The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach

I confess, I asked Adrianna of IVP Academic to send a copy of this so I could review it as soon as I heard about it.   The review (in its various parts) is below and complete.

1. Important Considerations on Historical Inquiry Pertaining to the Truth in Ancient Texts
2. The Historian and Miracles
3. Historical Sources Pertaining to the Resurrection of Jesus
4. The Historical Bedrock Pertaining to the Fate of Jesus
5. Weighing Hypotheses
Summary and Further Conclusions

8 thoughts on “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach

  1. Tom Verenna 6 Nov 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Ugh. Licona is just a Habermas clone. Have fun. It’s like reading an Evangelical version of NT Wright.


    • Jim 6 Nov 2010 at 12:13 pm

      now tom, you know me- i have to make up my own mind.


  2. […] West has posted up the first part of a series in which he reviews Mike Licona’s book The Resurrection of Jesus: […]


  3. Jay Heathering 27 Nov 2010 at 9:09 am

    Licona should consult Bultmann? Give me a break, Jim! You need to update your reading list by about 30 years.


    • Jim 27 Nov 2010 at 9:24 am

      wow- that’s hubris. first, it implies i havent read anything since bultmann (and how would you know such a thing?) and two, it’s just absurd to suggest that just because something was written 30 years ago (its more than that, actually) it’s worthless.

      if that’s the case, then the bible itself is just pointless because its well over 30 years old!


  4. steph 29 Nov 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Oh Lord God of Battles – this sounds agonising, as painful as reading the other extreme. I agree with Tom (Verenna not Wright!) except that when it comes to the resurrection, I regard that Bishop as being pretty evangelical himself.


  5. steph 29 Nov 2010 at 9:20 pm

    It has been ordered thank you. Maurice Casey needs it for the mythicist book which is currently 50 K into the first draft. He doesn’t just engage the mythicists of course, he engages other flawed scholarship as well. So I’m looking forward to reading Licona. With grief.


  6. J.K. 19 Jan 2011 at 9:54 am

    Dr. West,

    Thank you for your review. I just finished Mike Licona’s book myself and find his argumentation and conclusions more compelling than you seem to have found them.

    Nevertheless, I felt your review was generally fair and very professionally done. Here I would like to express a few specific points of disagreement that I came away with in my reading of your mostly otherwise fair review.

    1. Regarding miracles and historiography, I felt Licona went to great pains to demonstrate an appreciation of the dividing line between historical and theological claims. He claims that historicizing can confirm or disconfirm the occurrence of a supernatural event, in this case the resurrection of Jesus. However, he does NOT say that history can confirm that God was the agent responsible.

    Why do you argue nonetheless that he confuses the boundaries between these two disciplines? Is it because history can never confirm a miracle, i.e. an occurrence deemed supernatural in mechanism, in your opinion? Licona’s extensive argumentation on the matter I felt was in the end persuasive, but on this we shall perhaps have to agree to disagree.

    2. You seem to feel Licona undervalued Q and Thomas. However, Thomas received a rating of “possible” in regards to supplying relevant info for the investigation, the same rating he gave to the canonical Gospels! Given that Licona supplies good reasons for a second century date for Thomas, along with the fact that the specific pericopae therein pertinent to this particular investigation are widely regarded as not reflecting early material, I felt that he was, if anything, being more generous to Thomas than the data truly warrants.

    Now, for Q he does rule “unlikely” in the realm of it providing useful material. Admittedly this is a judgment that is ostensibly unwarranted given that Q would, by definition, predate Luke and Matthew. However, I felt once again the conclusion was reasonable when taking into account other considerations. As he argued in the book, this is a hypothetical document embedded within at least two canonical Gospels. Assuming its existence (which I do, a small minority of scholars notwithstanding), I don’t think it wise to assume the opposite extreme is necessarily accurate either (that we know the full extent of Q, such as what the editors of its “critical edition” seem to assume).

    If Mark utilized Q material, and/or if Luke and Matthew did not happen to utilize all of Q, we simply do not know its complete extent. Even still, I agree with Licona in saying that the absence of a resurrection motif does not mean the author (or his alleged community, if one goes that far) was unaware of or even disinterested in the rez. There are simply too many unanswered questions about Q. As a bracketed aside, Athanasius Polag and James Dunn have suggested in separate volumes that Q perhaps has a pre-passion provenance(!), explaining why it does not refer clearly to the crucifixion or resurrection. I highly doubt there was a written Q before the crucifixion, but the sayings therein could reflect a collection of teachings of Jesus floating around via oral tradition during his ministry. Perhaps these were the very teachings of the twelve and of the seventy (two) when Jesus sent them out to preach to the masses. This is unbridled speculation as we cannot and probably will never know, yet this example serves to accentuate the very issue that limits our ability to draw strong conclusions about Q. Thus I agree with Licona in exercising caution regarding this document.

    I wonder though, even if Licona made Q a “probable” if that would change anything. His case that the earliest Jerusalem community promulgated the resurrection as its central proclamation is I think substantial.

    3. Regarding the issue of the martyrs, I think there is a misunderstanding. What is said to separate the disciples from, say, modern Islamic suicide bombers is that the former were in a position to know for sure whether or not they had experiences that they understood to be the risen Jesus appearing to them. This does not, in and of itself, rule out hallucinations, but the “martyr argument” is typially used against claims of outright fraud. That they were willing to suffer suggests that they believed they had seen the risen Jesus, whereas subsequent Christians and those that place subjective faith in other religious leaders often do so without similar assurances.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think the second or third issues I raise would hinder Licona from reaching where he ultimately ends up (regardless of the position one takes re: Q, Thomas, the disciples suffering). The “historical bedrock” is what it is, whether we treat the accounts of the apostles’ martyrdom (or even their suffering – the latter of which I think would be extremely difficult to doubt) as historical and regardless of how much faith some scholars may place in their respective conclusions on Q and Thomas. Accordingly, Licona (in his assessment of the six hypotheses) would end up in the same place, concluding with the probability of Jesus’ resurrection. This is, of course, not true of the first matter (whether or not historians can adjudicate historicity when it comes to favoring a supernaturalistic cause – for if he is wrong on the matter his method is flawed). I thought Licona’s conclusion that historicans can indeed conclude whether or not a miracle occurred in history was compelling. You did not. I sense this impasse will not be alleviated anytime soon. Fair enough. The individual readers are invited to decide for their respective selves.

    I may or may not be able to interact further than I have already. As a busy physician I can ill-afford to tie up too much time on blogs. But, I did want to at least raise these issues. I look forward to your comments.


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