The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 4: Bringing the Torah’s guidance into daily life

“Carrying a Roman soldier’s furca,” from Backpacking in Ancient Rome: Old School, Minimalist, YouTube video by Kenneth Kramm.

As Part 3 suggests, listening to the Sermon on the Mount as storytelling rather than as doctrinal text we learn that Jesus is not reading from the text of the Torah.  He is paraphrasing passages that his audience already knows.

And his concern is not to prescribe ideals of righteous behavior, but rather to work out practical moral guidelines for life under Empire. Jesus is “building a fence around the Torah” in order to help people apply the behavioral

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The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 3: “Building a fence about the Torah”

Part of Dead Sea Scroll number 28a (1Q28a) from Qumran Cave 1

In Part 2 we explored the concentric circles of audience for the Sermon on the Mount. There are Jesus’ disciples and the surrounding crowds within the story, and next Matthew’s first readers.  Then, the Jewish and Christian traditions of interpretation which developed over the centuries.  And, finally, we who read the story.

We cannot possibly hear the story as those first Jewish listeners did as people living under Rome’s totalitarian rule.  However, we can free the story from it’s

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The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 2: Historical contexts, audiences, and textual sources

The Bible with and without Jesus: How Jews and Christians read the same stories differently (2020), Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler

I proposed in Part 1 that we miss the significance of Jesus’ human presence for his own people and for us if we do not recognize the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, NIV) as storytelling.

The Sermon is not just a set of moral pronouncements for people who await a metaphysical end-time.  The writer of Matthew is teaching living Jewish audiences in the first century by crafting a story about Jesus.  And Jesus is telling stories to

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The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 1: Storytelling by and about Jesus

"Portrait of Jesus," Jacob Barosin (c. 1955)

The primacy of storytelling

We human beings are vulnerable to the spurious power of the written word, particularly when it comes to our sacred texts.  The organic, evocative, ever-renewing power of oral storytelling can become frozen into words.  Then we tend to ascribe illusory authority those words, replacing the sacredness of shared human experience with the bureaucracy of received doctrine.

It is particularly common for us to use Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” in this way.  The book

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