings of them seems to amplify the subsersive tone of Jesus' teachings.
Peggy Kahn
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a brilliant book, challenging because of its combination of erudition and ordinary language and appeal. It combines straightforward rendering of the parables, a reconstruction of how a largely Jewish audience would hear the stories of Jesus, tracing how Bible writers and later commentators may have altered the spoken stories, and some general close reading in the context of Levine's and contemporary experience. She critically distinguishes between a parable (a challenging, ambiguous, ...more
Peggy Kahn
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a brilliant book, challenging because of its combination of erudition and ordinary language and appeal. It combines straightforward rendering of the parables, reconstructing how a largely Jewish audience would hear the stories of Jesus, tracing how Bible writers and later commentators may have altered the spoken stories, and some general close reading in the context of Levine's and contemporary experience. She critically distinguishes between a parable (a challenging, ambiguous, ...more
Carole Sparks
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: students of the gospels
"We are probably more comfortable proclaiming a creed than prompting a conversation or pursuing a call." (3)

"Jesus knew that the best teachings come from stories that make us laugh even as they make us uncomfortable." (276)

With quick wit and a penchant for pun, Amy-Jill Levine offers us a fun, challenging, and in-depth study of nine parables found in the New Testament gospels. Okay, maybe not everyone would think it fun, but I found her writing style interactive and easy to follow. I underlined
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Cathryn Conroy
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written with extraordinary insight, intelligent wit, and a generous sprinkling of humor, this book by renowned biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine is a fascinating study of some of Jesus's most important parables. Her approach is simple: Historical context is important, but our 21st-century interpretations are just as valuable to our understanding. Most of all, the parables are meant to surprise and challenge us—if not actually shake us up a bit. (And if they don't do this, we aren't reading them ...more
Thomas
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
Levine suggests that we listen to the parables the way Jesus' audience might have, from a Jewish perspective devoid of allegory. It's not an easy thing to do, since we have almost two thousand years of accreted interpretations to clear away before we can do this. Most of us come to the parables as allegories, since this is the way they are taught in church. It is also arguable that the gospel writers meant the parables to be read allegorically, but Levine tries to remove this interpretive filter ...more
Curtis Kregness
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned about this book while listening to an interview of Amy-Jill Levine by Peter Enns on a podcast series called "The Bible for Normal People". Thank you, Dr. Enns!

This book does what all good books should do. Instead of reinforcing old ways of thinking about a topic, it challenges readers to reexamine their assumptions. When Amy-Jill Levine questions the conclusions of several of my favorite writers (Craig Blomberg and Kenneth Bailey, for example) I am reminded that human authors are
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Jason
Jul 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Kind of a letdown. Amy-Jill Levine is an author and scholar I've liked a lot - her work on the Old Testament is some of my favorites, so I was looking forward to this. Levine's main thrust appears to be more reactionary in this - she tells readers what the parables of Jesus are *not*, and often that's propaganda against Jews and Judaism. This is fair, and it's kind of noteworthy how often this has crept into even basic understandings of parables. She goes into very long, in-depth criticisms of ...more
Sara
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
I've waited a long time to read AJ Levine due to a lingering feeling she might not be quite kosher. (I think I saw a long interview with her on a Jews for Jesus website or something.) This was a good intro to Jesus, though it is clearly written for a Christian audience - it assumes a familiarity with the Jesus stories that I don't have, and would have been really helped with each story being briefly reviewed (both the actual text and the way it is currently used) at each chapter's beginning. ...more
Keith
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Levine deals thoroughly with a number of parables. She counters a lot of common interpretations, using plenty of primary texts to discredit assumptions. One of the main issues she takes up is how Christian scholars tend to add unfounded biases against Jews, thereby mischaracterizing the intent of the parables. She has a strong argument here. The main goal is to show what the parable would have meant to the original audience.

Another thing she does well is to remind us that these parables were
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“Jesus understood that God does not play by our rules. His God is a generous God, who not only allows the sun to shine on both the just and the unjust, but also gives us the ability to live into what should be rather than what is. The parables help us with their lessons about generosity: sharing joy, providing for others, recognizing the potential of small investments. His God wants us to be better than we are, because we have the potential to be. We are made but a little lower than the divine (Ps. 8.6; see Heb. 2.7); we should start acting in a more heavenly matter. Those who pray, “Your kingdom come,” might want to take some responsibility in the process, and so work in partnership with God. We too are to seek the lost and make every effort to find them. Indeed, we are not only to seek; we are to take notice of who might be lost, even when immediately present. The rich man ignores Lazarus at his gate, and the father of the prodigal ignored the elder son in the field. For the former, it is too late; for the latter, whether it is too late or not we do not know. But we learn from their stories. Don’t wait. Look now. Look hard. Count.” 7 likes
“Reducing parables to a single meaning destroys their aesthetic as well as ethical potential.” 7 likes
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