The signs of the times and the critique of the crowds in Matthew 13.


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This dissertation investigates the parable discourse in Matthew 13:1–52 as an integral component of the Matthean narrative. It argues that apocalyptic concepts and conventions provide the necessary framework for interpreting the discourse, its function in the narrative, and its treatment of the Jewish crowds. The latter feature of the discourse has struck interpreters as unprecedentedly harsh and transparent to a fraught relationship between church and synagogue at the time of the evangelist. This study identifies several problems with traditional approaches to Matthew’s “parable theory” (13:10–18) and proposes that the discourse is working with apocalyptic tropes that have not been adequately explored and brought to bear on exegesis. After conducting a thorough exploration of revelatory parables and mysteries in early Judaism and Christianity, the dissertation offers a fresh approach to 13:10–18 and, ultimately, to the entire discourse, its place in the narrative, and its treatment of the crowds. In Matthew 13, Jesus addresses the crowds as an angelus revelator figure, uttering hidden revelation to them regarding the economy of salvation ordained by God at the beginning of time (13:35). The disciples stand here in the conventional role of apocalyptic scribes. They are charged to steward this revealed wisdom on behalf of the larger household (13:52), which includes the crowds whom Jesus himself has called them to serve. Although the crowds are the intended recipients of apocalyptic parables in the first half of the discourse (13:1–35), they do not presently benefit from the revelation that is addressed to them. Conventionally, apocalyptic parables require the additional gift of revealed interpretations to make their content accessible to human understanding. In Matthew 13, those interpretations are granted to the disciples alone. The crowds get only parables. They are left at stage one of what is, typically, a two-stage process because they have not fully understood that God’s reign is dawning now in the ministry of Jesus. While they lose out on a great privilege here, Jesus’s speech to the crowds in parables does not constitute a significant shift away from his compassionate ministry to them as recounted in the preceding chapters.