Capstone Project

I choose to study the Parable of the Rich Fool for the Religion 373RQW: A Chorus of Voices: The “Afterlives” of Parables Honors Class. Through out the course of this class I studied three different mediums of the parable: paintings, literature, and student interviews. Through them I saw many similarities but also a vast number of differences, making each trajectory unique in the way the parable was interpreted. I gained insight on how to analyze paintings and literature while researching background information that gave the trajectories significance.

For my first trajectory, I studied five different paintings from different cultures, one from America, Russia, Israel, Kazakhstan, and an Orthodox Christian painting. I saw that many of the paintings of the Rich Fool featured portrayals of the devil, a sense of time, and a symbol of the determination of death. The painting by Jim Janknegt showed the devil in a large home setting pointing to the glutinous rich fool. In the Orthodox Christian Painting an angel stabbing the rich fool with a lance is depicted, a similar styled angel is used in the Israeli painting. A difference in the Israeli painting is that not only is the angel with the lance present, but so is the angel of death. Paintings of the rich fool tend to have many images of devils and death to represent the fate of the rich fool, though there is not real mention of the devil in the Parable of the Rich Fool. In addition to depictions of the devil, there are also themes of time shown in visual representations of this parable. Jim Janknegt paints watches on the left side of his art to represent the loss of time in the rich fools life, this is a more modern approach from other paintings that represent time with hourglasses. The Kazakhstani painting also represents time by putting the parable of the rich fool side by side with the parable of the watchful servant. This juxtaposes how the rich fool used his time on earth, and how one should use his time- in eager expectance for God. Overall my goal of looking at these paintings was to take a deeper look at how the parables are received by different cultures. I noticed that different cultures highlighted different aspects of the parable, and the aspects highlighted had deep relation to what the specific culture holds in significance. The American painting stressed the consumerist culture in America, the Orthodox painting emphasized the marital symbolism in Orthodox Christianity, the Russian painting underlined reconstruction due to the time period when this painting was created, the Israeli painting highlighted the theme of judgment, and finally the Kazakhstani painting emphasized bread in relation to the dietary model of the Kazaks.

My second trajectory focused on a dissection of Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need.” This piece of literature was extremely interesting because it bore many similarities to the parable of the rich fool, and the differences exhibited enhanced certain themes in the parable. The short story featured the devil just as the paintings I looked at. There was the depiction of the devil in four of the five paintings and also in the short story. The devil acted as a representation of the significant theme of death in the “How Much Land Does a Man Need.” A difference is also that in the parable, it is implied that God gave the rich fool his wealth whereas in the short story the growth in wealth is orchestrated by the devil. Another dissimilarity is the portrayal of wealth in each story. In the parable and two of the paintings, wealth is depicted as buildings/barns, but in the How Much Land Does a Man Need, wealth is depicted through land. Pahom wanted more and more land, not bigger buildings or barns. Just as the theme of time was used in the paintings, so was it used in the “How Much Land Does a Man Need.” Tolstoy uses the sunrise and sunset, more natural symbols of time, whereas the Jim Janknegt used modernistic watches. “How Much Land Does a Man Need” was very interesting to study because of the fact that in it Tolstoy primarily expanded the parable into a narrative, which included themes of greed, self-interest, family, and irony. Throughout the paintings in the first trajectory and the story in the second trajectory, both the themes of the death and time are vastly used and the morbid end of the rich fool’s life is further emphasized in “How Much Land Does a Man Need.”

My third and final trajectory focused on receptions from Oxford College students. I interviewed eight people from different religious backgrounds. Atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Non-Denominational Christian, Baptist Christian, Catholic, and Buddhist were a few of the religious backgrounds surveyed. We asked them a total of three questions, “What do you think the message of the parable is?” “Can this be applicable to your life in anyway?” and “Can you relate this to anything in culture?” When asked about the overall message the majority of the students spoke about the aspect of greed and selfishness in the parable. A student spoke about how life is more than materials good, it encompasses family and friends and love towards others. Another person interviews spoke on the aspect of saving money. She believed that the parable was not telling people that they could not save but instead the problem lied in the fact that the rich fool stored up treasures for himself and not God. She believed that if the rich fool were to have donated a portion of his wealth to God he would not have been judged so harshly, but instead he kept it all for himself. One student of Muslim faith spoke about the definition of “riches.” She believed that earthly riches are not what God seeks, instead to be rich in God’s eyes, one much store up heavenly treasures. For the next question of, “Can this be applicable to your life in anyway?” there was an overwhelming amount of responses on the topic of future career goals for students. One student spoke about how she desires a job of high standing yet she needs to constantly remind herself to pursue her career goal for the right reasons and not just for wealth and fame. Another student spoke about how too often people put their identity in the amount of money they own, when instead people need to be concentrating on deeper goals of relationships and community. For the final question on the parable related to culture, Noah Cole, an econ major spoke about how the parable reminded him of the occupy movement and how there is a very small number of people who have a large amount of money and people who aren’t as well off are not getting the resources they need to survive. Parker, a student of Catholic background discussed the movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” He talked about how the main character only cared about getting ahead and was not concerned about who he had to betray and how he displayed many similarities to the rich fool. Sasha, a staff member of the library, spoke on how the parable reminded her of how Pharaohs and Vikings were buried with their wealth, so not only did they hoard in their life, but also in their death. Daniel, a Columbian student, spoke about an interview that he had seen of a famous soccer player who was very rich and was married to a model but still wasn’t content and happy in his life, showing that many times money can not bring true happiness. Sahil, a Muslim student, pointed out the flaw that many children are taught to pursue goals that only benefit them financially instead of something they are passionate about. The opinions of all my peers and friends were very interesting to hear. I was amazed at the connections they were making from the parable that I never considered before. Where as the paintings of the parables and the Tolstoy story focused on death, not many students talked about the aspect of death in their reception. Many students instead leaned more towards themes of greed and selfishness. They focused on the aspect of career much more too. This was an amazing connection because in none of my other trajectories were occupation stressed to such an extent. Students seemed to think that it was ok to have good careers with financial comfort but only if it was attain through a pure and giving heart. They believed that one must first pursue a career because of love for the subject, not only for the financial benefits. Sasha Snyder’s insight on the aspect of saving was also unique in that the other trajectories didn’t speak on how much was ok to save and how much one should give to the community. Overall the responses were very intuitive, and the third trajectory was extremely distinct from the first two trajectories.

All three trajectories spoke on the subject of greed and wealth. The first trajectory was unique in its uncovering of cultural significance of the parables, the second was exclusive in its narrative and many additions to the parable of the rich fool and, the third trajectory was distinct in its many references to current issues in society in relation to the parable. I thoroughly enjoyed taking the A Chorus of Voices: The “Afterlives” of Parables Honors Class. I had never read the parable of the Rich Fool before this class and it was fascinating to see how this parable had been interpreted and used by so many different people from different eras. What struck me was that though the parable was written years and years ago, its message is constantly evolving and molding to the people or culture receiving it.