Inference, Method, and History -- By: Timothy J. McGrew
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Inference, Method, and History
Western Michigan University
The publication of Mike Licona’s book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach provides a welcome opportunity for reflection on the goals and methods of historical inquiry and the implications of various methodological commitments for the study of the historical Jesus and the resurrection. Indeed, the sheer number of interesting and important topics that Licona has drawn together makes it impossible to discuss more than a small fraction of the book in a single article. I will therefore bypass with little or no comment many sections that are as fascinating as they are valuable, such as the magisterial and convincing discussion of Paul’s conception of the resurrection body that spans pp. 400–437, and focus on a cluster of issues involving inference, method, and the New Testament evidence.
History and Truth
Early in the book, Licona endorses the definition of “history” as “past events that are the object of study” (p. 30), and he makes it clear that the goal of history, as far as he is concerned, is truth— getting it right about those past events. Neither the definition nor the goal is uncontested, and Licona takes the reader through a substantial selection of widely diverging opinions on bias and the historian’s horizon, the role (and paucity) of consensus among historians, the prospects for the possibility of historical objectivity, and the burden of proof.
The cacophany of conflicting voices is deafening; and were it not for their influence, some of those voices might safely be ignored. In an irenic moment, Licona acquiesces in the idea that the postmodern critique has been valuable for the discipline of history (p. 87). This is faint praise, but I would begrudge them even this much. Scholars of the stature of J. B. Lightfoot do not need the nattering of would-be literary critics infected with bad epistemology to teach them to be judicious. We may all lament the loss of a large part of a generation who, had they received sound training, might have produced work of genuine intellectual merit. But they did not, and except as
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textbook examples of ἐνέργειαν πλάνης 1 they deserve all the neglect we can give them.
Even among the saner participants in the discussion, however, there are significant points of disagreement among the scholars Licona cites. Who, if anyone, bears the burden of proof in historical discussions? Should historians approach ancient texts with an attitude o...
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