Reading the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) as the authorial audience.




Stigall, Joshua J.

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Since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, interpretation of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus has tended to revolve around two primary issues: (1) the structure and unity of the parable; and (2) the search for parallels to the parable. In the first case, Adolf Jülicher’s attempt to identify the original form of the parable has led scholars to question the unity of the parable in its canonical form. The result has been a tendency to emphasize the importance of one section of the parable over the other. In the second case, Hugo Gressmann’s appeal to the Egyptian tale of Setme Khamuas and his son Si-Osiri has led to a search for the genetic parallel to the parable. Despite the merits of these approaches, I am interested neither in the “original” parable as spoken by Jesus, nor in the “original” tale that is the genetic source of the parable. Rather, I am interested in understanding how the ancient auditor of Luke’s Gospel would have received the message of the parable in its narrative context. Building on the work of Richard Bauckham, I will offer a reading of the parable against the background of the journey to the place of punishment, which is often referred to as a “catabasis” from the Greek word κατάβασις. The stories involve gods, heroes, and mortals, and function as etiological myths, as proof of valor, or as revelatory journey. Most importantly, these journeys also have a rhetorical function in the narrative of which they are part. Because of the ubiquity of the story of the journey to the place of punishment in ancient literature, ancient authors were able to use the story as an effective means of communication in their overall argument. I will argue that the themes of the parable evoke the imagery of the journey to the place of punishment, which would have created a set of expectations that are used in the Gospel for a particular rhetorical purpose, namely to encourage obedience to the demand of the Law and Prophets to care for the marginalized.