The Parable: Eastern Roots and Western Echoes of a Narrative Form

Elisabetta Lo Vecchio


The parable was born in the East among the Jews as a form of oral narrative, the māšāl, codified in writing in the Torah later and imported to the West by Christianity through the parables of Jesus. While Christian tradition was dogmatizing it, Jewish culture preserved the parable from the theological crystallization of the Holy Scriptures, using it both in a religious and secular context.

The purpose of this article is to investigate the parable as borderform in its original structure, analyzing how it works through the tools of Biblical exegesis and literary philology. Examining the biblical māšāl, the paper reveals that, unlike how the Christian tradition intends the parables of Jesus, the Jewish parable is not a closed text, unintelligible without faith, but an example of the Benjamin’s Kunst des Erzählens, a text that is open and susceptible to amplification and change, deeply rooted in reality.

A border culture between East and West, such as the Yiddish culture, has used the parable to tell of the rabbinic Wisdom, the experience of life accrued over the centuries by the Jews of Eastern Europe, and has handed this literary form down to the West through authors of Jewish heritage such as Kafka, thereby freeing it from its Christian dogma.


Parable; Narration; Judaism; Jewish; Māšāl; Kafka; Bible; Germination

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