Rabbinic parables were produced in the context of the rabbinic movement, a Jewish movement that developed in Roman Palestine from the end of the first century CE onwards. These parables consist of a short narrative concerning a situation from daily life that sheds light on an interpretative issue in the biblical text by means of a comparison or contrast. In the application, fathers and sons usually represent God and Israel, respectively.
In early rabbinic parables, the father-son relationship is characterized by a dynamic interplay between the authority of the father and the agency of the son. While previous scholarship often focused on Jewish children as objects of adult actions, the present study argues that a thorough analysis of the son’s role is necessary to understand this interplay well.
Focusing on the themes of child provision and filial behavior/misbehavior and paternal reward/punishment, Oegema outlines how fathers exercise their masculine authority for carative and punitive purposes. The sons’ agency ranges from compliance to resistance, affecting, in turn, their father’s masculinity and honor. This dynamic demonstrates the multiformity of both paternal authority and filial agency.
This representation of father-son relationships serves the purposes of the parable in its application. Alluding to the correct behavior of fathers and sons, the parables under examination motivate fathers and sons to behave properly towards each other, and encourage their listeners to keep their covenantal relationship with God. For this reason, questions concerning identity and socialization should be integrated into the study of literary representations of ancient childhood.