Dale C. Allison and The Gospel of Matthew
But Allison has published a book entitled Studies in Matthew which functions as a sort of companion volume to his ICC commentary. It is definitely much more accessible for the lay reader who does not have the time nor the academic training to wade through the more indepth ICC volumes. I have just finished it myself and was as usual not disappointed.
The book is divided into two sections. The first section takes certain passages or phrases within the Gospel of Matthew and seeks to provide illumination on them by looking at some of the patristic literature whichAllison rightly points out has been neglected in modern biblical studies. Why this neglect? Dale Allison answers:
"As the literature in the field of biblical studies continues to grow at dismaying rate, we may be increasingly tempted to ignore old writers. How can one keep up with what is going on now if one is still catching up with what went on then-if one is spending time, let us , with books from the fourth or sixteenth centuries? Have not all the good observations and plausible hypotheses been passed down from book to book and from generation to generation and so on to us? We may be disinclined to pay the past keen attention because we are under the illusion that exegesis progresses like the hard sciences. Who among us would read a physics textbook from 1919? Surely today's work makes yesterday's obsolete, so that we do not really have to bother much with writers who have expired. Such a restricted vision, such a condescending attitude toward the past, however, impoverishes exegesis..." (p. 117)
Thus Allison seeks to remedy this by exhibiting some examples of interpretations of certain passages in Matthew from the exegetical past. For example, Allison shows how the earlier commentators were probably correct in their interpretation that the Magi's "star" was probably meant to indicate an angel and not an actually star according to our modern concept that remain inanimate. Other examples include an interpretation of "seeing God" in Matt. 5.8 as referring to actually viewing an embodied deity, Matt. 5:21-25 as an intertextual reference to the Genesis narrative concerning Cain and Abel and others.
Section two of this work concerns various literary and historical issues pertaining to the First Gospel. Here Allison tackles certain questions such as whether or not Matthew was writing a biography of Jesus, what the structure of Matthew is, how to interpret the first two words in Matthew, and much more. He has a lengthy chapter dealing with the structure of the Sermon on the Mount. Since literary studies is a weakpoint of mine this was the most difficult chapter for me to comprehend. At times it seemed like Allison was pressing things a bit too far in trying to formulate a tightly compact structure for the Sermon on the mount. However, since I have not had any training in literary criticism or its cognate disciplines I do not know if this is a valid critique.
The best and most enlightening parts of the book for me were Allison's chapter on the various foreshadowing motifs of the passion and resurrection in the Gospel narrative and the last chapter which dealt with Matthew's theodicy. In particular, Allison convincingly argued that Matt. 10:30 does not refer, as commonly asserted, to God's will or his providence but rather to his knowledge and by inference, the ignorance of humanity in comparison to that knowledge. Says Allison:
"Exgetes have gone astray by reading verse 30 as though it were just a poetic variant of verse 29 ("Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father"). Verse 29 is about God's will, verse 30 about God's knowledge. "the hairs of their head", as has laways been recognized, a divine passive: "(your hairs) are all counted (by God)." The verse then refers to hairs in a way reminiscent of other texts that refer to the stars or to the sands of the sea, namely, in order to stress God's knowledge or human ignorance." (p. 261)
Allison has written a wonderful companion to his ICC commentary series. For those of you who do not have the time or training to read that commentary, this is a good alternative for understanding some of Allison's methodological methods and exegetical insights. Allison is one of the best scholars today in the areas of the historical Jesus and the Gospel of Matthew. I cannot wait for the day when he takes on Pauline scholarship.