August 25, 2010
Move Over, Tom Wright
This week a bunch of academic books go to the printer. And I get a final opportunity to check over my own contributions. The idea is for the editor to look over the big stuff, the meta issues, and anything known to have been problematic and needing resolution. I’m generally able to limit my probings accordingly. But sometimes I fail. This happens when the book exerts irresistible pull back into the text—to read portions, to reflect again, to browse the footnotes, to be reminded of key arguments. While capitulating to this slows me down and puts me behind in other tasks, I generally consider it a good sign. The book is working its magic. And that means it’s likely to do the same for other readers like me. I’ve been experiencing this once again over the past two or three days. Want to know what the book is?
It’s Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. All 718 pages of it! For starters, Licona has what must be the fullest treatment of historiography you will find in New Testament studies today. The first 170 pages of this book are in effect a short monograph on historiography. For this alone, the book is valuable. C. Behan McCullagh, the author of The Truth of History, an important study in historiography, says of Licona’s book:
And Richard Hays says, “I am not aware of any scholar who has previously offered such a thorough and fair-minded account of the historiographical prolegomena to the resurrection question.” From historiographical prolegomena Licona goes on to examine the case for the resurrection hypothesis, based on his excavation of the historical bedrock (which is more minimal than some of you might guess). This exercise is extensive and meticulous. He then carefully outlines and weighs several prominent, representative views that do not favor a bodily resurrection (those of Vermes, Goulder, Ludemann, Crossan and Craffert). This section too makes a valuable contribution, serving not only as a handy summary of these views (a separate appendix is devoted to Allison) but also containing some careful critique (including summaries of studies of hallucinations).
After weighing up these alternatives, Licona homes in on the resurrection hypothesis itself, describing, analyzing and weighing its claims for historicity. This of course is the climax and pay-off of the book. But the route to it is an education in itself and strewn with information, insights and incisive reasoning. I think the book will be valued both for its historical argumentation and (with its analytic structure and superb indexing) as a reference book on the subject. William Lane Craig highlights this aspect when he says, “This rich volume is … a storehouse of valuable information pertinent to the historical credibility of the resurrection of Jesus.”
It’s really a different book from Tom Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God, more limited in its purview but more thorough within those limits. Gerd Theissen comments, “It is fascinating to follow Licona’s arguments step by step in his investigation of the resurrection of Jesus as a unique event in history… . This is a necessary book, and I recommend it to all who are interested in interpreting the Bible and the Christian faith in a responsible manner.” Or as Gary Habermas puts it, “This is simply required reading for anyone who wants to master this subject.”
Well, I’ve done my thing and we’re sending this book off to the printer. Look for it in November. You’ll need to reserve at least two inches of shelf space beside Tom Wright’s book.