In Rabbinic Literature parables always appear, without deviation, in Hebrew—even when surrounded by Aramaic commentary. Parables are also quoted in Hebrew by the Amoraim in their Aramaic commentary. Therefore we can assume with some certainty that while Jesus’ parables are preserved in Koiné Greek, there original form was in Hebrew. We may even go a step further that the linguistic style of the parables indicate a Semitic origin though their present form is probably a translation of a translation (See: Jerusalem School methodology as described in the first half of Robert L. Lindsey’s A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark [Jerusalem: Dugith, 1973]).
For part 2 of the notes from our Synoptic studies at Suffern, I want to show the parable development from the earliest extant version in Matthew, to the Mishnah, and, finally, to Avot de-Rabbi Natan. This development may not simply be the growth a single tradition but the manner in which a basic parable has been reused in different settings. (Note: Matthew will be the Gospel preferred on this occasion as it seems to be the one that bears a closer resemblance to Hebrew than its parallel in Luke).
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”
Πᾶς οὖν ὅστις ἀκούει μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους καὶ ποιεῖ αὐτούς, ὁμοιωθήσεται ἀνδρὶ φρονίμῳ, ὅστις ᾠκοδόμησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν· καὶ κατέβη ἡ βροχὴ καὶἦλθον οἱ ποταμοὶ καὶ ἔπνευσαν οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ προσέπεσαν τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ οὐκ ἔπεσεν, τεθεμελίωτο γὰρ ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν. καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἀκούων μου τοὺς λόγους τούτουςκαὶ μὴ ποιῶν αὐτοὺς ὁμοιωθήσεται ἀνδρὶ μωρῷ, ὅστις ᾠκοδόμησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν ἄμμον·καὶ κατέβη ἡ βροχὴ καὶ ἦλθον οἱ ποταμοὶ καὶ ἔπνευσαν οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶπροσέκοψαν τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ ἔπεσεν καὶ ἦν ἡ πτῶσις αὐτῆς μεγάλη.
Mishnah Avot 3:17
I I. He would say, “Anyone whose wisdom is greater than his deeds-to what is he to be likened? To a tree with abundant foliage, but few roots.
J. “When the winds come, they will uproot it and blow it down,
K. “as it is said, He shall be like a tamarisk in the desert and shall not see when good comes but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness (Jer. 17:6).
II L. “But anyone whose deeds are greater than his wisdom-to what is he to be likened? To a tree with little foliage but abundant roots.
M. “For even if all the winds in the world were to come and blast at it, they will not move it from its place,
N. “as it is said, He shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not fear when heat comes, and his leaf shall be green, and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit (Jer. 17:8).”
(Kaufman A 50 Manuscript)
Aj…wrDh◊w NyIf…woVm wyDv∂rDv◊w [hbwrm] wøpwø…nRv NDlyIaVl hRmwød a…wh hDmVl wyDcSoA;mIm hD;b…wrVm wøtDmVkDjRv lD;k iEmwøa hÎyDh
fDo…wmVm wøpwø…nRv NDlyIaVl hRmwød a…wh hDmVl wøtDmVkwDjEm NyI;b…wrVm wyDvSoA;mRv lDk◊w wyÎnDÚp lAo …w;tAkVpwh◊w …w;tår|q»w|o»w haD;b
wømwøqV;mIm wøtwøa twøzyˆzVm NyEa wyDlDo twøaD;b twøj…wrDh lDk …w;lIpSaAv MyI;b…wrVm wyDv∂rDv◊w
Avot de-Rabbi Natan (Ms. A): Chapter 23 [Steven Notley’s unedited translation]
Elisha ben Abuya said, “A man who has good deeds in him and has studied much Torah to what is he compared? To a man who builds first with stones and afterwards with mud bricks. Even when much water comes and rises up against them, it doesn’t dislodge them. A man in whom there are no good deeds, [even though] he has studied much Torah to what is he compared? To a man who builds first with mud bricks and afterwards with stones. Even if there is only a little water, immediately they topple over.” He used to say, “A man who has good deeds in him and has studied much Torah to what is he compared? To lime that is spread over the surface of stones. Even when a considerable rain falls on it, it does not move [the lime] from its place. A man in whom there are no good deeds, [even though] he has studied much Torah, resembles lime that is scattered on the surface of stones. Even though a small rain falls upon it, immediately it softens and is carried away.” He used to say, “A man who has good deeds in him and has studied much Torah to what is he compared? To a cup that has a stone base. A man who has no good deeds in him, [even though] he has studied much Torah, to what is he compared? To a cup that has no stone base. When the cup is filled, it falls over on its side and all of its contents are spilled.” He used to say, “A man who has good deeds in him and has studied much Torah to what is he compared? To a horse that has a bridle. A man in whom there are no good works, [even though] he has studied much Torah, to what is he compared? To a horse that has no bridle. When the rider mounts him, he throws [the rider] off headlong.” He used to say, “The one who studies Torah in his youth, the words of Torah are absorbed in his blood and proceed from his mouth with clarity. The one who studies Torah in his old age the words of the Torah are not absorbed in his blood and do not proceed from his mouth with clarity. So, the aphorism states, “If in your youth you have not desired them, how will you acquire them in your old age.” He used to say, “Like gold vessels, words of the Torah are difficult to acquire, and like glass vessels they are easily destroyed; as it is said, “Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold” (Job 28:17). [Scripture] compares gold to glass. A gold vessel after it is broken can be repaired, while a glass vessel when it is broken can not be repaired, unless it returns to its original state. What do I maintain “Nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold” says to you? Everyone who toils in [the words of the Torah] and upholds them, his face shines like fine gold; and everyone who toils [in the words of the Torah] and does not uphold them, his face darkens like glass.
מסכת אבות דרבי נתן נוסחא א פרק כד (Text from Bar Ilan Responsa)
אלישע בן אבויה אומר אדם שיש בו מעשים טובים ולמד תורה הרבה למה הוא דומה לאדם שבונה אבנים תחילה ואחר כך לבנים. אפילו באים מים הרבה ועומדין בצידן אין מחין אותן ממקומן. ואדם שאין בו מעשים טובים ולמד תורה למה הוא דומה לאדם שבונה לבנים תחילה ואחר כך אבנים. אפילו באים מים קימעא מיד הופכין אותן
הוא היה אומר אדם שיש בו מעשים טובים ולמד תורה הרבה למה הוא דומה לסיד שטוח על גבי אבנים אפילו יורדין עליו כמה גשמים אין מזיזות אותו ממקומו. אדם שאין בו מעשים טובים ולמד תורה הרבה דומה לסיד שניטוח על גבי לבנים אפילו יורדין עליו גשמים קימעא מיד נימוק והולך לו
הוא היה אומר אדם שיש בו מעשים טובים ולמד תורה הרבה [למה הוא] דומה לכוס שיש לו פסיפס. ואדם שאין בו מעשים טובים ולמד תורה הרבה [למה הוא] דומה לכוס שאין לו פסיפס. שכיון שנתמלא הכוס נהפך על צידו ונשפך כל מה שבתוכו
הוא היה אומר אדם שיש בו מעשים טובים ולמד תורה הרבה [למה הוא] דומה לסוס שיש לו כלונוס. ואדם שאין בו מעשים טובים ולמד תורה הרבה [למה הוא] דומה לסוס שאין לו כלונוס כיון שרוכב עליו זורקו בבת ראש
הוא היה אומר הלומד תורה בילדותו דברי תורה נבלעין בדמיו ויוצאין מפיו מפורשין. והלומד תורה בזקנותו אין דברי תורה נבלעין בדמיו ואין יוצאין מפיו מפורשין. וכן מתלא אומר אם בנערותיך לא חפצתם איך תשיגם בזקנותיך
הוא היה אומר קשין דברי תורה לקנותה ככלי זהבים ונוחין לאבדם ככלי זכוכית שנאמר לא יערכנה זהב וזכוכית [ותמורתה כלי פז] (איוב כ”ח י”ז). מקיש זהב לזכוכית מה כלי זהב לאחר שנשבר יש לו תקנה וכל כלי זכוכית אין להם תקנה כשנשברו אלא אם כן חזרו לברייתן. ומה אני מקיים ותמורתה כלי פז לומר לך כל העמל בהן ומקיימן פניו מצהיבות כפז. וכל העמל בהם ואין מקיימן פניו משחירות כזכוכית
Clear and common themes run through each form of the parable. Unlike the Matthean parallel, both the Mishnah and ARN A establish their parable in scripture (which may indicate that Jesus is utilizing the rawest form of the parable), while addressing the debate of hearing and doing (i.e. works vs. study) that we mentioned in the first post. Notice the manner of development from ‘hearing’ and ‘doing’ in Matthew, to ‘wisdom’ and ‘deeds’ in the Mishnah, and finally ‘good deeds’ and ‘studying Torah’ in ARN (depicted in orange). Also there is a reversal of presentation from Matthew to the Mishnah. Matthew preserves the positive point (house on a rock) then the negative (house on sand), which is the method of ARN. The Mishnah, on the other hand, begins with the negative point (points depicted in blue). The gospel stresses the necessity to both hear and do, and the dangers of simply hearing. The Mishnah, in that same vein, concerns itself with someone’s wisdom (hearing, study) being greater than someone’s deeds (doing). ARN is concerned with someone’s lacking good deeds, in spite of having studied much Torah. One can easily note the parable development that occurs in three stages and the parallels that exist in both the gospels and rabbinic literature.