Author: Michael Licona
Bibliographic info: 605 + 93 (appendix, indices and bibliography)
Publisher: InterVarsity Press (2010)
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With thanks to Adrianna Wright of InterVarsity Press for the review copy!
Licona’s volume on the resurrection is a revised and updated version of his doctoral dissertation that he completed at the University of Pretoria. It is the end result of many years of Licona’s studying the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. For those interested in the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, no doubt you may have heard of Licona’s work in the field (he co-authored a book with Gary Habermas – The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus).
I am sure many of my readers are familiar with N.T. Wright’s large volume The Resurrection of the Son of God and are wondering what makes Licona’s volume different to Wright’s. Essentially, Wright’s volume was largely concerned with investigating the views of the afterlife held by ancient peoples as well as providing a look at what the texts of the early Church said about Jesus’ resurrection. Licona’s volume, on the other hand, is more concerned with discussing the matters which pertain to the philosophy of history and how one should conduct a historical investigation into a matter such as Jesus’ resurrection. One issue in particular that Licona triumphs Wright on, is the discussion of alternative explanations for the resurrection. Whereas Wright briefly skims over these explanations in his book, Licona offers a much thorough treatment of them. Though, I think I would not be too far afield in saying that Wright and Licona share a very similar methodological approach to approaching the historicity of the resurrection.
The Resurrection of Jesus is divided into five main chapters. The first chapter (pp. 29-132) tackles the necessary prerequsite questions and issues of what is the nature of truth, who bears the burden of proof, the problem of certainity in history, the philosophy of history, etc. In a nutshell, the aim of this chapter is to ascertain how historians outside the community of biblical scholars proceed in their own historical investigations. Licona does this so he can use their historical methodology to establish his own approach for examining the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. I particularly liked that Licona laid bare his own beliefs and biases and how he has attempted to be as objective as possible (pp. 130-32).
At one point Licona says that ruling out the resurrection as a valid historical explanation of the data based upon an anti-supernaturalist outlook is an inappropriate bias. Wouldn’t it be true, though, that from a historians perspective (not that I am a historian by anyones standard), any natural explanation for the resurrection is inherently more probable than a supernatural explanation? Thus, it isn’t necessarily an anti-supernatural bias but just an application of Occam’s razor?
Here are a few short snippets from this chapter that I liked:
[O]nly the naive would maintain that historians who are agnostics, atheists or non-Christian theists approach the question of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus without any biases. (46)
There are a few today who assert that Jesus is a myth who never existed, although it appears that no widely respected scholar holds this position. There are also those who deny there ever was a holocaust. (62-3)
[T]he inability to obtain absolute certainty does not prohibit historians from having adequate certainty. (69)
[H]istorians have not reached a consensus pertaining to how historians come to know the past. (125)
Read part II of the review here.