Baker Academic

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dale C. Allison Jr. and Method (Video)

If you'd like a slice of the cutting edge of Jesus studies, you might pick up Dale Allison's Constructing Jesus. In 2012, Chris and I were honored to have had a chance to discuss his latest and last (so he tells me) book about Jesus, specifically concerning his historiographical method.  To see this conversation, scroll to the bottom of this page. I'd like to reiterate my thanks to United Theological Seminary for hosting.

Dale presents a 20-minute summation of his chapter in this book. Chris and I both respond (10 mins each). You'll notice in these responses a disagreement between Chris and I on the logic behind the criteria of Multiple Forms, Multiple Attestation, and Coherence. Chris is, of course, wrong; whereas I am both right and handsome. You'll also see an interesting interaction between Allison (Jesus scholar par excellence) and Barry Schwartz (Lincoln / Social Memory scholar par excellence).




  1. Anthony,

    A big “THANK YOU” for posting the link to Alison’s comments. He starts cookin’ with gas (for me anyway) around 8:45 all the way to the end. To his list of likely truths about Jesus regarding the temptation narratives of Mt & Lk I’d add “like many of his contemporaries in Mediterranean antiquity, Jesus experienced alternate states of consciousness and so, could and likely did, have interesting interactions with ‘ancestors, angels, and Daemons,’… Oh My!”

    I don’t emphasize the criteria of authenticity with my students these days, although I still feel the pressure to offer an “oh, by the way” nod at them when speaking or writing about Jesus – esp. when they can corroborate something I think Jesus plausibly did or said. I think Alison’s holistic approach makes much more sense to me. My Doktorvater, Pieter Craffert, had a lot to do with preparing me for life without “the criteria.” But even he offers them occasional nods in his historical Jesus book that he proposes as an alternative to the “reigning authenticity paradigm.” Tough to get away from them.

    I’m going to have my students listen in to Alison’s talk for a needed rebuttal to the “criteria” section of their textbook.

    Jack Daniels

  2. Great video. A question as somebody less educated in the field, the man asking the long question toward the end about why not start with an indisputable fact like Jesus?, isn't he defeating what Allison's methodology is already? The way I'm understanding it, and feel free to correct if I'm wrong, is something (really anything at all) like the resurrection can't be known 100% beyond the shadow of doubt as a fact. Dr. Keith had me read Constructing Jesus (which went way over my head and will deserve another read), and toward the beginning, Allison used the analogy of barnacles completely covering a rock jutting out of the water: even though you can't see the rock, you can almost assuredly (keyword being almost) know its a rock.

    So I guess my roundabout question comes down to, can we know anything about Jesus as a 100% indisputable fact based off Allison's thoughts? (I weirdly feel like I should also throw out a disclaimer that I do believe in the resurrection.)

  3. dkhundley, It's great to hear from you. Although I don't want to speak for Dale, I'll do my best to answer your question. The short answer is, no, we can't know anything about Jesus (or any other person or facet of early Christianity) as 100% indisputable fact based on Allison's approach. But this is not a condition associated with Jesus but rather a condition associated with human knowledge, and in this sense our knowledge about Jesus is no different than our knowledge about anything else. Additionally, and this is the important point, not knowing something with 100% certainty is not the same as not knowing something at all. Clearly, there's enough information available for people to make decisions one way or the other.

  4. Chris, you wrote that "not knowing something with 100% certainty is not the same as not knowing something at all." That is a complex response -- three negatives in all. I think I agree. But if we remove some negatives, I think you're saying that knowing something with less than 100% certainty is the same as being uncertain that you know it.

    In the field of history we can never be sure about percentages of certainty. This is in contrast to an area like quantum mechanics, which is built upon uncertainty, but where we're able to pinpoint that uncertainty with great precision. So I disagree when you say that "our knowledge about Jesus is no different than our knowledge about anything else." Even within history, we may know things with greater or lesser certainty, and with greater or lesser levels of certainty about our uncertainty.

    As to whether there's "enough information available for people to make decisions", I think that's a great philosophical question that raises a profound moral dilemma. I agree that this dilemma existed before Allison, and if Allison's methodology allows us to better recognize the question, then that's another reason to appreciate Allison's book. But Allison's work (and yours, and Anthony's) is part of a move towards postmodernism, where (I think it's safe to say) that the bases for thought and action aren't the same as they were before.