Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Case for the Real Jesus (5): Mike Licona

When I borrowed The Case for the Real Jesus from my local library a few months ago, I only looked at a few chapters before I had to return it because someone else had reserved it. So when I saw it on the shelf today, I decided to check out the chapters I had skipped. I'm glad I did. In an interview with Mike Licona titled "The Cross Examination," there are some real knee-slappers.

The best line comes at the beginning when Strobel explains how "I learned quickly as the legal affairs editor of the Chicago Tribune never to reach a conclusion based on hearing only one side of the case. " (TCFTRJ p. 128) I hope that regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I usually avoid using profanity, but we all have our limits. WHAT COMPLETE AND UTTER BULLSHIT!!! In his Case for books Strobel NEVER interviews any "expert" who is ever going to give his readers anything other than the conservative Christian side of the case. The only exception occurs in the The Case for Faith with evangelist-turned-agnostic Charles Templeton, who was in his eighties and suffering from Alzheimer's at the time of the interview. Strobel was very proud of the fact that he got the old guy to sob and admit that he "missed Jesus."

Of course, Strobel pretends that he himself is presenting the other side of the case. "I wanted to test his five facts with the most cogent arguments of critics and see whether Licona's answers would really hold up. This wasn't a game of 'gotcha'; it was a genuine desire to see how the resurrection would fare against its latest critics." Wow! I bet Licona was as nervous as a Klansman being questioned by a Mississippi sheriff in the 1930's.

So who might Strobel consider to be the latest critics? The Muslims and the Koran! That's right, Strobel challenged Licona's magic book with the next oldest magic book known to man. After, dispensing with Islam, Strobel decided to challenge Licona with Michael Baigent, the author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, from which Dan Brown lifted much of The DaVinci Code. Is this really the best you could do Lee? Licona wasn't even breaking a sweat. Why not hit him with Scientology, too?

Finally, Strobel did give Licona a chance to display his apologist's sleight-of-hand by citing a genuine skeptical scholar, Richard Carrier. Strobel starts out by quoting Carrier's explanation for Paul's vision on the road to Damascus, which appears in the book Empty Tomb.

I can hypothesize four conjoining factors: guilt at persecuting a
people he came to admire; subsequent disgust with fellow Pharisees; and
persuasion (beginning to see what the what the Christians were seeing in
scripture, and to worry about his own salvation); coupled with the right
physical circumstances (like heat and fatigue on a long, desolate road); could
have induced a convincing ecstatic event--his unconscious mind producing what he
really wanted: a reason to believe the Christians were right after all and atone
for his treatment of them, and a way to give his life meaning , by relocating
himself from the lower periphery of Jewish elite society, to a place of power
and purpose. (TCFTRJ p. 137)

Licona responds that "it's not a very good historical hypothesis." "Why not?" queries Strobel.

Because at best it can only account for Paul's belief that he had seen the
risen Jesus. It doesn't account for the conversion of the skeptic James,
and it doesn't account for the empty tomb. And it doesn't explain the
beliefs of the disciples that they had seen the risen Jesus. You've got to
account for what changed them to the point where they were willing to suffer
continuously and even die for their beliefs that they had seen the risen
Jesus. So it's a bad historical hypothesis.(TCFTRJ p. 137)
Wheeee!!! What a trick! Did you see Licona pull that nickel out of that kid's nose?

According to Licona, Carrier's hypothesis is bad because it only explains what it sets out to explain. Carrier's explanation for why Paul did what he did doesn't explain why James did what he did. It also doesn't explain why Hitler invaded Russia, why the Cubs haven't made it to the World Series since 1945, or why Mike Licona's dog licks its own balls. How does that make it a bad hypothesis? The fact of the matter is that Carrier's writings do address all the other issues that Licona cites. This is pure misdirection.

Several pages later, Licona plays this trick again when addressing Carrier’s theory that the other disciples had hallucinations of one form or another. “At best, that would only account for the belief of the disciples that they had seen the risen Jesus . . . It would not account for the conversion of Paul.” (TCFTRJ p. 143) Woo?!?! Sorry Mike, the trick is not nearly as impressive when the audience knows how it is done. The explanation for Paul’s experience does not have to explain anyone else’s experience just as the explanation for anyone else’s experience need not explain Paul’s. By the way, your dog licks his balls because he can.

Of course, Licona thinks that Carrier's hypothesis doesn't explain Paul's actions very well either.
Paul is crystal clear about why he converted: he says he saw the risen
Jesus. So we have his eyewitness testimony of what happened. On the
other hand, what do we have for Carrier's view. There's not a shred of
evidence to support it. Paul's writings don't indicate that he converted
because he felt guilty or that he secretly admired Christians or that he had
disdain for his fellow Pharisees. This is pure conjecture on Carrier's
part. He's reading things into the text that simply aren't there. (TCFTRJ
p. 137)
Wheeee!!! Did you see Licona pull that argument out of his own ass?

Now Carrier's alternative explanation for Paul's conversion is bad simply because it is an alternative. By this logic, there can be no explanation for Joseph Smith founding his religion other than that the angel Moroni really appeared to him and really told him where he could find the golden plates containing the Book of Mormon. After all, Smith didn't say that he had some other reason. It is pure conjecture to suppose that he might have been nuttier than a fruitcake.


  1. What sceptic James?

    How the hell can you be a sceptic when your brother was born of a virgin?

  2. Another good post. Thanks for these close analyses. I haven't read Strobel's books. I've scanned them in the bookstores and haven't been intrigued enough to buy them.

  3. I can't bring myself to spend any money on them either so I have to wait for them to show up in the library.

  4. Anyone can be a skeptic and come up with alternative explanations for anything. While your analysis is humorous (I truly did laugh :o)) it is as meaningless as Licona's arguments. Once you leave the facts of the account and go off into conjecture it's all speculation. Let's face facts, neither viewpoint can be proven but there has been a lot more evidence and blood spilled in the side of Jesus the risen Lord, long awaited, foreshadowed over and over in the OT and fulfilled the prophecies in a way that is remarkable. He healed my cancer 5 years ago too and Carrier can't explain that away either. Besides, what other 2000+ year old hallucinations are we still debating today? Anyone can be a skeptic but it is a wise man who gives God a genuine chance. "You will search for Me and find Me when you search with all your heart."