Baker Academic

Monday, January 13, 2014

More Hilarity from Dale Allison—Chris Keith

I’ve recently had reason to pull my copy of Dale Allison’s Resurrecting Jesus off the shelf and read through it.  I earlier shared some hilarity from one of his comments and feel the need now to collect some more truly funny statements (some funnier than others).  Make no mistake—in my opinion, Dale is the greatest living historical Jesus scholar.  His work is stuffed full of primary and secondary sources and he is as erudite as they come.  Furthermore, he is utterly self-conscious about his commitments as a Christian, his doubts as a historian, and the general limits of scholarly argumentation; so, in addition to his ideas, one often gets insight into how he came to them.  It’s refreshing.  But every once in a while, there’s a hilarious comment and I like to imagine (solely for my own entertainment) that he wrote this particular line after a Scotch too many encouraged him to state his opinions in raw sarcasm rather than polished academic-ese.  Comments like these are what make him so much fun to read, and I wish more scholars did it.

On hell:
“What good is a hell if one’s enemies are not in it?” (88)

On being a historian:
“In my defense, I am, as an historian, the victim of my own curiosity.”  (199)

On being a Christian:
“My own Christian tradition is just as full of similar nonsense.”  (221)

On the historical Bigfoot: 
“Certainly, unknown giant, hairy hominids, even if they exist, can scarcely exist in sufficient numbers to account for the numerous sightings of Bigfoot that people all over the world testify to every year.”  (207)

On rabbinic discussions of subterranean tunnels that will transport the righteous to Jerusalem at the resurrection, as well as rabbinic discussions of whether the resurrected will be clothed: 
“One finds it all but impossible to restrain a condescending smile.”  (221)

On the vexing question that cannibalism presented to early Christians who had to decide whose resurrection body the ingested human would belong to, and Athenagoras’s solution that human flesh cannot be digested:
“Is this not one theological opinion that science has indisputably falsified?”  (221)

Not letting Athenagoras off the hook yet:
“One wonders what, were he alive today, old Athenagoras would make of organ donation.”  (221)

On the theory that Jesus’ followers sometimes did not recognize him post-resurrection because the process had aged him:
“The only response to this can be dumbstruck admiration for human ingenuity, even when it is in the cause of nonsense.”  (228n.118)

And perhaps my favorite, concerning debates over eternal fate in light of multiple biblical statements and his own exegetical prowess:
“Although I have not seen this done, one could invoke relativity theory to show how the wicked will both suffer forever and be annihilated.  At the end of days, Captain Almighty God builds a celestial ark, puts the righteous in it, squishes the wick and some tormenting demons into the center of the earth, takes off at near light speed, circumnavigates the universe in five minutes, surpasses light speed for a few seconds (Captain Almighty, aptly named, can do anything), then decelerates and returns to earth.  According to relativity theory, five minutes and a few seconds of time on the ark are an eternity on earth, so when the ark docks, the wicked have spent forever in hell.  What then?  Having fulfilled the prophecies about eternal torment and still needing to fulfill those about destruction, Captain Almighty retrieves a mysterious box from the ark’s hold, carefully opens the lid, removes the holy hand grenade stored from the foundation of the world, utters a few solemn words, pulls the sacred pin, and tosses the thing out the window.  The wicked and the sin-wracked universe disappear, and now Captain Almighty can make all things new.  Alternatively, the good Captain might rather want, upon returning to earth, to save the wicked and so fulfil those Pauline texts that speak of all being saved, thus resolving a different contradiction.  This is all juvenile nonsense; but it is unclear to me how those who take the biblical statements about hell literally could recognize it as nonsense, or how they could fail to laud this brilliant resolution of a hoary exegetical conundrum.”  (91n.118)



  1. Awesome stuff! I'm going to remember the one on 228 n.118, and use it as much as possible.

  2. From Facebook, Dan Frayer-Griggs: I tutored a Summer Greek course for him several years ago, and a student in that class set up a Facebook page called the Dale Allison Fan Club, which had a list of absolutely hilarious one-liners that he'd spout off in class. When he discovered it, he insisted the student had misremembered his words and was telling his jokes wrong. Unfortunately, the page has since been deleted, and I can't remember a single example from it. I think part of the hilarity is that it's so unexpected.

  3. I quite like this post. Dale Allison's language is really funny and it is not an easy task to provide such a high level of scholarship with amusement :)
    I am planning to post a piece on his Constructing Jesus soon.

  4. I fear that the effort to understand the Historical Bigfoot has entered a period of "No Quest." But if so, I call dibs on the first book of Bigfoot form criticism.

  5. “Certainly, unknown giant, hairy hominids, even if they exist, can scarcely exist in sufficient numbers to account for the numerous sightings of Bigfoot that people all over the world testify to every year.” I feel the same way about tales of sightings of the resurrected Jesus that range from 1st Cor. to the Gospels, Acts, Revelation, and extra-canonical writings. One need not believe all such tales of sightings were necessarily historical. One could accept a visionary core of Jesus sightings, say by one or more apostles, added to the culturally prominent idea of "resurrection" among many second Temple Jews, which could lead to further embellishments and a multiplication of tales that turn those few core visionary tales into "bodily resurrection stories."

  6. Funny! Thank you for this Chris! On a more serious note, what is your personal take on the issues below in Allison’s in Resurrecting Jesus?:

    “I believe, rightly or wrongly, in a future existence free from the constraints of material corporeality ... A new sōma pneumatikon (1 Cor 15:44), as Origen interpreted this, does not strike me as outrageous; but its material continuity with our present physical bodies makes no sense ... I see no reason why we should, on the other side of the grave, need to come back for our rotting or dissembled corpses ... if I believe that the survival of human beings does not depend upon strict physical continuity, then does not Jesus’ literal resurrection make him the exception, an anomaly, an aberration?” (225).

    Allison is also of opinion that Paul’s understanding of a spiritual resurrection body is irreconcilable with Luke 24:39’s post-resurrection Jesus of σάρκα καὶ ὀστέα (227). Allison detects a progression from a spiritual early resurrection phase, to a more physical later phase:

    “A trajectory from less literal to more literal can, then, be suggested, with Paul’s notion of a spiritual body being closer to the primitive tradition, and the seemingly solid resurrected figures in Luke and John being a later development” (289).

    In contrast to what Allison holds to be a new σῶμα πνευματικόν that is free from the constraints of material corporeality, he “... remain[s] incurably dubious of finding history in the demonstrations of Luke 24 and John 20-21: I rather detect Christian apologetics here, an answer to the criticism that Jesus was just a spectre” (224-5, 229).

    However, Allison’s claim of not finding history in Luke 24 and John 20-21 is surprisingly toned down by Allison himself in his critique of Krisopp Lake’s insistence on an anti-docetic background: “A docetic background is not ... demanded by the evidence ... the reference to Jesus eating and drinking might be on a par with other attempts to correlate Jesus’ prophesies with what actually happened” (Resurrecting, 247 n194). Very significant is that Allison refers to Mark 14:25 and Luke 22:16 as a possible background for the post-resurrection Jesus eating in Luke 24 and John 21. This concession of Allison is remarkable, especially in the case of Mark as the latter finishes at 16:8 with no resurrection appearances in our earliest and most reliable manuscripts. Yet, like Bultmann and Wright, Allison allows for the possibility that 16:8 was not necessarily the original end of the gospel ...

    1. Frederik, thanks for these thoughts. I thought that section was interesting as well, if nothing else because his argument there is less determined by the historical and apocalyptic expectations of first century Jews, many of whom clearly did expect a bodily resurrection. I think he makes this move by asserting the fundamental difference between Jesus' resurrected body in the tradition, which had yet to decompose, and the resurrected bodies of people long buried which have decomposed. In some ways this type of logic is what makes him so great to read, but it would have been good to see him engage even more thoroughly with the variety of resurrection expectations, especially in early Second Temple Judaism. As to the Mark 14 and Luke 22 argument about it being a post-resurrection appearance that was moved forward in the narrative, I found that one interesting and I confess I am still mulling it over. I always pay attention to what he does with John because he's elsewhere stated that he really does not see it as particularly helpful historically, but of course here he was dealing with a parallel with the Synoptics. All that is to say, on that one I'm still thinking. Do you have more thoughts?

    2. Hi Chris,
      Thank you for this. You said: "it would have been good to see him engage even more thoroughly with the variety of resurrection expectations, especially in early Second Temple Judaism". I couldn't agree more. It would've been great had the "best" historical Jesus scholar, as you call Allison, engage in more depth with the variety of resurrection expectations, especially in early Second Temple Judaism.
      As for Mark 14:25 and Luke 22:16, 18 and 30, I do deal with them in my PhD which I hope to finish soon ... so watch this space :)
      Best regards

    3. Well, even the best have less than perfect days, and I think that section stands out because he otherwise deals so thoroughly with the primary sources. We will look forward to your thesis. Definitely let us know when you're finished and we can feature it here on the blog. And best wishes as you wrap up.

    4. Sure, "even the best have less than perfect days"! Thank you for the good wishes Chris!

  7. I’ve always been impressed by Allison’s ability to find similarities between texts. In particular, I can’t forget the amazing parallels he found in the transfiguration account and crucifixion account in Matthew. Matthew apparently links the two episodes by using the particular expression “ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα” and there Allison shows how “The transfiguration has a sort of dark twin in the accounts of the crucifixion” His explanation and his touching, profound comment of such parallels are definitely some of the best pages I have ever read (Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, T&T Clark, London, 2004, p. 284)
    Here’s a picture of the parallels
    Here’s the full text (google books preview) of his comment:

  8. check this one out:
    in "Constructing Jesus," on Crossan's view that "the Twelve" was only symbolic and doesn't necessarily imply the presence of 12 disciples:
    "As Crossan fails to elaborate, I fail to be persuaded" (70)