Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reflective Review: Mike Licona's "The Resurrection of Jesus," Part 4

Section 5 of ROJ gets down to the nitty-gritty of the Resurrection, addressing various hypotheses for explaining the origins of Christianity in terms of the Resurrection as an event. My approach in DTR for this was a topical one: In other words, I addressed the theories themselves directly (stolen body, hallucinations, etc.). Licona goes instead with an approach in which he addresses major theorists (Vermes, Goulder, etc.) and in turn, what they theorize, which ends up being the same topics. Even his own case for the Resurrection as the best explanation is in many ways a response to the objections of Bart Ehrman.

I personally prefer the topical approach, which is why I used it in DTR. But there’s nothing wrong with using theorists as the subject-basis for addressing arguments, the other way is just my preference. Licona looks at the theories offered by each theorist and evaluates them in terms of the criteria of scope, explanatory power, plausibility, “ad hoc-ness”, and illumination, granting “pass” or “fail” under each category.

Once again, one of the things I found most useful here is that Licona gave me more analogical examples to use in arguments. For example, in debunking the sort of historical psychoanalysis uses by theorists like Luedemann to explain away eg, Paul’s vision of Jesus, Licona notes the example of writers who tried to explain John F. Kennedy’s reactions in the Cuban missile crisis as some sort of “psychosexual drama” in which Kennedy imagined that Russian missiles were phallic symbols. One of the best ways to expose the absurdities of such theories as Luedemann’s – which tend to be granted immediate credence by critics looking for alternate answers – is to find such analogies as these.

Another powerful analogy situation notes that even Roman emperors were named by very few contemporary sources left to us: eg, “The number of non-Christian sources who mention Tiberius within 150 years of his life is equal to the number of non-Christian sources who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life.” That’ll sure drive the Christ-mythers up a wall.

I had but two misigivings related to this section. One, like Nick before me, I think Licona too readily grants that the rising of Matthew’s saints may be symbolic rather than historical. He does well to note that similar signs were said to attend the deaths of other luminaries, but this is all the more reason why God might historically impose such an event. As N. T. Wright has observed, Jesus’ ascension could be seen as a direct counter to claims of the ascension of Roman emperors. Having a real ascension would be a “one up” in terms of claims of honor; so likewise, a real raising of a few saints.

Additionally, Licona notes that these saints were not said to leave their tombs until Sunday morning, and he asks what they did all this time: “Were they standing in the now open doorways of their tombs and waiting?” I would say that given that most of that time was the Jewish Sabbath, they were reposing in prayer (and of course, fasting!) thanking God for His new covenant of salvation and the coming Resurrection of Jesus as broker of that covenant.

My second misgiving is that, as Nick also noted, I do not think Licona takes sufficient advantage of the social-science data that could aid a case for the Resurrection. His one foray into this area is a negative one, as he addresses the use of certain Context Group findings about altered states of consciousness as an explanation for the disciples’ visions of Jesus. I believe this is an unfortunate and misguided use of ASC by the theorists (Craffert and Botha). It does not appear to me that they adequately resolve the epistemology in their own arguments. They disapprove of those who call ASC experiences unreal, saying instead that to those who experience an ASC, the event is “real” enough. But this dodges the question of epistemology, of whether what is experienced in the ASC is objectively real.

Theoretically, the visions of Jesus experienced by the disciples could have been experienced while in an ASC, but it may well be that an ASC is the only way to objectively experience a vision of Jesus. An analogy might be drawn to the Star Trek: TNG episode “Time’s Arrow,” in which certain aliens could not be seen by the crew because they were “out of phase” with the normal flow of time. The crew created a device called a “phase discriminator” that allowed them to get into “phase” with, and thus see, the aliens. In the same way, if a critic proposes an ASC as an explanation, we can simply reply that an ASC was necessary to get the disciples “in phase” with Jesus. And thus we are simply back to square one: Did they experience an objective reality, or was it a self-induced hallucination?

Bottom line: ROJ belongs in your library now – pick it up immediately! Hub post for this series, tomorrow.


  1. I am reading ROJ as well. I will be posting a review on

    I am on chapter 4, and have enjoyed the book immensely. Good reviews JP and Nick.

  2. Continually swallowing naturalistic explanations into your mythology does not strengthen the case. If you are going to acknowledge "well of course god would do x" all of the sudden you need to justify how we know what god would do. And every time you've ever told an atheist their opinions are full of beans because they don't know what a god would do is now undercut (such as in reference to the argument from evil). So if no one knows what a god would do, then the naturalistic explanations necessarily have more weight here when it comes to the elements of the resurrection stories. It just means you have all the ingredients you need to infer a naturalistic origin, yet declare "and god" on top of it all and you've systematically blinded yourself to the inherent weakness of your case and the strength of the naturalistic one.

  3. Hardly problematic.

    1)False dichotomy between the natural and supernatural.

    2) What makes you think it is hard to know/argue what God would do?

  4. What false dichotomy?

    And I don't find it that hard to argue in general about what a particular kind of god probably would or wouldn't do. That was my point. Most Christians shut down the conversation when they lose. The mainstream Christian hypothesis is that a "good" god allowed evil into the world, grossly undervalues communication, hates gays, and has most people suffering in hell for all eternity. By the time we are on some obscure historical topic like Jesus' resurrection, we are very far away from Kansas, Dorthy.

  5. 1) The manufactured one that created the category of "supernatural" without warrant.

    2)Shrug. And you think I adhere to that whole package? You of all people should know better, certainly at least on the "suffering hell" notion.

    In any event, for an obscure historical topic, it seems the Resurrection gets a lot of pres...including from your end of the spectrum.

  6. So you think gods and angels are made of atoms? Right.

    The resurrection is categorically obscure in comparison to the more general principled issues I listed, even though it is culturally relevant simply because there are a lot of Christians talking about it.

    Yeah, if I'm not mistaken you think everyone suffers in hell for all eternity out of shame. That's still eternal suffering, and you're attempted sidestep is already logged on the argument map as objection 21 (


  7. So being made of atoms is the only way to be in the category of natural? When did that rule come out? No...that's the same artificial dichotomy.

    I'd like to know what statistics you use to justify the rating of "categorically obscure".

    No, it's not "suffering" to the TV generation that considers it "suffering" when they miss Sesame Street. Consider me not impressed by your labeling efforts.

  8. The physics of the material world is what we know. Gods and angels are made up of something different and that's what we don't know categorically. Typically this is made out to be some irreducible substance that isn't mechanical in nature and specifically "not material." Perhaps you disagree with your contemporary Christian philosophers, or perhaps you are avoiding the issue.

    Statistics? I'm not sure what you are getting at there. All theists of the variety of the ultimate all good all powerful deity have to deal with the argument from evil. Only Christians have to deal with the arbitrary divine teleology of the resurrection. Should a god comb his hair to the right or left? Should a god resurrect an incarnation of himself or just forgive people from the hip like Allah? Pretty random at that level.

    And hell isn't about suffering? Being rejected by the supreme source of all goodness doesn't amount to a level of mental suffering more so than missing an episode of Sesame Street? Right.

    The inert hell cop-out is objection 25 on the argument map, btw.

  9. 1) So in other words, you also cannot say that you know that gods and angels don't belong outside of the realm of what would or should be categorized as "natural". Thank you.

    You think I avoid issues? You know better. If I disagree with some philosopher, so be it -- you also know I disagree very much with many people in power and authority, and since you're going to insinuate something insulting, you can be on your way to TWeb with this and I won't approve any more postings from you here.

    2) I'm asking you to validate your claim that the issue of the resurrection is categorically obscure by demonstrating obscurity statistically. Obscurity is established by statistics and rank, not by anecdote as you are offering. If you're going to use that technique, then the Resurrection, given the majority of Christians that exist in terms of converts and publishing outlets, is one of the least obscure of these issues.

    3) Ah, so now you're qualifying by calling it "MENTAL" suffering where before you were simply using "suffering" in a way that indicated that it was no better or worse than the "suffering" of the literal fiery hell. A few more pushes and you'll have nothing left.

    No, of course, only in your prejudicial reading did I EQUATE the experience of the shame-hell with missing Sesame Street; your emotional appeal is inevitable given that you are unable to actually validate your description with argument. Rather, the point is that the modern generation has an all too simple resort of designating as "suffering" whatever they don't wish to experience. KnownNoMore, for example -- the YT atheist I posted on here some weeks back -- insisted that it would be "torture" to make someone sit in an uncomfortable chair too long. How droll. And how like the current generation to magnify their discomforts and inconveniences into something to be terminologically equated with eternal fiery torture, simply for the sake of rhetorical flourishing.

    That will be all. Since you want to be angry, take it over to the forum. :)

  10. And by the way,

    You don't even get my point correct in item 15. I said nothing anywhere about "infinite quality".

    Since you're obviously not concerned to be sure you represent my views accurately, that will indeed be all.

  11. You're offended? I'm angry? I'm supposedly unwilling to adjust my immense argument map even though it's already version 11.5? What planet are you from?

    I think it pretty clearly says on the link I gave you: "Let me know if there are better ways to put their arguments (if you think I've straw-manned anyone)." But you didn't even test out the hypothesis of "hey, I'd like my position rewritten to say x," did you? You jumped to conclusions.

    If we're done here, it's not because I did something wrong. Obviously.


  12. All that rap is no excuse and no answer for getting it wrong in the first place when what I said is so obviously and clearly not as you describe it. Regardless of whatever willingness you may or may not have to change anything, you clearly cared little enough to pay close attention.

    This much is clear: You're a product of the modern and spoiled "never-my-fault" generation. :D

    So long!

  13. *sigh* Is the hallmark of your generation hasty generalizations?

    "The issue turns now from one of quantity (amount of pain) to one of quality (honor versus shame)."

    "because it is a matter of quality and not quantity, and is an "either-or" rather than a mathematical-value proposition, it is no longer necessary to argue that a sin is an "infinite offense" or to even deal in terms of quantity."

    It logically follows that if the punishment of hell is to be fair and if you are stuck forever in shame land, your dishonor must have some kind of *infinite quality* to warrant that. It's true, I made the connection for you on my map to skip to the part where your view runs into a wall. If you don't want to go that far, you're stuck with a sin of mediocre quality somehow deserving and infinite punishment which is just a failure in a different way. Pick one. Stop whining and feigning offense.

    "Miller cites sources indicating that the torment of hell is relational in nature and involves banishment from heaven. A source says, though again apparently without knowledge of the Biblical world as agonistic: Mental and physical anguish result from the sorrow and shame of the judgment of being forever relationally excluded from God, heaven, and so forth."

    So in other words, it's still eternal torment for the people who manage to screw up their tiny lives on earth in spiritual terms and they get to reap the benefits of that mentally for all eternity with no hope of fixing themselves. How is this conception of hell any different in moral terms than what the bottom of the barrel Westboro Baptists believe about it?

  14. There is no hasty generalization; as usual, when you get your head stuck in a vise, you strain to redefine and stretch terms to make it fit what you want it to say and make it sound like you were actually not careless. The dishonor itself has NO "infinite quality" -- that you think so only indicates your sorrowful ignorance of the anthropological facet of the subject. The time spent in this state, which is indeed eternal, is merely a coincidental factor and has no bearing on the nature of the condemnation. It is not like prison, where one is stuck in one place, one frozen state, at all times during the sentence.

    As for the rest, it is, again, merely your subjective and arbitrary designation equivalent in practice to the crybaby who thinks missing a favored television program, or sitting in an uncomfortable chair, is "torture" or "suffering" in the same terms as eg, physical fire. That no doubt plays well for your personal and purely emotional decision to be outraged, and that of others with equivalent victim/crybaby complexes, but it won't pass muster among those who remain rational in their dealings.

    I can see why you quit Christian apologetics -- I had thought you might be at least a marginally competent opponent, but now I see that it is because you are an utter failure at rational thinking that you had to apostasize.

    The fact that it took you this long to contrive this emotional justification as a way to cover for your error in representation also speaks for itself.

  15. "So being made of atoms is the only way to be in the category of natural?"

    Holy Neutrino Batman, that means supatomic particles are supernatural! And Eggman knew it all along!

  16. Taking all your comments to TWeb now.