The Resurrection of Jesus by Michael R. Licona

Even though, nearly 4000 academic publications have been written on the resurrection of Jesus within the past 35 years. Michael R. Licona maintains that the majority of these works by distinguished biblical scholars and philosophers are inadequate and failed to approach Jesus’ resurrection in a cohesive manner.[1]Therefore, the inquiry techniques of historians may be best suited to addressing the historical resurrection of Jesus.[2]There are over 700 pages in the book. All are dedicated to solving the problem of conflicting conclusions by biblical scholars.

Licona explores the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus through “interaction with the literature of professional historians” external to the society of biblical scholars on both “hermeneutical and methodological” debates.[3]This critique will summarize and evaluate the first three chapters of the book by reasoning systematically in support of Licona’s key points. As well as, review the positive and negative aspects observed in the chapters covered.

The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approachis divided into five chapters. However, only the first three chapters are addressed in this critique. The first chapter investigates issues involving the “philosophy of history and historical methods”. Chapter two focuses on oppositions from several distinguished scholars to the investigation of the miracle-claims by historians. While chapter three examines the principal literature pertinent to the inquiry and “rate the various sources according to their value”.[4]

Given the enormous scope of inquiry and the aspiration for normalization, Licona begins with clarification of some key terminology. This allows for reliable standardized communication across documents, professions and demographics. After a brief demonstration of the many definitions of the term history by numerous biblical experts, the author accepts the definition by Aviezer Tuchker, which defines history as “past events that are the object of study”.[5]The next fundamental term to comprehend is historiography. For shared transparency, historiography concerns the pursuits about history and questions of history, which is “both philosophy and method”.[6]

 Incorporated in the discernment of history and historiography, is the theory that supports concerns about the philosophy of history. Which includes an understanding that the past cannot be “viewed directly or reconstructed precisely or exhaustively”.[7]Thus, modern and ancient historians are selective in the data reported.[8]Hence, an incomplete description of an event does not necessary mean it the report contains inaccuracies.[9]Additionally, it is important to note, “history is written by the winners” which most often misleadingly skews and limits ones perspective.[10]

Horizon is another important term according to Licona. Of which the recognized definition is “one’s “preunderstanding”.[11]Therefore, historians must stay cognizant of their biases, which influences how they record, interpret and draw conclusions about relevant data.[12]Nevertheless, Licona emphasizes that historians struggle with the same “epistemological and methodological questions” prevalent to the biblical scholars and philosophers, and are only marginally more prepared to answer the historical question of Jesus’ resurrection.[13]The author concludes the chapter with a detailed description of his horizon, before transitioning to the miracle-claims.

Chapter 2 begins this discussion, the objections to the historical debate of miracle-claims according to notable scholars Hume, McCullagh, Meier, Ehrman, Wedderburn and Dunn occurs.[14]  Licona vows to show that the aforementioned scholars objections fail and that there is no need for hesitation by many historians to investigate the miracle-claim.[15]

According to Licona, while Hume and his colleagues’ arguments are unsuccessful, there are several important insights discovered in the process of debunking them. For, there is an expanding of the definition that a miracle is an event in history where a natural explanation is inadequate.[16]Now, added to the established meaning, and burden of proof, a miracle is an event that is extremely unlikely to have occurred based on circumstances, natural laws, and explicitly denotes religious significance.[17]With foundational intelligibility established as to the historicity of the resurrection, Licona proceeds to the application of methodological observations in the next chapter.

Chapter 3 surveys appropriate historical literature written within the first 200 years after the death of Jesus and assigns a rating to each source according to its usefulness to the historicity of the resurrection.[18]According to Licona, Paul’s letters and their various oral traditions revealed by them are the most valuable sources available, followed by the canonical gospels, Clement of Rome, Polycarps’ writings, the speeches in Acts, and theGospel of Thomas.[19]However, Licona finds random non-Christian sources rather less useful but still with slight valuable.[20]

Nevertheless, Licona affirms that historians would have liked sources for review, such as a “letter that can be certified to have been written by Jesus or an original disciple.[21] Material written by Paul, writings by Jewish leaders during the time of Paul’s ministry, documents from the Roman or Jewish governing bodies that mentions Christian activities or the resurrection of Jesus would be a welcome addition.[22]However, Licona affirm that the sources available are adequate. The author closes chapter 3 with the promise that the reader will discover what the sources reveal in the investigation pertaining to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.[23]

At over 700 pages, it is impossible not to recognize the expansive effort required to produce The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approachby Licona. Remarkably, though the book is not difficult to read. Meticulously organized with detailed sequential progression from chapter to chapter, the reader is able to engage the material with a rational approach.  The Abbreviations Table allow for a quick reference in understanding content and the thoughtfulness and clarity provided by defining terms in the first chapter allows the reader to view the material from the perspective that the author intended.

Additionally, it is impressive how Licona prepares the reader with practical modern day illustrations, for example the story about his “wife’s grandfather Albert Weible a daily diary writer, not mentioning April 2, 1917, the day the U.S. entered WWI.”[24]  Furthermore, the abundant academic materials available and the access to prominent scholars, as well as, having the distinguished Christian philosopher Gary Habermas sever as chair of his master’s thesis[25]helps to establish the credibility of the book trustworthiness.

However, with any literary works, there are both positive and negative aspects of the work. That is true with Licona book as well. First, lets identify an aspect that is both a negative and a positive, from the reader’s perspective, which is sheer size of the book.

Now, for the positive, the book is a great addition to the body of knowledge on the resurrection of Jesus. For all its technical aspects, moving young the scope of only viewing the historicity of Jesus resurrection through the eyes of biblical scholars to observing Jesus resurrections from a historian’s from of reference. That is a unique and much needed investigative viewpoint. Hence, an evaluation that affirms and respects that different experts bring different scholarly abilities to inquiry and specific inquiry require specific skills, better said, as “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”[26]. Consequently, it stands to reason that extraordinary burdens of proof require extraordinary providers of proof.

Finally, while this book is definitely not an entry-level book on the resurrection of Jesus or miracle-claims, as far as negative aspects, the reader finds none. However, it is not unnoticed that there are critics of Licona’s defense of the resurrection of Jesus from a historicity point of view. It is most unfortunate that biblical scholars attack other scholars when they illuminate a trail not seen before, particularly, because the status quo’s skills maybe inadequate to allow them passage.

This critique upholds that Licona provides thorough, systematic logical inquiry for addressing fundamental issues regarding the historical account of the resurrection of Jesus, based on chapters 1-3. While the author, proposes a different approach to searching for the historical Jesus,[27]it is an approach that appears precise. While methodically identifying biases, interacting with trustworthy resources and experts, the author established a foundation for arguing the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. For this is a noteworthy contribution to apologetics and certainly presents a very plausible answer to an age-old question, which serves as the bedrock of Christian faith.

Bibliography

Licona, Michael. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010.

[1]Ibid., 19.
[2]Ibid., 20-22.
[3]Ibid., 17-22.
[4]Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 20-22.
[5]Ibid., 29-31
[6]Ibid., 30-31.
[7]Ibid., 31-32.
[8]Ibid.,32.
[9]Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 33.
[10]Ibid., 36.
[11]Ibid., 38.
[12]Ibid., 38-39.
[13]Ibid., 40-130.
[14]Ibid., 135.
[15]Ibid.133-198.
[16]Ibid., 134.
[17]Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 133-198.
[18]Ibid., 199-276.
[19]Ibid., 201-274.
[20]Ibid. 275.
[21]Ibid.
[22]Ibid.
[23]Ibid.
[24]Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 33.
[25]Ibid., 29-43.
 [26] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus,197.
 [27] Ibid., 17-19.