Jesus as his Friends Remembered Him

A Review of Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus

In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Despite considerable variation in its details, historical Jesus scholarship has largely depended on refining and employing the criteria of authenticity in order to differentiate authentic from secondary material in the Jesus tradition. Dale Allison has expressed doubts concerning the criteria and their usefulness for producing knowledge of the historical figure of Jesus. His recent volume, Constructing Jesus, sets out to explore a different route for discussing the historical Jesus, one that accounts for recent psychological and sociological discussions of memory. This essay briefly describes the new shape of historical Jesus scholarship and then summarizes Allison’s central arguments and asks some questions raised by those arguments.

  • 1

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 459.

  • 6

    John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1998).

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  • 11

     See Rafael Rodríguez, Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance, and Text (Library of New Testament Studies, 407/European Studies on Christian Origins; London: T&T Clark International, 2010).

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  • 15

    Dale C. Allison, Jr., Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998). See more recently the essays in Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne (eds.), Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (London: T&T Clark International, 2012).

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  • 16

    Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 33.

  • 18

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 2; Allison identifies ‘nine sins of memory’ on pp. 2–8.

  • 19

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 8–9.

  • 21

    Le Donne says, ‘Memory is distortion’, Historiographical Jesus, p. 51 (original in italics).

  • 23

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 13.

  • 24

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 14.

  • 25

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 16.

  • 27

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 17.

  • 29

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 19–20; see also idem, ‘How to Marginalize’, pp. 22–26.

  • 31

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 23.

  • 32

     See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 23–26, for three ‘observations’ Allison offers in defence of the assumption that the Gospels did not get Jesus completely or even mostly wrong.

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  • 33

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 32. See pp. 33–43 for a catalogue of thirty-two individual traditions that Allison interprets as attesting just such an ‘apocalyptic eschatology’ for Jesus.

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  • 34

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 169.

  • 35

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 205.

  • 36

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 225.

  • 37

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 226–27.

  • 38

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 231. Allison’s list of twenty-six sayings is far from comprehensive: ‘My list for the most part fails to include non-Synoptic sources, for although they are far from irrelevant, Matthew, Mark, and Luke supply more than enough material to carry my argument. Also, for convenience I have…grouped certain sayings together. The list would be longer and even more impressive were one to enter each saying separately’ (p. 227 n. 22).

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  • 39

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 304.

  • 40

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 312–13. For an explanation of the convention for citing the hypothetical source, Q, see p. 307 n. 2.

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  • 41

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 380.

  • 42

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 380–81.

  • 43

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 392–403; Allison includes Colossians among Paul’s authentic letters.

  • 44

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 403–23.

  • 45

    John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995); see Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 387–88.

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  • 46

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 423–27 (quote, p. 423).

  • 47

     See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 428–32 (quote, p. 432).

  • 48

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 433. Allison expresses the quoted text as a question, but then immediately affirms the authenticity of the phrase. The entirety of it reads, ‘Why did Paul, the tradents of the Jesus tradition, and other early Christians believe that Jesus did not shun execution but rather, when it came, accepted it? My answer is this: they believed it because that is what he did, and people remembered’.

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  • 49

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 435–62.

  • 50

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 459; see the epigraph at the start of this either essay or article. not volume.

  • 52

     See Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 1, including the references in n. 1.

  • 53

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 27.

  • 55

     See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 1–17. In addition to his catalogue of the nine ‘sins of memory’, note also his reference to ‘the typical transgressions of human memory’ on p. 423.

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  • 56

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 12–13.

  • 57

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 4.

  • 58

     See Michael Schudson, ‘The Present in the Past versus the Past in the Present’, Communication 11 (1989), pp. 107–112.

  • 59

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 423, citing Marion Gibson, Order from Chaos: Responding to Traumatic Events (Birmingham: Venture, 1998), p. 63. See Allison’s larger discussion on pp. 423–24 and the literature cited there.

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  • 62

    Schudson, ‘Present in the Past’, p. 112.

  • 67

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 18.

  • 68

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 18–19.

  • 75

     See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 116–18.

  • 77

     See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 427–33.

  • 78

     See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 392–421.

  • 79

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 423–27.

  • 81

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 20.

  • 83

    Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 461.

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