Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about what we can know about Jesus. I recently finished reading the book called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by New Testament historian Mike Licona. In the book Licona discusses what is called “The Historical Bedrock.” These three facts about the Historical Jesus are held by most critical scholars and historians.
1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion
2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.
3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.
Licona is more than aware that just because there is a list of agreed upon facts that is agreed upon by historians and Biblical scholars will not make it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. As Licona says, “Something doesn’t become a “fact” just because the majority of scholars believe it.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, pg 279).
However, as Gary Habermas says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.” (see Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2001), 152.
Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (See Christopher Blake, “Can History be Objective?” in Theories of History, Ed. Patrick Gardiner (New York: Macmillan, 1959), pp. 331-333; cited in Geisler and Hoffman, 152.
Habermas completed an overview of more than 1,400 critical scholarly works on the resurrection from 1975 to 2003. He studied and catalogued about 650 of the texts in English, German and French. Habermas reports that all the scholars who were from across the ideological spectrum agreed on the Historical Bedrock that Licona mentions. Therefore, the scholars and historians that Habermas researched were not all from a conservative or traditional perspective. Some of the critical scholars even included atheists, agnostics, Christians and Jews. So there was some impartiality in the study.
Bart Ehrman and The Historical Bedrock
What is interesting is Licona’s discussion of Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has become somewhat of a hero of the atheist community because of his popular works such as Misquoting Jesus, etc. I hope the atheist community knows Ehrman agrees with the Historical Bedrock.
1. Jesus died by crucifixion: Ehrman says: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate” (see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 261-262).
2. Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them: Ehrman says: “Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew are least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event (Galatians 1:18-19).” ( see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 282).
3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him: Ehrman says: “There is no doubt that [Paul] believed that he saw Jesus’ real but glorified body raised from the dead.” (see see see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 301).
The Starting Points for Discussions About Jesus
In my opinion, The Historical Bedrock needs to be the starting points about discussions about the historicity of Jesus. If there are still those that deny The Historical Bedrock, we need to discuss historical methodology. After all, historical skepticism is a methodological approach to doing history. For those that still want to propose freshman level objections like “Jesus is a myth” or “We don’t even know if Jesus existed,” I hope you can at least arrive to where Ehrman is on The Historical Bedrock issue. I am done with debating the existence of Jesus.
Even Ehrman says:
“What about those writers like Acharya S (The Christ Conspiracy) and Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (The Jesus Mysteries), who say that Jesus never existed, and that Christianity was an invented religion, the Jewish equivalent of the Greek mystery religions? This is an old argument, even though it shows up every 10 years or so. This current craze that Christianity was a mystery religion like these other mystery religions-the people who are saying this are almost always people who know nothing about the mystery religions; they’ve read a few popular books, but they’re not scholars of mystery religions. The reality is, we know very little about mystery religions-the whole point of mystery religions is that they’re secret! So I think it’s crazy to build on ignorance in order to make a claim like this. I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing. I don’t know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this.” Bart Ehrman, interview with David V. Barrett, “The Gospel According to Bart”, Fortean Times (221), 2007
The Ehrman quote does not support the second element of Licona’s “historical bedrock” since Ehrman only affirms that Paul had an experience. Regarding the other disciples, Ehrman only affirms that they claimed to have experiences.
Have you read the Licona book? It doesn’t matter is Ehrman only affirms that they claimed it. That is part of what Licona affirms as part of the bedrock. So you would have to take that up with Licona and his definition of what is The Historical Bedrock.