Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet
Allison, Dale C. Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998. $20.00 Pap. xii + 255 pp. ISBN # 0-8006-3144-7.
Dale Allison is emerging as a major player in the historical Jesus scene. Having been for years a research fellow at Friends University, he is now Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Already having established himself as the primary author, with W. D. Davies, of the massive, revised, three-volume International Critical Commentary on Matthew, along with other important book-length works such as The New Moses and The Jesus Tradition in Q, Allison explains that it had been his ambition to write a much more substantial work on the historical Jesus. But inasmuch as the task became more and more daunting, he decided to produce this penultimate work instead.
Chapters one and two defend the thesis in detail that Jesus is to be seen, with Schweitzer and a majority of twentieth-century researchers, as an apocalyptic prophet who expected the soon coming end of the world as we know it. Along the way, Allison convincingly refutes John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg and Stephen Patterson, who have all denied this and tried to forge a new consensus around a non-eschatological Jesus. He recognizes how slippery criteria of authenticity are and how they cannot be followed woodenly or with anything like scientifuc precision. Similar to N. T. Wright, he realizes the necessity for larger explanatory models of the lines from Judaism through Jesus to early Jewish Christianity. He recognizes that it is at times methodologically impossible to distinguish that which was theoretically uttered in the name of Jesus by an early Jewish-Christian prophet from the actual words of the historical Jesus, but he demonstrates that if we reject the massive amounts of evidence inside and outside the Gospels that point to Jesus as a millenarian prophet, we really must concede that we have no adequate data to determine the contours of Jesus' person and work at all. In passing, he again offers an alternative to Wright's revisionist eschatology that interprets Jesus' parousia sayings exclusively in terms of the destruction of the temple. Allison does not appear to break free, however, from Schweitzer's conclusion that at least the timing of Jesus' apocalyptic expectations was simply wrong.
A final chapter develops somewhat independently the case for Jesus as an ascetic, at least with respect to material possesions and sexuality. Allison focuses most of his discussion on the latter and makes a reasonably plausibe case, though not nearly as strong as the argument advanced in the first two chapters.
The book is thoroughly footnoted. Primary and secondary sources are documented in minute detail, and evangelical authors are included in his material even if his ultimate position is more centrist. The work deserves a wide audience.