More to the point, the parable of the Dishonest Manager is among the most challenging passages in the New Testament. The problem? What are we to make of a parable in which the hero is also a scoundrel? As C. H. Dodd famously observed, it looks as if even the author of Luke struggled with this one, tacking on multiple -- and conflicting -- "sermon notes" to the end of the story.
Fabian is making me think about this parable differently. He brings forth massive evidence that agricultural managers (oikonomoi) were nearly always slaves in the ancient world. Thus, the manager is also a slave -- or possibly, a freedperson (a manumitted slave). When the master threatens to remove the manager from his position, the threat implies the possibility of demotion to deadly manual labor: "I'm not strong enough to dig," the manager reflects.
I would assign this essay to students just for the wealth of information on slavery in the ancient world. Unfortunately, the essay is pretty technical.
Anyway, in Udoh's reading the slave remains dishonest throughout the story. And it's that behavior that (Udoh says we'll never know the basis for this) he wins the master's approval: he acts "prudently" in his own interests.
But Fabian's reading hits a snag. If the manager is indeed a slave -- and Fabian's historical evidence is compelling -- why does he think (a) that he might be forced to beg and (b) that he might receive a welcome from the master's debtors? A slave will not have to beg, and free people will not accept someone else's slave into their homes.
At this point Fabian backs up a little and says, Maybe the manager is a freedperson. Unfortunately, the article devotes little space to the condition of freedpersons in the ancient world (see the brief discussion on 333-34). We should avoid the hasty assumption that a freedperson would have been "free" in a modern sense, as in without obligation to the master. In a footnote on pp. 324-25, Udoh gives the impression that the distinction between slave and freedman is immaterial to this question, since even the freedman manager would be acting in a servile role. (On p. 333 n. 128 he calls the distinction "insignificant.") It seems to me, however, that the distinction is very important for understanding the manager's deliberations and actions. So my question: Would the options presenting a freedperson differ significantly from those of a slave in the ancient world?