Monday, December 6, 2010

Reflective Review: Mike Licona's "The Resurrection of Jesus," Part 2

Sections 3 and 4 of ROJ are all about the sources, with 3 being mostly devoted to extra-Biblical sources (including apocryphal literature) and 4 being mostly devoted to Biblical sources. Each of these sources is evaluated in terms of their usefulness for a case for the Resurrection. Today’s Ticker entry will be on Section 3.

There’s some prefatory material, though, on the New Testament sources in section 3. I appreciated very much that Licona included a discussion of the genre of the Gospels as ancient biography. I am less content with his designation of the authorship of the Gospels as “insecure” as I have found that comparatively speaking, there is much more evidence (in terms of quality and quantity) for Gospel authorship than for other ancient documents. But Licona does not engage any detailed discussion on this matter and notes that some scholars do argue for traditional authorship.

There’s also some discussion about theories of literary dependence, and Licona provisionally reports Q as a source and assumes Markan priority without expressly committing to these ideas as “gospel”. I think this was a wise choice, for though I do not think Mark was first or that Q existed in any form, it is a good idea to argue in terms of what is commonly accepted to show that even under the most-accepted premises of literary dependence, the Gospels remain worthy and useful sources for historical data. (In the same way, Joe Hinman used the Gospel of Peter in Defending the Resurrection.)

Discussion is also offered on possible pre-Markan sources and oral transmission. Given the subject matter of ROJ, these treatments are necessarily relatively brief; based on my studies of oral transmission, I think identifying oral formula may not be as clear cut as we would sometimes like. Licona notes, for example, that Dunn refers to parallelisms as evidence for an oral formula. But since (as Licona does also note) so many people of this age were illiterate, oral elements do not necessarily lend themselves to a hypothesis of age. The interaction of orality and literacy would naturally lead a writer like Paul to offer his material in easily-memorable forms, even if he just composed it on the spot.

The rest of Section 3 is devoted exclusively to analysis of non-Biblical sources, ranging from the well-known non-Christians (eg, Josephus, Tacitus) to church authors (eg, Polycarp) and even unorthodox sources (eg, The Gospel of Thomas). I can say that I would have liked more detailed treatments of, for example, Tacitus as a reliable historian; I don’t think Licona does enough here to establish this, which could have resulted in a higher rating of Tacitus’ worth as a source. But here again, it was either keep things as they are or else turn ROJ into an encyclopedia, and ultimately, it is the “bedrock” sources, as Licona calls them (the NT documents) that warrant the more detailed treatments.

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