Archive for February 2015

Muted Voices: Neglected Texts and Early Christian Identities   Leave a comment

Dear reader,

I am happy to inform you about this very interesting conference. I am participating with a paper: Diversity in Late First Century Christian Identity: 1Clement and Barnabas as a case study.


Posted February 11, 2015 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

Dale Allison’s The End of the Ages 1/2   Leave a comment

51ni8kdcwLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you are familiar with the problem of apocalyptic materials and the historical Jesus then the name of Dale Allison would certainly ring some bells in your mind and it would be interesting for you to know that he has republished a book on this topic: The End of the Ages has Come.

Allison and the Apocalyptic Debate

Professor Allison of Princeton Theological Seminary is universally recognised as one of the Historical Jesus authorities. Since the publication of his Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet he was seen as one of the voices that renewed Albert Schweitzer’s case for an Apocalyptic Jesus. Within the heydays of non-eschatological Jesus of the Jesus Seminar, Allison’s voice was strong enough to shake their case. He did join open scholarly debates with that stream. Brief and interesting, The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate, showed how he owned the Jesus Seminarians except in the case of Stephen Patterson which we will return to later. The responses of Crossan and Borg in the book showed that they eventually had to appeal to more complicated eschatologies like the one of Koester to encounter Allison’s simple and economic solution of the problem.[1]  Interestingly, both Patterson[2] and Allison[3] himself returned to Koester’s prophetic eschatology.[4]

Hehave to stop and to refer to three chronic problems in this issue. The first is defining “eschatology.” Everyone in this business knows how tricky and problematic this is. The methodology of the three quests (if we can call the so-called Third quest a quest with a methodology), tried to do that as an inevitable tool to define Jesus’ message but apparently it remains rather problematic. All of the debates on this topic show how a cloud of misunderstanding falls on the debaters and their hearers. Allison is misunderstood by Borg,[5] and John  Kloppenborg frustratingly complains about misrepresenting his case by Allison and Tom Wright[6] while Tuckett (and several others) surprisingly claims that Koester viewed Q’s startification as a development from sapiential to eschatological.[7]

I personally experienced that when I spoke with Bart Ehrman in a conference organised by our department in London (on that, and my views, click here).

In the SBL conference this year, the Q section  also had an endeavour to tackle this problem which ended up with no solution. Basically, whoever would like to make a proposal in this matter, he needs first to define his understanding of eschatology and apocalypticism. If he goes into a dialogue with someone else he also needs to understand their definition. Otherwise, scholarship will keep plunging into this chaos. Interestingly, me and prof. Allison had a good conversation at the SBL and he apprantly had absolutely different view of apocalypticism (which appears to be defined as restoration eschatology in other literature) from the ones of other strict apocalypticists like Ehrman (again, check his definition here click here). Later, after having the thanksgiving dinner with my former mentor Helmut Koester, he told me that his views are actually closer to Allison’s than to his opponents (namely Crossan) in the Apocalyptic Debate. This might surprise you if you are aware of these names but the fact is that “prophetic eschatology” is wider than the narrow apocalyptic definitions and it could accommodate both.

Beside fixing terms, the second problem is the question of sources. As I mentioned earlier, while Allison had the upper hand (in my opinion) in his debate with Crossan and Borg, Stephen Patterson’s paper referred to the problem of the sources more seriously.

I believe that it is illegitimate to  deal with issues like eschatology without defining the scholar’s view of the noncanonical Gospels and their effect on our understanding of the development of Christian traditions. The role of the Gospel of Thomas in our view of the development of Q is too important to ignore. The so-called “canonical approach” is a setback in the progress of scholarship.

The third problem is the mechanism of accommodating and transmitting this eschatology amongst Christian communities. The communities and their transmission of the eschatological hope is in the heart of disagreement between scholars because of the lack of knowledge about the mechanism of this transmission. Here I would like to quote Kümmel’s formula: “there is no sense in claiming that in the very beginning of primitive Christianity in the period between Jesus and Paul there arose a development from purely present-realised eschatology to a futureistic eschatology which was an extension of Jewish apocalyptic. It is equally impossible to substantiate the assumption that the earliest Christianity looked only to the near future, and that only gradually and as a parallel development there came about consciousness of the presence of eschaton.”[8]

The End of the Ages has Come

Beside his commentaries, Allison’s books on Jesus are numerous, needless to say that his Constructing Jesus is one of the Historical Jesus scholarship classics. However, his very first book published in 1987 was dedicated to the question of eschatology. He approved its second edition to be republished this year. The End of the Ages Has Come: an Early interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus,[9] is pivotal for clarifying his position on eschatology. It deals with the second problem and aims to define a solution for it. If you haven’t read it before, you will find it very important.

In the first brief chapter, Allison sets out 1-the problem, 2- his position and 3- his method. The problem is the tension between present and future: where can we say that the kingdom started? He sits himself against the influential realised eschatology as found in Charles Dodd’s Apostolic Preaching; the mission of Jesus was pressing towards the coming of the kingdom in Jesus’ destiny. His death and resurrection experience led Christians to expect the kingdom. His method is investigating the tension between present and future in the eschatology of second Temple Jewish texts which will later reflect the tension in NT.

He shows that Second Temple literature does not separate the period of expectation and signs from the future coming of the Kingdom of God. Accordingly, while the expectation in the Kingdom in the pre-Easter Jesus, it could have been considered as the beginning of the coming of the Kingdom. Before affirming this, he surveys the NT on this matter.

Allison shows that the tradition of Great Tribulation goes through the NT with parallels that could reflect common materials based on interpreting OT eschatological prophecies, and leading to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the eschatological turning point. Mark, through Matthew and John (who reflects early apocalyptic materials on the tribulation in parallel to Mark 11-15) this eschatology survives. The same is also for Paul but not for Luke-Acts which was probably written late enough to introduce a less enthusiastic and more relaxed eschatological hope. Allison concludes his survey by stating that the this apocalyptic eschatology is found in so many streams which indicates “a fountainhead very near if not in earliest community.”[10]

In my opinion, this conclusion is perilous. First of all, while he dealt with the redaction of the apocalyptic materials in these writings, he relied on the final product only. For instance, we cannot see in his survey any work on Q’s eschatology which is embedded in Matthew and Luke.  Secondly, these streams of thought are not necessarily independent to reflect a common source. Indeed, the idea of having an early community that interprets Jesus’ death and resurrection as the dawn of the eschaton could be defended, but the problem is not with its existence… it is with its coexistence with materials that suffered redactional hands to forge them into the pattern of this apocalypticism (cf. SOM sayings and Mark 4 parables) as well as Q.  These materials imply an eschatology that started earlier in the presence of Jesus himself while the cross and resurrection were probably the signs of vindicating him and his announcement of the Kingdom.  It is true that Luke-Acts is considerably late, but this doesn’t necessarily explain its admitted “realised eschatology.” It is better to state that its sources were, like Q, implying that eschatology, rather than relying on its late date. Apocalyptic expectations are found well into second century Christian writings (1Clement 23 ca.98, Barnabas 97-135, Ignatius ca 117).

 In the next chapters, Allison will carefully go through the challenges of “realised eschatology.” I will leave that to the next part of this survey. Hopefully next week.


[1] p.20-4

[2] p.77

[3] p.22

[4] See Koester’s Jesus p.10-11

[5] Apocalyptic Debate 90f.

[6] ‘The Sayings Gospel Q and the Quest of the Historical Jesus,’ HTR, Vol. 89, No. 4 (Oct., 1996), P.336 ” I have suggested that significant changes occur in Q between the formative and the secondary stratum, but these changes are not due to the introduction of previously unknown materials, or still less due to a massive change from a “noneschatological” to an “apocalyptic” document” followed by (n.120) which says: “Compare Dale C. Allison, “A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology,” JBL 113 (1994) 661 (citing Kloppenborg, Formation of Q): “[S]everal contributors to the discussion have decided that the earliest, or at least early, version of Q contained no future Son of Man sayings and that the eschatological pathos present in the Q known to Matthew and Luke was a secondary development.” For a far more serious distortion, see Nicholas T. Wright (Christian Origins and the Question of God [Minneapolis: Fortress; London: SPCK, 1992] 437), who caricatures the positions of myself, Koester, Downing, Mack, and Crossan as presenting Jesus as “a teacher of aphoristic, quasi-Gnostic, quasi-Cynic wisdom” (!) and the formative stratum of Q as knowing “nothing of an apocalyptic future expectation.” This is nonsense and only underscores Wright’s careless and tendentious reading of Formation of Q. I am quite clear on the point; see Formation of Q, 241: “The driving force behind the radical ethic and comportment of the community [represented by Q1] comes undoubtedly from the conviction that the kingdom is dawning…. With some justification this stratum of Q could be termed ‘the radical wisdom of the kingdom of God.’ The dawning of the kingdom motivates the radical ethic of Q.”

[7] Studies on Q p.242, misrepresenting Koester’s stratification of Q by saying that Q1 was pure sapiential that was overtaken by an “eschatological” stratum of Q2. He apparently confused eschatology with apocalyptic which are not identical, especially in Koester’s work which didn’t imply such labels for Q1 and Q2.  Cf. Koester, “Jesus the Victim,’ 14: “were the eschatological schemata of his early followers subsequently assigned to a Jesus whose original ministry and message did not contain any eschatological elements? That seems very unlikely. Within a year or two of Jesus’ death, Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus because of their eschatological proclamation. That leaves precious little time in which the followers of a noneschatological Jesus could have developed an entirely new eschatological perspective without a precedent in the preaching and actions of Jesus”

[8] ‘Futuristic and Realised Eschatology’, Journal of Religion, P.311

[9] The book is his dissertation.

[10] p.80

Posted February 7, 2015 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized