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Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historigraphical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010). Reviewed by Jim West.

Here in the last chapter of what really has to be called an impressive display of learning and a magnificent mustering of evidence, Licona discusses the many hypotheses concerning the story of the resurrection of Jesus. He weighs Geza Vermes, Michael Goulder, Gerd Lüdemann, John Dominic Crossan, and Pieter Craffert’s reconstructions in the balances and finds them (unsurprisingly) wanting. In place of their notions as to how it came to pass that stories of a risen Jesus began to circulate, Licona offers his own: The Resurrection Hypothesis’. Procedurally, Licona simply uses his already discussed ‘historical bedrock’ as the touchstone and then sees how the abovementioned scholars explain that bedrock and how seriously the take it (or not). He writes If no clear winner emerges, we will repeat the exercise with the surviving hypotheses, considering some to all of our second-order facts in addition to the historical bedrock (p. 469). Talk of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ aside, readers are left in no doubt how things will turn out even before all the evidence is weighed. Licona really tries to be fair. But he obviously can’t be. Nor should he really try to be. As has been suggested at several points during the course of this review, presuppositionless historical reconstruction is an impossibility. Why pretend otherwise? He’s laid his cards on the table (he’s a Christian and a believer in the resurrection of Jesus) so why do so much to ‘prove’ it (insofar as that’s even possible)? But back to Licona’s procedure. After analyzing those theories and his own, he writes [The resurrection hypothesis] comes in first place and is the only hypothesis to fulfill all five criteria [that is, the 5 points of the ‘historical bedrock. –J.W.]. It is not only superior to the competing hypotheses examined, it outdistances them by a significant margin. RH explains all of the relevant historical bedrock without breaking a sweat, while all of the others but [Vermes’ Hypothesis] go to great pains to explain it with only limited success. VH actually gives up in the process (p. 606). So what has Licona accomplished? He’s verified his presupposition. He’s done, it has to be said, what every scholar of the Historical Jesus has done, is doing, and will forever do. So he is not being singled out or criticized for it. He’s to be congratulated for doing it so masterfully.

The volume concludes with a summary of each chapters’ contents and a suggestion for further research- the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus need to be thoroughly examined. Some may find this strange, but I actually like this book. I like it because it’s thorough, and biased, and intentionally Christian. Other books, like Vermes et al on the historical Jesus pretend to be neutral but they aren’t. The closest book to neutrality on the topic I’ve ever read (and I’ve read too many) is the recent offering by Maurice Casey. But even he can’t (and doesn’t) escape historical confines. He, and Licona, and Bultmann, and Vermes, and Meier, and all the rest, are servants of their own agenda and their own era and their own intellectual horizons. It can’t be helped. So there’s no point in lamenting it. Rather, such efforts always tell us a great deal about both Jesus and the historian. And usually it’s the historian who remains center stage. Here, Licona and his reconstruction of the resurrection of Jesus are center stage. Jesus is in there somewhere. But not everywhere. He will convince those already convinced and he won’t convince those not convinced. But that’s the way it always goes.