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Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet

Dale C. Allison

Fortress Press, 1998


There are two schools of thought about the historical Jesus. One, famously championed by the Jesus Seminar, sees Jesus as a social prophet, a sage with the interests of the common people at heart. Names associated with this view include John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. Their Jesus is an attractive figure for modern, well educated, enlightened people, and much work has been done to buttress the portrait with detailed scholarship.

Almost everything we know about early Christianity brands it as an eschatological movement. page 110

But the second school, those who see Jesus as a millennialist and an apocalyptic prophet, has far from thrown in the towel. In fact Dale Allison takes the damp towel, gives it a twist, and flicks it with a load crack. This is a determined defense of the apocalyptic messiah first advocated by Albert Schweitzer.

Allison isn't alone. Bart Ehrman is another who advocates the apocalyptic messiah (Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium), as does Paula Fredriksen.

Included in the text is a "detached note" in which Allison sets out the common features of  Millenarianism. Those who've done time in a latter-day apocalyptic sect will find this fascinating, and if Allison is right, it means that the fevered fields of Adventism have much in common with early Christianity.

..."eunuch" could be derisively directed at single men. Now since many Jews frowned upon the unmarried state, it seems plausible enough that Mt 19:12 was originally an apologetic counter, a response to the jeer that Jesus was a eunuch. page 183

Allison warns us that we tend to find metaphors where the early Christians would have found literal events. When we read Mark 13:24-25 we think we're encountering poetic language:

But in those days, after that suffering,
        the sun will be darkened,
        and the moon will not give its light,
 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
        and the powers in the heavens will be shaken

We know enough to distinguish stars from meteors, but "to the prescientific naked eye, a meteor looks just like a star, save it is hurtling downward... some fall now, all will fall then." (p.162)

Allison also maintains that Jesus was an ascetic rather than the laid back figure often portrayed in modern studies. While Jesus may not have been rigorous about fasting (Mk. 2:18-20) the traditions about marriage and riches suggest he was far from a "party animal."

This is a challenging and provocative book, well worth the effort of reading cover to cover.