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The Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27) is nearly identical to the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).

Perhaps the most surprising variation of the Ten Minas is that it references the ruling nobleman in a manner that evokes one of the Herods:

He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’

Luke 19:12‭-‬14 ESV

Many Commentators agree that this is an explicit reference to Herod Archelaus, who went to Rome in this manner in 4BC seeking kingship, only to be followed by a Jewish delegation who thwarted his attempt.

Why would Jesus choose to add this Herod-like character to his parable? This seems like an odd thing to do, especially when he seems to be likening himself to this fictional king.

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    Is this not Jesus about to depart for heaven and return to receive His kingdom on earth?
    – Dottard
    Apr 10, 2023 at 11:45
  • Right, and Luke does explain exactly why Jesus shared the Parable at that moment - but why would he choose to involve Herod in that parable? It reminds me of what he did with the Good Samaritan.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 10, 2023 at 12:19
  • It is a tendency among commentators to find parallels in everything to anything. There is no need to trust such speculations.
    – Michael16
    Apr 13, 2023 at 14:12
  • @Michael16 - I wouldn't say that I'm trusting his speculation so much as it is very compelling for what is otherwise a very 'odd' parable compared to many others in Luke. There are so many unusual features that it makes more sense that Jesus is making an allusion here, rather than just introducing lots of peculiar details for no reason that don't have close similarities with his usual parables. It's always helpful to check our own biases and go back to first principles.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 13, 2023 at 14:41

5 Answers 5

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Tradition is often involved in hermeneutics, and this is so with the parable of the minas. It seems to be just taken as understood that when Jesus spoke of a nobleman going far away to receive a kingdom, that was a veiled reference to one of the Herods. But we all know that Jesus made no mention of any such person. It simply is not there in the text. So, when did this idea first crop up? Who mentioned the possibility? How quickly (or slowly) did this idea become a tradition? Which commentators today speak of this?

The oldest commentary I have is that of Matthew Henry (who died over 300 years ago) so I checked him. Henry never suffered from a paucity of words so I will spare you details; suffice to say he makes no mention of that traditional idea, saying that the parable meant anthropos tis eugenes (a certain man of high birth)

"....is the Lord from heaven, and is entitled by birth to the kingdom but... Christ must go to heaven" to receive it. (page 1510, 1st column)

When others claim that this man of high birth was an allusion to one of the Herods (at that time), that is pure speculation and personal opinion about interpretation. It does not stick with the established "rules" for hermeneutics, detailed here:

"As long as 'tradition' is accepted and transmitted without question, individual 'misunderstandings' and many 'errors' arise, rather than fundamental difficulties of interpretation. But the sense of the passage of time, changes in vocabulary, concepts and thought-forms can bring about a break with tradition, which will now appear as 'strange' and questionable. To ensure against particular mistakes and to provide the relevant application or normative repetition of tradition a regional hermeneutics is then worked out, as for instance, in the rabbinical interpretation of Scripture. This hermeneutics has a concrete way of understanding in mind, for which it draws up a canon of rules with which to approach the tradition, especially the texts...

They aimed at an elaborate 'art' or technique of understanding, which is far from what is meant by a 'theory of understanding' such as constitutes the modern concept of hermeneutics." Encyclopedia of Theology, article on 'Hermeneutics' by Karl Lehmann, page 611, Burns & Oates, 1981

There may be a variety of interpretations about this parable, but to examine the veracity, or otherwise, of this apparently taken-for-granted traditional view about one of the Herods, the origin and continuation of the tradition would need to be presented first. Others might prefer to just take what Jesus actually said, and not try to conflate that with political intrigues of the day, especially as he deliberately gave the parable of the minas to counteract the disciples' false idea that he was soon going to establish his kingdom rule in Jerusalem - verse 11.

The obvious, simple interpretation of the text - that Jesus alluded to himself going to a far county to receive a kingdom there, then returning to see how his servants had handled his kingdom interests - has stood solid for centuries, requiring nothing further. Those who think he meant one of the Herods need to present the case for that tradition.

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  • (+1) if it's any help, the compelling thing for me is the combo of departing for a foreign country to be appointed king (this is not a Jewish concept) and then being followed by a delegation to prevent them becoming King that make the case so compelling, especially at a time of high Messianic hopes when the people were longing to not be subject to a foreign power appointing their kings. It's more comparable to the Archelaus event than anything else we're aware of in Jewish history.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 12, 2023 at 18:41
  • The "collect it with interest" element is also very peculiar when the Law prohibits that practice, especially when it's told in Zaccheus' home. But that may be a different question.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 12, 2023 at 18:43
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There is not complete consensus on whether Jesus was, in fact, referring to Herod Archelaus.

On the one hand, Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, and Josephus all seem to agree that the parable alludes to Herod.

On the other hand, these were not mainstream opinions. The 14 book commentary by Cyril of Alexandria on Luke was considered the most authoritative and much of what he wrote was later synopsized by Theophylact of Ohrid. Both of these maintain that the nobleman in the parable referred to Christ, and not some contemporary historical figure.

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  • I'd ask whether the two are mutually exclusive? Acknowledging that the Parable is of Christ does not preclude that it is also a reference to Herod. Or do any of them explicitly say that it is not a reference?
    – Steve can help
    Apr 10, 2023 at 21:55
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    No, on the basis of logic alone it can not be excluded that the parable referenced Herod - or any other historical figure for that matter.
    – user33515
    Apr 11, 2023 at 12:33
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The key here is not to be found in the character of the ruler, but of the citizens. They unjustly hate the ruler, who stands for God, in accordance with Paul's dictum:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Romans 13:1

Thus Jesus might have said this because he wished to portray the people of his parable as unjust rebels against God's authority. It would also serve to warn Christians not to participate in calls to rebellion. Historically, unrest against Archelaus' ascension resulted in Rome sending troops under Quintilius Varus to put down the nascent revolt by force. In that sense, those who opposed Archelaus only made matters worse. The Revolt of 70 c.e., may have been another movement the parable warns against (whether the speaker is actually Jesus or Luke).

For me, the answer to the question as to why Jesus would liken this Herod-like figure himself or God is: "he probably wouldn't." But since the OP asks why Jesus WOULD liken himself to Archelaus, the answer would be that Jesus was portraying the people here as rebels against God's authority, even though that authority seemed harsh and unjust. He was warning against political activism against Rome's representatives, a real temptation for Jewish Christians of Jesus' era.

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  • It seems like a peculiarly specific embellishment for Luke to add - if we remove it, the final clause would have to disappear as well. Can you explain more about your theory of why Luke would add this - it seems less plausible to me that somebody several decades after Jesus would add something so oddly specific that would only make sense to an audience between 30-50CE, when Archelaus' events were still common knowledge. Would gentiles 70-100 years after it still have any awareness, do you think? I'd thought the detail seemed to indicate an early source for this reason.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 10, 2023 at 16:57
  • We know about the historical details you mention mainly from Josephus, who wrote at the time of Jewish Revolt of c. 70 a.d. . But in any case Archelaus' history would not have been much more distant that Jesus' own story, and he was a very well known figure. Apr 10, 2023 at 18:38
  • As to why Luke might add this, he may have wanted to dissuade Christians from joining Jewish Revolt against Rome and/or to show that Jesus would not have endorsed the Revolt. Note that he also places the parable in the context of the story of Zacchaeus, who was similarly distrusted by the local people. Both of these stories urge cooperation with Jewish agents of Roman authority. Apr 10, 2023 at 18:42
  • Logically speaking, for a specific historical instance like this which was already thirty years old I'm not quite understanding why we should view it as more plausible that it would be inserted forty years later, especially when Luke doesn't really seem geared for a Jewish audience (in contrast with Matthew). Unless you have more evidence that Luke possesses some kind of subtext geared around the Jewish revolt?
    – Steve can help
    Apr 10, 2023 at 19:00
  • Keep in mind I specifically give a reason as to why Jesus himself would have said this: to warn against opposition to Roman rule. But if it is Luke's agenda we are talking about, it would be that he had an interest in portraying the Christian messiah as opposed to the anti-Archelaus Jews. About the Revolt, it is by no means the only occasion where Christians like Luke would want distance themselves from both Judean Jews and the Jewish community in the Roman empire. Apr 10, 2023 at 19:46
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As others have remarked elsewhere, Jesus clearly told many of his parables more than once, and so it should not be surprising to us when he adjusts the details of those parables in different settings to teach and challenge listeners in different ways. What can the context of this event tell us about Jesus' motivations at this moment?

Immediate Context

The Parable of the Ten Minas is told in Zacchaeus' home, immediately before the Triumphal Entry, in response to the people's expectations of the Kingdom of God appearing immediately. (Luke 19:11)

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, there is a great deal of confusion on this matter - the people are all hailing him as the coming King:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38)

Matthew and John remark on the crowd cutting down palm branches (Matthew 21:8; John 12:13), which is uncharacteristic for Passover. It is likely the people are invoking some of the Messianic patterns from the previous 2-3 centuries during the Maccabean revolts, which had resulted in palm branches being published upon coins as marks of national victory:

Tabernacles came to be tied to Jewish hopes for a Davidic messiah and national independence. Judas Maccabees used the feast as a model for his celebration of the rededication of the Jerusalem altar in 164 B.C.E. (1 Macc. 4:54-59), the first celebration of Hannukah (2 Macc. 1:1-36). Elements of the Tabernacles celebration figure in Jesus' triumphal entry and crucifixion (Mark 11:1-11 par.), reflecting the people's longing for Jewish independence (cf. quotation from the Great Hallel, Ps. 118:25-26; the title Son of David, Matt. 21:9). The leaders of both Jewish revolts against Rome (66-70 and 132-135 C.E.) also used symbols and slogans from the feast.

David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.

The crowd perceives Jesus' coming to Jerusalem as an uprising, similar to the Maccabean revolt.

Jesus' Response to the Triumphal Entry

In all four Gospels, Jesus responds to this situation in advance, preventing the crowd from completely controlling the narrative - he's here to bring salvation, but not a military victory. Matthew and John explain that the colt Jesus rode was foretold in Zechariah 9:9.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah's next verse (9:10) expounds on this event as being one of peace, where the implements of war are no longer relevant:

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

We can see that Jesus is clearly taking pro-active control of the narrative in this situation, and challenging the militaristic preconceptions of the crowd.

Introducing the Nobleman

Similarly, Jesus invokes this specific historic context in this rendition of the parable to challenge the people's perceptions. He begins the story as if it is one the people are very familiar with:

“A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’" (Luke 19:12-14)

The people understand the reference, they smile and they nod - they remember this story well. Jewish kings never needed to go and 'have themselves appointed' - this is what the Herods did. Herod the Great, Antipas and Archelaus all attempted this, and the latter had a Jewish delegation which followed him, as happens in Jesus' parable. And the delegation were successful in preventing Archelaus from becoming king.

So the lines are drawn - initially, the people would assume that the nobleman is the bad guy and the delegation are the good guys of the story. But then comes the plot twist: the nobleman becomes king.

Our own biases are invisible until confronted

Everybody suffers from Confirmation Bias - we tend to frame all new information in a way that reinforces our prior beliefs. Jesus is intentionally injecting conflicting ideas to force people to think harder about what he is teaching, as he does in the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan and other parables. Jesus is doing what all excellent teachers do - shaping the teaching to be most effective in that particular moment to his particular audience.

By framing his hearers as the bad guys in his parable (including killing them at the end, v27) Jesus forces them to re-evaluate their standing with him. No more smiles and nods. Their choice is to either be the bad guys, or else those entrusted by the nobleman to 'do business' in a land hostile to their own coming King.

Without this reference to Herod Archelaus, the audience's assumption would be that they are the nobleman's trusted servants in a hostile Roman land, awaiting their coming Messiah - that's what they already think. By beginning with this pointed political moment, Jesus changes the starting assumption, helping them digest the parable properly.

And don't forget the Sequel

Jesus is also setting up for his next Parable, The Parable of the Tenants (Luke 20:9-19), which draws on very similar ideas and explicitly pits a vineyard owner (invoking Isaiah 5:1-7) against violent and disobedient tenants, again representing the Jewish leaders. In the sequence of passages across Luke 19-20 there are repeated messages confronting the crowd's political (and spiritual) biases in light of Jesus' teachings.

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The first error is to assume that it is a direct "reference" or allusion hinting towards Herod. There is a misunderstanding of what a parable means. It is a literary story for teaching. It doesn't seem that there is a King in mind, let alone a specific one in the parable. Compare the countless questions that find allusions, clues and hints to OT verses, if they find the remotest similarity in words or phrases. There should be a name for this fallacy.

If there was really a parallel to the King Herod, then we should expect the word King, and the legal designations for his subordinates such as governors, instead of "servants" whom he entrusted his property.

Secondly, supposing that the nobleman's venturing to foreign land is inspired from a real life case, then it doesn't prove that it was particularly Herod's, for such cases could be very common, not just for Kings but for businessmen, landlords, such as the parable of Vineyard's tenants, the betrayal can be depicted using an example of a husband and wife where the wife commits adultery in absence of the husband.

The term kingdom doesn't necessarily mean, it is a King's kingdom, but could be simply an estate for business, or this man could be a high ranking official.

Benson commentary,

Luk 19:12. A certain nobleman — Or, a certain king’s son; went into a far country to receive a kingdom, &c. — In order to be confirmed in his father’s kingdom, he went into a distant country to do homage unto a more powerful potentate, of whom he held it as a vassal. There is supposed to be an allusion here to a custom which prevailed greatly in our Lord’s time among the princes of the East; who, before they ventured to ascend the throne, went to Rome, and solicited the emperor’s permission, who disposed of all the tributary kingdoms as he saw fit. Dr. Campbell, instead of, to receive a kingdom, reads, to procure for himself royalty, observing, “To me it is manifest, that βασιλεια, here, signifies royalty, that is, royal power and dignity.

Thirdly, even if it was inspired on the incident of King Herod. It shouldn't be a matter of disturbance and oddity, since it doesn't depict the nobleman as wicked, nor does it hint towards any wicked King of Rome in a positive light. The parable teaches the same theme of Christ going away and after returning to see faithlessness and worklessness among his followers. It is a stretch to go beyond the scope of a parable, to think that it is portraying a particular evil King, when only a practical and common incident was taken as an example. Rebelling against an evil king cannot be seen as an act of sin, but rebelling against a righteous king is a sin.

Lastly, I have observed that people frown upon analogies and comparison. If someone compares someone with Christ, they immediately show a fit of rage, as if it's a blasphemy. When, the commandments tell us to be perfect as God is perfect. There is nothing wrong in making any analogy to any evil or good king, or even to God. There is nothing blasphemous and illogical about it. I have no problem in using the example of King Trump, who is to return soon while teaching this parable; for the purpose of parables is to make the teaching more practical and real, that there is no chance of a misinterpretation about the harsh judgment of God.

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  • +1 Though well written, this answer says a lot about what isn't in the passage without demonstrating a strong awareness of what is in there. For instance, you miss that a delegation went after him to object to his reign (as happened with Archelaus), or that he commends the non-Jewish practice of using interest (in a parable told in a tax collector's house!), which is peculiar. Jesus' other parables never reference explicit historic events to my knowledge, but that in itself is not a persuasive reason to suggest he would never utilise that as a teaching technique.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 13, 2023 at 20:39
  • Taking interest and taxes are not forbidden in Jewish law. The gospels condemn the tax collectors for their unjust exploitation. Zachhaeus was a corrupt official, "If I have wrongfully exacted anything of anyone". There are a few questions on Banking/interest laws here already where people explained that only the personal loan sharks are condemned who exploit people with high rates, taking advantage of vulnerable, not banks who take legal fair interest. This is not to say, the parable portrays the nobleman as loan shark, but he was a fair ruler/master who justly punished his servants.
    – Michael16
    Apr 14, 2023 at 8:21

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