Baker Academic

Sunday, October 7, 2012

On Dale C. Allison Jr.'s Chapter (a positive thesis wrapped in gloom)

One bit of advice I give to folks who want to pursue a potential PhD supervisor is this: you shouldn't assume that previous book titles represent present interests. Even if that scholar authored a book two years ago, it might mean that it was a topic he was interested in ten years ago. Dale Allison is a good case in point.  It seems that after each publication, he promptly decides that he really doesn't like what he wrote and this prompts him to write a new book.  It very well could be that I like his work more than he does.

Allison’s chapter in Jesus,Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity is a must read if you’d like to see how historical Jesus research has changed in the past twenty years.  It is an autobiographical reflection on his “disillusionment” with standard methods of historical-critical research.  In successive publications, Allison tells us, he became less and less confident that the standard “criteria for authenticity” could deliver what they promised.  In Constructing Jesus, he decides to abandon the traditional criteria or any attempt to “authenticate” individual sayings of or stories about Jesus. 

But what Allison undersells in his chapter, perhaps due to the fact that he has the verve of a funeral director, is that all is not lost.  Indeed, Allison offers us a compelling portrait of the historical Jesus without these traditional criteria.  He summarizes his method quite succinctly in Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity.  Tune in tomorrow to hear my succinct summary of his succinct summary. I promise to be succinctly summative.



  1. I have to share this from my reading of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov. The narrator is talking about the saintly son of Fyodor Pavlovich, Alyosha, in Book I, Chapter V.

    "...Alyosha was more of a realist than anyone. Oh, no doubt, in the monastery he fully believed in miracles, but, to my thinking, miracles are never a stumbling block to the realist. It is not miracles that dispose realists to belief. The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him. Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith. If the realist once believes, then he is bound by his very realism to admit the miraculous also. The Apostle Thomas said that he would not believe till he saw, but when he did see he said, 'My Lord and My God!' Was it the miracle that forced him to believe? Most likely not, but he believed solely because he desired to believe and possibly he fully believed in his secret heart, even when he said, 'I shall not believe except I see.'"

    This seems to be the very problem Allison has with the criteria.


  2. John, not quite sure about the validity of your analogy, but I am a sucker for the brothers.

  3. I guess what interests me about the Dostoevsky quote, and what ties it to Allison (as well as Chris Keith's remark about the multiple attestations of the resurrection), is that it sheds a broader light on the root cause of the misuse of the criterion. The desire to believe or to disbelieve in miracles may have more impact on this whole game of Jesus research than we can possibly imagine. That is to say, if someone was able to prove to me, with the criteria, that Jesus didn't actually heal the sick, I would wonder not at the authenticity of Jesus' healings but at the historian's misunderstanding of them.

    I'm not arguing against using the criteria so as to provide a stool on which to stand, in order that we might peer into the world of a more "plausible" Jesus. What I am arguing against is the use of the criteria in search of historical fact, in order to prove or disprove the "reality" of Jesus' teachings and miracles. There's simply no way to be sure. I guess I'm probably preaching to the choir.

    And yeah, "the brothers" is a badass piece of art.