Today, Mike Licona released his long-awaited historiographical treatment on the historicity of the resurrection. While great apologists have undertaken countless shots at defending the resurrection, few have done so guided by formal training in the field of history. This is something I found myself when researching historians specializing in the resurrection. There aren’t any! While Licona’s doctorate is technically under the banner of New Testament studies, his dissertation – the genesis behind the present work – was approved under watchful eyes of critical scholars at a secular institution (Univ. of Pretoria). Moreover, his concentration was specifically in first century historiography, so his study hits at the heart of the historical Jesus question.
Because of this widespread lack of methodological expertise on the issue, Licona asks a simple question which the rest of the book sets out to answer: “If professional historians who work outside of the community of biblical scholars were to embark on an investigation of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, what would such an investigation look like?” (p19). In case you think he leaves it there, he launches a well-reasoned and heavily footnoted attack in the following 699 pages.
For anyone familiar with resurrection debates, it’s a fun topic. Of course, for Christians, it’s much more than that. In sharing the gospel with unbelievers, objections to the resurrection pose a stumbling block to the core of our message. When we hear the common criticism “there’s not enough evidence,” Licona’s readers can now reply that modern rules of evidence are not how scholars justify events of ancient history. Otherwise, such skepticism would force us to dismiss much of Western Civilization, and even our present knowledge built upon historical experiences in the fields of science, politics, and technology. History must be studied in its context.
This book is a refreshing read. It is comprehensive yet accessible to anyone who takes the resurrection seriously. But reader beware that this book may humble believer and skeptic alike. The believer will learn how difficult absolute certainty of historical events can be and skeptics may be surprised how the evidence for the resurrection compares to unquestioned historical events. I truly hope this is the beginning of a new angle on the historical Jesus through the glasses of a historical scholar, at least as much as it has traditionally been done by biblical and theological ones. So go and order this on Amazon (a steal at $26 bucks!) and leave a comment with what you think. The world will be better off with more stuff like this.