The following review first appeared in Reviews in Religion and Theology 6 (1999), pp. 387-8. It is reproduced here with permission.
Jeffrey T. Tucker, Example Stories: Perspectives on Four Parables in the Gospel of Luke (JSNTSup, 162) Sheffield Academic Press 1998 ISBN 1 85075 897 2 pp. 448 £55.00 / $85.00
Four parables in the Gospel of Luke have long been held to be in a special category of their own, Beispielerzählungen or "Example Stories". These four -- the Good Samaritan, the Rich Fool, Dives and Lazarus and The Pharisee and the Publican -- have been thought to be different in kind from the other parables in that they are not figurative or metaphorical. Rather, they appear to present examples from every day life. The classification, usually thought to to go back to Adolf Jülicher, has been a key aspect of consensus parable scholarship this century. But now Jeffrey Tucker, in a revised version of a PhD thesis submitted to Vanderbilt University, U.S.A., claims that the consensus opinion is wrong. His learned and thorough exposition of the history of the problem attempts to demonstrate that the term "Example Stories" should be "put under erasure".
The reader quickly perceives that this author is going to investigate the matter carefully from the beginning, challenging standard opinions wherever necessary. In detailed studies of the literature, Tucker demonstrates that Jülicher was not the first to isolate these four parables for special comment and that the standard reading of Bultmann's comments on these four parables is flawed. Sources are always read carefully and Tucker makes distinctions between Jülicher's earlier and later views, making his own translations of the German both here and throughout the book. Indeed Chapters Two to Four (the example stories before Jülicher, in Jülicher and after Jülicher) represent useful contributions to scholarship in their own right.
While Chapter Five is important, challenging the basis of the distinction by means of an analysis of the ancient rhetorical tradition, the hub of the work is Chapter 4 (and at 129 pages long also the bulkiest) on modern parable scholarship. Tucker patiently works through the contributions of key figures like Crossan, Funk, Via, Sellin and Baasland, "the cumulative effect" of which "is the realisation that the categorical distinction between parable and example story rests on a precarious foundation" (p. 270). Neither the comparative mechanism of the so-called example stories nor formal aspects like plot, character and structure allow us to distinguish these four parables as a group apart from the other parables. The insistent point that is hammered home on page after page, especially as the reader begins to approach the conclusion, is this one, that there are no formal aspects that might distinguish them from the other parables. Thus "the category 'example story' is vacuous and should be abandoned" (p. 418).
Like all erudite works of a corrective nature, this one both inspires and requires some careful thought. Perhaps the reader who feels inclined to resist Tucker's conclusions does so because of the pedigree of the parable - example story distinction that itself imposes a mind-set that is difficult to shake off. Provisionally, however, one cannot help having some qualms with the proposed abandonment of a time-honoured category. First, in over four hundred pages on the topic of four parables, one might have expected to see some detailed exegesis of those parables. In a book that is pushing what is essentially a negative thesis, it would have been helpful to have had some of the conclusions spelled out and explored in relation to a careful, verse-by-verse analysis of them. Symptomatic of the same problem is the scarcity of reference to the presence of one of the four (the Rich Fool) in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 63; mentioned briefly on pp. 26 and 253). Nor is the clear parallel to the Rich Fool in Sirach 11.18-19 mentioned.
Second, one is inclined to wonder whether Tucker is seduced by the very distinction that he is attempting to criticise. He assumes that there would need to be a thick black line between parable and example story in order for the latter to constitute a meaningful category. But life is not always so simple, and when we impose categories on texts we often do so for convenience, knowing that the reality we are describing is more complex than the easy distinctions might suggest. Tucker goes looking for self-contained boxes labelled "parable" and "example-story" and rightly points to the problems with locating them. What, though, if we were to think of the several parables and example stories as points on a continuum, in which the figurative element varies from intense one-to-one correspondence (e.g. the Sower, the Wheat and the Tares) at one end of the spectrum to stories that can be used as illustrations (the example stories) at the other? Thus we have some parables that are quite unlike the example stories and some that begin to approach them. While no-one sensible would take the parable of the Sower to be designed to illustrate good agricultural practice, some might well take certain Lukan parables (other than these four) to contain elements akin to the example story at the same time as revolving round a metaphorical centre.
The idea that the difference between the example stories and other parables might be the quantitative one of points of correspondence between the "story" and its "meaning" is not something that Tucker takes seriously and arises in part from the standard scholarly squeamishness over allegory. A more careful reading of Drury's Parables in the Gospels and a consideration of Goulder's Luke: A New Paradigm (not consulted) might have provided Tucker with a another option: the notion that example stories are those parables that have an allegory count of zero, the four parables that no sensible interpreter (notwithstanding Augustine) can interpret as allegory.
But this is a study that has the virtue of forcing the reader to rethink basic matters of parable interpretation. There is no doubt that it deserves to be taken seriously. It is clearly one of the superior additions to the JSNT Supplement Series and ignoring should not be an option.
University of Birmingham