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.