Baker Academic

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Allison Rule for Reading: Three New Books; One Oldie

In scholarship, and this has been true for a very long time, we are tempted to privilege newer research. There are good reasons for this. Old assumptions ought to be questioned, new material evidence ought to be considered, we ought to learn from interdisciplinary and previously ignored voices, etc. This, of course, does not mean that newer is better, only that rethinking old problems tends to be a good thing.

I learned recently that Prof Dale Allison instructs his students to find a ratio between old and new research to guide their reading. For example, you might decide to read one old book for every three new books, or one old article for every four new articles. I thought that this is an interesting way into the problem of media saturation. After all, it is impossible to read everything that is published. Even if you're able to read everything in your given field of research, the interdisciplinary nature of academia is means that you must discern which books to leave on the shelf. The danger, of course, is that books that are dated land at the bottom of the priority list.

A friend of mine just picked up Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative. This book was first published in 1981 (the same year that Ric Flair defeated Dusty Rhodes to win his first World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship, in case you forgot). This book is a must read for anyone who cares about the Bible. But unless it has been assigned to you in a class, you probably wouldn't know how important it is. Or consider the exciting new work on Jesus' parables being done by Amy-Jill Levine and Ruben Zimmermann (et al.). I would highly recommend the books produced by these fine scholars. But not if I thought that it meant that the masterful work of Klyne Snodgrass was in danger of being grandfathered. This book was published as recently as 2008 but fathers become grandfathers at an alarming rate these days. Given the ever-present danger of forgetting the scholarship of just a few years ago, one wonders whether the work of Joachim Jeremias will continue to be read. I think that the "Allison Rule for Reading" might help in this regard.

So I put it to you: what are some good books or articles in biblical studies that are "old" but should be prioritized on the reading lists of young scholars?



  1. Here are ten:

    Krister Stendahl, Paul among Jews and Gentiles.

    C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development.

    Ben Meyer, The Aims of Jesus.

    Gustaf Wingren, Theology in Conflict.

    Dominique Barthélemy, Les Devanciers d’Aquila.

    James Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology

    James Barr, The Concept of Biblical Theology

    J. Louis Martyn, History & Theology in the Fourth Gospel.

    E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

    Eric Franklin, Luke: Critic of Matthew, Interpreter of Paul.

  2. Neill and Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986

  3. Ditto Christ’s suggestion and several of Jack’s. Here are ten of my indispensable golden oldies:

    E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus

    Martin Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul

    Richard Bauckham et al., The Gospels for All Christians

    C. F. D. Moule, The Birth of the NT

    Nils Dahl, The Crucified Messiah

    Maurice Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God

    John Drury, The Parables in the Gospels

    C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures

    Eugene Lemcio, The Past of Jesus in the Gospels (the appendix is worth the price of admission and originally appeared as a couple of JNTS articles)

    Dale Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come

  4. I tried to comment this earlier, but I guess I messed up when submitting it.

    I would say that I often find C.H. Dodd's "Parables of the Kingdom" to be very useful. Ben F. Meyer's "Aims of Jesus" has also been perhaps the single most influential work in historical Jesus studies for me personally.

    I also had the pleasure of reading E.P. Sanders' "Judaism: Practice and Belief" for comps. Initially, I sort of tried to avoid having it on my comps reading list, simply due to its length and because it is not easy to acquire for an affordable price in Canada. In the end, I'm glad I read it, and I highly recommend it to others.

    So.. those three books, I guess.

  5. Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes
    George S Hendry's book on the Holy Spirit (60's)
    for my one (or two) old

  6. Augustine, Gregory of Nissa, and Luther.

  7. I will never forget Dirty Dusty Rhodes. Few people realize that he was a Rhodes Scholar. By the way, I would increase the ratio of older scholarship to at least 1:1.

  8. Classify books by quality and not by age. Try to read the quality books. Ignore the crap.

  9. Krister Stendahl's The School of St. Matthew and Its Use of the Old Testament (1968) and Bruce Metzger's The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (1987).

    The publication of Metzger's book, of course, coincided with the Nature Boy's loss of the heavyweight championship at Starcade '87, the same event where the Rock 'n Roll Express defeated Jimmy Cornette's Midnight Express in a scaffold match.

  10. I'll ditto Christ's suggestions too, Jeff :)

  11. Slightly shocked to hear some of what y'all think of as oldies. Here are a few thoughts to add to the great suggestions already made. I'll make 1970 the cut-off point. Everything post 1970 is new, right?

    Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition

    Martin Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel

    Henry Cadbury, The Perils of Modernizing Jesus

    B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels

    Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle

    Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East

    John Knox, Chapters in a Life of Paul

    W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism

    Sir John Hawkins, Horae Synopticae

    James Hardy Ropes, The Synoptic Gospels

  12. "Everything post 1970 is new, right?"

    As a music fan counts epochs, that's certainly true.

  13. I would echo two particular works others have said: Streeter's "The Four Gospels" and Sanders "Paul and Palestinian Judaism." I think each both builds on prior research in groundbreaking ways.