Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dale Allison: The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus

Over the SBL period I read Dale C. Allison's The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009). I enjoy Allison's books, but I have to confess that I always come away feeling a little depressed at the end. Allison strikes me as such a melancholic author. But in many cases he's right. We simply do not get out of historical Jesus research what we would like to get: historical certainty, a Jesus like us, a Jesus concerned about our concerns, etc. In this book, Allison writes a lot about the relationship between theology and history as well as the mistaken certainty of history in Jesus questing. One thing I took away from the book is that I think Allison makes a key point when he notes that even those who shaped the Jesus tradition were themselves shaped by Jesus. Consequently, the divide between authentic and inauthentic sayings is artificial. Even materials that are judged to be verbally inauthentic, can still summarize Jesus' authentic viewpoint. Allison is also on the money when he notes the pervasive nature of eschatology in Jesus' teaching/theology. He writes: "The matter of Jesus' own christology cannot be disentangled from his eschatological expectations, for in the Synoptics it is chiefly in logia about the last things that his status is most exalted" (p. 90). Next is to read his other new book Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009).


Michael Barber said...


I thought this book was quite interesting as well. However, his method is a bit puzzling. On the one hand it seems like he's trying to get away from the criteria. On the other hand, it's like he's elevating multiple attestation over all the other criteria and basically depending solely on that!


S.D. Parker said...


I always enjoy Allison. Per Allison's point, if I get hit by another car while driving down the road, the dent it leaves behind is just as real as the car that left it.


You are right. Allison has abandoned the traditional historical criteria. He declares this outright in his new book Constructing Jesus. The method he prefers now is what he calls "recurrent attestation." It is similar to multiple attestation, but not the same. I found it to be much like Luke Timothy Johnson's approach, though unlike Johnson, Allison seems more confident that we can extract more than a basic list of historical probabilities.

S.D. Parker

BradK said...

Is that Bart Ehrman's picture on the cover?

clk said...

Given this blog post, I'll alert you and your readers to a forthcoming volume edited by myself and Anthony Le Donne, entitled "Jesus, History, and the Demise of Authenticity" (T&T Clark, 2012). Allison will contribute an autobiographical chapter on his scholarly trek of eventually abandoning the criteria of authenticity. The whole volume aims at emphasizing the need to abandon the criteria, and other contributors are myself and Anthony (of course), Loren Stuckenbruck, Mark Goodacre, Rafael Rodriguez, Jens Schroeter, Dagmar Winter, and Scot McKnight, with Morna Hooker writing a Foreword. A day conference, including all the contributors, will launch the book and will be held at Lincoln Christian University in the first week of October 2012.
Chris Keith

S.D. Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S.D. Parker said...


Thanks for the heads-up. This seems like good news to me. Perhaps the scholarly community is coming around to the idea that the criteria of authenticity is a relic of a time when objective results could be procured through "method". This when such method (read: criteria of authenticity) are primarily qualitative and often discordant.

It always seemed to me the philosophy behind this was paradoxical at best. If humans are autonomously objective, why the need for such method; if they are not, how is it supposed to change the fact?