Original Research - Special Collection: Festschrift for Prof Stephan Joubert

The body fables in Babrius, Fab. 134 and 1 Corinthians 12: Hierarchic or democratic leadership in crisis management?

Ruben Zimmermann
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 4 | a6524 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i4.6524 | © 2021 Ruben Zimmermann | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 February 2021 | Published: 20 August 2021

About the author(s)

Ruben Zimmermann, Protestant Faculty, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany; Department of Old and New Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


Body metaphors and body fables were frequently used in ancient discourse for social communities and politics. This article will examine a body fable by the Greek fabulist Babrius (Babrius, Fab. 134) that has been overlooked in research so far. It shows a remarkable similarity to 1 Corinthians 12 through the use of central terms such as σῶμα and μέλος or personified speaking body parts such as an eye and head. Even if no literary direct dependence is claimed, the text, which was written at about the same time as 1 Corinthians, sheds light on Paul’s understanding of the body fable. It becomes apparent, however, that the rhetorical function is fundamentally different in the two texts. Whilst the body fable in Babrius reinforces hierarchical structures, Paul emphasises the equality of the various body parts. The discussion about the ‘implicit ethics’ of these two texts is hermeneutically embedded in the current Corona crisis and the management of the crisis in different forms of organisation and state.

Contribution: The contribution makes the overlooked Babrius Fable 134, a body fable in political context, known in New Testament scholarship. A comparison with 1 Corinthians 12 points out that despite close analogies in plot and vocabulary, the message regarding the social structure diverges radically: While Babrius propagates a reinforcement of hierarchical leadership, 1 Corinthians 12 pleads for a community based on equivalence.


body; Fable; Babrius; Paul; metaphor; hierarchy; equivalence; diversity


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Crossref Citations

1. Translating 1 Corinthians 12.31a as a Rhetorical Question
Donghyun Jeong
The Bible Translator  vol: 75  issue: 1  first page: 65  year: 2024  
doi: 10.1177/20516770241234210