Study resources for the Resurrection

On this page, we will offer multiple recommendations of books that are useful for the reader in understanding the Resurrection of Jesus. Books are grouped according to author last name.

Mike Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus

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Gary Habermas has for years been the name in evangelical Christianity on defending the Resurrection. His prize student in this field has been Mike Licona. Together, they wrote The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus. I happen to know Mike Licona very well and I know that whatever he does, he does seriously. I also know that he is one who has dealt with doubt on many topics so he wants to make sure he’s right. What would it be like then if he alone wrote a book to demonstrate how he went about verifying the Resurrection of Jesus?

I no longer have to wonder that. He has released such a book and it is a gold mine of information. Licona has changed the face of studies in the Resurrection of Jesus with this book. From now on, any scholar who wishes to say that Jesus did not rise from the dead, will have to address the content and the methodology that is put forward in this book.

I say content and methodology because Licona deals with both of them. The first third of the book nearly is spend on methodology alone. What is history? What does it mean to do history? How does one do history? This is not just in fields of religious studies but information that could apply to any area of study.

I find this part incredibly important due to people not knowing how to do history. It’s not just looking at the data and saying, “Well that sounds true.” It involves looking at a list of criteria and knowing the best way to evaluate the content of your sources and knowing which sources are ones that are worth using. Do we want to use the testimony of Paul, or do we want to use Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” Both of them testify of the Resurrection as a historical fact, but one is more relevant.

Can we even know history? Postmodernism raises up a challenge. Can it be dealt with? Yes, it can be. Licona deals with that position as well citing a number of postmodern historians. There can be little doubt that Licona has done his homework which should be no surprise since the book is based on his dissertation. (Naturally, there are some updates.)

Licona also addresses the question of miracles in the second chapter and whether history can answer the question of if a miracle can take place. Licona is right in saying that to draw inferences from the miracle is to do theology. We can demonstrate that Christ rose from the dead and likely it was a supernatural agent, but when it comes to the nature of that agent, then we are doing theology.

Do you want to answer Hume? Do you want to answer Ehrman? Licona deals with each of them. Licona warns us following what he said in the first chapter that we need to be aware of our horizons. What presuppositions are we bringing to the events that we are studying? Are Christians too often letting their theological bias color the way they interpret the evidence? Are atheists letting their atheistic ideology color the way they interpret the evidence?

Indeed, this is an important point and the objections are usually quite weak. For instance, what difference does science really make? Are we to say that we don’t believe in resurrections because we live in an age of science? Could the one who says this please show me when it was that science discovered that dead men don’t naturally come back to life? The reason people buried Jesus is because he was dead and they knew the dead don’t naturally come back to life. (Of course, many believed God would raise the dead, but that’s a far cry from saying they naturally came back to life. They knew it was a miracle because they at least had a rudimentary understanding of the universe.)

When it comes to content with Jesus starting at chapter three, Licona addresses the major controversies and sources. He looks over each and places them on a scale that he has earlier stated referring to how reliable the source is and the information that we can get from the source. Of course, atheists thinking scientifically need to realize that saying “probable” is not the same as it is in scientific circles. History cannot confirm its hypotheses the way science can. To say something is probable is to imply that there is really no evidence to the contrary and thus no reason to question it.

Licona documents all his claims and the footnotes will be especially helpful. There are even two pages where the footnotes are of immense value. In one, he has a list of statements by scholarship on the Christ-myth hypothesis. (One could argue that a footnote would be too much for that idea, but when one meets those regularly who espouse such an idea, it is helpful.) The other is a list of scholars stating the date they believe the creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-7 goes to.

Finally, when it comes to the Resurrection, Licona not only gives his hypothesis that Christ did indeed rise, but deals with others such as Vermes, Ludemann, Goulder, Crossan, and Craffert. Licona is quite generous with each one, wanting to represent them as best he can and ably deals with where they are deficient while granting the areas where they are sufficient.

When he deals with his own view, he presents it under the exact same categories that he has presented prior views under and works out how well the Resurrection hypothesis works. Of course, some readers could always claim bias on his part, but now the claim will not be enough. They will actually need to interact with the material. There can be no doubt that Licona knows it well.

As a bonus, the end of the book has a response to Dale Allison and his views on the Resurrection of Jesus. Readers familiar with Allison will appreciate this, though it will take awhile to get to as overall, when it comes to content, the book has 641 pages of information. As I carried this book with me, a number of people thought it was comparable to a dictionary.

A riticism of the work, however, is that Licona does not interact with the idea of honor and shame. Of course, many today aren’t really looking at the social sciences, although in the look at Craffert’s hypothesis, Craffert does refer to Malina and Pilch. Still, mentioning such aspects as the shame of crucifixion and how no one would preach a resurrected victim of crucifixion unless they really believed it was historical and could not be denied played an important factor.

Despite that, what Licona has is excellent and if someone wants to be a serious student of the doctrine of the Resurrection, they need to get and be familiar with this important volume. I do believe it has changed the face of Resurrection studies from here on out.

Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus

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This one is the latest book to take on the resurrection of Jesus, by a scholar who could be regarded as being in the middle of the ideological pack. As a whole it is a very good assessment of the evidence for and against the resurrection. Because I've had some questions about the content, I'll break with the usual narrative format of review and comment on specific pages.

36-7 -- Allison's answer to verses like Luke 14:26, that they are "unique demands he placed upon his closest followers," while not disagreeable, seems to not account for the use of extreme language by persons with dramatic orientations.

42 -- On the other hand, Allison's dismissal of passages like John 14:6 is given without adequate reason; merely saying it too "loaded" for Jesus to have said merely assumes what needs to be proved. Sayings like John 14:6 are not beyond what could be shared with an inner circle of confidants.

As a whole, his warnings to observe context and be wary of what we have lost of it [84] are well taken, but have too much concern added. One is hard pressed to find any significant practical change in meaning between Jesus using hell to "motivate sympathizers" and using it to "induce the undecided to obedience." In all likelihood even as today, it would have been used to do both and the only real difference would be one of choice of words or tone in presentation.

Meanwhile the base concepts (hell exists, for example) remain the same no matter who the message is given to. One does wonder [94] what Allison would make of the idea of hell as a state of shame and not a place of torture, and [114, 147] of preterism as solutions to the quandries he poses.

The last part of the book is the only part directly concerned with the Resurrection. Readers will find some of the same issues addressed as in the recent Skeptical work The Empty Tomb. Allison discusses tomb robbery by sorcerors briefly [202f] but his conclusions are not to the depth of our own (see our resource Defending the Resurrection to be published in 2010).

I find it somewhat unfortunate that Allison resorts to what is in essence personal testimony [214f] as his main reason for believing in the resurrection. These are fine but do not have any place in apostolic preaching which stressed the evidence of things like the empty tomb (Acts 2, etc.). They should be regarded as a supplement to, nor our main argument for, Christianity.

Allison is unnecessarily concerned with the technical aspects of resurrection [224]. Things like the "cannibal conundrum" are a non-issue; if we wish to take that tack, why not say that a resurrection body is essentially "cloned" from any preserved and independent material? Is this too hard for a God who creates ex nihilo and performed the conception of Jesus by fiat?

He will find his reason for a return to the old body, to some extent, in Semitic Totality, and in the matter of how the Jews viewed personal identity: The body and the spirit were a properly unified whole that belonged together to form a unit.

What Allison says of group hallucination [283f], we might relate as well to our recent guest item on the subject.

Allison's argument that Matt. 28:11-15 is of lesser value because the age of it is "unknown" of course assumes a late date for Matthew. There is no reason not to see it as an authentic understanding that came about early, indeed within the first few years after Jesus' resurrection.

Allison ends up deciding in favor of the Resurrection as historical. That said, I find some of his arguments (not all of them) for devaluing positive arguments for it at times a little too contrived and a little too reliant on the "what if" method of dealing with arguments, which is a way of saying that the evidence itself isn't cooperating. This is worthwhile to acquire as a sharpening tool for serious apologists.

Ross Clifford, Leading Lawyers' Case for the Resurrection

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If you want a handy, easy to understand apologetic for the resurrection, this book by Ross Clifford, a lawyer from Australia (where they call them "solicitors") may be just the thing.

The title may mislead a bit: You might expect every chapter to be a defense of the resurrection, but in fact only one (and an appendix) is on that; the rest are defenses of other issues foundational to a case for the resurrection: The reliability of the NT, historically and textually; the coherence of the Gospels with each other, and so on. These chapters are essential however for offering a holistic apologetic for the Resurrection.

Every chapter but one is written about a lawyer who offered a critical, evidential defense of an apologetic issue. Some names, like John Warwick Montgomery and Simon Greenleaf, are familiar; others will not be, but Clifford helpfully provides a brief biography for each defender, indicating their qualifications.

Just because a lawyer wrote this book does not mean it isn't readable -- it is, highly so. We recommend it for those seeking to get themselves or others a thorough starting point for a defense of the Resurrection and/or the Christian faith.

Steven Davis, Risen Indeed

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Risen Indeed is not a hardcore apologetic work, but it will serve you well as a primer.

Davis is a philosopher by trade, and is sometimes out of his element with issues of Biblical exegesis.

His addressing of philosophical issues concerning the resurrection are the most valuable: the resurrection as a miracle, and the chapters on physicalism and dualism, are the most helpful and are unique in Resurrection apologetics.

It makes a good addition to our collection, with the caveat of the above limitations.

Hank Hanegraaff, Resurrection

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While this book appears to be billed as an apologetic for the Resurrection, I would call it a basic treatment of the subject. This is not to state that it is not a worthwhile read, it is just to state to expect an adult Sunday-school level of apologia. But at that level, it is very good and readable. Hank very clearly refocuses our attention on the essential of all Christian essentials: the physical resurrection of our bodies. It is edifying and exciting to read about our future hope and resubmerge ourselves in the basics of our faith.

Each section of this book presents good and basic summaries of the issues dealt with. In defense of the resurrection, Hank capitalizes on the concept of continuity and rightly states, "without continuity, there is no point in even using the word resurrection" in defense of the correlation between the bodies we have now and the ones we will have in the future. He handles in an interesting matter the philosophy of why Hell is necessary and actually dignifies the people who will populate it.

The answers to the questions on resurrection (such as 'will our pets be in heaven?') are at times educated guesses but faithful in not going beyond what the Bible says. The book ends with a gospel presentation (which bears remarkable similarity to the Evangelism Explosion outline) and a very helpful index of Scripture references to the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of creation, and the resurrection of believers and unbelievers.

On a stylistic note, I was pleased that there was also a master index to all Scripture references (it drives me crazy when apologetic books don't include this!) and chapters titles in the endnote. All in all, this is a great primer on this most important and exhilarating of topics.

I want to leave with one small quote from the book which I enjoyed. Hank is describing the birth of his granddaughter as an analogy to our resurrection: "Only moments before I actually laid eyes on her, my granddaughter Elise was safe and secure in a wondrous water wonderland, her every need attended. There is absolutely no way she could have imagined a completely different environment merely inches away from the comforting beat of her mother's heart. Yet, through a series of violent contractions, she was delivered into a whole new realm of existence. In the twinkling of an eye, she emerged into a world of sights and sounds, of smells and sensations - an unexplored existence, just waiting to be experienced."

Stephen Kingsley, The Easter Answer

Author Stephen Kingsley has produced an earnest effort in response to Dan Barker's Easter Challenge. I can affirm both from correspondence and from this book that Kingsley is a serious student of the Bible (he is a pastor by trade) who sought a satisfying answer to the question of how to reconcile the Resurrection accounts.

For that reason, despite what I will say below concerning what I consider to be major weaknesses -- one overcomable, the other not so -- I can recommend this book for those who are looking for a thoughtful resolution, in modern literary terms. The fact that I lay out that defining aspect will tell you what my reservations are.

The first reservation is this. Kingsley has the Biblical characters acting like modern people, and this made the scenarios posed unbelievable to me. One of Kingsley's early hypotheses is that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb alone at an early stage, and then made her report to Peter and John, this before she went with the other women for another visit. But in order to maintain this chronology as believable, Kingsley must explain why Mary Magdalene remained silent about her prior visit to the other women. His answer: Peter and John found her story so unbelievable that she was strongly rebuked and kept silent.

Believable as chronology? Arguably so. Believable as social psychology? Not really. In the agonistic society of the Biblical world, this simply would not happen. Mary Magdalene, rather, would heartily defend herself; this especially so if she was, as Luke 8:3 indicates, someone of significant social status -- probably outranking Peter and John socially, and also one who provided for the ministry of Jesus from her means (and would therefore warrant respect and attention from all the others). Kingsley's scenario requires Mary to be in some sense subordinate to Peter and John, and the other women, and therefore, I cannot accept it as plausible.

And yet, Kingsley could perhaps overcome this difficulty by positing some other scenario that would render Mary to silence. Perhaps she could have been shamed into silence by some other person's act, or for some other reason. I cannot conceive of such a reason offhand, but with sufficient thought and research, it is conceivable that something could be figured out.

But that is the resolvable problem. I am not sure the second one can be resolved, because it is not a problem with Kingsley's work per se, but with the very objections involved in things like Dan Barker's Easter Challenge, as well as in many answers to it and in many harmonizations (including Wenham's Easter Engima). And yet in another sense, one could say it isn't a problem to be overcome at all. Let me explain.

My own answer to the "Easter problem" -- as can be seen in my series here -- is in many ways, "What problem?" I do not think there is one. While some of the tensions in the Easter accounts can (and should be) resolved the way Kingsley and others resolve them, many do not need to be -- the tensions are rather the product of an anachronistic reading of the texts, one which presumes that they will, and were intended to, follow a strict, Western form of literary and historical chronology. I do not think that is the case. I think, rather, that because of a number of factors -- the use of oral transmission; narrative freedom, practical restraints on composition, and so on -- that harmonization of this sort is simply not necessary. Ancient authors felt free to dischronologize and anthologize for the sake of communication of ideas. We certainly could come up with a strict chronology, but it is not strictly necessary. Barker's Easter Challenge is directed towards a highly literalist vision of the Gospels that simply does not exist.

All of that said, Kingsley's effort is arguably useful even so as a hypothetical chronology of the sort I am saying could be come up with. In that vein, I would consider it worthy food for thought, even as I also consider it (and works like Wenham's) solutions to what are not actually problems. I again commend Kingsley for his efforts, and hope he will endeavor to produce more materials like this one.

Mike Licona and Gary Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

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Gary Habermas and Michael Licona have co-authored a very unique book, the aim of which is to prepare the believer to, as the verse goes, "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you...." (I Peter 3:15). The book is, essentially, a guide and/or tutorial for Christians on what evidence exists for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how this evidence should be presented to non-Christians.

We noted that Publisher's Weekly objects to the book being "poorly written" because of its format; apparently the PW staff is too enamored of seeking entertainment to care about thought being performed in a systematic fashion. The format is just fine for the book's purpose; it's not a reading joyide and those who want one should go read something less serious and more in line with their sense of personal responsibility. Included with the book is a CD with pertinent information as well as quizzes that are designed to test the reader's grasp of the information presented throughout the book. That inclusion itself should have told PW that this book was educational.

Following a brief introduction regarding the importance of the evidential approach, particularly regarding the Resurrection, within evangelism, the authors briefly discuss 5 historical principles (e.g. multiple attestation) that they will go on to use in making the case for the Resurrection. Next, the authors introduce what they call "The Minimal Facts Approach," the criteria for which is 1) data with substantial supporting evidence and 2) data accepted by virtually all scholars, Christian and non-Christian alike. After this, Habermas and Licona present their "Minimal Facts" case for the Resurrection by appealing to 4 facts accepted byvirtually everybody, plus one that is granted by a sizeable majority of scholars, yet not as much so as the other 4. These are 1) Jesus died by crucifixion; 2) Jesus' disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; 3) Paul, an enemy of Christianity, was suddenly changed; 4) James, a skeptic during Christ's earthly ministry, suddenly changed; 5) and the one accepted by, according to Habermas, 75% of scholars (not virtually all like the other four; pg. 70), the empty tomb.

On each of these points, the authors summarize the evidence as to why each of these facts enjoy acceptance widely in New Testament scholarship, despite the problems that #s 2-5 cause for the skeptic (as they go on to show). Chapters 5-8 are reserved for the discussion, and debunking, of objections and alternative theories to Christ's resurrection. In chapter 9, the authors discuss the nature of the resurrection body (i.e. physical vs. spiritual) as it is presented in the Bible.

Next, a brief discussion of the self-understanding of Christ ensues, considering the evidence from the "Son of Man" and "Son of God" titles that Christ used. Afterwards, a chapter is devoted to presenting a few lines of evidence for "Intelligent Design," since demonstrating that the existence of God is plausible, if not probable, serves as an indirect augmentation of the evidence for Christ's Resurrection. In the next to last chapter, "Some Final Issues," Habermas and Licona discuss a few other objections to Christ's resurrection. Finally, in chapter 13, the authors devote some space on suggestions about how the believer should use this information, and how it should be presented.

The strengths of the book vastly outweigh its weaknesses. First of all, in chapter 1, there is a very helpful (although brief) summary of the evidence that Christ predicted His Resurrection from the grave. The five facts appealed to by the authors to make their case for the historicity of the Resurrection are adequately evidenced, documented, and compelling. I personally found the evidence supporting "minimal fact #2" very helpful.

The authors demonstrated how well-attested the persecution of the early Christians (including the disciples) is based on the numerous sources, inside and outside of the Bible. Additionally, a compelling argument, based on ancient sources, is made in favor of the historicity of the martyrdoms of a few of the apostles. Three reasons for the empty tomb are given. This certainly could have been expanded, but given that the authors discussed dozens of topics in a book just over 200 pages in length, it is understandable that space restrictions played a factor.

Perhaps the best part about this book is that the average reader will find that virtually every objection and alternate theory that he/she has ever heard, and then some, are dealt with in this book on at least some level. This includes the classics like the "Swoon Theory," hallucinations, and fraud down to the even more desperate alternative theories like "Jesus was a space alien"! Typical objections posed by naturalists are discussed in some detail as are objections based on science and history. The arguments in favor of the fact that the Bible claims that Christ's resurrection was in bodily form (as opposed to spiritual) are adequate, as are the supplementary chapters on Christ's self-understanding and evidence for the existence of God. Finally, the advice on how to present this evidence seemed very logical as well, and may even hit home for some.

Only two limitations come to mind regarding this book. One is that discussions of certain topics could have been dealt with in more detail, although this is probably to be expected in a book trying to address dozens of different topics. The book is a gateway; there are notes that have a great deal more depth beyond that, and as a popular work it should not be expected to clean out every nook and cranny. However, the authors gave satisfactory detail in far more topics than they did not, and even those that were sparse were still helpful in the information that was provided.

Secondly, one major factor regarding the Resurrection that would have added even more complexity to naturalistic alternatives was left out of the authors' work, and that was the disciples' belief in the resurrection itself, in a milieu that did not anticipate any kind of resurrection by only one man and in the middle of time (so to speak). Given this data, an empty tomb and a naturalistic explanation for the appearances to all of the disciples (e.g. hallucinations) would have most likely led to the belief that Jesus had ascended to heaven in the manner of Enoch and Elijah rather than being resurrected.

However, to this it should be noted that the authors, in our opinion, satisfactory debunked all of the naturalistic theories regardless of the absence of this piece of data.

This certainly is a great book for beginners, and probably even intermediates.

-"Wildcat" and JPH

James McGrath, The Burial of Jesus

I acquired James McGrath's The Burial of Jesus to see if I could find any last-minute points to cover in Defending the Resurrection, and McGrath was mainly helpful in showing that the job was complete. There's not a whole lot of use in this book; at a mere 140 pages, and with its small size, it sure didn't look like to would contibute much to the debate, and it contributed less than that. This book is a mix of three things:

McGrath seems like a fairly decent chap at first glance, but don't take that too closely. This fellow endorsed John Loftus' horrible material, which means by itself that critical thinking must be at the short end of his priorities. That's confirmed by the fact that he plies some of the least impressive arguments in point 3 above, and that he hasn't got the clue yet that just because you can think of an "apologetic motive" for some story, it must be historically false. He's also way behind on numerous relevant related fields, like oral transmission, Marcan priority, and epistemology (he actually gives credence to Carl Sagan's ECREE doctrine, which Sagan had no business promulgating, and is merely a rehash of Hume anyway).

In the end, McGrath is one of those types who insists we don't need an empty tomb for Christianity; it is a "life-transforming relationship" that matters. No, sorry -- that's no better than Joyce Meyer and Charles Stanley thinking God speaks to them about things like what time to have a BBQ. It's a level of intimacy unknown to most of the people who have ever lived, and McGrath thus is part of the "Jesus is my imaginary friend" model that folks like Loftus and Price consider to be valid. It's little wonder he found Loftus so impressive.

Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate

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If you know who Richard Swinburne is, then you know that he is a Christian philosopher whose usual trade is arguing for the existence of God. With this brief work, Resurrection of God Incarnate, Swinburne steps outside of his specialty for a defense of the Resurrection of Jesus. The result is as you may expect: Swinburne shows significant weaknesses in terms of his familiarity with Biblical scholarship; yet his ability is such that he offers a powerful defense of the resurrection even so.

Swinburne approaches the Resurrection with the general thesis that of all possible explanations for the data, it fits better than any other, including naturalistic explanations. He builds his case step by step, starting with some material on historical ways of knowing. Tekton readers will be able to fill in the gaps where data could only have made Swinburne's case even stronger (for example, material on page 30 is added to by material in The Impossible Faith; and Swinburne for example accepts, perhaps merely for the sake of argument, such ideas as a late date for Daniel [70]).

Further on, two of the early chapters set a foundation by arguing that Jesus was and acted like someone who would be God incarnate. It is in the last few chapters that Swinburne takes a close look at historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, as well as naturalistic alternatives.

Readers will certainly appreciate this effort, which, though it has no indication in the bibliography of familiarity with current apologetics for the Resurrection (Craig, etc.) nevertheless arrives at much the same destination. It will be a bit more technical than most of those apologetic works but is nevertheless a welcome addition to an apologetics library, with the caveats added about caution due where Swinburne argues outside his area of specialty.

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God

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We waited 5 years for it, and it would have been worth waiting 4. I would be lying if I said that this third in Wright's series measured up to the last two; but this is like saying that rubies are not as valuable as diamonds.

TROSOG suffers only from the debilitation of taking too many diversions from the main route. Many of the details that made this a 760-page monster (longer by 100 pages than the 2nd volume, 200 pages than the 1st) are background knowledge that may not have been needed. Thus the word is that you will dig harder for the treasure in this volume, but it will be worth it -- in particular, the parts about the nature of Jewish resurrection, how this is portrayed in the NT, and determining historically how the resurrection is the most plausible and sufficient explanation for the Christian faith.

N. T. Wright and John D. Crossan, The Resurrection of Jesus

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The contents of this book revolve around the discussion that took place between N.T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan during the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum on March 11, 2005 regarding the resurrection of Jesus. During the dialogue, N.T. Wright summarized the arguments in favor of the historicity of the resurrection that he presented in his The Resurrection of the Son of God while Crossan espoused his views that the NT writers were speaking metaphorically when referring to Jesus' resurrection. The two prominent scholars discussed each others' views during the Forum, and that dialogue is reproduced at the beginning of the book (following an introduction by the book's editor Robert Stewart). In addition to the dialogue, there are 8 essays written by various New Testament scholars and/or philosophers, and an appendix which contains an essay by Crossan ("Bodily-Resurrection Faith") that espouses his views of "resurrection" in the New Testament. I recommend that the reader skip ahead and read this appendix first as it serves to better ground the reader into the arguments that Crossan presents during the dialogue.

As for the various essays that follow, Craig Evans has a piece documenting the contributions of both Crossan and Wright to New Testament scholarship in general. Evans in the end briefly discusses why he is more sympathetic to the views of Wright. Robert Stewart follows with a summary of the views of both Crossan and Wright including such topics as how texts should be read, the approach to historical understanding, and the resurrection of Jesus. This is a very helpful essay for anyone desiring a brief treatment of Crossan and/or Wright's general methodological approaches. Gary Habermas has an essay entitled "Mapping the Recent Trend toward the Bodily Resurrection Appearances of Jesus in Light of Other Prominent Critical Positions." I personally found this to be the most valuable essay in the book, as it gives an excellent overview of the trends of modern scholarship regarding Jesus' resurrection. Habermas states that there has been an increasing trend in recent scholarship to view the post-mortem appearances of Jesus as bodily in contrast to the scholarship of several decades ago. Similarly, despite a relative increase in the promulgation of alternative theories to the resurrection (e.g. the subjective visions theory) in recent scholarship, such approaches still clearly comprise a minority position.

Philosopher R. Douglas Geivett follows with an essay about "The Epistemology of Resurrection Belief", where he argues that the historicity of Jesus' resurrection cannot be ascertained merely from historical studies, but must also include other metaphysical considerations, such as whether or not God exists. Geivett here criticizes Wright for concluding that the resurrection is historical based on historical considerations alone. Geivett is certainly justified in claiming that metaphysical considerations, and accompanying that, worldview presuppositions, are crucial to this debate (as the real dividing line for most regarding this subject seems to be essentially how one answers the question of whether or not miracles are possible). Nevertheless, some would argue that the strength of the evidence of Jesus' resurrection is enough to make belief in miracles rational. I personally would deem it certainly one of a multitude of factors to consider in the debate about whether there exists a supernatural realm. So, at the end of the day, I agree with Geivett's premise that other factors outside of historical considerations have to enter into the equation, but I doubt that Wright, or, for that matter, any of the other contributors to this book would disagree with that.

Charles Quarles follows this with a look at the Gospel of Peter, critically analyzing one of Crossan's key pillars that it contains a post-resurrection narrative that predates those found in the canonical Gospels. Alan Segal then argues for the possibility that Paul taught a spiritual resurrection, in contrast to the Gospels, and concludes that the resurrection is a matter that should be left to faith, and that it is misplaced to try to prove it historically. William Lane Craig then follows with a brief, 10 page essay, expressing his sympathies for Wright's case and making suggestions of how the arguments in his book could have been slightly modified and enhanced to make his argument even more compelling. Finally, Ted Peters closes with an essay entitled "The Future of the Resurrection", which includes a brief look (once again) of the approaches of Crossan and Wright and a discussion of how Jesus' resurrection ties in with the future hope of all of his followers.

Thus there is a good mix of conservative, moderate, and liberal views of the resurrection in this volume. Several parts of the book, as can be seen from the above summary, were merely summarizing and discussing the views of Crossan and Wright, and on topics not always limited to the resurrection itself. However, in terms of actual data analysis, the book in several places lacked a good concentration of actual substance. The dialogue between Wright and Crossan had some valuable material in it, and served as a good source for people wanting Wright's massive volume summarized in only a few pages. One particular item of discussion I thought was intriguing was regarding Wright's argument that the empty tomb and post-mortem appearances of Jesus, while neither alone would have been sufficient to produce the belief in Jesus' resurrection, taken together they would be sufficient to produce such a belief.

In response Crossan made the excellent point that an empty tomb and post-mortem visions of Jesus by the disciples would not be sufficient to produce belief in his resurrection. Rather, this would more likely than not have led the disciples to believe that Jesus had been exalted rather than resurrected. This is a point we've made elsewhere on this site (see e.g. here). But, the argument of Crossan serves only to validate the assertion that the post-mortem appearances of Jesus could NOT have been mere visions (at least in the way visions are typically characterized). Instead, as Wright pointed out in response, it is plausible that the disciples would have come to the conclusion that Jesus had been resurrected if he appeared in the comparatively mundane way that is described in the Gospels, i.e. breaking bread, consuming fish, leaving physical evidences of his visitation, etc. [36-39]

In conclusion, I'd recommend this book, as I think there is some valuable material in it, particularly the dialogue between Crossan and Wright, and the essays by Habermas and Quarles. It is also a good read for anybody wanting good discussions and summaries of what these two scholars believe and their methodological approaches to the texts. But, because this book is as much about Crossan and Wright as it is about presenting scholarly essays about the resurrection (and there is not always overlap between the one subject and the other), it is not, as a whole, one of the best books out there on the resurrection.


Dale Allison, The Resurrection of Jesus

A reader graciously bought me a copy of Dale Allison's The Resurrection of Jesus (TRJ), and I just recently got it done for this review. Let's start with some positives.

First, I've objected in the past to Allison's tendency to come to the precipice of clearly warranted conclusions based on the evidence presented, only to draw back at the last moment for inadquate reasons. There's much less of that in TRJ.

Second, though not an encyclopedic treatment like Mike Licona's, Allison's book has some interesting and useful insights. I'd buy the Kindle version or get it from a library. Some of the better observations I found:

It is, to my mind, wholly implausible that early Christians would have been content with bare assertions devoid of concrete illustration or vivid detail. Were there no story-tellers until Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John showed up? First Corinthians 15:3-8 is skeletal, a bare-bones outline. It begs for more. How did Christ die, and why? Who buried him, and why? And in what way exactly did Jesus “appear” to people? Did such questions not interest anybody?

Unless something obvious stands in the way, we should posit, on the part of early Christians, simple human curiosity and a desire to communicate rather than obfuscate.

If one were to judge all group visions to be, for whatever reasons, counterfeit, it would be wholly natural to suspect the same for the New Testament reports. But if one were to decide, as I have, that not all collective sightings can be dissolved with the usual critical solvents, it would be reasonable to be open-minded about the early Christian claims.

An observation regarding "the Twelve" as a fixed term for a group with different numbers of members was one of the more useful to me:

BDAG, s.v., ??????, observes that “X[enophanes], Hell. 2.4.23, still speaks of ?? ????????? [‘the thirty’], despite the fact that acc[ording] to 2.4.19 Critias and Hippomachus have already been put to death,” making for a group of twenty-eight.

That's the good news. Now for the rest of the story, a hepaing pile of critical errors Allison makes.

First, Allison simply refuses to take seriously the vast differences between modern culture and the Biblical honor-shame culture. Here was the leading "what the heck" statement that had me falling out of my chair:

Pilch is so keen on interpreting the texts in terms of the ancient Mediterranean world rather than modern categories that he leaves me wondering how we, who do not live in the ancient Mediterranean world, should understand for ourselves what happened.

I will have to credit this sort of statement to innocnent ignorance. How else are we supposed to a text from the ancient Mediterranean world besides on its own terms? Imposing "modern categories" is exactly the error Pilch and his Context Group cohorts are trying to correct. As for "how" we understand, perhaps Allison is familiar with the term "discipleship" and that it has an educational component? Elsewhere he also says, in an attempt to bolster some misplaced renditions, "That Jesus was remarkable and charismatic hardly negates the profound emotional bonds between him and his followers, which is all that matters for a correlation to hold." Um, no, this was an honor and shame society, not The Bold and the Beautiful. "Profound emotional bonds" didn't work that way for them.

Allison's blithe wave-off of the social science contexts damages this book's credibility more than a few times. Much of his idea that the visions of Jesus were bereavement visions is premised on the idea that "Jesus’ end likely fostered guilt as well as sadness." No, it did not; as Malina has said, imposing guilt on this social world is a "serious mistake." (Allison makes no mention of honor or shame, save in one passing statement: "To the public dishonor of having a friend and teacher crucified, the disciples had heaped shame on themselves by their failure of nerve." But this is the only such reference, and it is not clear that he means it in any sort of contextualized sense that would suit an agonistic background.) He also hoists himself on his own petard by that stunning lack with this retort to me (yes, I am mentioned in the book a few times):

Contrast James Patrick Holding, “The Challenge to Refute,” in Defending the Resurrection: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead, ed. James Patrick Holding (Maitland, FL: Xulon, 2010), 276–81. He contends that some of the disciples would have undertaken investigation. He appeals to Acts 17:11 and 1 Thess. 5:21 (“prove all things”) and to the fact that they lived in a world of “challenge, honor, shame, and opposition.” These proof texts seem to me to be inadequate, and I know of no justification for Holden’s claim that “the apostles” actively encouraged “people to check out their claims.”

What is truly inadequate, however, is Allison's failure to account for just how important that aspect of “challenge, honor, shame, and opposition” is to my argument, especially as it pertains to those particular texts, which amount to an encouragement -- if not indeed an outright challenge -- to check the claims being made. There's the "justification" Allison doesn't know about -- in the social context he so blithely waved off earlier.

And speaking of blithe wave-offs, here's another one. To set the stage, here's something I said in my book on the Resurrection:

Davis, in his defense of the Resurrection, raises a hypothetical example: What if we were told that the Washington Monument had levitated for an hour last night? [10] If we are consistent, we will not reject the possibility merely on personal incredulity. We will want to know about witnesses and their credibility, and their ability to stand behind their testimony; we will want to know whether alternate explanations avail; we will want to seek out any residual effects that could only be associated with an episode of levitation by the Monument, if indeed such effects could be discerned. Rejection simply because of personal incredulity is not an adequate response: One such example of this by Allison [11] notes examples of stories of missing corpses, including one in the time of Gregory the Great (c. 540-604 AD). Allison says of such an account reported by Gregory:

"This account is so relevant because Gregory, a man of some education, presents this yarn as worthy of belief. He knows people who will corroborate his testimony; he is absolutely concrete about the location of the events; and he indicates that there are relics from the event: anyone with sufficient curiosity can go and see the evidence."

Yet Allison does no better, epistemologically, than Hume did in his hypothetical rejection of the Queen rising from the dead, as he concludes: “Clearly, it is possible to concoct a tale about a missing body of someone not long dead.” How does this follow? Apparently, it follows from nothing more than Allison’s incredulity concerning the reported events, which is nothing more than Hume’s fallacious “ice analogy” again. Gregory’s story may end up being rejected on other grounds of evidence, but mere inability to believe is not sufficient.

Apparently not ecstatic about this evaluation, Allison writes:

In responding to my earlier use of Gregory’s story, James Patrick Holding, “Standards of Evidence and Extraordinary Claims,” in Defending the Resurrection: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead, ed. James Patrick Holding (Maitland, FL: Xulon, 2010), 107, urges that my blithe dismissal does not rise above Hume. This makes no sense given that I did not and do not deny the extraordinary in principle. I do, however, distrust miraculous claims if the evidence is not more plentiful than what Gregory supplies in this instance. My guess, à la Paulus, is that we have here a misinterpretation of a couple of mundane circumstances; but the details do not matter here.

Yes, actually, it makes complete sense; Allison's acceptance of the extraordinary in principle doesn't change the fact that he waved off the Gregory story the same way Hume would. The devil is in that last confession, "the details do not matter here." The details are precisely what Allison needed to engage in order to rise above Hume's petty dismissals of the miraculous, which Earman so pegged him for and which Allison is guilty of here until he tells us about those pesky details that supposedly do not matter. I don't want to hear about anyone's flyover "guesses". I want their arguments.

Just as blithe is this remark, though it is in tune with the breezy dismissal preceding:

How many readers of this book would, were tomorrow’s news to report a case of resurrection, pay it solemn heed, even if several witnesses were insisting on its veracity? Who would do anything other than blithely shelve the tale on the grounds that it has next to no chance of being true? We are all Hume on some occasions.

Last I checked, widespread error doesn't justify that error. No one should want to be Hume on any occassion, as his was a tragic and bigoted epistemology rooted in what Earman rightly referred to as pretentious sneering.

I was just as much astonished when Allison tried this to explain away reports of a certain religious figure being able to levitate:

My verdict is that, if the saint levitated, the explanation is some ill-understood, rarely-exhibited human ability.

Well, that sort of straw, once grasped, is hard to grab again and keep your credibility!

Another spot where I apparently captured Allison's caprine is with my treatment of the idea that necromancers may have stolen Jesus' body. He writes:

For curses on Jewish epitaphs see Pieter W. van der Horst, Ancient Jewish Epitaphs: An Introductory Survey of a Millennium of Jewish Funerary Epigraphy (300 BCE–700 CE) (Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1991), 54–60, and Hachlili, “Attitudes Toward the Dead,” 243–55. For pagan imprecations see J. H. M. Strubbe, “‘Cursed be he that moves my bones,’” in Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, ed. Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 33–59. According to Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1962), 108, the curses on Greek and Latin epitaphs address, among others, “the grave-robber.” James Patrick Holding, in attempting to refute “The Stolen Body Theory”—see Defending the Resurrection: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead, ed. James Patrick Holding (Maitland, FL: Xulon, 2010), 390–8—fails to address the obvious implications of all this evidence.

Well, no, I don't. I was aware of "all this evidence" and it didn't change a thing for my argument. Allison fails here on the simple point that in a culture where being buried honorably was of such importance, even a 1 in a million chance that your grave might be disturbed was enough to make you so nervous you'd post the ancient equivalent of a "tresspassers will be shot on sight" sign. I agree that "theft of graves was a problem in Jesus’ time and place" but that doesn't mean it was so common that you couldn't swing your arms without hitting a necromancer on his way to pilfer body parts. The volume of warnings doesn't speak at all to the level of recurrence of the crime, any more than a count of "No Trespassing" signs tells us how many people have been stomping on lawns that don't belong to them. Allison even admits, "We do not, however, have the statistics on this," so what the heck he was on about here will have to remain a mystery.

He also admits that necromancer theives were after body parts, which was another one of my main points; thieves out for Jesus' body wouldn't be interested in taking the whole kit and kaboodle; pilfering by a such a thief would hardly make a useful kerygma ("His nose is risen!"). Allison also ignores my key point that as one crucified and buried shamefully, Jesus' body no longer qualified as a "holy man relic." He also waves off the point that Jesus was buried dishonorably, saying he leaves the issue "undecided" -- thereby showing that he fails to appreciate the critical importance of the matter, particularly in Jesus' social world.

Allison also takes to task one of my guest writers for my book:

According to Jonathan Kendall, “Hallucinations and the Risen Jesus,” in Defending the Resurrection: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead, ed. James Patrick Holding (Maitland, FL: Xulon, 2010), 343, two of the three prerequisites for collective hallucinations—expectation, emotional excitement, and being informed beforehand—were not present in the case of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples. But once Jesus had appeared to Mary and/or Peter, all three would be in play.

I asked Dr. Kendall for his response to this, and he provided the following (he had read the book before I had):

So on Allison, I remember the footnote where he wrote his response to my claim, and my response is essentially that I answer that within a few pages in the same article later, clearly the disciples were not expecting Jesus to appear as is clear from the narratives, particularly in Luke’s. I would add that I find it highly doubtful that that detail would have been fabricated (the disciples’ surprise, initially mistaking the risen Jesus for a spirit, and general lack of expectation altogether despite the passion predictions, as well as having learned of the empty tomb from the women’s report) and is probably therefore historical.

Allison may yield historicity of this or that narrative as he maintains some level of skepticism towards the gospels’ post-rez narratives. However, he does state in 1-2 places that he believes that “doubt motif” in general is likely historical.

Allison can and does say that Jesus planted the seed of expectation in their minds with the predictions of resurrection. However, I think the narratives’ make it fairly clear that there was no expectation present, as would be required for mass hallucination, at the time that Jesus did appear to them.

There is also no mention of an argument I postulated that the disciples of Jesus were expecting an ascension of Jesus' body into heaven, not a resurrection; as well as my point that any reputed vision of Jesus would be understood as his "guardian angel twin". These points resolve more than one puzzle Allison postulates, but they are not on his radar.

In close, I read TRJ in part so I could decide whether or not my own book needed updating. Based on Allison's lack of notable challenge, I don't need to update it yet -- and I can check back again in ten years.

Dr. Kendall had some more comments I am adding with his permission:

I liked your critique and thanks again for giving me a chance to reply. I liked in particular where you say close to the beginning that Allison gets to the precipice of warranted conclusions adjust before backing off into indecision.

My overall analysis on the book would probably have been moderately more positive than yours. I appreciate that it was so well-documented overall. His stuff on the empty tomb was good (but agree still too cautious) and I liked the same on I Corinthians 15, the doubt motif, the historicity of the burial by Joe of A, etc. His stuff on apparitions was great in a sense, but as I’ll hopefully show at some point it is incomplete if we are gonna seriously argue that that can be an explanatory variable in the rez appearances.

Also I take issue with some of his analyses of the individual post-rez narratives. I think for instance what he says about the appearance to the seven on the Sea of Galilee (John 21) requires several layers of tradition that is quite removed from the eyewitnesses. Allison may be okay with this in concept though of course if John son of Zebedee or even John the Elder pended The gospel his contention is problematic (again I acknowledge Allison presumably believes that a disciple did not write it). And the transfiguration as a misplaced rez appearance? I’ve never found this a compelling idea and still do not after reading Allison. What I DO find intriguing is that Jesus is not shown in glorious or luminous form in the rez narratives (where we may have otherwise expected it) as he is in the Transfiguration narrative.

I of course also agree that he sets aside the honor-shame overlay way too easily, even to the point where he claimed the mode of death (crucifixion) should not have been a problem.

Not Recommended

In most cases, we prefer to simply not post reviews of books we do not recommend. But these exceptions are warranted.

Josh and Sean McDowell, The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus

A dozen years have passed since the time I defended Josh McDowell's Evidence books (sort of) against the Internet Infidels; and now, what was the core of my response has become a core for my own books. It may be recalled that I was not exactly happy with ETDAV, whether the old or new versions. I was much happier with McDowell's He Walked Among Us. Now that Josh's son Sean is a co-writer, are things any better with this book, Evidence for the Resurrection?

A little. But not enough so.

Let me set out the greatest of my disappointments with this book: The title ought to have actually been, "Evidence for What Happens When Some People Believe in the Resurrection." The McDowells may not have chosen the title, but whoever did choose it, it is inappropriate. Only one chapter truly is about "evidence for the Resurrection." There are also chapters about such things as historical knowledge and miracles, which are not specific to the Resurrection (though I am glad they are there). Most of the rest of the book is essentially an extended personal testimony feature, explaining why the Resurrection (assuming it happened) gives your life meaning and purpose, and shows just how much God (sentimentally) loves you.

The irony here is that the McDowells are taking this approach out of what is likely a perceived necessity. The selfish, "me me" generation -- which they recognize as a serious problem -- doesn't want to hear about history; they want to hear about what's in it for me -- er, them.

Not that this approach is surprising. As when I interviewed him years ago, Josh McDowell remains convinced that personal testimony and experience is what converts people, as it did him. In contrast, Sean seems to have a much more realistic and practical perspective in the sections of the book he wrote, placing more emphasis on the Resurrection as a historical fact. I am wondering if we have him to thank for whatever depth this book has, which is still not very much. You won't see anything here to seriously prepare anyone for such challenges as The Empty Tomb and Carrier's two-body hypothesis, or even the "copycat savior" thesis. It is as though we're still dealing with objections dealt in the 1950s.

I would say that the utility of this book will be extremely limited -- perhaps to youth -- and may even do more harm than good without a following program of discipleship; otherwise, those who read it will continue to think "God did it for me, me, me" is the best part of the whole scheme. Part of me is happy to see this coming out of part of a special project by McDowell's ministry to teach in churches about the Resurrection; a larger part of me is filled with dread at knowing that so many -- as happened with ETDAV -- will think they're getting the final word from McDowell, and will find themselves in a mental jam when someone pops Richard Carrier into the picture.

The only upside to this is that thankfully, not many people will ever see Carrier's material, or that of any other doubter. But even one person seeing it and deconverting because they were not sufficiently prepared is tragic enough.

One thing is certain: This book motivated me to make my own book on the Resurrection all the meatier.