- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Augsburg Fortress Publishers (May 14, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0800631447
- ISBN-13: 978-0800631444
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,431,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet Paperback – May 14, 1991
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"At last a book on Jesus that lets him be a Jew of antiquity, however politically incorrect he may seem to modern eyes. Allison's book is like a breath of fresh air in the current Jesus debate. The updated defense of Schweitzer's apocalyptic prophet is entirely convincing." ---John J. Collins University of Chicago
"Finally, a book that trumpets the return of the apocalyptic Jesus! Allison mounts a powerful counterattack against those who have spurned the view . . . that Jesus expected an imminent transformation in history as we know it. . . . Allison has produced a persuasive argument that will not be easily overturned and must not be ignored." ---Bart D. Ehrman University of North Carolina
"This wonderfully incisive contribution to the current Jesus debate carries its scholarship gracefully and lightly. Much more than just a put-down of portrayals of Jesus as a sapiential teacher, it is a full-scale presentation of Jesus as a millenarian prophet with an ascetic cast. . . . Original, vastly readable, and powerfully persuasive, it is not to be missed." ---John K. Riches University of Glasgow, Scotland
About the Author
Dale C. Allison Jr. (PhD, Duke University) is the Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary and is counted among the top Jesus scholars working today. He is the author of numerous books, including "The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus", "Studies in Matthew", "Resurrecting Jesus", "The Intertextual Jesus: Scripture in Q", and "Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet". He is also coeditor of "The Historical Jesus in Context "and coauthor of a three-volume commentary on Matthew in the International Critical Commentary series.
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To make his case, Allison focuses on what can reasonably be considered the earliest written sources regarding Jesus, The Gospel of Mark, the Q verses from Matthew and Luke, and the earliest epistles of Paul. Modern Jesus questers ignore Paul and use the Gospel of Thomas as a prime source to prove that Jesus was nothing more than a cynic sage/beatnik philosopher. Allison notes that the Gospel of Thomas, which is primarily a collection of wisdom sayings, was influenced by gnostic beliefs which entered the Christian faith at a much later date, long after the apocalyptic fire of the first century began to wane. Allison does not give a lot of credence to the writings of Josephus being an adequate portrayal of the Essenes, John the Baptist, and Jesus. Josephus omitted the apocalyptic beliefs of his subjects in order to make them acceptable to his aristocratic Roman audience.
Modern Jesus questers have gotten so caught up in determining whether specific words or actions recorded in the gospels can be traced to the historical Jesus that they can't see the forest for the trees. The criteria they use to determine the authenticity of what Jesus said or did has its own inherent flaws and Allison gives numerous hypothetical examples to prove his point.
We have to step back from the minutiae and determine the context in which Jesus acted and spoke. By doing this, we can come up with a common denominator which gives us a more accurate picture of who and what Jesus really was. If we look at the actions and teachings of Jesus from our earliest sources, regardless of whether they were recorded verbatim or in the exact chronological order, they were all done in the context of the belief that the world order which Jesus lived in would be replaced by the Kingdom of God within his generation. Jesus' teachings were not merely a collection of moral instructions taught by a wandering sage but demonstrated the imminent reality of God's Kingdom. When we look at the totality of Jesus' words and actions recorded in the Gospels, we get a portrait of an apocalyptic prophet.
In addition, we can place Jesus in a time frame of what immediately preceded him and what immediately followed him with some measure of continuity. E. P. Sanders has adroitly noted this in his book, The Historical Figure of Jesus, which supports Allison's arguments. Jesus was baptized by an eschatological prophet, John the Baptist. Immediately following the crucifixion, Jesus' earliest followers proclaimed his resurrection as a sign that the end times had begun. A beatnik philosopher could hardly have inspired such a belief.
Allison demonstrates that Jesus was not a political revolutionary, a social reformer, or a philosopher. His teachings did not appeal to the intellect but to one's religious devotion toward God and his Kingdom. Jesus saw himself as a prophet, as did his followers. He took the words of the prophets and made them is own and made himself and his ministry the object of prophecy. Unlike other prophets, Jesus acted upon his prophecies and teachings about the Kingdom through miracles and exorcisms to demonstrate that the Kingdom of God was truly at hand.
Allison notes that Jesus lived in a time and place where apocalyptic fervor was high among Jewish sectarian groups as illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the popularity of John the Baptist, apocalyptic writings such as 1 Enoch, and the failed messianic movements of Theudas and the Egyptian. As the late scholar Ben Meyer noted, to portray Jesus as a cynic sage is to strip him of his Jewish identity. If we take away the eschatological element of Jesus' ministry, we can make no sense of it. The idea that Jesus was the Lord and Savior did not emerge in a post-Easter vacuum which was later embellished by the church but was inspired by the historical Jesus himself. Allison gives us striking parallels between Jesus' ministry and millenarian movements of other cultures which were inspired by a charismatic leader.
Allison demonstrates how some of the more fanciful miracle stories in the Gospels, which modern Jesus questers scoff at and ignore, can tell us much about the impressions which Jesus left upon his earliest followers. Jesus encounters with Satan in the wilderness tell us that he lived as an ascetic struggling with demonic powers. The earthquake and the graves being opened up at the moment Jesus died on the cross tell us what Jesus and his earliest followers believed would happen in the end-times. In other words, historical fiction can tell us a lot about real history.
Like the prophets before him, Jesus was an ascetic who lived a life of voluntary poverty and chastity which he required of his followers as well. Jesus' asceticism was not an individualistic attempt to perfect one's nature but was a lifestyle which conformed to and affirmed his apocalyptic beliefs. In order to preach the good news of the Kingdom and gather others into it, Jesus and his disciples had to live a lifestyle commensurate with how life would be lived in the Kingdom which entailed severing all ties with the present world in which they lived. This lifestyle included celibacy and severing ties with one's family. Having a family and home to support requires one to maintain ties to the present world. One cannot serve mammon and fully dedicate himself to serving God and His Kingdom. Jesus could not have required his disciples to leave their homes and families if he had a wife and children of his own to support. To Jesus, the poor were blessed because they had nothing to lose and everything to gain with the arrival of God's Kingdom. As with other millenarian movements, apocalyptic preaching has much greater appeal and acceptance among the disenfranchised and marginalized members of a society.
Jesus' asceticism was not unique among Jewish sectarian groups. The Qumran Essenes saw themselves as holy warriors fighting in the company of angels during the apocalyptic showdown. John the Baptist and his disciples practiced this lifestyle to prepare for the day of judgement..
Allison points out that it is reasonable to believe that Jesus envisioned his own death and gave meaning to it. Jesus saw his person and his ministry in terms of the scriptural fulfillment of the eschatological restoration of Israel. Jesus' immediate followers interpreted his death and resurrection as the beginning of the end-times, or as articulated by the Apostle Paul, Jesus was the first fruits of those who would be resurrected from the dead. Here again, we have a post-Easter belief which was not created by the church but which probably originated with Jesus.
The epilogue of this book may be disturbing to some Christian believers but it is brutally honest. Jesus' generation passed away and the Kingdom did not come. Were Jesus' followers and the first generation of believers, including Paul, that clueless in misinterpreting what Jesus said and taught? I would like to believe that there is a timeless spiritual dimension to the gospel which lived on through the church and that there is still hope that God's Kingdom will prevail. That topic will have to be reserved for another book.
Accepting the reality that Jesus was wrong naturally takes the legs out from under the table on specific doctrines the church holds concerning who Jesus was, a high Christology, a person “wholly man and wholly God”, and rattles the foundations of western Christianity and western religious philosophy.
He concludes his book pretty well with where it all leaves us. We can just “hope” there is a good God out there some where and that there will be a day come one day of the type and kind Jesus preached and taught on earth. If Jesus was wrong, where are we in our understanding about things he didn’t understand himself?
I have read NT Wright’s works, E.P. Sanders, Ben Meyer, John Meier, Raymond Brown, Pannenberg, Bultman, Schweitzer, and several others on the Historical Jesus. I believe that Allison has failed to receive the credit he deserves from all his books on his subject. Wright’s put down of Allison in his statement that he (Wright) felt that Allison didn’t understand an “eschlatogical” Jesus was ridiculous. Allison has put together some of the most balanced and thorough information written on the subject.