Since I have a dental appointment today, I'm handing the reins over to ministry associate Nick Peters for a review of Mike Licona's new book on the Resurrection. I might have a closer look at this book myself later; in the meantime, here's Nick's take.
Gary Habermas has for years been the name in evangelical Christianity on defending the Resurrection. His prize student in this field has been Mike Licona. Together, they wrote The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus. I happen to know Mike Licona very well and I know that whatever he does, he does seriously. I also know that he is one who has dealt with doubt on many topics so he wants to make sure he’s right. What would it be like then if he alone wrote a book to demonstrate how he went about verifying the Resurrection of Jesus?
I no longer have to wonder that. He has released such a book and it is a gold mine of information. Licona has changed the face of studies in the Resurrection of Jesus with this book. From now on, any scholar who wishes to say that Jesus did not rise from the dead, will have to address the content and the methodology that is put forward in this book.
I say content and methodology because Licona deals with both of them. The first third of the book nearly is spend on methodology alone. What is history? What does it mean to do history? How does one do history? This is not just in fields of religious studies but information that could apply to any area of study.
I find this part incredibly important due to people not knowing how to do history. It’s not just looking at the data and saying, “Well that sounds true.” It involves looking at a list of criteria and knowing the best way to evaluate the content of your sources and knowing which sources are ones that are worth using. Do we want to use the testimony of Paul, or do we want to use Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” Both of them testify of the Resurrection as a historical fact, but one is more relevant.
Can we even know history? Postmodernism raises up a challenge. Can it be dealt with? Yes, it can be. Licona deals with that position as well citing a number of postmodern historians. There can be little doubt that Licona has done his homework which should be no surprise since the book is based on his dissertation. (Naturally, there are some updates.)
Licona also addresses the question of miracles in the second chapter and whether history can answer the question of if a miracle can take place. Licona is right in saying that to draw inferences from the miracle is to do theology. We can demonstrate that Christ rose from the dead and likely it was a supernatural agent, but when it comes to the nature of that agent, then we are doing theology.
Do you want to answer Hume? Do you want to answer Ehrman? Licona deals with each of them. Licona warns us following what he said in the first chapter that we need to be aware of our horizons. What presuppositions are we bringing to the events that we are studying? Are Christians too often letting their theological bias color the way they interpret the evidence? Are atheists letting their atheistic ideology color the way they interpret the evidence?
Indeed, this is an important point and the objections are usually quite weak. For instance, what difference does science really make? Are we to say that we don’t believe in resurrections because we live in an age of science? Could the one who says this please show me when it was that science discovered that dead men don’t naturally come back to life? The reason people buried Jesus is because he was dead and they knew the dead don’t naturally come back to life. (Of course, many believed God would raise the dead, but that’s a far cry from saying they naturally came back to life. They knew it was a miracle because they at least had a rudimentary understanding of the universe.)
When it comes to content with Jesus starting at chapter three, Licona addresses the major controversies and sources. He looks over each and places them on a scale that he has earlier stated referring to how reliable the source is and the information that we can get from the source. Of course, atheists thinking scientifically need to realize that saying “probable” is not the same as it is in scientific circles. History cannot confirm its hypotheses the way science can. To say something is probable is to imply that there is really no evidence to the contrary and thus no reason to question it.
Licona documents all his claims and the footnotes will be especially helpful. There are even two pages where the footnotes are of immense value. In one, he has a list of statements by scholarship on the Christ-myth hypothesis. (One could argue that a footnote would be too much for that idea, but when one meets those regularly who espouse such an idea, it is helpful.) The other is a list of scholars stating the date they believe the creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-7 goes to.
Finally, when it comes to the Resurrection, Licona not only gives his hypothesis that Christ did indeed rise, but deals with others such as Vermes, Ludemann, Goulder, Crossan, and Craffert. Licona is quite generous with each one, wanting to represent them as best he can and ably deals with where they are deficient while granting the areas where they are sufficient.
When he deals with his own view, he presents it under the exact same categories that he has presented prior views under and works out how well the Resurrection hypothesis works. Of course, some readers could always claim bias on his part, but now the claim will not be enough. They will actually need to interact with the material. There can be no doubt that Licona knows it well.
As a bonus, the end of the book has a response to Dale Allison and his views on the Resurrection of Jesus. Readers familiar with Allison will appreciate this, though it will take awhile to get to as overall, when it comes to content, the book has 641 pages of information. As I carried this book with me, a number of people thought it was comparable to a dictionary.
A criticism of the work, however, is that Licona does not interact with the idea of honor and shame. Of course, many today aren’t really looking at the social sciences, although in the look at Craffert’s hypothesis, Craffert does refer to Malina and Pilch. Still, mentioning such aspects as the shame of crucifixion and how no one would preach a resurrected victim of crucifixion unless they really believed it was historical and could not be denied played an important factor.
Despite that, what Licona has is excellent and if someone wants to be a serious student of the doctrine of the Resurrection, they need to get and be familiar with this important volume. I do believe it has changed the face of Resurrection studies from here on out.