Michael Licona's Book is Delusional on a Grand Scale

When it comes to the evidence that Jesus rose up from the dead consider what we don't have, but would like to, things that Michael Licona admits in this book The Resurrection Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (pp . 275, 587-88). We do not have anything written directly by Jesus himself or any of his original disciples, nor do we have anything written by the Apostle Paul before he converted telling us about the church he was persecuting, nor anything written by the Jewish leaders of that time about Jesus or Paul, nor anything by the Romans that mentions Jesus, the content of his preaching, why he was killed, or what they thought about claims he had resurrected. This means we have no written responses to Jesus from the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, or teachers of the law. Nor do we have any testimonies from Ananias, Caiaphas, Herod or Pilate about the events we find in the gospels. Jesus always had the last word over his opponents in the gospel accounts--something I have never seen in any real religious debate. So we really need to know what his opponents said in response to these claims. We have no records that they were converted either. Licona says that "what we do have is good." I think not. The Jews of Jesus' day believed in Yahweh and that he does miracles, and they knew their Old Testament prophecies, and yet the overwhelming numbers of them did not believe Jesus was raised from the dead by Yahweh. So Christianity didn't take root in the Jewish homeland but had to reach out to the Greco-Roman world for converts. Why should we believe if they were there and didn't?

There are other things we don't have but would like to. We don't have the correspondence from Chloe's household in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11) telling us of their church disputes, especially concerning the resurrection that Paul responded to. Nor do we have their response to Paul's first letter which forced him to defend his apostleship, since they questioned it afterward (2 Corinthians). Nor do we know what Paul meant when he said some of the Corinthians and Galatians had accepted a "Jesus other than the Jesus we preached" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4) or a "different gospel" (Galatians 1:6-8). What we do know is that the sectarian side that wins a debate writes the history of that debate and chooses which books to include in their sacred writings. We don't even have one legitimate Old Testament prophecy that specifically refers to Jesus' resurrection. Nor do we have any present day confirmations that God works miracles like virgin births or resurrections in today's world, something that would be of critical importance to historians when assessing these claims.

Basically then, we lack a great deal of needed independent collaborative evidence. We have no independent reports that the veil of the temple was torn in two at Jesus' death (Mark 15:38), nor that darkness came "over the whole land" from noon until three in the afternoon (Mark 15:33) nor that "the sun stopped shining" (Luke 23:45), nor that there was an earthquake at his death (Matthew 27:51, 54), with another "violent" one the day he arose from the grave (Matthew 28:2), nor that the saints were raised to life at his death, then waited until Jesus arose before walking out of their own opened tombs, who subsequently "went into the holy city and appeared to many people" and were never heard from again (Matthew 27:52-53). Could these events really have occurred without subsequent Roman or Rabbinic literature or Philo or Josephus mentioning them? These silences are telling.

What we have at best are second-hand testimonies filtered through the gospel writers. With the possible exception of Paul who claimed to have experienced the resurrected Jesus in what is surely a visionary experience (so we read in Acts 26:19, cf. II Cor. 12:1-6; Rev. 1:10-3:21--although he didn't actually see Jesus, Acts 9:4-8; 22:7-11; 26:13-14), everything we're told comes from someone who was not an eyewitness. This is hearsay evidence, at best. Everything we read in the gospels depends entirely on authors who were not there and did not see any of it for themselves from manuscripts that date in the 4th century CE from a Church that had no problems in lying with forged texts (seen best in "The Donation of Constantine"). Let that sink in.

Despite the fact that Licona's book purports to be historiographical in nature it is not, not by a long shot. A historian qua historian would never conclude from the paucity of evidence that Jesus resurrected from the grave. It is not possible. Only a theologian could conclude this. If someone claimed he levitated we would need more than his word to believe him. If we read in an ancient text that someone levitated we have the added problem of verifying such a thing since we cannot personally interrogate him. Almost all of the important questions we have go unanswered. This book offers nothing more than a bait and switch, where it purports to show a historian can conclude Jesus resurrected, but in the end it's a theologian's perspective that comes from someone who was raised to believe in a Christian culture and now defends what he was raised to believe. For the only people who can accept Licona's conclusion are believers like him who were raised to believe in a God who did this kind of miracle, and that's it.

It is a massive book though, and there is much to learn from it. But for Licona to think he can defend the resurrection of Jesus historically is delusional on a grand scale.

[First posted on Amazon]