In my post yesterday about Allison's thesis, I told you that he has cast off (what he calls) the crutches of the traditional authenticity criteria. He decided between the publications of Resurrecting Jesus and Constructing Jesus that the criteria (Dissimilarity, Coherence, Semitisms, Multiple Attestation, Multiple Forms, etc) were just in the way.
In one of my earliest conversations about this book project, James McGrath commented that we were all throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The punchline was that "the baby floating down the river looks remarkably like the baby Jesus." (Because James couldn't make it to the conference, I stole his joke.)
I do not think that Dale Allison is throwing out the baby with the bath water.
What Allison has done is to take the logic behind the criteria of multiple forms, multiple attestation and coherence and applied them on a macro level. By "macro level" I mean that he does not attempt "authenticate" small units (episodes, pericopes, etc) with the Jesus tradition. Rather he tries to analyze the tradition as a whole.
The logic behind the criterion of multiple forms is that if an element of the Jesus tradition is repeated in multiple genres within the tradition is probably represents something that Jesus talked about and not something that was entirely invented by early Christianity. For example, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God in parables, in short sayings, and during exorcism stories. It is a topic that seems to have impacted multiple kinds of tradition.
The idea behind the criterion of multiple attestation is that if an element of the Jesus tradition is present in multiple and independent sources, it probably represents something that Jesus said or did. For example, Jesus is purported to have been crucified by the Synoptics, John, Paul, Josephus, and the Alexamenos graffito. This element of the Gospel narrative seems to have been assumed by varied and relatively independent sources.
The idea behind the criterion of coherence is that elements of the Jesus tradition that correspond well with undisputed historical claims about Jesus give us a fuller picture of who Jesus was and the kinds of things he preached about.
Following CH Dodd, Dale lists nine varied strands across multiple forms and sources to show (as Dodd demonstrated) that Jesus had a friendly attitude toward the outcasts of society. Jesus calls Levi, he eats with sinners, he eats with Zacchaeus, he interacts with a (so called) sinful woman at Simon’s house, he claims the publicans and the sinners will enter the Kingdom before the unrepentant, he talks about outcasts in several parables. Dale writes:
These passages come from Mark, from non-Markan material common to
Matthew and Luke, from uniquely Matthean tradition, from uniquely
Lukan tradition, and from John. They also exhibit a diversity of forms:
we have here aphorisms, parables, poetical sayings, dialogues, and stories
of various kinds. What holds them together? They all make Jesus out to
have had a friendly attitude toward the outcasts of society.
Notice here that he uses the phrase “diversity of forms”…. Notice also that he appeals to multiple sources… notice finally that he asks “what holds them all together?” –These are very important observations that Dodd is making and that Allison is affirming. It is a very compelling argument because there is a force of logic behind it. And, of course, those that employ the traditional criteria notice the essence of this logic. In short, Dale claims that he is walking without the crutches of the traditional criteria, but he is still using the logic behind some of these criteria. It is unfortunate that the criteria of Multiple Forms, Multiple Attestation and Coherence have employed these as shortcuts, but the logic behind these criteria still has a place in the analysis of tradition.
Now, the way in which these criteria have been employed in the past, according to Dale is to (1) isolate smaller elements within the tradition, (2) classify these elements, and (3) analyze these elements. By
I agree with Dale that isolating smaller elements within the Jesus tradition is not a helpful first step and can mislead the analysis of the tradition. But I’m not so sure that classification and analysis are always doomed to fail. And I don’t think that Dale has a problem with steps two and three either.
He tells us that “it don’t come easy” – absolutely! Jesus research is complicated business and deserves our sweat and our humility. It don’t come easy – but it is equally true that sweat and humility can sometimes help us achieve results.