FABLE. Usually defined as a narrative in which animals and inanimate objects of nature are made to act and speak as if they were human beings. The word “fable” is not found in the OT, but the OT has two fables:
FABLE, (μυ̂θος, G3680, talk, tale, legend, myth). A literary genre in the form of a short story embodying a moral and making use of animals, birds, or inanimate things like trees, as persons or actors. This form of writing was wellknown in ancient lit., esp. in Sumer. and Akkad. According to Trench, a principal difference between a fable and a parable is that the former tries to inculcate maxims of prudential morality—like industry, foresight, and caution; while the latter teaches spiritual virtues.
There are two fables in the OT. In the first, found in
In the other OT fable, Jehoash, king of Israel, told Amaziah, king of Judah, who had challenged him to a fight, that he would demean himself by accepting the challenge. “A thistle on Lebanon sent to a cedar on Lebanon, saying, ‘Give your daughter to my son for a wife’; and a wild beast of Lebanon passed by and trampled down the thistle” (
Some OT prophets employ illustrations which approach the status of fable, like Isaiah’s poem about the vineyard (
The KJV uses the word “fable” in the NT to refer to some false teachings which were coming into the Church, but in each instance the RSV more accurately trs. the Gr. word muthos, “myth” (
R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables (1882), 1-5; F. J. A. Hort, Judaistic Christianity (1894), 135ff.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(1) Primitive man conceives of the objects around him as possessing his own characteristics. Consequently in his stories, beasts, trees, rocks, etc., think, talk and act exactly as if they were human beings. Of course, but little advance in knowledge was needed to put an end to this mode of thought, but the form of story-telling developed by it persisted and is found in the folk-tales of all nations. More particularly, the archaic form of story was used for the purpose of moral instruction, and when so used is termed the fable. Modern definitions distinguish it from the parable
(a) by its use of characters of lower intelligence than man (although reasoning and speaking like men), and
(b) by its lesson for this life only. But, while these distinctions serve some practical purpose in distinguishing (say) the fables of Aesop from the parables of Christ, they are of little value to the student of folk-lore. For fable, parable, allegory, etc., are all evolutions from a common stock, and they tend to blend with each other.
(2) The Semitic mind is peculiarly prone to allegorical expression, and a modern Arabian storyteller will invent a fable or a parable as readily as he will talk. And we may be entirely certain that the very scanty appearance of fables in the