Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus

Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2010).

I have been interested in historical Jesus studies for quite some time. In a nutshell, historical Jesus studies examine the life of Jesus using the discipline of history. It is safe to argue that when this line of study began aver 200 years ago, the goal was largely negative; scholars would use history to undermine the Church's belief in who Jesus was and what he did. However, now one can find many believing scholars who use this discipline for positive effect. This makes good sense even from a theological stance: If we believe that God entered history in the person of Jesus, then there would be historical evidence and a historical effect.

This book is a very specific, detailed investigation of the resurrection of Jesus from the standpoint of history. Obviously mountains of text have been written on this topic, so one might wonder what contribution another book could make. Licona succeeds in advancing the discussion by a careful, thorough-going delineation of proper historical method. Here's a quote on p. 612 from his summary chapter which explains this:

The objective of this investigation was to learn and apply the approach of historians outside of the community of biblical scholars to the question of whether Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. It differs from previous approaches in providing unprecedented interaction with philosophers of history related to hermeneutical and methodological considerations and applies these to an investigation pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus.

His conclusion on the resurrection is positive but nuanced, which is appropriate given the realm in which he is working. This is definitely a scholar's read, but the value is in the more precise philosophy of history that we can develop from it.

It must also be noted that this book has sparked something of a controversy because of statements that Licona makes about the historicity of Matthew 27:52-53 on pp. 548-553. He essentially argues that the language about the appearance of resurrected saints is poetic "special effects" in keeping with other eschatological Jewish texts and thought. The debate has centered on whether Licona with these assertions has discarded inerrancy. You can read Norm Geisler's first open letter to Licona on the matter here, Al Mohler's take on the issue here, and Michael Bird's take on the issue here. There have been several tit-for-tat responses after these as well. All I wish to say on this matter is that I don't agree with Licona's conclusions, but this is a very healthy discussion to have.