Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Case for the Real Jesus (9): Licona's Minimal Facts

In The Case for the Real Jesus, Mike Licona claims that the vast majority of scholars on the subject accept that Jesus's disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them. He quotes Paula Fredricksen of Boston University who he describes as "a very liberal scholar":
I know in there own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say and all the historic evidence we have attests to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know as a historian that they must have seen something.
(TCFTRJ p.119) While I might not accuse Licona of lying, I think he is certainly spinning things pretty vigorously.

The gist of the “minimal fact” which Paula Fredicksen accepts is that the disciples saw “something.” There is no agreement about the number of disciples who saw this something. No agreement that the nature of the appearance was physical rather than visionary. No agreement about the location of the appearance, whether it was in Jerusalem or Galilee. No agreement about how soon the appearance took place after Jesus’ crucifixion. No agreement to an instantaneous transition from timid cowering to bold preaching. No agreement to a rapid spread of the belief. No agreement to anything in the gospel accounts other than that some unnamed disciples saw something. If the fact that somebody believed they saw something requires a supernatural explanation than we have to believe that Joseph Smith spoke with the angel Moroni and the Blessed Virgin Mary really appeared at Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe, Knock, and on that grilled cheese sandwich that sold on e-Bay (or was that Jesus?).

So how does Licona get from scholars agreeing that some disciples saw something to the historical resurrection as the most likely explanation? He does it by reading back into his minimal facts the details from the gospel accounts that he needs to dismiss alternative explanations. He dismisses the hallucination theory on the grounds that hallucinations don’t happen to multiple people at once. However, this assumes the factual accuracy of the appearance accounts in the gospels. He dismisses the theory that Peter had a vision and then convinced the others on the grounds that someone would have produced the body. However this assumes the accuracy of the burial accounts in the gospels and assumes that Peter’s vision took place in Jerusalem rather than Galilee. He dismisses the swoon theory (which I agree sounds silly) on the grounds that it does not comport with the details in the gospels.

Licona claims that his case is based on the minimal facts that are accepted by the majority of scholars, but in fact, he liberally supplements those facts with other details from the gospels for which he can claim no such consensus.


  1. So, if there was no resurrection, why did the disciples convert from Judaism? Why would they abandon the religious system they were raised in on the basis of a know lie? Why would they do it based on incomplete evidence?

    Where we accept the historical traditions that say the Apostles were martyred for their faith or not, we still have to account for their conversion. And not just their conversion, we have to account for the many others who converted and began a religious movement that swept the Roman Empire.


  2. Many many people converted to Christianity without anything more than someone else's assurance that the resurrection took place. Quite a few willingly died for their beliefs.

    I will happily accept Licona's minimal fact that some disciples saw something, but that does not give me any reason to believe that it was anything more than a vision seen by a few people and does not provide any particular support for the gospel acconts.