Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

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Parables of Jesus, The.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

One of the most common points in the praise of Jesus as a teacher - in many apologists it becomes a "unique" feature - is that he accommodated his message to the multitude by the use of parables. One would expect these assiduous Bible readers to remember that the parable, which is a familiar Oriental turn of speech, is used freely in the Old Testament. Solomon is credited with 3,000 "proverbs" (1 Kings, iv, 32) - it is the same word as "parable" in Hebrew - and Isaiah often uses parables. A more serious, or more convenient, oversight is that of the fact that Jesus himself is supposed to have said (Mark iv, 12) that he spoke in parables to the crowds "that they may hear and not understand." But much larger issues are raised when we compare the Gospel parables with those of the rabbis in the Talmud. On the canons of profane history we are then compelled to conclude that the writers of the Gospels borrowed from the Jewish Schools most of the parables they ascribed to Jesus, and in most cases lowered or destroyed the ethical value of the parables in so doing.
      The parable is so familiar to the rabbis that there is one on nearly every page of the Talmud. Some theologians (Jülicher, etc.) suggest that they borrowed the practice from the Gospels; but, aside from the question of dates, one can imagine how the Christian leaders of the second century would, in their fierce controversy with the Jews, have rejoiced if they had found such borrowing. They never allege it. What one cannot imagine is the rabbis adopting and using in every lesson a form of teaching that had been peculiar to the apostate, whom they hated. For the composition of the Talmud see article under that title. It is enough here to say that the Hebrew prohibition of writing religious books after the canon had been closed led to a remarkable cultivation of memory in the schools, and the teaching of the greater rabbis was so faithfully preserved and handed down that when Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Meir collected the versions from the different schools in the second century after Christ - their findings were em-bodied in the Mishna, or older parts of the Talmud, in the fourth century - they found a marked consistency. A large number of the rabbis to whom parables analogous to those of the Gospels are attributed lived in the first century, and so in the alleged time of Jesus (see Rabbi Rodkinson's History of the Talmud, 1903). These parables are entirely on the lines of those of the Gospels. Those beginning "Like unto a King" are so numerous that Rabbi Ziegler has a special work on them (Die Koenigsgleichnisse des Midrash, 1903), and Rabbi Meir, one of the last men to borrow anything from Christianity, is said to have uttered "three hundred fox-parables" (Sanhedrim 38b). In many cases the parables in the Talmud are more intelligent than and ethically superior to the Gospel version. Thus, in the parable of the Wedding Feast, which in Matthew (xxii, 2) makes men slay royal messengers for inviting them to a banquet, and punish for not being in festive clothes men who had been dragged in from the street, is reasonable in the Talmud (Gabbath, 153a, or II, 361, in Rodkinson's translation). The King gives ample notice to his guests, but some put off their preparations and arrive in unseemly garments; and they are not "bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness," as in Matthew, but simply not allowed to dine. The parable of the Talents (Matthew, xxv, 14-28), in which usury is heavily praised, has a saner counterpart in Sabbath (1525). The parable of the Two Debtors (Matthew, xviii, 23-34), in which a man owes his King 10,000 talents, is quite humane in the Talmud (Rosh ha Shana, 17b). Experts tell us, by the way, that 10,000 talents is equal to about £2,000,000, and, as if to illustrate the soporific effect of Bible-reading, Spence and Exell's Pulpit Commentary recommends the preacher to comment on this text: "The reckoning had only just begun: there may have been other and even greater debts to come" (p. 223). The parable of the Hired Workers, in which Jesus is made to approve of giving the same wage for one hour as for ten, is quite sound in the Talmud (Barachot, 5c). See the complete analysis in Dr. P. Fiebig Die Gleichnisredem Jesu (1912); but a summary will be found in McCabe's Sources of the Morality of the Gospels (1914, Ch. VIII).


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