Allison, Dale C., Jr. Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010. Pp.

xxix + 588. $54.99. Dale Allison offers Constructing Jesus as the capstone to his multiple publications on the historical Jesus. This five hundred-page behemoth continues and extends the discussion he began in 1998 with Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Fortress Press). Despite real and substantive similarities spanning Allison’s dozen years of publishing about Jesus, Constructing Jesus is hardly “more of the same.” His historical thinking and method have matured and offer real advances on perennial problems within the field, and though this volume closes out Allison’s tenure as a historian of Jesus, those of us still practicing in the field will find much to learn here. Historical Jesus research has, apparently, entered an era in which “memory” provides the (or an) analytical key for engaging the material. Allison’s work fits squarely in this era. His first chapter, “The General and the Particular,” provides a thoroughly documented, thirty-page discussion of memory that is sober nearly to the point of melancholy. Allison begins, “The frailty of human memory should distress all who quest for the so-called historical Jesus” (1), and he proceeds to document nine “sins” of memory (2–8). Things only turn bleaker once the historian of Jesus “take[s] full cognizance of the strong ideological biases of the partisan sources that we have for Jesus” (8). With this start, knowledge of Jesus seems particularly precarious. Allison, however, does not abandon the quest for historical knowledge about Jesus altogether; instead, he doubts that the task can be pursued with the traditional criteria of authenticity in hand. Allison, therefore, gives up on quest after “the particular” details of Jesus’ life and turns instead to “the general,” or “The Big Picture” (see pp. 10–17). If our sources convey anything of the actual, historical Jesus, they do so at the level of this “big picture.” “Given that memory is ‘fuzzy,’ . . . it would be peculiar to imagine that, although their general impressions of Jesus were hopelessly skewed, Christian tradents somehow managed to recall [a handful of authentic sayings] with some accuracy” (13). In order to engage this kind of history of Jesus, Allison proposes to approach our sources from an angle he calls “recurrent attestation,” “by which I mean that a topic or motif or type of story appears again and again throughout the tradition” (20). The rest of Constructing Jesus is an argument about what kind of Jesus emerges from the Gospels when historians keep an eye out for recurrently attested material. Allison presents the main argument of his book in the second chapter (“More Than a Sage: The Eschatology of Jesus” [31–220]). This argument moves in two steps. First, Allison reaffirms his belief that Jesus was an apocalyptic, millenarian prophetic figure, and he lists thirty-two relevant sayings in the tradition that make Jesus’ apocalyptic orientation a “recurrently attested” motif (see pp. 33–43). Even if some/most of these sayings are secondary (Allison supposes this to be the case), “[t]he pertinent material is sufficiently abundant that removing it all should leave one thoroughly skeptical about the mnemonic competence of the tradition” (47). He spends next forty pages (48–87) exploring nine general considerations that “move us to reckon the apocalyptic figure in the Synoptics is a fair representative of the historical Jesus” (48). Second, Allison, aware that not everyone sees Jesus apocalyptically, spends nearly seventy pages (88– 156) offering rejoinders to various (I count nine) negations of an apocalyptic Jesus. This section ranges widely across the secondary literature, but the Jesus Seminar and its fellows (esp. Bob Funk, Dominic Crossan, Stephen Patterson, and Marcus Borg) rightfully feature prominently throughout. This chapter— material sufficient unto itself to be a heavy book on Jesus—presents a formidable obstacle to anyone who would still deny that Jesus harbored and advanced apocalyptic sympathies during his life and ministry. The second chapter concludes with two excursuses. The first (pp. 164–204), argues that the dominant understanding of kingdom of God as God’s dynamic rule (God’s reign) rather than the locale over which he rules (God’s realm) “is probably not the exclusive or perhaps even chief meaning of ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in the Jesus tradition” (169). These forty pages set out to demonstrate “how often it [‘kingdom of God’]

rather refers principally to the future time when and to the future place where the petition ‘Your kingdom come’ will no longer need to be uttered” (169). “My judgment, then, is that βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ is, in the Synoptics, a realm as well as a reign; it is a place and a time yet to come in which God will reign supreme” (201). The second excursus argues for significant continuities between John the Baptist and Jesus. Allison does not deny that important differences distinguished these two figures, but, primarily in dialogue with Theissen and Merz, he emphasizes how scant our evidence for John’s message and ministry really are. Deciding what John did not do (and so what Jesus did that differed from John) is fraught with questions precisely because we know so little of what he did do. Nevertheless, even our sources (which, Allison emphasizes, present John as Jesus’ forerunner) portray real similarities between John and Jesus, including Abraham’s descendants’ liability to judgment, common images in both men’s messages, and the evocation of a coming judge. In the third chapter Allison takes up the question of “the christology of Jesus.” The problem, in the broadest of terms, is that Jesus does not seem to have had very much to say about himself, whereas his followers could scarcely say enough. In the current chapter Allison sets out “only to give my best historical judgment as to what Jesus of Nazareth encouraged others to think about him” (225). After a lengthy list (pp. 227–30) of twenty-six traditions from the Synoptic Gospels in which Jesus plays a central role in whatever eschatological drama he envisioned, Allison spends the better part of seventy-five pages defending the plausibility that Jesus placed himself at the center of God’s plans for the future, including the judgment and the reign over God’s people. Allison marshals the standard traditional motifs here (appointing twelve disciples, execution as “king of the Jews,” Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand, etc.). In addition, he examines a number of significant messianic titles/images, including the prophet like Elijah and/or Moses, the coming one, the son of man, and so on (see pp. 263–302). As always, Allison neither defends the authenticity of very many specific traditions of Jesus nor denies that Jesus’ followers developed and expanded ideas they received as part of Jesus’ teaching. However, he does argue that, “when Jesus looked into the future, he saw thrones, including one for himself. . . . We should hold a funeral for the view that Jesus entertained no exalted thoughts about himself” (303, 304). In the fourth chapter, Allison takes up the consensus that Jesus spoke in aphorisms, individual utterances relatively unrestrained from their context. Though he accepts that consensus in the main, he holds out for one exception to the rule that Jesus’ recorded speeches are “secondary elaborations, artificial composites made up of what were once much smaller pieces” (308). “[T]he central part of the Sermon on the Plain is not an anthology made up of smaller anthologies, nor was its history as protracted and complex as often imagined; rather, it represents, by and large, the work of a single individual” (312–13). He provides three basic arguments in defense of Q 6.27–42’s intrinsic coherence. First, the section exhibits a “thematic unity” (316–23), as well as a formal structure, that suggests to Allison a coherent unit rather than a collection of disparate sayings. Second, the passage as a whole contains a number of “parallels outside Matthew and Luke” (323–51) that suggest that later, extracanonical texts who appear otherwise independent of the Synoptics nevertheless engaged Q 6.27–42 as a whole. And third, Allison argues that “Q 6:27–42 in its entirety is in dialogue with a particular text form the Torah, a fact wholly unexpected if we have here logia that grew together only gradually” (351–74; p. 351 quoted). Allison rightfully avoids arguing that the central section of Q’s Sermon on the Plain “is a word-perfect transcript of somebody’s oral performance”; instead, “it is a version or adaptation of a more or less stable composition” (377). This composition, Allison argues, represents “recollection of a series of sentences that Jesus uttered on more than one occasion, or even uttered regularly, perhaps something like a stock sermon” (380). So not only is Q 6.27–42 a coherent unit; it is an authentic coherent unit. Allison’s fifth chapter focuses on the passion account. After a quick survey of Dominic Crossan’s treatment of the passion narrative, Allison asks whether Crossan’s skepticism that the early Christians had access to information about Jesus’ death is warranted. To answer this question, Allison first turns to Paul’s authentic letters (among which he includes Colossians) and outlines what we would know about

Jesus’ death if we only had Paul (392–403). The list is impressive. He then turns to Mark and John and finds parallels to all ten elements he found in Paul, and then adduces another set of data we can infer by reading Paul and the Gospels together (406–21). All of this suggests to Allison that “Paul knew a preMarkan passion narrative” (421). Then, when Allison turns to whether this pre-Markan narrative reflects actual historical events, he returns to the research on memory (and especially memory of traumatic events) to suggest that from the very beginning Jesus’ closest friends must have revisited and retold the events leading up to the crucifixion in order to make sense of and orientate themselves to those events. When, however, Allison runs the data through the gauntlet of recurrent attestation, he only addresses one aspect of Jesus’ passion: his willingness to face death (427–33). The final chapter, “Memory and Invention,” raises the question in its subtitle, “How much history?” Allison’s question does not concern the Gospels per se but rather the Evangelists’ intention: Did the Gospel writers think they were narrating historical events? He is not convinced that the authors thought they were speaking metaphorically when they narrated angelic appearances or midday darkness, even though he agrees that such events never happened. “I am still left asking, What reasons might one have for supposing that, on this or that occasion, the authors of the canonical Gospels knew themselves to be writing a sort of edifying fiction, to be recounting things that never really happened?” (441). While Allison does produce some criteria for identifying intentionally fictitious or haggadic material, he does not see in the Gospels any material that the authors clearly intended theologically and not historically. Though he doubts that dead saints exited their tombs upon Jesus’ death or resurrection, as Matt. 27.52–53 claims— indeed, Allison wagers his soul that “this is a theological fiction” (452)—he doubts that the first evangelist also knew it never happened. In the end, Constructing Jesus is a very sober, even-handed account of how an historian wrestles a twoheaded dragon, in which, on the one hand, the question of “what really happened” simply will not go away, and, on the other hand, the evidence to determine definitively “what really happened” has (gone away, that is). Allison willfully embarks on the quest for the historical Jesus, despite a friendly reviewer’s assessment that Allison’s book, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, brought the Third Quest to a close. However, Allison has grave doubts that the critical methods he received as a part of his education reveal the historical Jesus, and this book represents his attempt to find new routes of questioning. He accepts that we simply cannot answer many questions, but he nevertheless finds reason to keep asking them. Despite some areas of disagreement in terms of the specifics, I at least find myself largely in agreement. The questions matter, and the answers—fewer than I would like, to be sure—are nevertheless precious once found. Rafael Rodríguez Associate Professor of New Testament Johnson University

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