Licona, Michael R. (2010) The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic. (Buy from here)

In the first part of this review we outlined the goals of the author for this book (Pt. 1 here). In the second part we surveyed definition of history and his approach to historiography (Pt. 2 here). Now we will let Licona interact with things like historical knowledge, realism, postmodernism, truth and fact, and so forth.

Critical realism. This is Licona’s approach and he notes it here in the early part of the book (p. 107). He acknowledges that there is no way for the historian to have absolute confidence in his/her conclusions, but this doesn’t prevent “adequate certainity” (p. 67-69). Historiography is a little bit a science, but it is also an art (p. 104). There cannot be pure certainty, but there is a form of it within the framework of the historian’s creative retelling based on the accessible data.

What approaches to history challenge the critical realist understanding? The first mentioned is postmodernism (pp. 70-89). He surveys some of the theories proposed by adherents of this position with the great emphasis being on the reality that historical events cannot be recovered, though they did occur, but only reformatted into a narrative created by the historian. In other words, history is subjective. It is grounded in how the historian shapes the telling, not in the actual events themselves.

Licona calls this the “all-or-nothing” fallacy (p. 81). Yes, events cannot be fully known and yes, historians shape how they are recounted, but this doesn’t mean we have no knowledge. Limited knowledge? Yes.

For Licona there are three approaches to understanding history:

(1) Naive realism: The misguided idea that correct method will always result in “accurate historical judgments” (p. 89).

(2) Postmodern: We already covered Licona’s response to this approach.

(3) Critical realism: A realism “which maintains that the accuracy of historical descriptions may be held with varying degrees of certainty.”

As a critical realist he notes that the “truth” of history is “knowable and that some hypotheses are truer than others in a correspondence sense.” (p. 92) How does the historian discover what is “truer”. Again, Licona gives us three options: methodical credulity, methodical skepticism, and methodical neutrality.

Methodical credulity suggest that the truth of the text is “innocent until proven guilty”. In other words, we should believe the sources until we find reason against doing so. Methodical skepticism is the opposite. Methodical neutrality says that the one making a claim to understand history bears the burden of proof (p. 96). Rather than giving all sources the benefit of the doubt, or being critical of all sources, the focus moves to the historian. Now the historian must prove why their understanding of the text is better than others.

In the next part of our review we will examine Licona’s methodology.