This article enters into the debate over the place of memory studies in Jesus research by examining the question of whether or not Jesus anticipated his demise, analyzing the method and arguments of Dale Allison’s, Constructing Jesus (2010) as a test case. It responds to criticisms of Allison’s work, demonstrating that his approach relies on more than a mere appeal to the general trustworthiness of early memories about Jesus. Although critical of the standard ‘criteria of authenticity,’ Allison makes his case for the eschatological character of Jesus’ perspective by highlighting other indicators of historical plausibility. In sum, this paper demonstrates that memory research has much to offer Jesus studies, though its application must be carefully supplemented with other considerations.
According to early Christian sources, Jesus anticipated his own death (cf., e.g., Mt. 10.38//Lk. 14.27 [Q]; Mk 8.34//Gos. Thom. 55; Mk 8.31–33; Mk 9.31; Mk 10.33–34; Mk 10.45//Mt. 20.28; etc.). Are such accounts the result of post-Easter apologetics or do they reflect Jesus’ own expectations? Here we will examine this question in light of the debate surrounding the use of memory studies and methodology in Jesus research.
Not all historical Jesus scholars agree about the degree to which the field of Jesus research should engage memory studies. Indeed, certain scholars have decided to move forward by simply ignoring the questions raised by memory research altogether. The recent monograph-length study by JongHyun Kwon, which argues that Jesus believed his death would bring about the forgiveness of sins, is a case in point.1 Kwon’s analysis, which focuses on Pauline and Matthean material, is largely dependent on appeals to the traditional criteria of authenticity such as multiple attestation and embarrassment. He offers no substantive engagement with the mounting literature heralding the ‘demise’ of the conventional criteria or engaging the implications of memory research for historiography. The distinct impression one gets from Kwon’s study is that memory studies have had no lasting impact on the questions involved in historical Jesus research; they have been much ado about nothing. Paul Foster lends support to such a perspective, insisting that ‘the level of argument appears to have stalled with assertions that social memory validates the historicity of the events it purports to communicate.’2 This article will explain why Foster’s complaint cannot be justly leveled against Dale Allison’s approach in Constructing Jesus.3
Given that 2020 represents the tenth anniversary of the publication of this much-discussed book, it is an appropriate time to consider why Allison’s volume looks as if it has ‘staying power’ which not all books on the historical Jesus possess.4 Notably, Foster himself has spoken favorably of Allison’s ‘far more nuanced’ engagement with memory studies.5 One reviewer, remarking on Allison’s thoughtful engagement with methodological questions, has even claimed that the volume has ushered in a ‘new phase’ of Jesus research.6
This article will make the case that though Allison is critical of the standard criteria of authenticity, his argument is characterized by a coherent rationale that goes beyond a mere appeal to social memory in general. In fact, Allison proceeds with a consistent historical method, which responds carefully to the issues raised by memory research. This article analyzes Allison’s approach. As a test case, we will consider the question of whether or not Jesus anticipated his own fate. Building on Allison’s scholarly contributions, we will offer arguments that go beyond the treatment in Constructing Jesus. In the end, we will come to a two-fold conclusion. On the one hand, Foster is correct—a general appeal to memory cannot validate the historical value of the Gospels. On the other hand, scholars such as Kwon who seek to bypass the methodological issues raised by Allison fail to address fundamental questions that can no longer be ignored.
2 Allison, Memory Research, and Historical Methodology
The introduction to one recent collection of studies in memory research observes, ‘[I]n the academy there is a common belief that memory is “everywhere.”’7 Such developments have been especially influential in discussions about historiography more broadly.8 Without homogenizing the various approaches, one thing has become clear: to talk about history is to wrestle with the cognitive and social factors involved with remembrance.9 While biblical scholars took some time to recognize the important implications of these trends, the field has been catching up rather rapidly.10 Recent explorations in Jesus research have paid greater attention to the implications of such studies.11 Allison thus writes, ‘[T]he quest for the historical Jesus is essentially an endeavor to recover accurate human memories.’12
Specifically, Allison highlights recent scholarship that has demonstrated the profound frailty of memory,13 concluding that such knowledge ‘should distress all who quest for the so-called historical Jesus.’14 In Constructing Jesus, Allison draws from a wide range of different kinds of studies on memory.15 Allison’s own view should be properly situated within the larger context of such research.16 Broadly speaking, two tendencies have emerged: the presentist (or ‘constructionist’) perspective and the continuity perspective.17 In general, the presentist model emphasizes the synchronic forces at work in memory.18 The continuity perspective, on the other hand, maintains that the past and the present have mutual influence upon one another.19 Anthony Le Donne places Allison somewhere between these two approaches.20 On the one hand, Allison is acutely aware of the frailty of memory, acknowledging its tendency to invention.21 At the same time, Allison shares sympathies with the continuity perspective when he insists, ‘There is always an abundance of the past in the present, and the past has its own inertia, its own tendency to self-preservation.’22
Allison’s well-known critique of the conventional criteria of authenticity23 is not unrelated to his growing appreciation for the complexities of mnemonic activity. Apart from certain instances,24 he now believes such tools are largely inconclusive, identifying problematic issues involved with specific criteria. For example, ‘dissimilarity to Christianity’ overlooks the fact that material identified with this label nonetheless appears in Christian sources. This indicates that the material may not have been as ‘dissimilar’ to the church’s tendencies or as ‘embarrassing’ to early believers as scholars assume it should have been.25 Yet the problems go deeper. Allison takes aim at what he sees as a ‘facile’ assumption underlying use of the criteria, namely, that material can be sorted into two neat piles: (1) that which originated with Jesus and (2) that which was the product of the early church. Allison rejects the attempt to filter out of the historical equation whatever falls into the latter category.26 He observes that memory studies would call such a project into question.27 Mnemonic activity is now recognized as a ‘reconstructive’ task, involving interpretation, ‘distortion,’28 and social dynamics.29 Among other things, experiences must be ‘keyed’ to fit narrative structures and familiar patterns.30 Such developments undermine attempts at sifting historical memories of Jesus from their larger Christian interpretive frameworks.
Against the backdrop of Allison’s critique, approaches such as Kwon’s that proceed to use the traditional criteria to separate ‘authentic’ material from ‘inauthentic’ without engaging questions posed by memory research appear to rest on questionable assumptions. Memory cannot be ‘excavated’ like an archaeological tel. It is not as if there are ‘pristine’ early layers that one can access by dusting off the interpretive frameworks that came later. To ignore this and proceed with ‘business as usual’ is fraught with difficulties. Historians cannot remain mired in essentially the same outlook on the church’s memory of Jesus that characterized Thomas Jefferson’s approach, who spoke of the need to pluck the ‘diamonds’ (i.e., the historically accurate memories of Jesus) from the ‘dunghill’ (the later layers of interpretive traditions).31 Significant advances have been made in our understanding of the dynamics of memory since the nineteenth century.
Does this mean we have reached the ‘end’ of the quest? Not necessarily. It does mean, however, that we need a new way forward. In Constructing Jesus, Allison provides one.
3 Recurrent Attestation and the Reliability of ‘Gist’ Memory
Because of the limitations of our tools, Allison states, ‘the historicity of most—not all—of the sayings attributed to [Jesus]’32 cannot be determined. Yet, he argues, memory has been shown to be most reliable when it relates the ‘gist’ of the past.33 Memory is not always trustworthy but, he argues, comparatively speaking, it works better when it comes to recalling broad impressions than specific details. ‘[E]yewitnesses may disagree on the details of a car wreck, but all agree that there was one.’34 The ancients recognized this tendency of memory as well, as Allison shows with a quotation from Thucydides.35 Therefore, if anything is trustworthy about our sources, it is not the particular details of their accounts, but the broader impressions of Jesus that appear throughout the tradition.36 Allison clarifies that ‘it is obvious that the traditions about Jesus are rhetorical products and rhetorical resources, and that they must contain much more than the gist of eye-witness recall.’37
Here Allison invokes the notion of ‘recurrent attestation,’ which he derives from other scholars, most notably, C. H. Dodd.38 But Allison does not hold out ‘recurrent attestation’ as a tool to be employed like the traditional criteria.39 It does not ‘authenticate’ particular logia or episodes. Allison rejects such attempts, arguing that they overlook the possibility that even manufactured40 stories can still be helpful in preserving truths about who Jesus was. In this vein, Allison highlights the accounts of Jesus tempted by Satan in the wilderness in the Synoptic Gospels. Though Allison regards them as ‘haggadic fiction,’41 he notes that they cohere with the general impressions of Jesus that arise from our sources, namely, that he was a figure at war with the forces of Satan.42 In other words, ‘fiction need not be pure fiction … fiction can indeed preserve the past.’43
From here, Allison develops his portrait of the historical Jesus. He points out that in numerous and various ways, the man from Nazareth is depicted as a figure motivated by eschatological beliefs.44 If our sources are wrong about this, Allison insists, they cannot be trusted on other matters. He writes, ‘our choice is not between an apocalyptic Jesus and some other Jesus; it is between an apocalyptic Jesus and no Jesus at all… The pertinent material is sufficiently abundant that removing it all should leave one thoroughly skeptical about the mnemonic competence of the tradition.’45
For our purposes, it is important to highlight another recurring aspect of the tradition Allison discusses, namely, the impression that Jesus anticipated losing his life and accepted such a fate. This impression occurs repeatedly throughout the broad spectrum of our earliest sources, e.g., in Paul, Q, Mark, the other canonical Gospels, as well as in the Gospel of Thomas, and other early Christian literature.46 The charts below are derived from Allison’s treatment, though we have included some passages he neglects to mention.
3.1 Logia Indicating Jesus Knew of His Fate and Accepted It
- 1.This Is the Blood of the Covenant / The New Covenant in My Blood (1 Cor. 11.23–26//Mk 14.22–23//Mt. 26.22–25//Lk. 22.19–21)
- 2.Carry the Cross and Follow Me (Mt. 10.38//Lk. 14.27[=Q]; Mk 8.34; Gos. Thom. 55)47
- 3.Whoever Loses His Life, Gains It (Mt. 10.39//Lk. 17.33 [=Q])48
- 4.The Son of Man Will Suffer and Be Killed (Mt. 16.21//Mk 8.31//Lk. 9.22; Mt. 17.22//Mk 9.31//Lk. 9.44; Mt. 20.18–19//Mk 10.33–34//Lk. 18.32–33)
- 5.The Son of Man Will Give His Life as a Ransom (Mk 10.45//Mt. 20.28)
- 6.The Son of Man Will Be Betrayed (Mt. 26.20–25//Mk 14.17–21//Lk. 22.21–22; cf. Jn 13.21–30)
- 7.The Tenants Kill the Son of the Vineyard Owner (Mt. 21.33–46//Mk 12.1–12//Lk. 20.9–19//Gos. Thom. 65)
- 8.The Kingdom of Heaven Suffers Violence (Mt. 11.12; cf. Lk. 16.16)49
- 9.Are You Able to Drink the Cup That I Am to Drink? (Mt. 10.22//Mk 10.38)
- 10.I Have a Baptism to Be Baptized with (Lk. 12.50; cf. Mk 10.38)
- 11.I Will Not Drink Again of the Fruit of the Vine (Mt. 26.29//Mk 14.25//Lk. 22.16)
- 12.A Prophet Must Die at Jerusalem (Lk. 13.33)
- 13.She Has Anointed My Body Beforehand for Burying (Mt. 26.12//Mk 14.8)
- 14.Remove This Cup (Mt. 26.36–46//Mk 14.32–42//Lk. 22.39–46)
- 15.Put Back Your Sword (Mt. 26.52; cf. Lk. 22.51)50
- 16.Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Be Scattered (Mt. 26.31//Mk 14.27)
- 17.Destroy This Temple (Jn 2.19–22)
- 18.The Son of Man Will Be Lifted Up (Jn 3.14)
- 19.I Lay Down My Life for My Sheep (Jn 10.11–18)
- 20.The Hour Has Come for the Son of Man to Be Glorified (Jn 12.23–27)
- 21.Greater Love Has No Man Than This (Jn 15.12–13)
- 22.I Am Going to the Father (Jn 16.5–10)
- 23.Days Will Come When You Will Seek Me and Not Find Me (Gos. Thom. 38)
3.2 Depictions Indicating Jesus Knew of His Fate and/Or Accepted It
- 1.Jesus Is Told Herod Wants to Kill Him (Lk. 13.31–32)
- 2.Jesus Does Not Resist Arrest (Mt. 26.47–56//Mk 14.43–50//Lk. 22.47–53)
- 3.Jesus Makes No Reply Before Pilate (Mt. 27.1–2, 11–14//Mk 15.1–5; Lk. 23.1–5; cf. Jn 18.28–19.16)51
- 4.Jesus Gives No Defense to Herod (Lk. 23.6–16)
- 5.James Will Be the Disciples’ Leader (Gos. Thom. 12)
- 6.Jesus Covertly Arranges the Site of the Passover Meal (Mt. 26.17–19//Mk 14.12–16//Lk. 22.7–13)52
3.3 Jesus Remembered as a Willing Victim
- 1.The Lord Jesus Gave Himself (Gal. 1.3–4)
- 2.The Son of God Gave Himself for Me (Gal. 2.20)
- 3.Jesus Became Obedient Accepting Death on a Cross (Phil. 2.7–8; cf. Rom. 5.18–19)
- 4.Christ Gave Himself as a Sacrifice to God (Eph. 5.2; cf. Eph. 5.25)
- 5.Christ Did Not Please Himself (Rom. 15.1–3)
- 6.Christ Became a Propitiatory Sacrifice (Rom. 3.25)
- 7.Christ Jesus Gave Himself as a Ransom (1 Tim. 2.5–6)
- 8.Jesus as a Model of Faithfulness in Death (1 Tim. 6.12–13)
- 9.He Gave Himself That He Might Redeem Us (Tit. 2.14)
- 10.God Heard Jesus’ Prayer Because of His Godly Fear (Heb. 5.7–10)
- 11.Christ also Suffered for You as an Example (1 Pet. 2.20–24)
Again, according to Allison, it is not necessary for each of these traditions to be historical. The essential point is the ubiquity and overall consistency of such traditions.
Allison also considers what might be considered counterevidence. He highlights Jesus’ cry of dereliction (i.e., the quotation from Psalm 22 in Mk 15.34 and parr.) and his prayer in Gethsemane (Mk 14.32–42 and parr.).53 Yet, as he observes, if the former is viewed as historical, it would only speak to Jesus’ ‘disoriented state of mind following torture’ and not necessarily provide information about his prior attitude. Moreover, Allison omits another consideration. As Joel Marcus and others observe, the line involves a quotation from a passage that climaxes with an account of deliverance (cf. Ps. 22.19–31). This weighs against the view that the statement simply expresses a sense of abandonment.54 In other words, if Jesus did quote the psalm, it is not certain that he was doing so without reference to its larger context. Finally, as for the account of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, the episode actually ultimately depicts Jesus accepting death if it is God’s will. If deemed historical, this aspect of the tradition cannot be used as proof that, in the end, Jesus resisted being put to death.
For Allison, then, an appeal to recurrent attestation must not run roughshod over difficulties. Allison has not attempted to bracket out data that is inconvenient. In this case, he simply finds a dearth of clearly conflicting evidence.
4 Reasons for Trusting the Broad Outlines of the Jesus Tradition
Some, such as Bauckham, Rodríguez, and Lamerson, have argued that Allison is too skeptical of memory.55 Bauckham acknowledges that research does indicate that memory works better with the ‘gist’ of an event ‘than other aspects of it.’56 However, he goes on to insist that Allison is guilty of a category error: remembering the ‘gist’ of a particular event is not the same thing as ‘generic memory of many indistinguishable events.’57 ‘The ‘gist’ is not something that often happened. It is the essential outline of a unique event.’58 Bauckham challenges the idea that ‘general impressions’—e.g., ‘Jesus taught by means of parables’—are more historically reliable than accounts of specific events.59 Allison, he charges, overlooks the fact that ‘personal memories for certain sorts of specific events can, in the right circumstances, be highly reliable.’60 Bauckham thus contends that Allison has confused (1) the mechanics of memory, which preserves the ‘gist’ of an event while allowing details to fade, with (2) the task of the historian, who identifies what is common in various different accounts of a specific event.61
In response to those who find him overly skeptical, Allison simply highlights the fact that the sins of memory are too well-documented to be ignored.62 In fact, others such as Thate and Crook, have criticized Allison from the other direction. They suggest that Allison has too easily assumed the general reliability of ‘gist’ memory.63 Crook, for instance, points out documented examples of manufactured memories and suggests Allison’s approach fails to take into consideration such precedents.64
Allison is far from ignorant of these problems. Can we be certain our sources are accurate? Allison has been blunt: historians cannot be certain. They must settle for ‘higher and lower levels of plausibility.’65 He also admits that determining levels of ‘probability’ is no exact science since many factors, including cultural ones, come into play.66 The historian must remain modest about what can be accomplished. Nevertheless, the fact that doubts can be raised does not mean all conclusions are equally implausible. The historian must aim to offer the ‘best explanation,’67 though he admits, ‘doubt will never leave us or forsake us’.68
Yet Allison’s argument in Constructing Jesus—and this is a critically important point—is not simply based on an optimistic view of the general veracity of ‘gist’ memory in the abstract; his approach is not about mere ‘assertion.’ Allison gives specific reasons why he thinks it is probable that the general outlines of Jesus’ teachings were preserved. For one thing, Allison points to the various ways our sources converge and the frequency with which certain complexes occur: ‘The first-century traditions about Jesus are not an amorphous mess.’69 Though our sources diverge on numerous details, in the case of certain generalities they are strikingly consistent. Thus, while our sources clearly felt somewhat free to re-formulate the words attributed to Jesus, the past imposed some constraints. Certain radical revisions, for Allison, seem implausible. ‘A story that had Jesus dying in Rome would never have been accepted.’70 Thus Allison argues there are good reasons to think our sources do at times relate ‘the sense’ of his essential message.71
Before moving on, a clarification is in order: the appeal to general outline of the tradition via recourse to recurrent attestation is a statement of fact regarding the extant evidence we actually possess, however fragmentary it may be.72 It should not be construed as an argument from silence. For example, Allison points out that the Jesus tradition is marked by what he describes as ‘strikingly memorable’ expressions. Though it is possible to envision some figure other than Jesus giving the tradition this shape, ‘all the relevant items are attributed to [Jesus], not to anyone else, and I know of no explanatory advantage in assigning them to some anonymous contemporary or contemporaries of his.’73 In other words, the evidence we actually have attributes this particular aspect of the tradition to one person: Jesus. Unless serious considerations would seem to weigh against it, tracing such elements of the tradition back to someone other than Jesus remains a less probable solution. Allison cannot find such reasons. To prefer ‘a series of conjectures, for which there is no real evidence’74 to the data we do have is problematic unless there are serious reasons for thinking a particular element of the tradition is of dubious value.75
Returning then to the question of Jesus’ expectation of his untimely demise, what accounts for the overall impression that he anticipated his end? Is there compelling evidence that suggests that someone other than Jesus was responsible for giving the tradition this shape? Allison can think of none. He mentions other figures such as Justin Martyr, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oscar Romero, who knew that their activities would lead them to a violent end.76 He concludes,
To entertain the suggestion that Jesus did not go to his death willingly requires positing a widespread conscious cover-up or a catastrophic memory failure in the early Christian sources. Perhaps some will find one of those options plausible. I consider it much more likely that, in this particular [case], our sources are not bereft of memory.77
5 Allison and Sanders’s ‘Triple Context’ Approach
Yet Allison’s approach only begins with recurrent attestation. It does not end there. His approach is based on argument, not mere assertion of memory. Allison writes:
The patterns give me my starting points, not my conclusions. The latter consistently require extended argument, involving far more than the citation of lists. I never claimed and never intended to confine myself to recurrent attestation (an exercise I would find tedious). Although Constructing Jesus emphasizes the potential importance of recurrent attestation, it nowhere announces the exclusive importance of recurrent attestation or proceeds as though little else matters.78
Indeed, in Constructing Jesus, Allison acknowledges, ‘espying a pattern is not enough; we need to account for it sensibly.’79
How does one give a sensible account for larger historical patterns? Drawing on E. P. Sanders, Allison states: ‘I believe that once recurrent attestation highlights a theme or motif, we should seek to interpret that theme or motif in the light of early Judaism, and in such a way that helps us make sense of what we otherwise know about Christian origins.’80 He reiterates this point: ‘we should proceed by abduction—that is, by inference to the best explanation, always looking for a Jesus who makes the most sense of the available facts and what we otherwise know of Judaism and nascent Christianity.’81 Thus Allison suggests that (1) recognizing coherent patterns via recurrent attestation must lead us to (2) an examination of how such elements fit within ancient Judaism and (3) an analysis of their relationship with early Christianity.
Examining Allison’s approach in relation to that of Sanders is instructive. Brant Pitre speaks of Sanders’s ‘triple-context approach.’82 Specifically, Pitre spotlights Sanders’s words in Jesus and Judaism (1985):
No matter what criteria for testing the sayings are used, scholars still need to move beyond the sayings themselves to a broader context than a summary of their contents if they are to address historical questions about Jesus. Since historical reconstruction requires that data be fitted into a context, the establishment of a secure context, or framework of interpretation, becomes crucial. There are basically three kinds of information which provide help in this endeavor:  such facts about Jesus as those outlined above;  knowledge about the outcome of his life and teaching;  knowledge of first-century Judaism.83
From these lines we can see that Sanders argues that the task of reconstructing the historical Jesus must take into account three key factors: (1) what can be known about Jesus’ life, (2) the effects of his ministry, (3) his first-century Jewish context.84 With an emerging sense that the quest has found itself in a ‘methodological quagmire,’ Pitre argues that Sanders’s triple-context approach offers scholars a way forward.85
There are two major differences between Sanders and Allison. First, Sanders speaks about ‘facts’ about Jesus, terminology Allison avoids. Instead of proceeding from ‘facts’ about Jesus, Allison begins by appealing to recurrent attestation. In addition, while Sanders tends to focus on specific deeds of Jesus (e.g., his temple action), Allison concentrates his attention on the broader impressions of Jesus in our sources, for example, the notion that Jesus was motivated by an eschatological outlook.
6 Allison’s Historical Rationale
Allison’s method, then, does not proceed without historical argumentation. This argumentation, however, does not involve the conventional application of the criteria of authenticity. For those who employ these tools, Allison’s approach may seem doomed to fail. John Meier makes two specific critiques of Allison’s method. First, according to Meier, Allison’s argument from recurrent attestation is unconvincing because it fails to take into account particulars. He writes,
In reconstructing a historical Jesus, the whole is the sum of the parts selected for analysis. If each item that makes up the whole is viewed with skepticism, the whole must be viewed the same way. Put bluntly: seeking broad outlines, recurring patterns, or overall pictures without making any decisions about the probable historicity of the individual sayings or deeds that form these patterns strikes me as a kind of exegetical sleight of hand or artful dodging that in the end goes nowhere.86
In other words, for Meier, Allison’s long lists of recurrently attested traditions mean nothing if none of the passages catalogued can be shown to be traced back to the historical Jesus.
Moreover, Meier insists that Allison’s dismissal of the criteria leaves him without a consistent historical rationale for proceeding.
If one remains deeply skeptical about any and all criteria as well as about the authenticity of any given individual saying or deed of Jesus, then logic demands that one should be equally skeptical about constructing any probable portrait of the historical Jesus.87
Meier goes on to say, ‘The word “criteria” means “rules for making a judgment.” If you have no rules for making a judgment about material claiming to come from the historical Jesus, how do you reach any judgment about him that is not hopelessly arbitrary?’88 He also points out that Allison essentially allows the very criteria he bemoans, particularly, multiple attestation and coherence, to ‘sneak back’ into his work.89
Meier has raised very important concerns, which merit a serious response. The point that the whole portrait rests on the sum of the parts, however, might be a bit misleading. When one digs down—as Meier masterfully does—one discovers that determining what constitutes the ‘parts’ is rather difficult. As Meier demonstrates, different logia may be best taken as variations of the same saying—or they might not be. For example, he assiduously avoids opining on what the ‘original saying’ or the ‘original form’ of Jesus’ prohibition of divorce was.90 He acknowledges that ‘Jesus probably stated his prohibition a number of times, not necessarily always in the same words.’91 Yet, even without being able to sort out the most primitive version of the saying via redaction criticism, Meier concludes, ‘On the basis of this criterion alone,’ namely, multiple attestation, ‘I think there is sufficient reason for holding that the historical Jesus forbade divorce.’92 Likewise, Allison points out elsewhere that when it comes to Jesus’ identity as a miracle-worker, Meier has written, ‘The material seems simply too mammoth and omnipresent in the various strata of the Gospel tradition to be purely the creation of the early church.’93
Of course, Meier’s multiple attestation differs from Allison’s recurrent attestation in a key way—Allison does not attempt to chart out the relationship between the various sources using source and redaction criticism. Allison thinks historians must be chastened here. Such approaches must depend on hypothetical models for understanding the relationship of our sources. Among other things, Allison highlights the problematic nature of appealing to the Q source and its various supposed layers.94 To speak of getting to the ‘parts’ assumes we know how we can sort out all of the material. Allison is not confident we can pronounce on such matters.
Meier’s charge that Allison has abandoned historical argumentation by rejecting the criteria should also be addressed. Indeed, to simply embrace an approach that contributes nothing but lists of recurring aspects of the Jesus tradition would not serve as historical reasoning. As we have shown above, however, Allison is doing more than merely appealing to recurring attestation. Allison’s reconstruction is not ‘arbitrary.’ He does offer a historical rationale for analyzing data. He begins with recurrent attestation, but he believes it is insufficient to end there.
Part of the problem may be terminological. Allison does not like the language of ‘criteria’ because ‘its use to cast a scientific aura over our questing for Jesus is not very effective, for our criteria are sufficiently pliable as to be unable to resist our biases and prior inclinations.’95 Meier himself recognizes that ‘one must not expect from the criteria more than they can deliver,’ concluding that their use ‘remains more art than science.’96 He says, ‘At best, they supply various degrees of probability.’97 Indeed, both Meier and Allison agree that the task of the historian cannot be construed in positivistic terms. The question, therefore, is not what can be ‘proven’ as historical, but what historical portrait provides the more probable account of him.98
Allison simply thinks the standard criteria approach is too riddled with problems to deliver much confidence. As we have seen, he points out that they are typically in a ‘tug of war’ with one another.99 This is why their application is less ‘science’ than ‘art’. Each historian will apply them and weigh them differently. In addition, the task of eliminating certain material as redactional because it coheres with the narrative or theological interests of the writer is problematic since it often assumes that history is necessarily discontinuous with the agenda of our sources. This cannot be assumed. For these reasons and others, Allison eschews the typical criteria approach.
For Allison, then, the first step should not be focused on separating out particular sayings or deeds from larger narrative contexts in order to distinguish the ‘authentic’ from ‘inauthentic’ material. In this, Allison parts ways with the ‘criteria approach.’ Nevertheless, that does not entail jettisoning appeals to historical argumentation altogether. For Allison, attending to aspects of the tradition that are repeatedly attested restrains the scholar from selecting an arbitrary starting point. To Meier’s point that Allison appeals to the criteria he denounces, it is worth noting that Allison explicitly admits that his appeal to recurrent attestation bears similarity to the way Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz have redefined the criterion of ‘coherence’: ‘Elements which recur and correspond to one another in different currents of tradition and forms (and are thus numerously attested), may be due to an effect made by the historical Jesus.’100 Allison would agree. He does not, however, proceed to sift through all of the various redactional layers; this is not always possible. For him, recurrent attestation marks an important launching point for thinking about the general impressions made by Jesus. But the historical task must also consider other mutually reinforcing observations, which for him involves employing a sort of variation of Sanders’s ‘triple-context’ approach.
In all of this we see that, contrary to the dangers that Foster complains about, Allison does not simply appeal to the reliability of ‘gist’ memory via recurrent attestation. And while he does not like the term ‘criteria,’ Allison does provide reasoned and coherent historical arguments for his conclusions that go beyond recurrent attestation. One may not agree with the case he makes, but one should not insist that he merely bases his conclusions on a generic appeal to the veracity of memory. Indeed, in his chapter on the ‘Christology of Jesus,’ Allison spends all of three or four pages providing lists relating to the ‘gist’ of our sources, before looking at specific issues—an analysis that takes up about hundred pages.101 Likewise, when it comes to the impression that Jesus was motivated by eschatological hopes, Allison shows that this is first affirmed by recurrent attestation. He then goes further, showing how such a portrait is also consistent with first-century Judaism. In addition, according to Allison, that Jesus held eschatological beliefs is suggested in light of what followed him—i.e., a movement that was characterized early on by eschatological expectations. In sum, if other first-century Jews and the movement Jesus inspired held eschatological beliefs, Allison would ask, why insist Jesus did not?
7 Jesus’ Expectation of Death in Light of Judaism and Christianity
Let us now turn to the specific question of whether Jesus anticipated his imminent demise. In Constructing Jesus, Allison offers a great deal of evidence that this aspect of our sources’ portrait of Jesus meets the criteria of recurrent attestation. Can we move beyond that, though? Here we can ask whether this aspect of the tradition makes sense within Jesus’ context of first-century Judaism. Moreover, does it explain the effects of Jesus’ ministry? Allison has shown that it does. Here we will draw not only from his research in Constructing Jesus, but also from previous works where he tackles this question. We will supplement Allison’s argument, drawing on some other key observations made by scholars that further strengthen his case.
As Allison has argued, the evidence suggests that if Jesus, like other first- century Jews, longed for the vindication of Israel, he may very well have thought suffering would be part of that equation.102 For one thing, various Jewish sources link the death of Jewish martyrs to hopes for Israel’s deliverance. Here we can mention three texts which Allison says surprisingly little about in his works, though their relevance has been noted by others such as Scot McKnight and JongHyun Kwon.103
For we are suffering because of our own sins. And if our living Lord is angry for a little while, to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. (2 Macc. 7.32–33 [ca. 135–104 bce])
[the martyrs] became responsible for the downfall of the tyranny which beset our nation, overcoming the tyrant by their fortitude so that through them their own land was purified. (4 Macc. 1.11 [ca. 18–55 CE])
Through the blood of these righteous ones and through the propitiation [ἱλαστήριον] of their death the divine providence rescued Israel. (4 Macc. 17.22).
It is worth noting that the last passage from 4 Maccabees 17 interprets the death of the martyrs as propitiation (ἱλαστήριον), a term derived from Israel’s cultic atonement rituals (ἱλαστήριον; cf., e.g., Exod. 25.16; Ezek. 43.14, 17, 20).104 As Kwon notes, the same term appears in Rom. 3.25 where Paul describes Christ’s death as a propitiatory sacrifice.105 Pauline scholars such as Douglas Campbell now recognize that the apostle was likely influenced by these martyrological traditions.106 Yet, if early Jewish Christians interpreted Christ’s death against such a backdrop, why not also see it as relevant for reconstructing Jesus’ views?
Moreover, in many Jewish sources the inauguration of the eschatological age is preceded by a period involving the persecution and suffering of the righteous. Allison has discussed the presence of this tradition in apocalyptic works, particularly Daniel. One key text he examines is found in Daniel 7:
[The Fourth Beast] shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High… and they shall be given into his hand for a time, two times, and half a time…
And the kingdom and the dominion… shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom…’ (Dan. 7.25, 27a, c–d)107
Two passages Allison does not spend time discussing could also mentioned:
It will be a time of suffering fo[r al]l the nation redeemed by God. Of all their sufferings, none will be like this, hastening till eternal redemption is fulfilled. (1Q33 i, 11–12).108
Its [Ps 37.11] interpretation concerns the congregation of the poor who will take upon themselves the period of affliction and will be rescued from all the snares of Belial. Afterwards, all who shall po[sse]ss the land will enjoy and grow fat with everything enjoy[able to] the flesh. (4Q171 ii, 9–12).109
Numerous similar texts could also be cited here.110
One especially notable passage relating eschatological tribulation imagery occurs in the Enochic Book of Parables, where, like 4 Maccabees 17, the suffering of the righteous is described as having cultic significance. Allison has very little to say about this particular passage.111 The passage draws heavily on imagery from Daniel 7.
In those days, there had arisen the prayer of the righteous, and the blood of the righteous one, from the earth into the presence of the Lord of Spirits.
In these days, the holy ones…were interceding and praying in behalf of the blood of the righteous that had been shed… that judgment might be executed for them…
In those days, I saw the Head of Days as he took his seat on the throne of his glory, and the books of the living were opened in his presence…
And the hearts of the holy ones were filled with joy,
for…the prayer of the righteous had been heard, and (a reckoning of) the blood of the righteous one had been required in the presence of the Lord of Spirits. (1 En. 47.1, 2b–d, 3, 4)112
The appearance of cultic imagery in a vision heavily informed by Daniel 7 should not be surprising. Daniel’s vision encourages such a reading. Among other things, Daniel 7.13 describes how the ‘one like a son of man’ was presented before the Ancient of Days, using the term, הקרבוהי. Notably, the cognate, קרב, is used in reference to cultic offerings.113 That ancient readers caught such echoes is suggested not only by 1 Enoch 47, but also by the fact that the ancient Greek renderings of this passage render the term with words also having cultic connotations.114
Suffice it to say, if, as Allison has convincingly argued, Jesus entertained eschatological hopes, it would hardly be surprising for him to have anticipated coming to a violent end. In fact, one feature of Jesus’ passion predictions may suggest that he did. Strikingly, our sources suggest that Jesus’ passion predictions were often linked with ‘son of man’ language.
And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mk 8.31) for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ (Mk 9.31)
For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mk 10.45)
For the Son of man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed! (Mt. 26.24//Mk 14.21//Lk. 22.22; cf. Jn 13.21–30)
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up. (Jn 3.14)115
The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. (Jn 12.23)116
Many have dismissed these sayings as manufactured memories. However, Allison suggests another possibility. Highlighting the work of T. W. Manson, Allison has pointed out that such sayings are best viewed as references to the eschatological tribulation described in Daniel 7.117 As Manson pointed out, in the original context of that vision the ‘son of man’ figure appears to serve as a representative of the saints who suffer at the hands of the Fourth Beast during the latter days (cf. Dan. 7.18). Thomas Kazen has also recently reasserted Manson’s position.118 In sum, if Jesus’ project was characterized by eschatology, and our sources are right about his envisioning coming to a violent end, there is good reason to think that Jesus’ ‘son of man’ passion predictions reflect impressions he himself made.
Turning, then, to the effects of Jesus, it is worth observing that eschatological tribulation traditions also emerge in early Christian texts. Numerous examples could be given (e.g., Gal. 4.19; 1 Pet. 4.1–6, 12–19; 5.1; Rev. 7.13–14).119 For instance, in Romans 8, Paul explains that the believer’s present sufferings are incomparable to the ‘glory to be revealed in us,’ speaking of how ‘the whole creation has been groaning in birth pangs together until now’ (Rom 8.18, 22). The imagery here bears unmistakable traces of Jewish eschatological tribulation traditions. In fact, in some Jewish texts, the dawning of the messianic age is not only linked to the eschatological tribulation, the afflictions of this period are specifically described as birth pangs.
I was in distress like a woman giving birth the first time when her labour-pains come on her and a pang racks the mouth of her womb to begin the birth in the <<crucible>> of the pregnant woman. For children come through the breakers of death and the woman expectant with a boy is racked by her pangs, for through the breakers of death she gives birth to a male, and through the pangs of Sheol there emerges, from the <<crucible>> of the pregnant woman a wonderful counselor [cf. Isa. 9.6–7] with his strength… (1QHa xi, 7–10)120
And thus the Lord commanded the kings and the mighty and the exalted and those who possess the land, and he said, ‘Open your eyes and lift up your horns, if you are able to recognize the Chosen One.’ And the Lord of Spirits <seated him> upon the throne of his glory, and the spirit of righteousness was poured upon him. And the word of his mouth will slay all the sinners [cf. Isa. 11.4], and all the unrighteous will perish from his presence… And they will see and recognize that he sits on the throne of his glory… And pain will come upon them as (upon) a woman in labor, when the child enters the mouth of the womb, and she has difficulty giving birth… and pain will seize them when they see that Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory. (1 En. 62.1–4)121
Notably, while also holding such an eschatological outlook, Paul himself anticipated suffering: ‘we told you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction’ (1 Thess. 3.4). Indeed, in Phil. 2.17 he speaks about being ‘poured as a libation,’ sacrificial language that scholars have widely seen as a martyrological reference (Phil 2:17).122 The best explanation of this dimension of Paul’s message would seem to be that the apostle’s outlook was shaped by memories of Jesus, whom the Christians remembered as announcing the coming eschaton and who viewed his own fate against such traditions.123
That Jesus anticipated his own demise is broadly attested, but this is not the sole reason for thinking that this aspect of our sources’ portrait of Jesus preserves historical memory. There are converging indicators that are difficult to explain away. Not only does this aspect of the tradition fit well with what we seem to know about Jesus, namely, that he was likely motivated by eschatological hopes, it also makes sense within Jesus’ first-century context. In addition, it explains the effects of Jesus’ teaching, namely, beliefs held by early believers such as Paul.
Of course, some may prefer a conjectural reconstruction in which someone other than Jesus gave the tradition this shape; for some, the criterion of dissimilarity with Christianity will remain the ‘canon within the canon.’ Such historians will continue to insist on a method that assumes that Jesus’ impact on early Christianity was insignificant if not nonexistent. Nevertheless, for those not committed to such presuppositions, given the data we actually possess, the most probable hypothesis is that Jesus was not only motivated by a Jewish eschatological outlook in a general way, but that this shaped his expectations in at least one specific way: Jesus indicated that he anticipated suffering a violent death.
The advances made in memory research have raised serious challenges for the task of historical Jesus studies. Allison’s Constructing Jesus was, in many ways, pioneering—it offered an approach for investigating the historical Jesus that rigorously engaged the implications of such developments. For Allison, the task involves thinking through the overall portrait our sources paint of Jesus—yet it does not end there. Though he rejects the conventional criteria of authenticity, Allison’s historical argumentation is hardly the result of a naïve, optimistic view of the reliability of social memory in the abstract. Allison argues that the historian must locate such impressions plausibly within Judaism and against the backdrop of what we know of early Christianity.
As a test case, this article has looked specifically at the question of whether or not Jesus anticipated suffering a violent death. Drawing on Allison’s work and supplementing it with other insights, we have made the case that it is more probable than not that Jesus expected to meet such an end. Certainly, such predictions would meet the needs of the community, which had to account for Jesus’ end. Nevertheless, there is no reason to think that the past—i.e., impressions originally made by Jesus—had no impact on such remembrance. Recurrent attestation points us in this direction and there are further reasons for thinking this was in fact the case. For one, such a view can be plausibly accounted for within martyrological and eschatological tribulation traditions attested to in early Jewish literature. Furthermore, such a view would account for the way early Christian texts explain both the suffering of Jesus and that of believers.
While Allison’s approach offers us a way forward, it hardly erases all questions. Absolute certainty is never attainable—if that were the necessary standard for historiography, the bar for historical inquiry would be impossibly high. Nonetheless, Allison’s work provides a path for future researchers who want to take seriously the problems raised by memory studies. How other specific questions about Jesus’ teaching and aims will be answered in light of such developments remains to be seen. One thing, however, seems clear—there is no going back to old assumptions.
JongHyun Kwon, The Historical Jesus’ Death and ‘Forgiveness of Sins’ (wunt, 2/467; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018).
Paul Foster, ‘Memory, Orality, and the Fourth Gospel: Three Dead-Ends in Historical Jesus Research,’ jshj 10 (2012), pp. 191–227 (198). See also John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (5 vols.; aybrl; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 5:17.
Dale C. Allison, Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010).
The book has generated a good deal of discussion in this journal alone. See Richard Bauckham, ‘The Psychology of Memory and the Study of the Gospels,’ jshj 16 (2018), pp. 136–55; idem, ‘The General and the Particular in Memory: A Critique of Dale Allison’s Approach to the Historical Jesus,’ jshj 14 (2016), pp. 28–51; Rafael Rodríguez, ‘Jesus as His Friends Remembered Him: A Review of Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus,’ jshj 12 (2014), pp. 224–44; Dale C. Allison, ‘A Response to Rafael Rodríguez, “Jesus as His Friends Remembered Him,”’ jshj 12 (2014), pp. 245–54; idem, ‘Memory, Methodology, and the Historical Jesus: A Response to Richard Bauckham,’ jshj 14 (2016), pp. 13–27.
See Foster, ‘Memory, Orality, and the Fourth Gospel,’ p. 201, who notes that for Allison, ‘it is not the act of remembering, even in a community context that ensures the memory is reliable, but it is dependent on many other factors that may have had an impact on the way an event is remembered, retrieved and reused within the social setting where it continues to have a resonance and a value that resulted in its preservation.’
Rafael Rodríguez, ‘Jesus as His Friends Remembered Him,’ p. 225.
See Susannah Radstone and Bill Schwarz, ‘Introduction: Mapping Memory,’ in S. Radstone and B. Schwarz (eds.), Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), pp. 1–9 (1).
In addition to the volume edited by Radstone and Schwarz cited above, see Daniel L. Schachter, (ed.), Memory Distortion: How Brains, Individuals, and Societies Reconstruct the Past (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995). Most important for our topic here are the contributions in this volume focusing on applications of memory studies to history: Michael Kammen, ‘Some Patterns and Meanings of Memory Distortion in American History,’ pp. 329–45; Michael Schudson, ‘Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory,’ pp. 346–64; Jan Assmann, ‘Ancient Egyptian Antijudaism,’ pp. 365–75. Other important contributions include Barbara Misztal, Theories of Social Remembering (Theorizing Society; Philadelphia: Open University Press, 2003); Yael Zerubavel, Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997); Jan Assmann, Religion und kulturelles Gedächtnis: Zehn Studien (Munich: Beck, 2000); idem, Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen (Munich: Beck, 1992); James Fentress and Chris Wickham, Social Memory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992); Pierre Nora, Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past (ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman; trans. Arthur Goldhammer; New York: Columbia Press, 1996); Peter Burke, ‘History as Social Memory,’ in Thomas Butler (ed.), Memory: History, Culture and the Mind (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), pp. 97–114; Barry Schwartz, ‘The Social Context of Commemoration: A Study in Collective Memory,’ Social Forces 61.2 (1982), pp. 374–402.
Maurice Halbwachs, ‘The Social Frameworks of Memory,’ in Lewis A. Coser (ed. and trans.), On Collective Memory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 43: ‘No memory is possible outside frameworks used by people living in society to determine and retrieve their recollections.’ The terms ‘social memory’ or ‘collective memory’ are often used in connection with the work of Halbwachs. For further discussion on their various nuances, see Anthony Le Donne, ‘Theological Memory Distortion in the Jesus Tradition,’ in Loren T. Stuckenbruck, Stephen C. Barton, and Benjamin G. Wold (eds.), Memory and Remembrance in the Bible and Antiquity (wunt, 212; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), pp. 163–77. Following Jan and Aleida Assmann, however, many scholars now speak of ‘cultural memory.’ For a description of how his approach differs from Halbwachs’s, see Jan Assmann, Religion and Cultural Memory (trans. Rodney Livingstone; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), pp. 8–9. See also the essays in Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning (eds.), A Companion to Cultural Memory Studies (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), especially, Astrid Erll, ‘Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction,’ pp. 1–15; Aleida Assmann, ‘Canon and Archive,’ pp. 97–107; and Jan Assmann, ‘Communicative and Cultural Memory,’ pp. 109–18. For a helpful overview of this field of research’s history, see Chris Keith, Jesus’ Literacy: Scribal Culture and the Teacher from Galilee (lnts, 413; London: T&T Clark, 2011), pp. 50–65; Anthony Le Donne, The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009), pp. 41–64.
See, e.g., Jeffrey K. Olick, ‘Products, Processes, and Practices: A Non-Reificatory Approach to Collective Memory,’ btb 36.1 (2006), pp. 5–14; Alan Kirk, ‘Social and Cultural Memory,’ in Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher (eds.), Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity (Semeia Studies 52; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), pp. 1–24 (1). The first appearance of such approaches in New Testament studies appears to be Georgia Masters Keightley, ‘The Church’s Memory of Jesus: A Social Science Analysis of 1 Thessalonians,’ btb 17 (1987), pp. 149–56. No one has been more thorough in chronicling the rise of such approaches in biblical studies than Keith, Jesus’ Literacy, pp. 50–65; idem, ‘Social Memory Theory and Gospel Research: The First Decade (Part One),’ Early Christianity 6 (2015), pp. 354–76; idem, ‘Social Memory Theory and Gospels Research: The First Decade (Part Two),’ Early Christianity 6 (2015), pp. 517–42.
The first monograph-length studies to apply such findings to Jesus research were Le Donne, Historiographical Jesus and Rafael Rodríguez, Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance and Text (lnts, 407; London: T&T Clark, 2009). Other important studies include Alan Kirk, Memory and the Jesus Tradition (The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries; London: Bloomsbury, 2018); Keith, Jesus’ Literacy; Robert K. McIver, Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011); Werner H. Kelber and Samuel Byrskog (eds.), Jesus in Memory: Traditions in Oral and Scribal Perspectives (Waco: Baylor Academic, 2009). For a near-comprehensive list of other works, see Keith, Jesus’ Literacy, pp. 52–54 (esp. 52–53 n. 109); Keith’s articles in Early Christianity cited in the note above; Rodríguez, ‘Jesus as His Friends Remembered Him,’ pp. 225–27.
Dale C. Allison, ‘It Don’t Come Easy: A History of Disillusionment,’ in Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne (eds.), Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (London: T&T Clark, 2012), p. 197 [pp. 186–99]. Allison has developed these ideas quite a bit since they first appeared in idem, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), p. 45.
See the discussion and sources in Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 1–30.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 1.
For example, not only does Allison interact with different publications that examine individual recollection (e.g., Constructing Jesus, pp. 2–5), he also engages those that examine collective memory (see Constructing Jesus, pp. 5–6).
Here we speak of memory studies broadly recognizing that there are many different specialized areas. In Constructing Jesus, Allison especially engages research dealing with individual memories.
See, e.g., Keith, ‘Social Memory Theory… (Part Two),’ pp. 362–63; Anthony Le Donne, ‘The Problem of Selectivity in Memory Research: A Response to Zeba Crook,’ jshj 11 (2013), pp. 77–97; Barry Schwartz, ‘What Difference Does the Medium Make?,’ in Anthony Le Donne and Tom Thatcher (eds.), The Fourth Gospel in First-Century Media Culture (lnts, 426; London: T&T Clark, 2011), pp. 225–38; Barbie Zelizer, ‘Reading the Past against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,’ Critical Studies in Mass Media 12 (1995), pp. 214–39.
See, e.g., John Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 15: ‘public memory speaks primarily about the structure of power in society.’ For a discussion of this approach in relation to Jesus studies, see Zeba A. Crook, ‘Collective Memory Distortion and the Quest for the Historical Jesus,’ jshj 11 (2013), pp. 53–76, who cites numerous works which highlight the ability of memory to manufacture or repress the past, including, Roy F. Baumeister and Stephen Hastings, ‘Distortions of Collective Memory: How Groups Flatter and Deceive Themselves,’ in J. W. Pennebaker, D. Páez and B. Rimé (eds.), Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1997), pp. 277–93; Stephen J. Ceci, ‘False Beliefs: Some Developmental and Clinical Considerations,’ in Daniel Schacter (ed.), Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), pp. 91–125; Elizabeth F. Loftus, ‘The Reality of Repressed Memories,’ American Psychologist 48 (1993), pp. 518–37
This view is particularly associated with Barry Schwartz, Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp. ix–x, who explains the continuity view by saying, ‘To focus solely on memory’s constructed side is to deny the past’s significance as a model for coming to terms with the present.’ For further discussion see, idem, Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2008) and Michael Schudson, Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember, Forget, and Reconstruct the Past (New York: Basic Books, 1992); idem, ‘The Present in the Past versus the Past in the Present,’ Communication 11 (1989), pp. 105–13.
Le Donne, ‘Problem of Selectivity in Memory Research,’ p. 86.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 443. For other quotations which seem to align Allison with the presentist view, see Le Donne, ‘Problem of Selectivity in Memory Research,’ pp. 90–92.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 161.
Dale C. Allison Jr., ‘How to Marginalize the Traditional Criteria of Authenticity,’ in T. Holmén and S. E. Porter (eds.), The Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, i (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 3–30. See also other treatments in idem, ‘It Don’t Come Easy,’ pp. 186–99; idem, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2009), pp. 53–60; idem, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 1–78.
See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 21–22, where he highlights Jesus’ justification for his baptism in Mt. 3.15 and the commissioning scene in Mt. 28.18–20 as examples of passages which ‘obviously betray themselves as secondary because they are redactional or promote purely ecclesiastical convictions.’ In addition, he asserts that Jesus’ prohibition of divorce in Paul, Q, and Mark are ‘almost certainly historical because church invention is wildly implausible’ (p. 22).
Allison, ‘How to Marginalize,’ p. 6.
See also Allison, ‘How to Marginalize,’ p. 14.
See Allison, ‘It Don’t Come Easy,’ p. 199: ‘Another upshot of the fuzzy nature of human memory is that we have even more reason to be skeptical of the simplistic distinction between the authentic and the inauthentic.’
See Michael Schudson, ‘Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory,’ in D. L. Schachter (ed.), Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), pp. 346–64, who identifies four different types of distortion: (1) distanciation: memories become fuzzy on details, emotional associations lessen in intensity, and broader perspectives on past events are gained (2) instrumentalization: memories are adapted to serve present interests and agendas; (3) narrativization: memories are structured into a recognizable plot, involving a beginning, middle, and end as well as conforming to other basic features of story-telling; (4) cognitivization and conventionalization: memories of the past conform to socially acceptable conventions and stereotypes. To these, Le Donne adds a fifth: articulation, which describes how experiences must be translated into the constraints and dynamics of language. See Le Donne, Historiographical Jesus, pp. 52–60; idem, ‘Theological Memory Distortion,’ p. 168. Moreover, in regard to distanciation, see also Becca Levy and Ellen Langer, ‘Aging Free from Negative Stereotypes: Successful Memory in China and among the American Deaf,’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 66 (1994), pp. 989–97, whose work raises the question of how culturally conditioned Schudson’s categories are. For a description of how his approach differs from that of Halbwachs, see Assmann, Religion and Cultural Memory, pp. 8–9.
See also Schudson, ‘Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory,’ p. 347: ‘even where memories are located idiosyncratically in individual minds, they remain social and cultural in that (a) they operate through a supra-individual cultural construction of language; (b) they generally come into play in response to social stimulation, rehearsal, or social cues—the act of remembering is itself interactive, prompted by cultural artifacts and social cues employed for social purposes, and even enacted by cooperative activity; and (c) there are socially structured patterns of recall.’
See the discussion in Le Donne, Historiographical Jesus, pp. 52–59.
Letter to John Adams, October 13, 1813, cited in Forrest Church’s preface to The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (repr.; Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), p. 17.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 22.
See especially Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 10–15. Allison touched on this topic in his earlier book on Jesus. See Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 45.
Allison, Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, p. 61. See also, idem, Constructing Jesus, pp. 12–13.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 28.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 15: ‘certain themes, motifs, and rhetorical strategies recur again and again throughout the primary sources; and it must be in those themes and motifs and rhetorical strategies—which, taken together, leave some distinct impressions—if it is anywhere, that we will find memory.’ As Allison points out in a footnote, he is not the first to argue along these lines. The earliest advocate of such a method, he says, is Friedrich Loofs, What Is the Truth about Jesus Christ? Problems of Christology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 120–45. See Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 14 n. 73, for a bibliography of other scholars who thought along these lines. Nonetheless, previous scholars have not done such extensive interdisciplinary work in cognitive memory studies as Allison has.
Allison, ‘Memory, Methodology, and the Historical Jesus,’ p. 19.
See Allison, ‘Memory, Methodology, and the Historical Jesus,’ p. 17, also citing C. H. Dodd, History and the Gospel (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1938), pp. 92–110. Allison also cites appeals to recurrent attestation in David E. Aune, ‘Oral Tradition and the Aphorisms of Jesus,’ in Henry Wansbrough (ed.), Jesus and the Oral Gospel Tradition (jsntsup, 64; Sheffield: jsot, 1991), pp. 240–41; Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:618–19; Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), p. 269.
Rodríguez (‘Jesus as His Friends Remembered Him,’ p. 230) observes, ‘recurrent attestation differs from multiple attestation in that Allison looks for the tradition’s broad, general impressions rather than independent or generically diffuse materials.’ He also observes that Allison seems to deliberately avoid the language of ‘method’ (cf. p. 230 n. 28).
See the helpful comments offered by Crook, ‘Collective Memory Distortion and the Question for the Historical Jesus,’ pp. 65 n. 44, who explains why it is more precise to speak of ‘manufactured’ instead of ‘invented’ memories.
See Allison, ‘It Don’t Come Easy,’ p. 191. His fuller argument is found in Dale C. Allison, ‘Behind the Temptations of Jesus: Q 4:1–13 and Mark 1:12–13,’ in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (ntts, 28.2; Leiden: Brill, 1999), pp. 195–214.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 18.
Allison, ‘It Don’t Come Easy,’ p. 191.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 32–43.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 47.
Allison lists the following: (1) Mt. 10.38//Lk. 14.27 (Q); Mk 8.34; Gos. Thom. 55; (2) Mt. 10.39//Lk. 17.33 (Q); Mk 8.35; Jn 12.25; (3) Mk 8.31–33; 9.31; 10.33–34; (4) Mk 10:45; (5) Mk 14.17–21 (cf. Jn 13.21–30); (6) Mk 14.32–42; (7) Mk 14.43–50 (cf. Jn 18.1–9); (8) Mk 14.53–65 (cf. Jn 18.13–24); (9) Mk 15.1–15 (cf. Jn 18.28–19.16); (10) Mt. 26.51–54; (11) Lk. 13.31–33; (12) Lk. 23:6–12; (13) Jn 10.11–18; (14) Jn 12.23–27; (15) Jn 15.12–13; (16) Jn 16.5–10; (17) Jn 18.10–12; (18) Rom. 5.18–19; (19) Rom. 15.1–3; (20) 1 Cor. 11.23–26; (21) Gal. 1.3–4; (22) Gal. 2.20; (23) Eph. 5.2; (24) Phil. 2.7–8; (25) passages that link the faith or faithfulness of Jesus to his saving death (Rom. 3.21–26; Gal. 2.15–21; Phil. 3.7–11; (26) 1 Tim. 2.5–6; (27) 1 Tim. 6.12–13; (28) Tit. 2.14; (29) Heb. 5.7–10; (30) Heb. 12.1–2; (31) 1 Pet. 2.20–24.
The relevance of this tradition is explained by Allison as follows: ‘Jesus purportedly enjoined his hearers to prepare for the possibility of martyrdom’ (Constructing Jesus, p. 428).
Allison explains the inclusion of this tradition by saying, ‘These verses also call for accepting martyrdom if or when it comes’ (Constructing Jesus, p. 428).
Allison (Constructing Jesus, p. 429) writes that this tradition is pertinent because it depicts Jesus as not resisting the Jewish authorities.
According to this tradition, Jesus refuses to allow his disciples to keep him from being handed over. See Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 429.
Allison explains that both this tradition and the next on the list indicate that Jesus did not seek to defend himself. See Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 429.
This passage would seem to suggest that Jesus was aware that a plot was brewing against him.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 427.
See Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (London: T&T Clark, 1992), pp. 180–86. In their commentary on Matthew, W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison (Gospel according to Saint Matthew [icc; London: T&T Clark, 1988, 1991, 1997]), iii, p. 625, reject this view on the grounds that it ‘dulls the impact of our verse’ which brings to culmination the experience of Jesus’ abandonment. Such a view, however, seems to ignore the contextual clues discussed by Marcus and, further, the larger expectation that Jesus’ suffering will climax in ultimate deliverance. Indeed, the psalm could be read as indicating both a sense of deep loneliness and hope in God.
Richard Bauckham, ‘The General and the Particular in Memory: A Critique of Dale Allison’s Approach to the Historical Jesus,’ jshj 14 (2016), pp. 28–51; Rodríguez, ‘Jesus as His Friends Remembered,’ pp. 225–27; Samuel Lamerson, review of Dale C. Allison, Jr., Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History, jets 54 (2011), p. 839 [pp. 837–39].
Bauckham, ‘The General and the Particular in Memory,’ p. 30, citing Craig R. Barclay, ‘Schematization of Autobiographical Memory,’ in David C. Rubin (ed.), Autobiographical Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 82–99; Alan Baddeley, Human Memory: Theory and Practice (Hove: Psychology Press, rev. ed., 1997), p. 222.
Bauckham, ‘The General and the Particular in Memory,’ p. 32.
Bauckham, ‘The General and the Particular in Memory,’ p. 32.
Bauckham, ‘The General and the Particular in Memory,’ pp. 32–33.
Bauckham, ‘The General and the Particular in Memory,’ p. 30.
Bauckham, ‘The General and the Particular in Memory,’ p. 31.
Allison, ‘Response to Rafael Rodríguez,’ p. 247.
See also Michael J. Thate, Remembrance of Things Past?: Albert Schweitzer, the Anxiety of Influence, and the Untidy Jesus of Markan Memory (wunt, ii/251; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), p. 215: ‘In the end, memory seems to serve as a rather fiduciary approach in taking the Gospel sources as reliable memories of his previous constructions of the historical Jesus.’
Crook, ‘Collective Memory Distortion,’ pp. 69–70 n. 61.
Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 57.
See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 255–56: ‘Plausibility structures vary. Perceptions are relative. Our sober Western standards are not universal. What makes sense in one context might not make sense in another.’
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 22.
Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 35.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 15.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 161.
Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 58. Allison points out that there are other reasons to believe that the general impressions made by Jesus would have been preserved. For one thing, there is this: our sources are in widespread agreement that Jesus was an itinerant teacher who had disciples that followed him around. Moreover, our sources report—in various ways—that followers were enlisted by Jesus to help spread his message even while he was alive. Allison observes that this strategy would be consistent with an eschatological outlook. Thus, Allison concludes, ‘it is plausible that some people were already teaching, which means in effect rehearsing, parts of the Jesus tradition before their leader was gone.’ Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 26. See also Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (London: T&T Clark, 2005), pp. 31–32, 36–37.
Allison elsewhere makes the case that an ‘argument from silence’ is only weighty if the silence is unexpected (Constructing Jesus, p. 69).
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 24.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 68. The quotation here is taken from a different argument in the book, namely, from Allison’s analysis of the recurrently attested notion that Jesus selected a group of twelve disciples. The line, however, is clearly applicable to other debates about aspects of the Jesus tradition.
See also Allison’s analysis of the passion narrative where he employs similar logic. Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 425.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 433.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 433.
Allison, ‘Response to Rafael Rodríguez,’ p. 251; emphasis added.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 21.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 21.
Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 22.
Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), p. 45; idem, ‘Beyond the Criteria of Authenticity: Where Do We Go From Here?’ (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, San Diego, CA, 23 November 2015).
E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), p. 17; cited with enumeration and added emphasis from Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, p. 32. See also the comments in Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, pp. 166–67.
See the fuller discussion in Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, pp. 31–46.
Pitre, ‘Beyond the Criteria of Authenticity,’ 20, quoting Chris Keith, ‘The Indebtedness of the Criteria Approach to Form Criticism and Recent Attempts to Rehabilitate the Search for an Authentic Jesus,’ in Keith and Le Donne (eds.), Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, p. 47.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 5:27 n. 28.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 5:27 n. 28.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 5:20.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 5:27 n. 20.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 4:124.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 4:124.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 4:112.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:618–19; Allison, ‘Memory, Methodology, and the Historical Jesus,’ p. 17.
See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 118–25. Even the eminent E. P. Sanders himself has been a vocal critic. See E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: scm Press, 1989), p. 117. Sanders and Davies highlight the problems of Luke’s knowledge of Mark and ‘the verbatim agreement of Mark and “Q” in the supposed overlap passages’ (p. 117). Sanders and Davies conclude, ‘Of all the solutions [to the Synoptic Problem], this one, which remains the dominant hypothesis, is least satisfactory’ (p. 117). Elsewhere, in an analysis applicable to many contemporary approaches, Sanders critiques Bultmann’s method as essentially circular, since the Two-Source theory is established on ‘laws of development,’ which are in turn derived from the two-source theory. See E. P. Sanders, Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969), pp. 25–26. Many others have raised similar arguments against the Two-Source Hypothesis, and doubts about its viability have not gone away. See, e.g., Mark Goodacre, The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisville: Trinity International Press, 2002). It is remarkable how many Jesus scholars assume the existence of Q without seriously engaging with the arguments of such critiques. Indeed, many cite Sanders as a chief authority in Jesus research while entirely ignoring his critique of the Two-Source hypothesis.
Allison, ‘How to Marginalize,’ p. 18.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 5:19.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 5:19.
Allison, therefore, rejects Sanders’s use of ‘certain’ (Constructing Jesus, p. 48).
See, e.g., Allison, ‘How to Marginalize,’ p. 7: ‘Multiple attestation overlooks the obvious problem that the more something is attested, the more the early church must have liked it, so the more suspicious we may well be about it.’ See also Allison, Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, pp. 54–55.
Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, ‘The Delay of the Parousia as a Test Case for the Criterion of Coherence,’ Louvain Studies 32 (2007), p. 54 (pp. 49–66), quoted in Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 15 n. 73.
See Allison, Constructing Jesus, pp. 221–304.
See Dale C. Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come: An Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1985), pp. 115–41; idem, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 145–47.
See, e.g., Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2005), pp. 88, 168–70; Kwon, Historical Jesus’ Death, pp. 191–96.
For a discussion, see Stephen Finlan, The Background and Content of Paul’s Cultic Atonement Metaphors (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004), pp. 29–44; McKnight, Jesus and His Death, pp. 169–70.
Kwon, Historical Jesus’ Death, pp. 196–97.
Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), pp. 648–51; Jarvis Williams, Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul’s Theology of Atonement: Did Martyr Theology Shape Paul’s Conception of Jesus’ Death (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2010).
See Allison, End of the Ages, pp. 135–36; idem, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 65–66 n. 246; idem, ‘Q 12:51–53 and Mark 9:11–13 and the Messianic Woes,’ in Bruce D. Chilton and Craig A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Words of Jesus (Leiden: Brill, 1999), pp. 307–9.
Translation from Florentino Garcı́a Martı́nez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Leiden: Brill, 1997/98), i, p. 115.
Translation by Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile (wunt, ii/204; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), p. 97.
Dan. 12.1–3; Zech. 13.8–9; 4Q174 frg. i col. i, lines 18–19; col. ii, lines 1–7; 1 En. 46.8–47.2; 56.5–57.3; 91.5–74; 93.1–10; 103.15; Jub. 23.11–31; Sib. Or. 3.182–95; Pss. Sol. 17.11–32; T. Mos. 9.1–7.
The passage is briefly referenced in a quotation of Eduard Lohse found in Allison, End of the Ages, p. 64.
Translation from George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam, 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), p. 162. On the recent movement of scholarship towards the early dating of this section of 1 Enoch, see the studies in Darrell L. Bock and James H. Charlesworth (eds.), Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).
See, e.g., Ezra 6.10, 17; 7.17; 4Q547 iii, 2.
Theodotion uses προσφέρομαι, the word used for sacrifice throughout Leviticus (e.g., 2.1). Especially interesting for the sake of our discussion is its appearance in Lev. 16:9 which describes the offering made on the Day of Atonement. See Konrad Weiss, ‘φέρω,’ tdnt 9:65. The Old Greek uses παρίστημι, another term employed in sacrificial contexts. It also has a cultic connotation in the lxx (e.g., lxx Num. 16.9; Deut. 12.8; 17.12; 18.5, 7; 21.5; Judg. 20.28; cf. also Rom. 12.1).
That this passage relates to Jesus’ crucifixion is widely accepted among scholars. See, e.g., Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (trans. G. R. Beasley-Murray et al.; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971 ), pp. 152–53; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (AB, 29; New Haven: Yale University, 1966), i, p. 146; Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), i, p. 562.
That this passage relates to Jesus’ death is made clear from the following verse: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (Jn 12.24).
See Allison, End of the Ages Has Come, pp. 136–40; idem, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 65–66, especially n. 242; idem, ‘Messianic Woes,’ pp. 307–9; Thomas W. Manson, ‘The Son of Man in Daniel, Enoch, and the Gospels,’ bjrl 32 (1950), pp. 171–95; idem, The Teaching of Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1967), pp. 229–31.
Thomas Kazen, ‘The Coming of the Son of Man Revisited,’ jshj 5.2 (2007), pp. 155–74. See also McKnight, Jesus and His Death, pp. 234–39.
See Allison, End of the Ages; Harry A. Hahne, The Corruption and Redemption of Creation: Nature in Romans 8:19–22 and Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (lbs; London: T&T Clark, 2006); Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile; C. Marvin Pate and Douglas C. Kennard, Deliverance Now and Not Yet: The New Testament and the Great Tribulation (sbl, 54; New York: Peter Lang, 2003).
Translation from Martı́nez and Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls, i, p. 149.
Translation taken from Nickelsburg and VanderKam, 1 Enoch, pp. 79–80. The context of this text involves the final judgment, which is, of course, ‘eschatological.’ Scholars such as Allison therefore routinely refer to it in treating the broader tradition of ‘eschatological tribulation.’ See, e.g., Allison, End of the Ages, p. 6 n. 6; Hahne, Corruption and Redemption of Creation, p. 204.
Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (nigtc; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 304, writes that, although the specific dynamics of Paul’s cultic terminology are not entirely clear, ‘most agree that the apostle is clearly alluding to his martyrdom, the sacrifice of his own life.’
See Allison, End of the Ages, pp. 62–69, for a treatment of eschatological tribulation traditions in Paul. In addition, see Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 63.