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Constructing Jesus

Memory, Imagination, and History

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"This is vintage Allison: masterful in his marshaling and exposition of sources, thorough in his interaction with contemporary and opposing views, and robust and persuasive in his argumentation."--James D. G. Dunn, Durham University
What did Jesus think of himself? How did he face death? What were his expectations of the future? In this volume, now in paperback, internationally renowned Jesus scholar Dale Allison Jr. addresses such perennially fascinating questions about Jesus. The acclaimed hardcover edition received the "Best Book Relating to the New Testament 2011" award from the Biblical Archaeology Society.
Representing the fruit of several decades of research, this major work questions standard approaches to Jesus studies and rethinks our knowledge of the historical Jesus in light of recent progress in the scientific study of memory. Allison's groundbreaking alternative strategy calls for applying what we know about the function of human memory to our reading of the Gospels in order to "construct Jesus" more soundly.
1. The General and the Particular: Memories of Jesus
2. More Than a Sage: The Eschatology of Jesus
     Excursus 1: The Kingdom of God and the World to Come
     Excursus 2: The Continuity between John the Baptist and Jesus
3. More Than a Prophet: The Christology of Jesus
4. More Than an Aphorist: The Discourses of Jesus
5. Death and Memory: The Passion of Jesus
6. Memory and Invention: How Much History?


"This is vintage Allison: masterful in his marshaling and exposition of sources, thorough in his interaction with contemporary and opposing views, and robust and persuasive in his argumentation."

James D. G. Dunn†, Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, Durham University

"Dale Allison has written another brilliant book. He manages to dissect technical, complicated subjects and then present them to his readers with remarkable clarity and simplicity. Constructing Jesus will be read with great benefit by scholars, pastors, students, and laity. Readers will find everywhere in this book mastery of the topic, judicious assessment of the options, and invariably sensible and compelling conclusions. If you are interested in learning more about the historical Jesus, then you must read this book."

Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College

"Allison has written an innovative book on the historical Jesus based on the idea that general features and recurrent motifs are much better witnesses than particular words or deeds of Jesus. Allison's books on the historical Jesus are among my favorite books in Jesus research. I admire his erudition, sobriety, honesty, and creativity. I recommend this book to all students and colleagues."

Gerd Theissen, professor emeritus of New Testament, University of Heidelberg

"Displaying jaw-dropping acquaintance with primary evidence and the oceanic body of scholarship on Jesus, a sweet reasonableness toward the complexities involved, and just plain good judgment time after time on controverted issues, Constructing Jesus is essential reading for anyone concerned with the scholarly approach to the Jesus of history."

Larry W. Hurtado, professor of New Testament language, literature, and theology, New College, University of Edinburgh

"Lucid, far-ranging, and quietly authoritative, Dale Allison's Constructing Jesus is required reading for scholars, students, and anyone who wants to understand where this most recent phase of the Quest has led us. Once I started, I could not put it down--nor could I stop thinking about its arguments once I finished. This is an important work."

Paula Fredriksen, Aurelio Professor of Scripture, Boston University

"Dale Allison's Constructing Jesus is significant for a number of reasons. It frees those interested in historical Jesus research from the shackles of the less-than-useful 'criteria' that have dominated scholarship for so long. It boldly challenges many dogmas about how much we can and cannot know on the basis of the 'memories' of Jesus found in the Pauline literature, the Gospels, and associated literature. Allison humbly, but learnedly, applies the criterion of 'common sense' to the elements that may have had their origins in the life of Jesus himself. Anyone interested in historical Jesus research must be aware of Allison's approach, his impressive conclusions, and his counsel regarding the speculative nature of such historical research."

Francis J. Moloney, SDB, senior professorial fellow, Australian Catholic University

"This book rightly presents Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. Elaborating this definition into a more detailed portrait, Allison pushes the envelope by exploring new methods and ideas. These detailed conclusions may be controversial, but the book is a must-read for anyone interested in the historical Jesus."

Adela Yarbro Collins, Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Yale Divinity School

"In Constructing Jesus, Dale Allison's erudite historical acumen is matched by the simple elegance of his compelling case. Rarely has reasoned judgment sounded so commonsensical. This book deserves to be one of the few to set the course for the next generation of historical-Jesus scholarship."

Bruce W. Longenecker, W. W. Melton Chair of Religion, Baylor University

"Dale Allison has written an excellent new book on Jesus, applying a fresh approach based on modern knowledge of human memory and independent of the traditional criteria of authenticity. The basic idea is convincing: the general features were considered more important and are better preserved than the particulars. He identifies larger patterns across the sources and then searches for the best historical explanation. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to rethink the current debates on the historical Jesus."

Annette Merz, professor of culture and literature of earliest Christianity, department of theology, University of Utrecht

The Author

  1. Dale C. Allison Jr.

    Dale C. Allison Jr.

    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...

    Continue reading about Dale C. Allison Jr.


Best Book Relating to the New Testament 2011 Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) Publication Award

"With a thorough examination of all relevant texts from Jewish and early Christian sources, Allison situates Jesus firmly within first-century Judaism and presents a convincing interpretation of his life, teachings, and death."

Biblical Archaeology Review

"To Allison, the gospels and the abundance of extrabiblical sources constitute a rich, heady brew of fact and fiction, all of which must be read not as a strictly historical record but as the collective memory of a people whose experience and dedication would define the direction of history. Allison . . . insists that efforts to reconstruct a purely historical narrative from the gospels are not just impossible but irrelevant. Looking beyond notions of inerrancy and consistency, the author convincingly presents a richly nuanced view of Jesus Christ and the birth of Christianity. The result is a feast to be savored."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"When Dale C. Allison, author of the profound three-volume commentary on Matthew in the International Critical Commentary series and several important monographs including a small book titled Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis, 1998), takes pen in hand and publishes a large book on Jesus, we should have high expectations. In fact, here is a brilliant book on Jesus, going far beyond his earlier book, not in its basic thesis but in its material wealth and methodological approach. . . . Allison's book is not just a thick Jesus book but a great one that profits the reader. Especially fascinating is the never-ending stream of references from the history of religions to apocalyptic (in the broadest sense of the word) prophets worldwide whose teachings and deeds bear many interesting parallels to Jesus--from the Teacher of Righteousness to William Miller, from Zarathustra through Jan Bokelson and Sabatai Zwi to Simon Kimbangu and Menachem Schneerson. Such references (e.g., 254-63) are among the many pearls we find in this book, rich treasures that one does not already know for oneself but can learn from Allison."

Ulrich Luz,

Theologische Literaturzeitung

"Disillusioned with the form-critical method of reconstructing the historical Jesus by attempting to isolate and verify individual pieces of data, Allison . . . advocates an approach that constructs the historical Jesus from major themes that appear repeatedly across a variety of sources and forms. . . . One thing is beyond dispute: Allison's work is thoroughly researched, soundly argued, and very well documented. Future research on the historical Jesus will need to take this study into account. . . . Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above."

D. Ingolfsland,


"[Allison] makes it clear that he thinks not that the [third] quest [for the historical Jesus] has ended but that the manner in which it has been conducted must be rejected or at least thoroughly revised. . . . The bombshell that Allison drops into this already fractured territory consists of recent research into human memory. . . . Allison's thesis will gain a hearing because he has come to be recognized as one of the most cautious, reasonable, and honest scholars working in the contentious field of Jesus studies. He always seems willing to consider evidence and to go wherever it leads, sometimes siding with radical skeptics and other times granting the wisdom of conservative apologists. He is able to acknowledge his own presuppositions, and he is willing to reconsider them."

Mark Allan Powell,

Christian Century

"[Allison] is honest and forthright in his approach, and his prose is engaging. . . . His methodology holds much promise for future research on Christian origins."

Richard S. Ascough,

Religious Studies Review

"[A] singular, significant, and deeply satisfying . . . contribution. . . . Allison has loosened the strait-jacket of the almost universal use of the criteria developed to 'test' whether a saying or an action could be credited to Jesus or to the creativity of the later church. . . . Supported by outstanding scholarship and sometimes overwhelming detail from across many disciplines, Allison's methodology is surprising in its simplicity."

Francis J. Moloney, SDB,

Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"A new book by Dale Allison excites expectations, and the present volume does not disappoint. Allison returns to the subject of the historical Jesus, in part reflecting on many years' work on the topic, revisiting some areas of study and also offering new insights. . . . Allison has a remarkable grasp of primary sources and secondary literature over a vast range of topics. . . . Allison has written what is one of the most outstanding recent books on Jesus. The coverage of material (ancient and modern) is breathtaking; the argument is never overstated, and it is persuasively presented (at times even understated). I find the general approach fully convincing. . . . If ever there were a book that could be called 'essential reading,' this is surely it."

Christopher Tuckett,

Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"Dale Allison is one of the most erudite, well-informed, and widely read scholars working in the area of Gospels and historical Jesus scholarship today. His latest work, Constructing Jesus, is evidence of all of these areas of strength. . . . It cannot be denied that Allison is one of the stellar scholars in Gospel scholarship today. He is perfectly willing to question the work of other scholars, and the bibliography of the book shows just how well read he is in this area. . . . While his hesitancy to accept parts of the Gospel accounts as historical will be troubling to evangelicals, they cannot help but learn from this book. . . . It is well worth the time that the scholar will invest in reading it."

Samuel Lamerson,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"[A] significant book. . . . [Allison's] many writings on New Testament topics are noted for their erudition, incisiveness, and a willingness to move independently of prevailing views. All of those good qualities are in evidence in this substantial study of the historical Jesus. . . . Those with an interest in the historical Jesus debate will find this a refreshing contribution."

Donald Senior, CP,

The Bible Today

"The conclusions reached are substantially in continuity with Allison's previous works, with carefully reasoned arguments and constant awareness of the limitations of historical methods in reconstructing events and the tradition history behind texts, and particularly in establishing theological truth. . . . The force with which he demonstrates the shortcomings of contrary arguments cannot be ignored. This book is copiously annotated, while even the most technical sections are lucid and accessible to readers not fully conversant with the material discussed. It is therefore an excellent resource for research students, as well as being a substantial contribution to scholarship in its own right."

Nicholas H. Taylor,

Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"The book is as fascinating for its chronicling of Allison's own development as it is for the contents inside. . . . Allison's approach will certainly cause serious engagement for anyone attempting future work in this field. . . . Allison's survey of the literature is, as is always the case with his work, exhaustive, creative, and rigorous. . . . He makes us all question the ways we have approached the sources so that we may return to the sources themselves and see what has been there all along. . . . Any quester's future construction will have to reckon seriously with Allison's breathtaking Constructing Jesus."

Michael J. Thate,


"Allison's most recent tome is rightly considered a game-changer. Perhaps the most important contribution is to methodology. Allison is done with atomistic approaches to the gospel tradition. Instead, his approach is to account for large patterns in the tradition. I think this is going to be the way of the future in critical Jesus studies."

Chris Keith,

The Jesus Blog

"This book is an incredibly important contribution to the study of Jesus as a historical figure, with the potential to mark a watershed between the way things tended to be done before it was published and how we proceeded after taking its challenge to heart. It [is] as important in what it claims we may never be able to know with any degree of certainty, as for the positive conclusions it draws about Jesus. . . . Through the whole volume runs Allison's characteristic humility and willingness to openly admit that there are some things that remain uncertain, and perhaps will always remain so. And that makes the book admirable--it welds together the desire for knowledge that motivates the historian, with the realization of the limitations of our sources and methods that anyone who does historical research must sooner or later encounter. As a call to use the best methods possible while cognizant of what they can and cannot do, Allison's volume will surely inspire a new generation of scholars to engage the material, and do better than their predecessors as a result of taking his arguments to heart. I strongly recommend this book, and look forward to the rich academic discussions it is bound to stimulate."

James F. McGrath,

"Honesty marks Dale Allison's approach to historical Jesus studies. Though many scholars, both conservative and liberal, will not agree with many of Allison's conclusions, all will agree that he writes on the basis of thorough research. . . . This book is commendable on many levels, but two aspects stand out. The research is extensive, exhaustive, and up to date. Allison addresses the more controversial topics surrounding the historical Jesus and offers the latest research. For those working within the field this can serve as a jumping off point in many regards. Furthermore, Allison presents a critical discussion of the more pervasive methods in the field and offers a welcome alternative to approaches that have made little headway. In many ways he represents a dissenting voice among historical Jesus discussions. Second, Allison states in the preface that this will most likely be his last work on the historical Jesus. Constructing Jesus represents the culmination of several years of sustained thinking on the subject by an esteemed writer in the field. If he applies the same judicious attention to other areas of biblical studies, the benefit will be theirs."

Benjamin I. Simpson,

Bibliotheca Sacra

"As is typical of Allison's work, the book is balanced in its assessment and its critique of other scholarly views, and provides ample supporting evidence and thoroughly sustained arguments. The six chapters . . . are carefully researched and well documented. Each chapter contains much information and is an excellent resource for anyone interested in historical-Jesus studies. The highlight of the book, however, lies in the author's novel approach to constructing the historical Jesus."

Hughson T. Ong,

Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism