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Ehrman vs Licona Debate on the Resurrection

On April 16, 2011 I had a kind of radio debate with Mike Licona, a conservative Christian apologist and professor at Houston Baptist University.  The venue was the English radio broadcast, “Unbelievable,” hosted by moderator Justin Brierley, and the main question under discussion was whether there is “evidence” that Jesus was raised from the dead. Mike had just published his (large) book, called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach and wanted to talk about it. He is also the author of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.  The debate careens among different topics as the conversation escalates into scholarly challenges.

Here it is, for your listening pleasure.

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  1. Avatar
    Roelof  November 13, 2017

    Thank you for sharing this debate! I know that it’s a bit offtopic, but I am looking forward to your new book and I noticed that Reza Aslan wrote a positive review on your book. Aslan’s book on Jesus is one of the worst books on Jesus I ever read…just Paul Verhoeven’s book on Jesus is worser imho 🙂

    I know that Jesus and Christianity are 2 different topics, but I suppose your ideas about how Christianity developed are (partly) based on how you believe the first christians understood Jesus’ ideas and message? Did Aslan see the light? You and Aslan have (or had at least..) very different views on this topic.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 13, 2017

      Yes, our views are very different and no, I don’t believe he’s changed his mind.

  2. Avatar
    jbskq5  November 13, 2017

    It’s so interesting that when backed into a corner on matters of historical evidence vs. matters of faith, Licona and apologists like him have no choice but to accuse you of disbelieving because you don’t like the theological implications of “accepting the truth”.

    It’s this kind of thing that makes me instantly furious just hearing it coming out of an otherwise reasonable and affable person’s mouth. Thank you for your reasoned and uncompromising stance in this conversation, Dr. Ehrman. I enjoyed listening to the entire exchange.

  3. webo112
    webo112  November 13, 2017

    The stone rolled away (when the woman come) is multiply attested and an intriguing point to note, BUT do you think it’s historical? Was the stone a very, very early tradition that was added to prevent people from thinking that the body was just stolen? I wonder is the empty tomb story started out without a stone? Is the stone and empty tomb considered and treated “together” by historians?
    Can you post about the historicity of the stone on the tomb & the guards (your own opinion and the main scholarly stance-I believe you think there was no empty tomb, thus no stone… correct?).
    Its very interesting that in Mathew’s resurrection story, he includes verses to try to de-mythicize the stories that some (Jews) where saying that the body was stolen by Jesus’s followers. Specifically Matt 27 62-65 & 28: 15

    Its a fascinating set of verses that seem to (try) to deal with how some non-Christians (likely historically) where saying about the resurrection stories.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 13, 2017

      No, I don’t think there was a tomb at all, let alone an empty one! I talk about this in my book How Jesus Became God.

      • webo112
        webo112  November 14, 2017

        Ok thanks – I have read that book & plan to re-read now after Corruption….but while I have your attention can you verify something pls:

        Your view that Paul believed that Christ was an divine/angelic being that became (incarnated as) Jesus – which explains Paul’s high Christology, was a viewed YOU developed correct (somewhat recently)? its not something you agree with from another prior theory of a scholar right? If so, (and your theory) what has been the response in main scholarship circles? has it been widely discussed, accepted etc?

        It is quite an accomplishment & development, especially if its a new & unique view on Paul’s beliefs – (I know its not fully “provable”)

        Thanks in advance,

  4. Avatar
    Tony  November 13, 2017

    Ah yes, appeals to authority and the old binary either/or apologetic trick.

    Of course you are both wrong, but he’s more wrong (wronger) than you. You’re right, who knows what the appearances in 1Cor 15 were all about? About Paul we know the most, and some alternatives come to mind.

    1) He really had a vision of the celestial Jesus;
    2) He pretended to have visions of the Lord because Apostleship was a good gig, room and board, power, and collecting money “for the Jerusalem Saints”;
    3) He had an attack from the “thorn in his side” (malaria?), hallucinated – and saw things;
    4) Who knows… ;

    My bet is on (2), because I take a dim view of people declaring visions – even in the first century.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 13, 2017

      Or he had a hallucination as so many other people do.

      • Avatar
        Tony  November 13, 2017

        Yup, I agree and identified that in my comment. But I’m biased…

      • Avatar
        rburos  November 14, 2017

        Serious question–could it have been guilt that *made* him have the vision? Could he have been in psychological/emotional trauma? I had relatives that fought in WWII and they had some significant misgivings about things they did (I’m not saying they should have, or that I did, only that guilt held them in its grip for decades)

        • Bart
          Bart  November 14, 2017

          It’s certainly possible! But impossible to prove one way or the other.

  5. Avatar
    rburos  November 14, 2017

    Frustrating because the host appeared better prepared than Dr Licona. How could a scholar in this field not know Crossan’s views on the burial of Jesus? Or be prepared for your arguments against the better memory of ancients– when debating you? How did he miss the Enlightenment (not in his beliefs but in his understanding of what history is)? That was particularly disappointing.
    Thank you so much for your patience and for your disagreeing without being dismissive, but this is like the Bill Nye/Ken Hamm debate–it did much more for Dr Licona’s resume than for yours.

  6. Avatar
    pearson457  November 19, 2017

    I do not understand how Licona can call himself an academic “historian”. This conversation was painful to listen to because of his attempts to insert his theological assumptions into the discussion. Science (and I think history as far as it is able) are about hypothesis followed by attempts to disprove the hypothesis. Here, there are insufficient historical data to “prove” that Jesus was resurrected. So Licona uses the “best explanation” argument. All he can say is that the data show that people believed that Jesus rose. He goes from that position to saying that therefore the best explanation for those data is that he really did rise.

    Of course it is not the best explanation. For all we know they had eaten bad food the night before and were hallucinating on the products of the molds in that food. (That is not the “best explanation” either.)

    When my mother died, (years ago) I had a series of dreams about her that were very vivid. I could wake up at night if my sleep was interrupted and almost feel her presence. The “best explanation” for that is not that she was resurrected.

    And by the way, very very few scientists accept intelligent design. There are no data to support the hypothesis. Every day brings new data to support the theory of evolution, which is now no longer really treated as a theory. The forced teaching of ID was even tested in a PA court and found to be another word for evangelism.

  7. Avatar
    webattorney  November 26, 2017

    Jesus having an identical twin seems to be just as good an explanation. If I were a betting man, I would bet on this.

  8. Avatar
    mstott25  November 26, 2017

    There is a comment you made in this program with Licona that was something along the lines of ‘if Paul was around today he wouldn’t recognize evangelical Christianity’.

    That would be such a great book! Even Christianity 100 years ago in North America seems to be completely different from what it is today. Would you ever consider expanding on all the differences between Paul’s Christianity and today’s, either in a blog or perhaps a book of the topic garnered enough interest?

  9. Avatar
    meajon  January 10, 2018

    Do christian apologists ever address the historicity of other resurrection stories? Resurrection stories seem to be a dime a dozen especially when coupled with divine incarnations. But what I guess I’m asking relates generally to miracles, a resurrection being one such event. People see their dead relatives all the time. People are saved from car crashes in the middle of the night by some long-since dead fellow traveler who died on that exact date 20 years ago and who’s been saving people ever since. These are more than just ghost stories but a ghost story is of that type of event. It seems like a historian like Mike Licona or anyone else would investigate all resurrection-type stories and not make the case for just one as if it were the only resurrection miracle ever. David Hume picked up on this so it’s not my idea but it seems like one who approaches this topic, i.e. Jesus’ resurrection, would have to address the topic generally. Why privilege one miracle over another? My suspicion is that Licona would find those stories “not credible.” My question to him at that point would be “what did you find out when you investigated whether they were true?” I’m an attorney so I know the resurrection narrative would never be admitted in court under any exception to the hearsay rule, including the “ancient document/ancient treatise” exception (which the federal rulemakers are trying to get rid of because “just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s true”). So, you’d have to present a live (not dead) witness. If we discovered that the witness was not credible (drunk, mentally ill, prone to exaggeration, near-blind), then we might start to conclude that these events are not credible. If the witness were credible, then we might start to conclude that these events – all of them – are credible. Seems to me all resurrection stories/stories of the miraculous stand on the same footing one way or the other.My suspicion is that we’d find these people not credible. But one who purports to be objective would have to investigate the phenomena generally, I think, to be in a position to say that an event 2000 years ago might be credible.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 11, 2018

      They simply say that these other stories are not as well attested/documented.

      • Avatar
        meajon  January 11, 2018

        I’d find that infuriating! Classic privileging my texts over yours. I’d find it infuriating to debate someone who is so biased.

  10. Avatar
    skeptik  December 20, 2018

    I just listened to this (late to the party). Licona seems to argue that when all other explanations have been exhausted, miracle is the only alternative. But he never provided any argument demonstrating that all other possible explanations were bankrupt.

    It seems to me that the simplest explanation is that many people claim (honestly or dishonestly) to see people who are dead, UFOs, aliens, Yeti, etc. etc. etc. But once miracle is accepted as being explanatory, it follows that whenever people make such claims, they should be given credence – especially if there are multiple individuals making the same claim and there is nothing there to outright disprove the claim.

    This of course would be historical absurdity on a stick! I wonder if Licona would embrace the “three witnesses” of Mormonism who saw the golden plates and heard a voice from heaven saying that the plates were translated by the power of God. If not, there were eight more witnesses who claim to have actually handled the golden plates. These events are much more recent than the biblical stories. So why not buy that bag of bologna too?

    My point is simply that when you smuggle the supernatural into critical historical inquiry, you may get an endless parade of amusing nonsense – but you don’t get history!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      Yes, miracle trumps historical evidence, which is why historical evidence is irrelevant to his claims (despite his eagerness to show otherwise!)

  11. Avatar
    laflauta  December 27, 2018

    Interesting how Prof.Licona invokes elasticity when considering the inconsistencies in the Gospel resurrection narratives, yet speaks for the accuracy of oral transmission when discussing Paul. Whatever suits the occasion.

    Another point I think could have been raised is that there is a problem with Prof. Licona making 1 Corinthians 15 the keystone of his argument, in that Paul equates his experience of the resurrection with those of the apostles. Even if Jesus had been bodily raised, he had ascended before Paul’s sighting of him on the Damascus Road. Paul had no experience of the bodily Jesus. So then neither did the apostles, if Paul’s experience was of the same type?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 28, 2018

      Paul does not ever talk about an ascension. He appears to think Jesus was taken up to heaven at the resurrection, and came down bodily , at times, to appear to people.

      • Avatar
        laflauta  December 29, 2018

        Thank you – then it appears that Paul’s report of his experience cannot be reconciled with the Gospel accounts, which have the bodily Jesus ascending before he could have appeared to Paul?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 30, 2018

          Jesus actually doesn’t ascend in any of the Gospels; that’s found only in the book of Acts.

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