Licona, Michael R. (2010) The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic. (Buy from IVPress.com here)
In previous entries about this book the subjects have been the goals of the author for this book, his definition and approach to historiography, and historical epistemology as it relates to postmodern theory, realism, and the like. Now that we know how Michael Licona intends on investigating the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection it is time for the work to begin.
Where does he begin? Well, I think he does what should be done. He puts miracles on the table.
A miracle is defined as “an event in history for which natural explanations are inadequate” (p. 170).
Can a historian affirm miracles? If not, then is there any reason to continue discussing something like the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection since the early church claimed it was an act of their God? If so, what are some guidelines that prevent a historian from accepting all claims to divine intervention when exploring the past?
Licona concludes “that historians are not prohibited from investigating the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, although historians affirming its historicity cannot grant resurrection in its full theological sense (p. 198). In other words, yes, a historian can affirm Jesus rose from the dead but all that comes along with this, like how it happened and why it happened, that may be beyond the work of a historian.
Prior to reaching this conclusion he first engages the objections of David Hume, C. Behan McCullagh, John P. Meir, Bart D. Ehrman, A.J.M. Wedderburn, and James D.G. Dunn.
As he moves from Hume to Wedderburn/Dunn he shows how others have noticed gaps in Hume’s theory so they altered it a bit. This doesn’t prevent Licona from challenging their alterations as well. This is a fascinating chapter which I will not summarize here because I think this is where one must really read the book. That being said, I think he does a fine job tackling the objections to postulating miracles as possible answers to historical situations. Likewise, he finds balance so that every time something is suggested in a historical writing that appeals to gods or magic we don’t have to say that all claims are equal (Licona even quote Flew who said that of all miracle claims the resurrection has the best support).
If you have read the book what did you think of this chapter? What do you think of the historian appealing to miracles? What guidelines would you suggest?
In the next section Licona reviews the historical documents that will be investigated. To that we will turn when we continue our review of this book. In the meantime, this is Holy Week, so is there a better time for us to meditate upon the miracle of a resurrection that occurred in the middle of history? No, there is no better time than now.
Also: For those interested, since Licona challenges Ehrman in his book, I thought it fitting to include this debate between the two.