if you want to experience what he meant
saying- 9; the sower - nature more compassionate than the OT Deity.
latest update: 29-01-2018
Now the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered them.
Some fell on the road; the birds came and gathered them up.
Others fell on the rock, did not take root in the soil, and did not produce ears.
And others fell on thorns; they choked the seed(s) and worms ate them.
And others fell on the good soil and produced good fruit:
it bore sixty per measure and a hundred and twenty per measure.
The wording of this parable in all three synoptic gospels is quite similar, and also similar to Thomas.
However, the 'classical' interpretation as given in the gospel of Mark served well the aim
of Mark (Mack, 2006). I do not share the view of those who hold that the Hebrew God is generally the main actor in the parables, and is presented by the sower in this one (Reist, 2011).
We have to proceed with caution then, but the seed in this parable rings a bell: there other
parables about seed: the one about the mustard seed (saying- 20), and the one about the sower
with good seed to whom the kingdom was compared (saying-57). So, the seed most likely
refers to an aspect of the kingdom, and here we might think that it refers to the teachings of
the kingdom as it is scattered among hearers, who respond quite differently when they receive it.
So, a conclusion could be that Jesus meant to say that although the Word is delivered to all, or that
even God reaches out to all, only few respond adequately: in most places the seed falls in vain, only
in one place it germinates plentiful.
This interpretation, however does not fit Thomas' Jesus' advice to his followers to be selective in
whom to teach (saying-93) as he was himself (saying-62), whereas
the ones following Jesus’ teachings were few anyway (saying-23, -66, -73).
We should realize that parables should be taken as metaphors and not as allegories (Jeremias, 1966;
also referring to Jüliger), so the meaning might be quite different.
One should not be surprised to hear that the sower threw the seed on places where it likely would
not grow or grow with difficulty, but in ancient Palestine sowing preceded plowing, and even shallow ground and footpaths were plowed also not to leave any part of a field fruitless (Jeremias, 1966; Quispel, 2004). So, it could be expected that the corn yield would vary between places, nothing
special with that. This also makes the classical parable interpretation a less likely one.
In a study on the Markan parables Marcus (1986) accounted for Mark’s specific intentions,
which were most influence by sectarian Jewish apocalypticism. In Mark Jesus meant himself
by the person of the sower (allegorical rendition), which, as all through Mark, he did so indirectly.
In Thomas, however, Jesus rarely refers to himself, either directly or indirectly. Therefore, if Jesus
is not the sower, then the seed does not refer to his teachings. The interpretation from
Thomas then, cannot but differ from the one above .
In line with the other kingdom comparisons, the sower is the one to whom
the kingdom is compared, and sowing the seed is the activity of the sower. There is no
sociology involved, the sayings are directed to, and the parables about ordinary persons in
their daily life making a living, not about social constructs. Jesus is teaching individuals to
change their lives, not to predict the future grandeur of a social program he had in mind for
the sake of stressing any personal superior state. However, one should realize the
following: Jeremias (1966) explains that the parables are in Greek as well as was
likely the case in Aramaic, preceded by an abbreviated dative, which, however, should not
be translated literary into: “is like”, but more like “as is the case with….”. So, as in Thomas
most parables start with the notion that the kingdom “is like” a certain person, we should realize
that the kingdom is not compared with that person, but that the idea one may get about
what the kingdom signifies may be tasted from the story of a man who…, a woman who…
a mustard seed…. etc. The absence in Thomas of any specific parable rendition does not
serve the specific aim of Thomas to …”grant self-consciously an enigmatic nature..” to
the sayings (Goodacre, 2012), which hints in my view to a complete misunderstanding
of Thomas’ message, but forestalls the shipwreck of the power of Jesus’ metaphors which
mold someone’s mind into the right direction, a process that would become totally impossible by
fossilizing a pre-defined, unique, all-encompassing and eternal kind of interpretation;
such is not the unique possibility of the metaphor and could way more simple be achieved
by the use of everyday, discursive language! Now it is clear what the difference is between the
synoptics and Thomas even when they hold a lot in common.
Then, could this be a valid interpretation of the parable:
the kingdom seeker undertakes actions while seeking the kingdom:
most of his actions are unsuccessful: throwing seed on roads or rocks, or among
thistles does not seem very conducive to growing grain. Seed was an expensive commodity,
and throwing it thoughtlessly just anywhere was an act of blunt stupidity. The severity of the
negligence is highlighted by the three different examples of how things can go wrong.
Furthermore, there are the birds. Birds have always been a plague to any farmer, not only
when he is sowing seed, but they posed a threat to damage crops at any time. If not
constantly on guard against the birds of the sky, the farmer who leaves himself
to their surprise will suffer grave loss.
However, as stated above, one should be aware of the likelihood that the seed was not
inattentively sown on the road and other places lining the "fertile" soil. Anyway, the sewer in
the story wa snot very attentive towards the threat of the birds, whereas he probably did not
plow directly following his sowing, allowing part of his sowing growing idle. And perhaps he
did not plough at all, at least, the story does not mention it. (The practice of plowing following
sowing might have been variable (Hedrick,1994). Scott (1990) argues that the plowing practice
is irrelevant as to the parable’s meaning).
Therefore, it is a state of constant awareness that is called for in this parable.
The kingdom seeker can never be negligent, and has constantly to be aware of those
things that constitute a threat to his seeking, which will otherwise forestall the performance
of the right actions. The parable also underlines that, although finding the kingdom may not
be easy, eventually the sower will obtain a plentiful harvest, which concurs with saying-2:
Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds.
Marcus (1986) in quoting Dupont says that the yields mentioned were all in line with what
ancient writers, including Biblical writers expected to receive from fertile fields.
If a 30 to 80-fold yield of grains per ear can be taken as a normal variation in modern times,
and a 10-fold grain yield in ancient times (McIver,1994), then 30, 60, 100, or 120-fold yield are all extraordinary. Hedrick (1994; 2010), however, argues that all mentioned yields are within the
ranges what could be expected in those days. So, because of this contention, walking
through the fields near my hometown I counted the grain content of a number of ears
of various grain species and found out that grain content was on an average
between 60-80, which concurs with McIver's statement!
So, I cannot but conclude with McIver that the parable's range is rather high, but today’s yield may
be the result of more modern cultivation enhancement.
In any case, such considerations may be important for the interpretation of the parable.
For example, Crossan (1992b) takes the fact that Thomas mentions only two yield measures
as a “Gnostic” twist to indicate that the soul either descends or ascends. However, it is far
from logical that the quite satisfactory fruit yield of 60 should be equated with the perishing
of the soul, even if the “Gnostic” accusation would be right, which likely is not (Patterson 1993).
The rather high grain content per ear may symbolize something extraordinary
in size or intensity, or may just be a “gross exaggeration … characteristic of the oriental way of
telling a story” (Jeremias,1966) - using hyperboles was not something strange to Jesus.
Seeking the kingdom:
maintain the right state of attentive awareness,
which allows you to perform the right actions.
Matthew13.3; Mark 4.2; Luke 8.5.
On second thoughts:
If we let go of the idea that the story hinted in some way or another at the kingdom, or at
any other characteristic or effect of Jesus' teachings at all, but consider its aim to turn our
minds towards an understanding of reality different from how we usually experience it,
we may see something rather amazing. Here I follow the interpretation of Hedrick (1994),
who mentions that "Hebrew and Jewish thought associated the productivity of the fields and
all natural prosperity ultimately with the proper and appropriate exercise of piety", and that
the Torah specifies the observance of the proper religious acts to that end. Inversely, failure
to observe the commands of God leads to Divine cursing of the fields, notes Hedrick. As a
consequence, the measure of harvest yield was considered proportional to the degree of
Divine blessings, which depended on the quantity or intensity of piety bestowed on by the Deity.
Obviously, Jesus most fundamentally subverted this way of religious thinking: in his story
the harvest yield depends only on natural circumstances, whereas nothing supernatural or
religious is mentioned to be of any importance. He did not say they were unimportant, but
his keeping silent about them is amazing, and cannot be without significance. In fact we may
conclude that such interpretation of the story makes Jesus flatly denying the role of rites,
rituals, and piety in having any effect on the world around us. There is no use in trying to
mollify the Deity to our personal ends.
Consequently, Jesus was contradicting Hebrew Scripture! The reason, of course, was his
deep compassion with his fellowmen: the fact that a peasant farmer's field yielded an
inferior harvest was nothing to blame on the farmer or his way of life, and Jesus condemned
invoking the Sacred to justify such accusations; it were merely the natural
circumstances! The extraordinary grain yield may indicate nothing else than to suggest
that even an extraordinary rich harvest bears no relationship with the poor state of the peasant
sower and his presumed insufficiency of religious piety, and is therefore a
natural possibility. Jesus seems to suggest that nature is more compassionate than
the Hebrew Deity! Jesus keenly saw the role of exploitation as a more important way by
which peasant farmers were kept in their miserable state, and therefore attacked the
practice of the current socio-religious regulations which made nothing but the destitute
themselves responsible for their misery. If so, why did Jesus not overtly resist the system by
openly teaching and acting against it? Probably he knew that such strategy would not work;
the ones opposing him would be too powerful. So, he did not aim to overthrow a social,
political or religious system, but tried to change on a fundamental level how people thought
about and experienced reality and how that affected their lives. He was not the one to give
the answers, but set people on the Way to find the answers themselves. I cannot but note
that such approach is rather Buddhist-like!
The Buddha also often refused to answer questions in either the positive or the negative, and
kept silent, indicating that posing the question in such way was without any significance.
His aim was to point at the possibility to rise above the regular duality of nature, opening the
eyes of his hearers to an alternative reading of things in the first place. And all out of deep
compassion with the ones who suffered.
This final interpretation is strengthened by a non-Thomas parable: the one in Mark 4,
about the man who scatters seed upon the earth:
He also said, This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.
Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not
know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel
in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.
No matter what the man does, the seed sprouts and grows! The man himself holds no idea
how this happens, but the story teller knows: All by itself the soil produces grain, and all the
rest of the process! Nothing supra-natural is invoked as an answer to the question of how?
And the whole question is a useless one from the peasant farmer's perspective as it
should be, as his only concern is the yield of the harvest.
There is more in man's life than he can be held responsible for and either be praised for or
be blamed at, any creed aimed at making man think otherwise is unacceptable.