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the term translates the Hebrew word "mashal"—a term denoting a metaphor, or an enigmatic saying or an analogy. In the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition, however, "parables" were illustrative narrative examples. Jewish teachers of the 1st cent. A.D. made use of comparisons in narrative form to clarify scripture. As used in the Gospels, the "parable" not only denotes metaphors, analogies, and enigmatic statements, but also short illustrative narratives. In Jesus' parables, the speaker compares an observable, natural, or human phenomenon to the Kingdom (i.e. the rule) of God. Some of these challenge and mystify or even attack the hearer. Other parables are allegories. The major themes of the parables of Jesus include the contrast between the old and new age now dawning in the ministry of Jesus; the necessity of radical decisions; the gradual but sure growth of the Kingdom of God on earth; God's way of relating to people; and God's invitation for people to enter his Kingdom.


See W. S. Kissinger, The Parables of Jesus (1979); R. W. Funk, Parables and Presence (1982); J. Marcus, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God (1986).



a didactic and allegorical literary genre closely resembling the fable and differing from it in the following ways: the parable form arises only within a certain context; the parable does not require a developed plot and may be a simple comparison, although the comparison retains its own abundant symbolism; the parable tends to convey profound religious or moralistic wisdom.

Different types of parables are encountered throughout folklore and literature. However, in epochs with a tendency toward didacticism and allegory the parable was a model for other genres, such as Near Eastern instructive prose, for example the Old Testament and the Syrian Wisdom of Ahikar. The parable was also a model for early Christian and medieval literature: examples are such gospel parables as the parable of the Prodigal Son. In these epochs, when readers perceived any story as a parable, the genre’s poetics predominated. The parable lacked the descriptiveness of ancient or of modern European prose fiction: nature and objects are mentioned only when necessary, and the action takes place as if on a bare stage. As a rule, the personae of parables lack both external features and a personality in the sense of a totality of inner traits; they appear as products not of literary observation but of ethical choice.

In the late 19th century and in the 20th century, a number of writers saw in the economy and pithiness of the parable a model for their own literary work. L. N. Tolstoy attempted to subordinate prose to the laws of the parable. Kafka was influenced by the centuries-old parable tradition, as were the intellectuals Sartre, Camus, Anouilh, and G. Marcel; here characters and settings as traditionally understood were excluded. The parable continues to attract writers seeking ethical bases for human existence; an example is the role of parable devices in the works of B. Brecht.


Dobrotvorskii, S. “Pritcha v drevne-russkoi dukhovnoi pis’mennosti.” Pravoslavnyi sobesednik, April, 1864.
Likhachev, D. S. Poetika drevnerusskoi literatury, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1971.
Jeremias, J. Die Gleichnisse Jesu, 5th ed. Gottingen, 1958.
Lambert, W. Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Oxford, 1960.



1. a short story that uses familiar events to illustrate a religious or ethical point
2. any of the stories of this kind told by Jesus Christ
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