Author: Michael R. Licona
Paperback: 718 pages
Publisher: InterVarsity press
In Part 2 of the review of The Resurrection of Jesus by Michael R.Licona, I will look at Chapters 2 and 3.
2. The Historian and Miracles
In this short chapter, Licona discusses the objections of scholars regarding miracle-claims. The scholars Licona looks at are: David Hume, C. Behan McCullagh, John P. Meier, Bart D. Ehrman, A.J.M. Wedderburn and James D.G. Dunn. Licona breaks down their arguments and offers explanations as to why their objections regarding miracle-claims are unnecessary.
After looking at the arguments of others, Licona moves on to address the burden of proof in miracle-claims and whether miracle-claims require a higher burden of proof. He looks at three paradigms: risk assessment, legal and Sagan’s saw.
Licona defines a miracle as “an event in history for which natural explanations are inadequate.” (170) Historians may identify a miracle as such when, according to Licona, two criteria are met: “[W]hen the event (1) is extremely unlikely to have occurred given the circumstances and/or natural law and (2) occurs in an environment or context charged with religious significance.” (171)
I understand the necessity of this chapter. It would be very difficult to have a discussion on the resurrection of Jesus without having a discussion on miracles. I also understand the need of critical scholarship address the arguments of critics of a point of view. However, I found this chapter to be less interesting than the others.
3. Historical Sources Pertaining to the Resurrection of Jesus
Chapter 3 is another short chapter that discusses those sources that deal with the resurrection of Jesus. Canonical and non-canonical sources are examined. Among the non-canonical sources, both Christian and non-Christian sources are used. Throughout this chapter, Licona utilizes a rating scale discussed earlier in the book. Each source is rated with one of the following: unlikely, unlikely-minus, possible, possible-plus, highly probably, indeterminate and not useful.
The particular discussion that stood out to me was the discussion on oral formulas (188.8.131.52). According to Licona, oral formulas are “short formulas that mention the resurrection of Jesus.” (220) These are important because “most scholars believe these are oral traditions uttered in worship or baptismal settings that have found their way into the New Testament and thus are earlier than the literature in which they appear.” (220) An example of an oral formula would be Romans 1:3b-4
He was born from the seed of David according to the flesh; he was declared the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness [by] his resurrection from the dead. (221)
There was also considerable discussion of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 in the section on oral formulas. What interested me was that it is very possible that scholars largely agree that this formula was composed very early in the Christian Tradition and that the text of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 “may very well be the oldest extant tradition pertaining to to the resurrection of Jesus.” (234) After reading this section, it did not surprise me one bit that oral formulas were rated highly on Licona’s scale regarding the likelihood that they provide testimony relevant to the inquiry on the resurrection of Jesus.
I thought this was an interesting chapter. I thought that Licona presented each source fairly This was especially true in the case of Josephus, which Licona spent more time on that any of the other non-Christian sources. My guess is he spent more time on Josephus because of the possibility of Christian interpolation of the text.
By the end of the chapter, we are left with a series of sources and their ranking of relevancy to the inquiry on the resurrection of Jesus. The sources have been considered and rated for their relevancy and Licona now turns the task of looking at facts or historical bedrock pertaining to the resurrection.
I received this book free from InterVarsity Press. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”