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An article by Alton C. Thompson:

A new title for one of the
New Testament parables.

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The parable in question here is one attributed to Jesus.  However, before identifying and commenting on it, I need to present my "theory of Jesus."  Here it is:

  1. The Epistle of James was written by Jesus’s brother James.  Of that James it has been written:

    He was a prominent figure among the communities of the followers of Jesus living in Palestine during the first century.  Paul names him, along with Cephas (Peter) and John, as an acknowledged "pillar" of the Jerusalem community (Galatians 2:9). Emissaries from that community are designated by Paul as "from James" (Galatians 2:12).  Acts tells us that James is the only one whom Peter wanted informed about his divinely orchestrated release from prison (Acts 12:17).  James chaired the so-called Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13–21). Paul visited him and took advice from him on his final visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:18).  On this virtually the whole tradition of literature on this work is agreed.

  2. James was an older brother of Jesus.

  3. Jesus learned his concept of religion from James.  That concept is stated concisely in the verse (James 1:27):

    "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Expressed as a "modern" concept, this concept of "religion" states that being "religious" involves:

  1. Identifying those in one’s "world" who are in need of assistance, and doing what one can to address their neediness -- being careful, though, to avoid damaging the sense of self-esteem of those given assistance.  I would add that this "addressing" could involve efforts at societal system change—as, e.g., proposed in this paper.

  2. Striving to become aware of the dominant ideologies present in one’s society which might prevent one from recognizing the nature of "true religion."  The (blasphemous -- or at least pagan!) claim that "Christ died for our sins" is but one possible example:

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I can now identify the particular parable of Jesus which needs re-titling. It is:  The "Good Samaritan" parable (Luke 10:25 - 37):

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied.  "How do you read it?"

27 He answered, "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]"

28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

30 In reply Jesus said:  "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  

32 So too, [a Levite,] when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  

33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  

34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  

35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  

36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

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Shortly, I will express my reasons for objecting to the titling of this parable as the "Good Samaritan parable."  First, though, I must note the fact that when one creates a title, one’s intent is usually to either summarize, briefly, that to which the title is applied, or to convey, briefly, some important information about what follows after the title.

One would like to think that summaries -- whether in the form of titles, or otherwise -- represent honest attempts to represent that which they summarize.  However, we have a recent case which has been questioned on this score:

When Attorney General William P. Barr released a four-page memo two weeks ago opining that:

"the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,"

we already knew enough to be sure that Barr was spinning the contents of the report his memo claimed to summarize, as multiple reports now say he did.

That is, a summary may "spin":

In public relations and politics, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against some organization or public figure.  While traditional public relations and advertising may also rely on altering the presentation of the facts, "spin" often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics. 1

In short, a "summary" may be created with the intention to mislead; to prepare the listener or reader to interpret that which is being "summarized" in some particular way.  And that’s my complaint regarding the title "Good Samaritan parable":

  1. It misrepresents the actions of the Samaritan.

  2. That misrepresentation "helps" the listener/reader ignore the significance of the other two characters in the story, the priest and the Levite.

For me, the parable in question perfectly illustrates the "fact" that Jesus had learned his concept of "religion" from his older brother James:

  1. The actions of the Samaritan illustrate religious behavior.

  2. The inaction by the priest and Levite illustrate the facts that:

a. Individuals commonly thought of -- by both themselves and others -- as "religious" are often not so, in a Biblical sense.

b. That which is labeled as "religion" in a society is usually anything but!  For example, Christianity is commonly given the label "religion;" but as a series of organizations (e.g., denominations) whose orientation is to orthodoxy ("adherence to correct or accepted creeds") and whose orthopraxy emphasizes engaging in ritual (as opposed to helping) behavior, Christianity, in most of its forms does not qualify as "religion"!! (I would identify Quakerism as an exception)

To label the parable in Luke as the "Good Samaritan parable" is, in effect, to divert the attention of the listener/reader from the above facts.  For that reason, I suggest re-titling the parable as the "Religion-Irreligion Parable"!!  -- unless someone comes up with an even better title, that is!

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Reference cited:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. William Safire, "The Spinner Spun", New York Times, 1996-DEC-22

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Author: Alton C. Thompson
Original posting: 2019-APR-06
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