A New Historiographical Approach

By Michael Licona

The historical Jesus was a Jewish prophet who had a small band of intimate followers until Roman soldiers crucified him in 30 AD. His followers disbanded in fear and shock, but renewed their fellowship sometime after his death. They then began preaching that Jesus was alive in a new life with God. This historical event is called the Easter experience or the Resurrection of Jesus.

Michael Licona analyses the various hypotheses or theories that attempt to explain the Resurrection of Jesus. He analyzes in great detail the views of about a dozen scholars and reduces those opinions to seven hypotheses. The hypothesis of John Dominic Crossan, for example, is labeled CsH.

In my opinion, the seven hypotheses can be reduced to four:

#1) There is no explanation for the Resurrection.

#2) The followers of Jesus had hallucinations or visions of Jesus appearing to them.

#3) The Resurrection speaks for itself. The empty tomb of Jesus and and the appearances are myths used to express the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.

#4) Jesus’ followers were not hallucinating when they saw Jesus, and what they saw could have been videotaped.

Thomas De Wesselow in a book titled The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection advances another hypothesis. De Wesselow argues that the Shroud of Turin, currently owned by the Catholic Church, covered the crucified body of Jesus, and its famous image and blood marks were somehow created when Jesus was put in a tomb. When people saw this mysterious image, they assumed that Jesus was raised from the dead.

The author advocates the videotape theory, and argues that advocates of the other three are biased because they don’t think miracles are possible. He also thinks that it is possible that the appearances of Jesus were hallucinations or visions with the proviso that the visions were caused by God.

In my opinion, all five theories are attempts to answer an unimportant question. The question intelligent and rational people ask is not what caused the Resurrection, but is there life after death?

I believe in life after death for a large number of reasons. The Resurrection is just one of the reasons. Another reason is the Shroud of Turin because there is no explanation of how the image was created. Another reason is that people who think life ends in the grave tend not to understand that human beings are embodied spirits and why God exists. The Resurrection is both an historical event and an object of faith. Faith is both a decision and a gift from God.