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Allison's Resurrecting Jesus

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  • Loren Rosson
    Listers -- Someone suggested I post my blog-review of Allison s book on XTalk, so here it is. Loren ______________________________________________________
    Message 1 of 16 , Nov 14, 2005
      Listers --

      Someone suggested I post my blog-review of Allison's
      book on XTalk, so here it is.



      Resurrecting Jesus, by Dale Allison

      Every so often comes a book that everyone needs to
      read, and this is one of them. Dale Allison's sequel
      to _Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet_ is as good
      its predecessor, and in some ways even better. It
      consists of six independent essays, each of which
      builds on and clarifies arguments made in the previous

      The first essay, "Secularizing Jesus", argues that the
      "third quest" for the historical Jesus is a misnomer,
      owing to chronological snobbery and the fantasy that
      we are progressive. Allison scores valid points here:
      many of today's Jesus-questors are indeed repeating
      the past, whether for good or bad -- and some of them
      are secularizing Jesus worse than ever before. But
      there has been more progress in the field than Allison
      allows. We have a better understanding of ancient
      Judaism and Mediterranean culture, and have become
      increasingly diverse in our methodologies. It's a good
      essay but rather one-sided.

      The other five essays, however, are completely
      excellent and can hardly be done justice in the space
      of this review. "The Problem of Audience" argues what
      may seem to be an obvious point, but one which has
      been given insufficient heed: that Jesus said
      different things to different people, and didn't
      expect the same thing from everyone. (In an
      interesting anecdote from the preface, Allison says he
      wrote this particular essay because he had nothing
      better to do, during two long train rides.)

      The third essay, "The Problem of Gehenna", shows that
      Jesus more than likely believed in hell and judgment,
      however unattractive that is. We moderns may see
      little prospect in reconciling a God of compassion
      with the same deity who throws people into an
      apocalyptic incinerator, but that's no way to guide
      our interpretation of Jesus: "All of us are bundles of
      seeming contradictions," writes Allison, "from which
      generalization I see no reason to exempt Jesus. It
      would be unimaginative and foolhardy to subdue him
      with the straightjacket of consistency." Consigning
      people to hell was standard fare in Jesus' world, and
      he shows every sign of having done this, especially to
      his opponents.

      Speaking of what's unattractive provides a segue into
      the quasi-confessional fourth essay, "Apocalyptic,
      Polemic, Apologetics", which addresses what people
      like and dislike about an apocalyptic Jesus who was
      wrong about the end. It ends by being surprisingly
      stronger for its own excursions into theology, and is
      my favorite after the sixth.

      The fifth essay, "Torah, Urzeit, Endzeit", tackles the
      controversial question of Jesus and the law. Allison
      realizes that however we sift the gospel testimony,
      it's hard to avoid a Jesus who both
      observed/intensified the law, while in other cases
      relaxing it. When doing the latter, Allison believes
      it was often in the interest of competing moral
      imperatives. For instance, in sabbath controversies
      Jesus appealed to the hunger of David and his men, or
      the value of human need, arguing that one imperative
      can trump another. The commandment was overridden but
      remained intact. Today we call this choosing the
      lesser of two evils. Other Torah-controversies owed to
      Jesus' eschatology -- "the end in light of the
      beginning" -- insofar as the law contained concessions
      to the fall and thus required repair. Thus, in cases
      like divorce and swearing, Jesus replaced Mosaic
      imperatives with Edenic ones, Moses not being strict
      enough in view of the apocalypse.

      The last essay, for which the monograph is named,
      takes up half the book, is satisfying as it is long,
      and the best treatment of the resurrection to date.
      Allison steers between the dogmatic poles of Tom
      Wright and Gerd Ludemann, using the best from both
      worlds, but with a caution and humility lacking in
      these treatments. Weighing arguments for the empty
      tomb as legend and history, Allison comes down on the
      side of history: Jesus' tomb was found empty, and
      because of this we today have the doctrine of the
      resurrection. He also discusses the apparitions of
      Jesus in terms of grief-induced visions, concluding
      that in some ways the early church was the reception
      history of what the disciples' bereavement wrought.

      One of his arguments for the empty tomb deserves close
      attention, since at first blush it resembles that of
      Tom Wright though is actually worlds apart. Wright has
      claimed that only the empty tomb could have caused the
      disciples to make the radical claim Jesus was raised
      from the dead, for there was no Judaic precedent for
      the resurrection of an individual (messiah or
      otherwise) before the apocalypse. This is emphatically
      not Allison's argument. Allison recognizes that lack
      of precedent is no obstacle to invention and
      creativity. The disciples could easily have invented
      an empty tomb/resurrection legend. Religious people
      make wild claims all the time; apocalyptic movements
      find creative ways of coping with dashed hopes in
      order to survive; rude reality reinterprets
      expectations. Jesus' original prediction about the
      destruction of the temple was spiritualized in the
      gospel of John (Jn 2) for precisely these reasons --
      in order to cope with failed hopes and broken dreams.

      But here's the problem, says Allison, and why Wright
      is onto something despite all this: the disciples'
      dreams hadn't been broken. In their minds, Jesus'
      death wasn't a mark of failure. The crucifixion would
      have demoralized them but ultimately been taken as
      part of the apocalyptic drama. Jesus had braced them
      for such tragedy: they were living in the end times,
      on the brink of the tribulation, and suffering/death
      had to precede the apocalypse. The shame and scandal
      of the crucifixion would have put them, as Allison
      says, "emotionally down but not theologically out".
      They would have gone on hoping for the imminent
      apocalypse and the resurrection of the dead, at which
      point they would have been vindicated and resurrected
      with their savior. Jesus' martyrdom does *not*
      constitute a failed expectation, and *that* is why
      Wright, despite himself, is right. It's not that
      revisionism is itself unlikely (for indeed it is);
      it's that there was no need for revisionism in this
      case. As far as the disciples were concerned, things
      were still going "as expected".

      The upshot is that both Allison and Wright think it
      took the empty tomb (in conjunction with visions) to
      cause the disciples to conclude that Jesus was
      resurrected prematurely. But they arrive at this
      conclusion very differently -- Allison correctly.
      Allison also happens to be more humble about what we
      can say actually happened to Jesus' body: any number
      of things. It may have been raised. It may have been
      moved or stolen. Whatever happened, the tomb was empty
      when found, and because of this, we today have

      Don't wait to buy this book, but be sure to get the
      paperback edition. The hardcover goes for an
      extortionate $100.00 and has no cover art.
      _Resurrecting Jesus_ belongs on the shelf of any and
      all who are interested in the study of the historical
      Jesus, and the relationship between that study and
      modern needs.

      Loren Rosson III
      Nashua NH

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