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Acta Theologica

On-line version ISSN 2309-9089
Print version ISSN 1015-8758

Acta theol. vol.36  suppl.23 Bloemfontein  2016 

Food for thought: Interpreting the parable of the loyal and wise slave in Q 12:42-44



L. Howes

Department of Religion Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. E-mail:




The parable of the loyal and wise slave appears in Q 12:42-46 (Matt. 24:45-51; Luke 12:42-46). I have argued elsewhere that verses 45-46 were added to verses 42-44 by Q's main redactor. If so, only Q 12:42-44 originally appeared in Kloppenborg's formative stratum, or Q1. The purpose of the present article is to ascertain the parable's meaning as it seemingly appeared on the level of Q's formative stratum. The latter is mainly achieved by taking seriously the parable's application of the slavery metaphor. It should not come as a surprise that the parable in Q 12:42-44 is all about feeding God's people.

Keywords: Parable, Slavery, Q, Formative stratum, Feed

Trefwoorde: Gelykenis, Slawerny, Q, Vormingslaag, Voed




The parable of the loyal and wise slave, as I prefer to call it, appears in both Matthew (24:45-51) and Luke (12:42-46). There is enough verbal and grammatical overlap between the two versions to justify its place in the Sayings Gospel Q (Dodd 1958:158; Marshall 1978:533; Crossan 1974a:22; Scott 1989:208-209; Taylor 1989:138; Funk & Hoover 1993:253; Luz 2005:221; cf. Bock 1996:1171, n. 3). Given the parable's composite nature, featuring a rhetorical question, an amen saying, a beatitude and a conditional judgement saying, it seems highly likely that the content evolved over a period of time (cf. Dodd 1958:158; Scott 1989:211; Jacobson 1992:197; Kirk 1998:234; Fleddermann 2005:633, 635; Luz 2005:221; cf. Crossan 1983:59-60).

I have argued elsewhere that verses 45-46 were added to verses 42-44 by Q's main redactor (cf. Howes 2015a:473-477; 2015b:478-484). If so, only verses 42-44 originally appeared in Kloppenborg's formative stratum, or Q1. In their Critical Edition of Q, the International Q Project offers the following reconstruction and translation of Q 12:42-44 (Robinson, Hoffma

42τίς ἄρα ἐστὶν πιστὸς δοῦλος [καὶ] φρόνιμος ὃν κατέστησεν κύριος ἐπὶ τῆς οἰκετείας αὐτοῦ τοῦ δο[]ναι [αὐτοῖς] ἐν καιρῷ τὴν τροφὴν; 43μακάριος δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος, ὃν ἐλθὼν κύριος αὐτοῦ εὑρήσει οὕτως ποιοῦντα. 44[ἀμὴν] λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ὑπάρχουσιν αὐτοῦ καταστήσει αὐτόν.

42Who then is the faithful [and] wise slave whom the master put over his household to give [them] food on time? 43Blessed is that slave whose master, on coming, will find so doing. 44[Amen], I tell you, he will appoint him over all his possessions.

The purpose of the present article is to ascertain the parable's meaning as it seemingly appeared in the formative stratum, without the influence of verses 45-46.1 As the previous sentence reveals, this article accepts the influential stratigraphy of Q proposed by Kloppenborg in 1987, thereby using it as a basis for further study. A number of other scholars have done the same (for example, Vaage 1994:7, 107; Cotter 1995:117; Arnal 2001:5).

I have defended my acceptance and approval of Kloppenborg's stratigraphy of Q at length elsewhere (cf. Howes 2015c:61-89, 151). I shall argue the reading of Q 12:42-44, being proposed in this instance, by taking seriously the parable's application of the slavery metaphor. In order to understand the parable's main metaphor, it is crucial to be familiar with the metaphorical associations of the institution of slavery in the ancient world, especially ancient Judaism. The first part of the article will focus on the latter, while the second part will turn specifically to the interpretation of Q 12:42-44.



Before attempting to interpret Q 12:42-44, it is important to investigate the metaphorical proclivity of the parable's narrative features. On account of the stock symbols and established metaphors extant in the Jewish world that Jesus occupied, some of the elements in his parables leant themselves naturally to metaphorical application (Jeremias 1963:88; Scott 1989:207). This is especially true of the parables about slavery. In Q 12:42-44, the master, the slave manager and the fellow slaves all feature as part of the slavery metaphor, and the metaphorical application of each character would have been obvious to those who heard this parable for the first time (cf. for example, Dodd 1958:160; Jeremias 1963:57-58). When interpreting the parables of Jesus, one should, in my view, give credence to those metaphorical applications that would have been immediately evident to any Jewish audience (cf. Dodd 1958:160; Jeremias 1963:88; Scott 1989:207; Crossan 2012:110). These individual applications combine to create one overarching metaphor.

2.1 A nation of slaves

In my view, the slaves in Q 12:42-44 represent the nation of Israel. According to long-established Jewish tradition, Israel was regarded as the metaphorical slaves of God (Dodd 1958:160). Throughout the Old Testament, but especially in Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are reminded that God had saved them from slavery in Egypt. In return, God expected his people to be unswervingly loyal, and to obey his commandments to the letter (cf., for example, Deut. 5:15; Hezser 2005:328-329). Throughout the Old Testament, such unshakable servitude is often expressed through the metaphor of slavery. Israel is oftentimes described as "slaves of God", especially in the prophetic corpus (DuBois 2009:52).2 As God's slaves, Israel is expected to be unfailingly obedient and loyal (cf. Isa 42:19). The slavery metaphor continued being used to describe Israel's relationship to God during the Second Temple period (cf. Hezser 2005:329-332; DuBois 2009:66).3

The slavery metaphor also became attached to the Jewish people in quite a different way. In the Old Testament, Israel is commonly described as the political slaves of foreign rulers (for example, Neh. 9:36). In the first century AD, the Greeks and Romans commonly viewed the Jewish nation as a "nation of slaves" (Bradley 1994:65; cf. DuBois 2009:54-66).4 It was not difficult for ancient Rome, especially after numerous military and political successes, to view themselves as superior to other nations (Massey & Moreland 1992:5). With the term "nation of slaves", the Greeks and Romans denoted political slavery, but also connoted physical slavery. Whereas the latter refers to those Jews who were actually enslaved by conquering nations, the former refers to the subordination of the Jewish populace to the laws and rulings of foreign conquerors. The mere submission of Israel under Greece and then Rome was reason enough to be called a nation of slaves, regardless of whether or not actual enslavement followed military defeat and political subjugation (Hezser 2005:341). Jews adopted and assimilated this understanding of themselves.5 A political application of the slavery metaphor was particularly prevalent during the Second Temple period (cf. Hezser 2005:61-62, 341-343).6

Another ancient tradition supports the case that the slaves in the parable represent the nation of Israel. In both Greco-Roman and Jewish traditions, the elite family was considered to be a microcosm of society in general (Hezser 2005:129). The strict hierarchy within the ancient family was a suitable model for the political structure and social hierarchy of society at large (Herzog 1994:157; cf. Scott 1989:207). This was particularly true of wealthy families, with slaves representing the populace. For Roman slaveholders, the family was a miniature state, and its slaves were the citizens within it (Bradley 1994:81; Joshel 2010:113, 128).

Internal clues confirm our case that the slaves in Q 12:42-44 represent Israel. The word translated in Q 12:42 with "household" (οίκετεία) literally refers to a "household of slaves" (Herzog 1994:157; Liddell & Scott 1996:s.v. οίκετεία). It follows that the master did not task the slave with feeding his own (i.e. the master's) family, as the English translation seems to imply (pace, for example, Donahue 1988:98; Bock 1996:1179), but with feeding the families of slaves who lived on the farm. That explains the meaning of the lexis "household" (οίκετεία) on the literal level. Yet, the precise metaphorical application of this "household of slaves" is suggested by the very same Greek lexis. On a figurative level, the same Greek word (οίκετεία) could also denote a "slave population" (Liddell & Scott 1996:s.v. οίκετεία). In other words, the metaphorical application of the "household" (οίκετεία) is suggested by the lexis itself. Given the rich Jewish tradition of calling Israel "slaves of God", as well as the political proclivity to call Israel a "nation of slaves", there should be little doubt that the identity of the "slave population" (οίκετεία) is Israel (cf. Etchells 1998:109). It seems likely that Q's Jesus used this word deliberately to denote, through clever wordplay, both the literal and metaphorical levels of meaning simultaneously.

2.2 Will you be able to manage?

On the literal level, the parable's opening question probably references a rural estate manager as the "loyal and wise slave" (cf. Harrill 2006:113). Luke certainly understood the parable against this background, exchanging the more generic "slave" (δούλος) for the more specific "manager" (οικονόμος). The most likely referent of the appointed slave in Q 12:42-44 is the Jewish elite. The Old Testament often describes individual Jewish leaders, including Moses, Samson, King David and the prophets, as "slaves of God" (Dodd 1958:160, n. 2; Jeremias 1963:57-58; Donahue 1988:99; Hezser 2005:327328; DuBois 2009:52).7 Like greater Israel, the Biblical tradition expects these leaders to be completely loyal and obedient to God. Despite their cultic and/or political successes, they are reminded by the phrase "slave of God" that they are nonetheless under God's command. The Jewish leaders are special slaves, being hierarchically closer to God, and having more responsibility (as well as accountability) than the rest of Israel (cf. Hunter 1964:120; Marshall 1978:533; Bock 1996:1183; Allison 2004:440). As God's special slaves, they are expected to control and lead Israel to be proper slaves of God. This application of the slavery metaphor was alive and well in the Jewish world of the first century AD (Hezser 2005:331 n. 19; Harrill 2006:96, 103, 109; cf. Michel 1967:150-151).8 In the works of Philo, the estate manager (ἐπίτροπος) represents the Jewish elite, including priests, judges and government officials, while the master represents God.

Internal evidence confirms the association of the appointed slave in Q 12:42-44 with Jewish leadership. The phrase "put/appoint over" (κατέστησεν έπί) in Q 12:42 explicitly states that the parable's appointed slave is superior to the other slaves in rank. If the slaves in the parable represent Israel, and the parable is applied to society in general, it logically follows that the superior slave would represent those who outrank, and have authority over society at large. One could further ask whether the appointed slave necessarily represents Jewish leadership, as opposed to foreign leadership over Palestine in the form of a Roman governor or the emperor. The fact, however, that the estate manager is himself a slave indicates that he should be associated closely with the other slaves. The only difference in the parable between the appointed slave and the other slaves is each party's respective position on the servile ladder. In other words, the appointed slave is only distinguished from the other slaves by virtue of his appointment over them, not his ethnicity or servile status. Since the slaves in the parable represent Israel, and the appointed individual is also a slave, it incontrovertibly follows that the appointed slave also represents Jewish leadership.

For the purpose of this article, it is important to note that there is a rich scholarly history of reading this parable in the light of Genesis 39, especially verses 4-5, where Joseph is appointed as overseer over Pharaoh's "house",9 which included not only the royal household, but also the entire Egyptian kingdom10 (Allison 2000:87, n. 61; Luz 2005:223, n. 22). Allison (2000:87-92) makes a very compelling case for seeing Genesis 39:4-5 as a legitimate intertext for our parable. Most significantly, the vocabulary, grammar and word order of two specific phrases in Q 12:42-46 are almost identical to two corresponding phrases in the Septuagint's version (or LXX) of Genesis 39:4-5. The first parallel concerns the phrase "put over his household" (κατέστησεν [...] έπί της οίκετείας αϋτου) in Q 12:42 and LXX Genesis 39:4-5 (Luz 2005:223).11 Nowhere else in the Septuagint does καθίστημι ("put" or "appoint") precede έπί + οίκ- ("over" + "house"). This very distinctive phrase is commonly used in the Jewish tradition in contexts where the story of Joseph is specifically being referenced.12 The second parallel concerns the phrase "over all his possessions" (ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ὑπάρχουσιν αὐτοῦ) in Q 12:44 and LXX Genesis 39:5.13 As with the first phrasal parallel, the vocabulary, grammar and word order of the latter phrase is highly distinctive. Its only other occurrence in the Septuagint is in Judith 8:10, but there it occurs not only without the preposition "over" (έπί), but also without the preceding verb "put" or "appoint" (καθίστημι). In any case, the story of Joseph was better known and more easily called to mind than the more obscure tale of Judith. In the remainder of the parable, a number of keywords further strengthen the correlation between Q 12:4244 and the story of Joseph: κύριος ("master" or "lord");14φρόνιμος ("wise", "sensible", or "prudent");15 and δούλος ("servant" or "slave").16

The degree of overlap between the narrative of Joseph and the parable in Q 12:42-44 surpasses mere verbal correspondence (Allison 2004:440; Luz 2005:223-224). In both instances, a wise servant becomes an overseer; the promotion happens by means of official appointment; the newly appointed overseer is in charge of rationing out food to his subjects, placing their sustenance and survival in his hands; and faithfulness during an initial appointment is rewarded by a promotion in the form of a second, more important, appointment. The association between Joseph and the appointed slave can be added to the arguments that the slave in Q 12:42-44 represents Jewish leaders, and that the fellow slaves represent the nation of Israel.

2.3 The master's true identity

As noted earlier, Philo makes use of the slavery metaphor, applying the image of an estate manager to Jewish leadership, and the image of a slaveholder to God. The purpose of this metaphor in Philo's rhetoric is to teach the Gentile elite that Jewish leaders are themselves subordinate and accountable to a higher power, instead of being wholly autonomous (cf. Bock 1996:1183; Allison 2004:440). That a Jewish source from the same period would apply a metaphor that is almost identical to the one in Q 12:42-44, and would identify the master with God, strongly suggests that Q 12:42-44 also has God in mind when it features a master as character. Given the historical context of the first century AD, the only other possible referent for the master in the parable is the Roman emperor, together with the Roman Empire that he represents. There are indeed Jewish sources from the first century that specifically identify slave-owners with Rome. Josephus is particularly fond of slave metaphors wherein Rome is depicted as the vicious master who subjugated many nations to political slavery (Hezser 2005:327). As mentioned earlier, Israel was called a "nation of slaves" precisely because they endured political slavery under the Roman Empire. In addition, household management was commonly used as a metaphor that elucidates political rule (Dillon 2002:134).17

A decision between God and Rome as the referent of the master in Q 12:42-44 depends on whether the audience would have associated the parable's master with a Roman or a Jewish landholder. Roman citizens enslaved vast numbers of Jews for two centuries after 63 BC, when Pompey overtook Jerusalem and conquered Palestine (Hezser 2009:124). Is it, therefore, conceivable that Roman individuals residing in Palestine owned a number of Palestinian estates that were run by Jewish slaves? If the latter question is answered in the affirmative, it is possible to imagine the master in the parable being a Roman landholder representing the Roman Empire. A few considerations argue against this. First, Rome generally filled its coffers by levying tax from the populace, not by seizing their farms. In Palestine, mainly the Jewish elite, not the Romans, carried out the process of wrestling lands from peasants through perpetual indebtedness (cf. Oakman 2008:75).18 Secondly, those Jews who were enslaved by Romans were most probably deported to Roman Italy, where they were used as domestic or agricultural slaves (cf. Burford 1993:209; Scheidel 2008:123, 125-126; Joshel 2010:35, 54-55, 56, 67). Thirdly, one would expect the parable to mention the ethnicity of a Gentile estate owner (cf. Q 7:1, 3, 6-9), whereas the ethnicity of a Jewish estate owner is assumed, and needs no mention. The silence of the parable in this regard favours the master being a Jew. Fourthly, on the metaphorical level, verses 43-44 refer to judgement, and the most likely subject of judgement, at least from a Jewish perspective, is God (Etchells 1998:109). Finally, the fact that the judgement was positive, resulting in a reward, is not easy to reconcile with Israel's altogether negative view of Rome as a tyrannical oppressor.

If the Jewish elite in ancient Palestine owned relatively large farms, used slaves to cultivate those farms, and were in the habit of appointing managers to oversee those farms, it would have been conceivable and appropriate for the ancient audience to associate the master in the parable with a Jewish landholder. All these conditionals can be confirmed by our knowledge of ancient Jewish farming and slavery (cf. De Vaux 1965:83-84, 88-90; Hezser 2005:94-96, 286-293, 300). The same Old Testament and extra-Biblical Second Temple texts that depict the nation of Israel collectively, Jewish worshippers individually, and the leaders of Israel specifically, as slaves, depict God19 as the master of those slaves.20 It seems very likely that the master of the parable in Q 12:42-44 represents God. By associating the slaves in Q 12:42-44 with Israel, the slave manager with Jewish leadership, and the slave-owner with God, the current study follows in the footsteps of a number of noteworthy parable scholars, including, for example, Dodd (1958:160), Hunter (1964:79), Jeremias (1963:58, 166), Donahue (1988:99), Etchells (1998:109), and Nolland (2005:997).



3.1 The slave's all-important task

In my view, the specific nature of the slave's task to feed his fellow slaves is crucial to the interpretation of this parable. It is highly significant that the appointed slave is charged specifically with feeding his fellow slaves on time (cf. Fleddermann 2005:635; Valantasis 2005:168). Previous studies have tended to disregard the content of the task itself (for example, Blomberg 1990:192). The specific description of the slave's task and the explicit naming of the recipients thereof become redundant and unintelligible if the parable is read "from above". The terms "from above" and "from below" refer to the respective socio-economic vantage points of the different audiences. It is highly likely that the first audiences of Jesus' parables consisted of diverse socio-economic segments of the population (Crossan 2002:253; Funk 2006:37, 41). At the same time, it is highly likely that an overwhelming majority of these audiences were from the lower segments of society (Dodd 1958:21; Funk 2006:44; cf. Crossan 2002:250). Both of these statements generally apply to the audiences of Q as well.21After Jesus died, and the socio-economic make-up of the movement changed, it became increasingly customary to interpret his parables from above. In order to bypass such secondary interpretation, it is in the case of each individual parable necessary to ask: "What does the parable mean when viewed from the underside of Jesus' society?" (Oakman 2008:268).

Regarding the parable in Q 12:42-44, a reading from above associates with the master, and evaluates the slave's actions from the master's vantage point (cf. Oakman 2008:266, 267; Valantasis 2005:170-171). Considered from above, the slave's obedience becomes the focal point (cf. Blomberg 1990:190; Nolland 2005:998). Considered from below, however, the slave's obedience is little more than the eventuality that causes his punishment. Much more important in a reading from below is how the hypothetical slave treats his fellow slaves (cf. Bock 1996:1170; Valantasis 2005:168, 170). In a reading from above, the appointed slave's specific task could have been anything, since it is his (non-)compliance that is hermeneutically important (cf. Blomberg 1990:190, 192). Viewed from above, it has no impact whatsoever on the parable's metaphorical meaning if the task is changed to, say, "scrubbing the floor". In a reading from below, however, the appointed slave's specific task is paramount, since it directly impacts on the fellow slaves and their nutritional wellbeing, while his (non-)compliance is only important inasmuch as it relates to the task in question (cf. Bock 1996:1179; Oakman 2008:268).

Crucially, this focus coheres with a similar focus in the story of Joseph (cf. Luz 2005:223). In Genesis 45:5, 7, Joseph's hardships and eventual appointment as the Pharaoh's right-hand man are revealed as part of God's plan to ensure the survival of Joseph's brothers. In this instance, the word "brothers" refers to both his biological brothers and his kinsmen (cf. Hunter 1971:109). Just like the ultimate goal of Joseph's appointment was the nutritional provision and physical survival of his fellow kinsmen, the ultimate goal of the slave's appointment in Q 12:42-44 is the nutritional provision and physical survival of his fellow slaves (cf. Allison 2004:440; Hays 2012:49-50). The following quotation from the pseudepigraphical Testament of Joseph (3:5), written in the first person from Joseph's perspective, indicates just how important this aspect of Joseph's role had become in contemporary Jewish tradition: "If my master was absent, I drank no wine; for three-day periods I would take no food but give it to the poor and ill".22 Other examples could be added.23

3.2 The central question

If Q 12:42 is paraphrased according to the metaphorical applications isolated earlier, it would read something like this: "Who then are the loyal and wise leaders whom God appointed over Israel to give them food on time?" The extreme likelihood that the audiences of Jesus' parables included those from the lower echelons of society suggests that the opening verse is not directed, in the first instance, to Jewish leaders (Luz 2005:223; pace, for example, Allison 2004:440). Instead, the question is directed at the populace, pressing them to reconsider the world in which they live (cf. Dodd 1958:158; Crossan 2002:250; 2012:63, 95). Just like a reading from above associates primarily with the master, as opposed to the appointed slave, a reading from below does not, in the first instance, identify with the appointed slave, but with the fellow slaves (cf. Oakman 2008:268; Valantasis 2005:170-171). The unfortunate majority are brought face to face with the question: "Who are the loyal and wise leaders whom God appointed over us to give us food on time?"

To a certain extent, the question itself supplies the answer. The content of the question implies that the loyal and wise leaders appointed by God are those who feed their subordinates, and who do so timeously. According to the introductory question, efficient leaders are those who take care of the physical well-being of their subjects (cf. Etchells 1998:110; Allison 2004:440; Fleddermann 2005:635; Valantasis 2005:168; Hays 2012:49-50, 52). The equation of good leadership with material provision challenges conventional views of appropriate leadership (cf. Crossan 2012:42, 45-64). The challenge entails a reversal of the core principles and rules according to which ancient society functioned (cf. Funk 2006:172). It is recommended that Jewish leadership should exist primarily to feed the populace, instead of the populace existing to feed the privileged minority (cf. Crossan 2002:258; Hays 2012:49-50, 52). In imagining such an alternative world, the kingdom of God is born (Oakman 2008:105, 264, 271-272; cf. Crossan 1974b:98; Funk 2006:38, 62, 63; 1974:69-70). In effect, Q1's Jesus replaces the standardised criteria of what it means to be a good, loyal and wise leader of Palestinian society. One criterion becomes all-important: material provision. This paradigm shift would necessarily have led to follow-up questions, presumed by the rhetorical question in verse 42. Are the current leaders fulfilling their main directive to feed the populace? If not, are they the true leaders of Israel, appointed by God?

Given the economic exploitation of the populace by the Jewish elite during the first century AD,24 it is certainly safe to assume that the answer to both of the preceding questions would have been a resounding "no" (cf. Etchells 1998:110). By merely following the logic of the opening question itself, one can surmise that the obvious answer to the second question is also "no". Stated negatively, the opening question claims that those leaders who fail to feed their subjects are disloyal and foolish, are not really Israel's leaders, and were never appointed by God in the first place. The subversive and seditious nature of such a claim is fully apparent. Yet, the claim was by no means novel. In Palestine, popular protests against the rule of certain high priests continued throughout the first century AD (Horsley 1995:136).

It is not insignificant that the parable opens with a rhetorical question (cf. Dodd 1958:158). As indicated by the interrogative pronoun "who" (τίς), the question specifically addresses the identity of the loyal and wise leaders, indicating that their identity is not immediately obvious. If the current leaders are failing in their assigned task, who are the real leaders of Israel? The parable does not answer this question, but leaves it hanging, thereby "luring and leading [the audience] into thinking for themselves" (Crossan 2012:95). It is almost as if a vacancy for appropriate leadership is being advertised, and the position is waiting to be filled (cf. Donahue 1988:98; Fleddermann 2005:635; Luz 2005:223; Valantasis 2005:169, 170). Anyone may apply.

There might be a suggestion that Q's Jesus expects those from the lower strata of society to fill the vacant position. Elsewhere in Q (10:21, 23-24), socio-economic underlings are described as being wiser and more knowledgeable than the educated and political elite. The word "wise" in Q 12:42 could, therefore, be a veiled reference to the less fortunate (cf. also Q 7:35). The cryptic and open-ended nature of the rhetorical question could suggest that all leaders, at all levels of Jewish society, are expected to nurture and feed those under their command (cf. Crossan 2002:258; Nolland 2005:997). Leaders at higher levels have more subordinates, which means that they have more people to feed. As such, those at the top of the socio-economic totem pole have the greatest degree of responsibility and accountability (Allison 2004:440; cf. Hunter 1964:120; Marshall 1978:533; Bock 1996:1183). Nonetheless, all leaders, even those at village level, harbour some degree of responsibility and accountability to God (cf. Oakman 2008:118-119). Rural Palestinian villages had their own religious and political leaders (cf. Oakman 2008:269). In addition, not all villagers were destitute, and some of their living conditions were akin to those of their wealthy urban counterparts. As at higher societal levels, the politico-religious and socio-economic leadership of ancient villages overlapped extensively.

The slavery metaphor itself, in featuring slaves as characters, suggests that lower levels of leadership were also included in the parable's purview. The exact same instructions are also directed at servile leaders, who constitute the very bottom of any ancient socio-economic hierarchy. As such, the parable's metaphorical meaning is not only to be found on its metaphorical level, but also on its literal level - paradoxical as this may sound. What is expected of society at the metaphorical level is also expected of slaves at the literal level, so that the parable becomes a microcosm of society at large, with all its socio-economic strata, including slaves (cf. Crossan 2012:9, 32). Finally, the cryptic and open-ended nature of the question might even suggest that anyone who feeds his/ her fellow man (or woman) automatically becomes a leader in society (cf. Donahue 1988:98; Luz 2005:223; Nolland 2005:997; Hays 2012:47). Such a reading is supported by the fact that the identity of "that slave" (ό δούλος έκεΐνος) is not specifically disclosed in verse 43, inviting anyone in the audience to insert her-/himself into that position of "blessedness" (cf. Fleddermann 2005:635; Luz 2005:223; Valantasis 2005:169, 170). According to Marshall (1978:541), the phrase ό δούλος έκεΐνος in verse 43 gives the impression of "that sort of slave". Hence, the parable addresses everyone in ancient Israel, encouraging them to take deliberate action and start feeding each other (cf. Hunter 1971:12-13).

In expecting all leaders to address the material needs of their subjects, the parable seems to be promoting general reciprocity at all societal levels (cf. Crossan 2002:258; Oakman 2008:97). Under normal circumstances, the social value of "balanced reciprocity" and the normal practice of barter exchange promoted self-sufficiency, especially at village level (Oakman 1986:66; Horsley 1995:204). Goods were given to someone else with the implicit expectation of equal return. Conversely, goods were received with the full knowledge that an obligation is owed. Families and neighbours cultivated and maintained reciprocal ties and relations based on mutual needs of nutrition and honour (Freyne 1988:154). For the most part, balanced reciprocity ensured the equal distribution of goods among the populace. However, balanced reciprocity was often, especially during hard times, replaced by expectations of "general reciprocity". As a rule, general reciprocity occurred only within the family, and entailed the unilateral giving or receiving of something without expectations or obligations of repayment (Oakman 2008:95, 105, 138; cf. Luke 11:11). Yet, when portions of the populace were suffering, especially at village level, they would often expect acts of general reciprocity from other families. They wanted those with more to continually give to those with less for the common good of all (Oakman 1986:151-152). This differentiation between general and balanced reciprocity mirrors the typical distinction between grace and justice in Jesus' parables (cf. Funk 1974:64-66).

Since Q 12:42 expects socio-economic leaders to provide for those who need support, it basically promotes general reciprocity at all societal levels (cf. Hays 2012:49-50, 52). As a corollary, such a vision would include tax exemption and debt remission (Oakman 2008:271-272, 282). If applied consistently and exhaustively, such an arrangement would practically entail the application of a domestic economy to society at large, in replacement of the existing political economy (Oakman 2008:105). Similar expectations appear in the Old Testament (Lev. 25:35-46; Deut. 15:2; Neh. 5:6-13). Economically speaking, this transformation would turn all of Israel into "one big, happy family", often referred to by Jesus as the "kingdom of God" (cf. Crossan 2002:258; Oakman 2008:105, 264, 271-272). Q 12:42 similarly implies that consistent application of such expectations would give birth to God's kingdom (cf. Oakman 2008:105, 264).

The ultimate intent of the rhetorical question in Q 12:42 must have been to compel the populace to critically re-evaluate the standard and state of contemporary leadership (cf. Dodd 1958:158; Crossan 2002:150). The challenge is for the populace to question the fittingness of their appointed leaders, and to rethink the criteria for effective leadership. Such a re-evaluation of current leadership would necessarily have led to increased expectations of political support on the part of the populace. In other words, the rhetorical question ultimately impels its audience to expect more from current leadership, beginning with the all-important expectation of being fed. Should current leadership fail in this key task, a question mark is placed behind the very legitimacy of their leadership. As noted earlier, questioning the legitimacy of existing leaders was not novel or unique in antiquity, but expecting the elite to materially support the underclass was certainly both novel and unique. Moreover, to present this outlandish expectation as the one and only criterion for effective leadership would have verged on lunacy, given the configuration and priorities of the pre-industrial economic system. According to Q 12:42, the kingdom of God exists in this inane and insane vision (cf. Hunter 1971:10; Crossan 1974b:98; 2002:258; Kloppenborg 1995:278; Oakman 2008:105, 264, 271-272; Funk 1974:69-70; 2006:172).

3.3 Rewarding good behaviour

In verses 43-44, the conduct proposed by verse 42 is motivated by the promise of future reward in the form of a promotion (Taylor 1989:143; Etchells 1998:110; cf. Crossan 1974a:25-26, 38). The function of Q 12:43-44 is not only to motivate the Jewish leaders to take heed and feed the populace, but also to reassure the populace that God will reward only those rulers who actually take care of their people (Hays 2012:49; cf. Fleddermann 2005:635). On the literal level, the particular promotion described in this instance would have been extremely significant and life-changing for the appointed slave. He would have been put in charge of all the landowner's various estates (White 1970:353, 355, 379; Harrill 2006:103-104; Chandezon 2011:102, 107; cf. Aubert 1994:137, 141-144, 183-186).25 In effect, he would have been second in command, subordinate only to the landowner (and his family). Such a promotion reminds one of the story of Joseph (Luz 2005:223-224). The import and weight of the promotion on the literal level implies an equally significant reward on the metaphorical level, although the precise nature and extent of the latter remains obscure.

That the parable focuses on reward, which is the positive side of God's judgement, supports the previous claim that the parable is aimed at motivating existing leadership, rather than, or at least in addition to also criticising them. The same is indicated by the fact that Q's Jesus calls the Jewish leaders "loyal" (πιστός), "wise" (φρόνιμος) and "blessed" (μακάριος). To the extent that the parable is directed at the ruling classes of society, it seems to be mostly constructive (cf. Allison 1997:28; pace, for example, Kloppenborg 2000:141). The parable's intent is more to challenge existing Jewish leaders than to criticise them (Oakman 2008:271-272; cf. Crossan 2012:42, 45-64).

If the main purpose of the rhetorical question in verse 42 is to question existing leadership, the main purpose of the remainder of the parable is to motivate positive action from leaders and followers alike, in the form of providing material support (cf. Hunter 1971:12-13). The metaphor of a slave manager would have been particularly fitting to encourage selfless giving. Just like Philo uses the slavery metaphor to illustrate that earthly masters are ultimately subordinate to a heavenly master (see above), Q's Jesus, in this instance, uses the slavery metaphor to illustrate that earthly goods do not belong to people, but to God. Like a slave manager, earthly leaders are ultimately only custodians of God's property and possessions (cf. Hays 2012:49, 51). As a whole, the parable dares the upper and lower classes to imagine a world where leaders exist solely, or primarily at least, to nurture and nourish those under their leadership (Crossan 2002:253, 258; cf. Hays 2012:49-50, 52). If one can imagine such a place, one can see God's kingdom (Oakman 2008:105, 264, 271-272; cf. Crossan 1974b:98; 2002:258; Funk 2006:38, 48, 172; 1974:69). In fact, if one can do such a place, one can establish God's kingdom.



Building on an earlier finding that Q 12:42-44 featured without verses 45-46 in Kloppenborg's formative stratum, this article attempted to distil the meaning and message of the parable in Q 12:42-44, as it appeared on the level of Q1. I argued that the parable recalls the traditional slavery metaphor, according to which the master represents God, the appointed slave represents Jewish leadership, and the other slaves represent the Jewish people. Such an understanding exposes the parable's subversive message: Jewish leaders are appointed by God to take care of the physical needs of their subjects. Those who succeed in this most important task are wise and loyal leaders, appointed by God, and destined to receive considerable reward. When the leading elite consistently meets the material needs of society, the kingdom of God takes shape within the physical world. Q1's Jesus wants his audience to imagine such a place, so that they can create it.



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1 Q 12:45-46, as reconstructed and translated by the International Q Project:
ἐὰν δὲ εἴπῃ δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ· χρονίζει κύριος μου, καὶ ἄρξηται τύπτειν τοὺς [συνδούλους αὐτοῦ], ἐσθί[] δὲ καὶ πίνῃ [μετὰ τῶν] μεθυ[όντων], ἥξει κύριος τοῦ δούλου ἐκείνου ἐν ἡμέρᾳ οὐ προσδοκᾷ καὶ ἐν ὥρᾳ οὐ γινώσκει, καὶ διχοτομήσει αὐτὸν καὶ τὸ μέρος αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀπίστων θήσει.
(But if that slave says in his heart: My master is delayed, and begins to beat [his fellow slaves], and eats and drinks [with the] drunk[ards], the master of that slave will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him to pieces and give him an inheritance with the faithless.)
2 Cf. 2 Kgs. 9:7; Ps. 119:91; Isa. 41:8-9; 42:1, 19; 44:21; 65:13-14; Jer. 2:14.
3 Cf., for example, Pss. Sol. 7:8/9; 10:4; Jos. Asen. 17:10; Dead Sea Scrolls, 1QS 11:16; 4Q264:3; 4Q421 9:3; Philo, Cher. 107; Det. 56; Josephus, C. Ap. 247;~1 Cor. 7:22.
4 Cf., for example, Cicero, De Provinciis Consularibus 5.10; Thucydides, Peloponnesiakos Polemos 7.66-68, 75.
5 Although Josephus (C. Ap. 2.125-127, 133-134) argued against such (self-) perceptions.
6 Cf. Jdt. 14:13, 18; Philo, Legat. 119, 233; Josephus, B.J. 2.264, 349, 355-356, 361, 365, 367; 6.42; A.J. 10.112-113; 11.210-211; 12.434; 13.213.
7 Cf. Josh. 24:29; Judg. 2:8; 15:18; 2 Sam. 3:18; 7:5; 1 Kgs. 11:13; 2 Kgs. 9:7; 17:13; Ps. 18:1; 36:1; Jer. 7:25; 26:5; 29:26; 35:15; Ezek. 34:23, 24; 37:24; 38:17; Hag. 2:23; Zech. 1:6; Mal. 3:22 (4:4).
8 Cf. Philo, Spec. 1.221; 4.71; Plant. 55-56; los. 37-39, 169-200; Mos. 1.113; Prob. 134; Mark 10:43-44; Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1.
9 Masoretic Text (MT):
בַיּתִ; Septuagint (LXX): οίκος.
10 This is indicated by verse 6, where it clearly states that Joseph was put in charge of every aspect of the Egyptian kingdom, even to the extent that the Pharaoh's only concern was feeding himself. Cf. also Gen. 41:40-41, where Joseph is reinstated as the overseer over all of Egypt, subject only to the Pharaoh himself.
11 LXX Gen. 39:4:
κατέστησεν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τοῦ οἴκου αὐτοῦ; LXX Gen. 39:5: τὸ κατασταθῆναι αῦτόν έπί του οϊκου αϋτοΰ.
12 Allison (2000:88-89) lists the following examples: LXX Ps. 104:21; Jub. 39:3; 40:7; Philo, los. 37; 38; 117; T. Jos. 2:1; 11:6; Josephus, Ant. 2.39; Jos. Asen. 4:7; 20:9; Acts 7:9-10.
13 LXX Gen. 39:5:
ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ὑπάρχουσιν αὐτῷ.
14 Q 12:42, 43//LXX Gen. 39:3, 4, etc.
15 Q 12:42//LXX Gen. 41:33, 39; cf. LXX Ps. 104:21.
16 Q 12:42, 43//LXX Gen. 39:17, 19; 41:12. Even if LXX Gen. uses
παῖς (also "slave" or "servant") instead of δοϋλος, many subsequent Jewish texts do indeed feature δοϋλος in reference to Joseph (Allison 2000:90, n. 74).
17 Cf., for example, Aristotle, Politika 1253-1254.
18 Nonetheless, on the possibility of Roman centurions lending money to Judeans against local real estate as surety, cf. Esler (2014).
19 Or Christ, as in the case of Paul.
20 Cf. Josh. 24:29; Judg. 2:8; 15:18; 2 Sam. 3:18; 7:5; 1 Kgs. 11:13; 2 Kgs. 9:7; 17:13; Ps. 18:1; 36:1; 119:91; Isa. 41:8-9; 42:1, 19; 44:21; 65:13-14; Jer. 7:25; 26:5; 35:15; Ezek. 34:23, 24; 37:24; 38:17; Hag. 2:23; Zech. 1:6; Mal. 3:22 (4:4); 1QS 11:16; 4Q264:3; 4Q421 9:3; Pss. Sol. 7:8/9; 10:4; Jos. Asen. 17:10; Philo, Cher. 107; Det. 56; Sobr. 55; Prob. 42; Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 7:22; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1.
21 There is widespread agreement on this point: Oakman (1986:100); Kloppenborg (1987:251); Douglas (1995:120); Piper (1995:63-64); Reed (1995:19); Tuckett (1996:360, 365); Freyne (2000:206); Arnal (2001:150, 173, 188); cf. Horsley (1999:260-261, 269, 296-298); Kloppenborg (2000:198-199); Reed (2000:136-137).
22 Translation from Kee (1983:820).
23 Cf. T. Jos. 3:4; 10:1; Philo, Leg. 3.179; Agr. 55-58; Migr. 203-204; Mut. 8990; Somn. 2.46. For Philo, eating and storing food (as well as accumulating possessions) are preoccupations of the body, and, therefore, subordinate to acts that feed the soul. This paradigm causes him at times to judge negatively the person of Joseph, who accumulated wealth and stored food to feed the people (cf. especially Mut. 89-91, 215; Somn. 1.78-79, 219-220; 2.46-47, 65-66). Despite this caricature, Philo's writings provide evidence of the proclivity in first-century Jewish tradition to associate Joseph with the act of feeding the populace.
24 Cf. Oakman (1986:72; 2008:21, 24, 25, 75, 139-140, 195, 224-227, 271); Freyne (1988:151; 2000:99, 109, 195, 198, 205); Douglas (1995:123); Horsley (1995:60-61, 136-137, 141-143, 215-216, 219; 1999:57); Vorster (1999:297); Arnal (2001:139-141, 146); Moxnes (2003:150).
25 Cf., for example, Columella, De Re Rustica 1.6.7, 23.

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