OT: Parables (was: Re: Merlin (with spoilers) talent and not using it)

Philip.Belben at eme.co.uk Philip.Belben at eme.co.uk
Wed Jun 4 09:01:53 EDT 2003

Charlie, quoting me:

>> But the real point here is that parables are not meant to be taken
>> literally.  (Oops!  I've just taken the reins of my hobby horse.
>> Better get on before it bolts).  One can usually get people to see
>> this with New Testament parables, but it's amazing how many won't
>> see it with those in the Old Testament.  (Reins in hobby horse and
>> guides carefully back to stall)


> you're thinking of books like Job and Jonah, where people might be reluctant
> to take the metaphoricalness of the whole thing on board, though (says he as
> a cards-on-the-table nonbeliever) they seem to me to fall clearly into the
> category of the exemplary fable. But this is quite different in turn, of

That's exactly what I was thinking of.  I hand't considered this in relation to
Job before, but Jonah certainly.  And there are several stories early on in
Genesis - including both the main creation stories - that to me are also clearly

> course, from taking any bit of the Bible one finds inconvenient (because
> scientifically and/or morally dubious) and drawing its sting by labelling it
> as 'just a parable'. That must be quite a temptation here and there, and I
> can see why people might find it a questionably tactic.

Agreed again!  I am always suspicious when someone says that something in the
Bible is "just" a parable (or worse, "just a story").  A parable is a story with
a message for the reader, and if we believe that the Bible is in some way from
God, then that message is both true and important.  If by labelling the story as
a parable one is diminishing the importance or truth of the message, then it is
indeed questionable, in my view.

The extreme examples at both ends of the scale - Liberal and Evangelical - seem
to me to suffer from the same error: that of confusing _truth_ with _fact_.  The
extreme liberals, having established that the story is not factual, tend to
forget that it is true; while the extreme evangelicals, accepting that the
message is true, try and make the story out to be factual.

I am not an historian or a philosopher, but it seems to me that the confusion
between truth and fact sprung up in the Church in the Middle Ages, when a lot of
classical Greek ideas were flooding in from the Arab world via Spain.  In the
21st century we should be able to see now that there are more (and better) ways
of communicating a truth than by relating facts; and that a truth told by
parable is no less valid than one told by facts.

ObDWJ:  A recurrent theme in DWJ's work is the other side of this - the ways in
which you can relate facts and yet tell a falsehood.  This is most explicit in
Time City, but it comes up pretty strongly in Cart and Cwidder (if you tell [the
facts] in the wrong way, it's not true any longer), Fire and Hemlock (Laurel is
good at this), and Deep Secret.  To name but a few.


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