The Parable about Hell

….First, the parable has traditionally been used by many to describe the true nature of the afterlife because the parable is from Jesus — what he describes is here is because he knows what goes on there. Bauckham’s article suggests — argues — that this parable shares important folkloric motifs from Egypt, Rome, Greece and the Land of Israel. In other words, while there does not appear to be any direct parallel, or at least any parable from which Jesus borrowed, the motifs were common enough to have been familiar to Jesus and his hearers when he told the story. To the degree the motifs are folkloric they may not be descriptive of the actual nature of the afterlife.

Second, the major motifs of this parable are Reversal of life’s conditions, the attempt to gain information from someone who is dead about the afterlife, and the refusal to let that kind of revelation occur.

Third, and I think this is a major contribution by Bauckham, the parable does not explain the whys of the reversal. In other words, unlike other folkloric stories like this parable, there is no moralizing. The rich man  is not condemned for any reason; the poor man is not exalted for any reason — it is not that the rich man refused to help while the poor man was good and honest and a man of good deeds. For Bauckham it is that the conditions of this life — one marked by great inequity and inequality and therefore of indulgence and suffering — will be reversed. Justice will come  someday.

Finally, the parable contrasts with the arrangement of similar motifs in the other accounts in such a way that we see meaning in differences — it is surprising there is no communication from the realm of the dead since that happened in other stories. As such, the parable lays great weight on Jesus’ own judgment: injustice will be made right someday.


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