Tomorrow I’ll try to talk about what I think all this means. Today’s will be my last post about the content of The Silence of Angels.
The gospels were a new kind of book. They were about what a man did and what was done to him. There was nothing like them in Rabbinic writings or the Dead Sea Scrolls. But the church picked up this kind or writing, and books about the lives of the saints became important for Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
In his chapter on “Saints and Heroes” Allison shows that this very genre of the gospels gives us a new basis for a style of life. The new faith was more a way than a law, and the lives of those who followed it illustrated that way. Supremely, Jesus illustrated it.
Allison’s analysis of contemporary life is that the good hero is another thing from which we have been cut off. Celebrities substitute for heroes. They are the “trend setters” that we follow. But “celebrities are . . . average people. This is why their sins—extramarital affairs, multiple divorces, drinking binges—are so humdrum. They are just like us.” p. 104 He could have been writing this month about Charlie Sheen and the Governator.
Anyway, since the celebrities are just like us, we end up narcissistically emulating ourselves. We need to find better heroes out there in the past. He quotes Hebrews 11:33-34 about those who “subdued kingdoms, worked out righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, grew mighty in war, and turned to flight armies of aliens.”
Allison’s last chapter is my least favorite. He talks about ascetics. They were people in church history who deliberately sought out martyrdom, self-mutilation or extreme deprivation. He admits that some of these people were mentally ill. Also many of them had in their background Plato’s belief that the human body is bad. Still Allison thought asceticism was positive over against our worship of comfort.
In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Allison had a chapter at the end where he tried to argue that Jesus was an ascetic. Later, in The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, he wrote about the problem of “personal predilection” in scholarship. There he retracted the notion that Jesus had been as ascetic and said that it had come from things that were going on in his own life at the time he wrote. I really admire Allison for having that insight and admitting it.