John Dominic Crossan
Crossan [Historical Jesus, 351] proposes that this saying, along with its related saying 047 The Rejected Stone [1/3], originated as a story featuring a vineyard owner's son but told with no self-reference to Jesus. In the subsequent tradition the story was allegorized, with the story then developing in either of two directions. In the Similitudes we see the story transformed in a positive way, with the tenants and the son jointly inheriting the vineyard. Alternatively, if the death of the son was taken as an allegory for the death of Jesus then there needed to be some reference to the resurrection. Crossan suggests this was achieved by combining the story of the tenants with the saying about the rejected stone.
He then asks what the original form of this parable may have meant when spoken by Jesus:
It is not impossible, first of all, that Jesus could have told the parable about his own fate, as a metaphorical vision of his own possible death. After the execution of John, and in the context of what he himself was doing, such a prophecy required no transcendental information. Indeed, if the idea never crossed Jesus’ mind, he was being very naive indeed. I find that explanation less plausible, however, because I cannot see how its narrative logic coincides with the situation of Jesus himself. How, in terms of Jesus’ own life, would the tenants acquire the vineyard by his murder? The story, on the other hand, is absolutely understandable as spoken to peasants who know all about absentee landlords and what they themselves have thought, wished, and maybe even planned. I am inclined, then, but somewhat tentatively, to read it as one of those places where the political situation breaks most obviously on the surface of the text. Presuming that the original parable ended with the son's death, how would a Galilean peasant audience have responded? May like this. Some: they did right. Others: but they will not get away with it. Some: he got what he deserved. Others: but what will the father do now? Some: that is the way to handle landlord. Others: but what about the soldiers?
On some occasions a text was reconsidered at more than one session of the Seminar, sometimes resulting in a different color grading. The commentary in [The Five Gospels] (p. 101) describes this parable as "the classic example of the predilection of the early Christian community to recast Jesus' parables as allegorical stories." The Seminar votes reflect a view that Thomas preserves a version of this parable closer to the original form.
Lüdemann [Jesus, 81f] discounts the parable as an allegory based on Isaiah 5:1-7 and rejects attempts (such as Crossan above) to identify an original version that could be traced to Jesus:
As the tradition can be derived from the community, its degree of authenticity is nil. But it is often argued in favor of the historical authenticity of the passage that the imagery (e.g. the rebellious mood of tenants against the owner) is well-attested for the world of Jesus. However, this plausibility must not seduce us into historical conclusions.