The Catholic University of America

John A. Szukalski

Final Examination of John A. Szukalski
For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Friday, January 13, 2012 3:10p.m., Caldwell Room 125



Frank J. Matera, Ph.D.


"Tormented in Hades: A Socio-Narratological Approach to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)"

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is unique and problematic. It is the only canonical parable referring to a character by a proper name and portraying a scene in the afterlife. The permanent reversal of fortunes at death depicts the rich man in torment in Hades and the poor man in bliss in Abraham’s bosom, a reversal that appears to be based solely upon their respective economic standings in life—a disturbing criterion of judgment. This uniqueness has occasioned divergent, even contradictory, conclusions regarding the parable’s literary and conceptual background, its unity and authenticity, and its function within the overall Lucan narrative.

This study employs the socio-narratological method, integrating insights from both a literary and cultural analyses of biblical narratives. This approach is well-suited to a fresh understanding of the parable from within its narrative and social contexts because it provides the crucial tools required to make explicit the often implicit dynamics of narrative character development and operative cultural scripts—culturally conditioned patterns of perceiving and behaving.

This study asserts that the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is one of a subset of seven parables in the Lucan Travel Narrative, which this dissertation calls philargyroi parables—special “L” parables that evince a rhetorical strategy of persuading the rich to repentance by utilizing parabolic dynamics that move the reader away from an established vision of reality that is exclusive and elitist and toward an alternate vision of reality that is inclusive, egalitarian, and associated with Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God. These parables exhibit coherent profiles of the rich who display stereotypical behaviors and attitudes that are antithetical to the alternative kingdom of God vision of reality, along with recurring and convergent social concerns that require transformation.

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus demonstrates the ultimate fate of the unrepentant rich—to be tormented with the memory of their former wealth and honor, and to be permanently excluded from afterlife reward for their failure to obey the Law and the Prophets regarding their obligation to care for the poor.