Thursday, January 06, 2011

Die for a Lie – Licona Style

Mike Licona’s recent work, Resurrection of Jesus covers a great deal of ground—you may notice the reviews on it tend to be multiple blog entries.

He starts off regarding philosophy of history, and notes people’s bias effect their review. While he does recognize his own, I do think he gets caught up in the argument for the supernatural resurrection of Jesus, and fails to adequately remove his bias. After reviewing the sources, and various claims, he eventually reduces the historical bedrock to three (3) minimal facts:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.
3. Within a few years of Jesus’ death, Paul converted after experiencing what he interpreted as a postresurrection appearance of Jesus to him.

(pg 463)

In partial support of the second point, he discussed the apostles’ fate. Vinny asked me to list the sources Dr. Licona uses, so here we go. I will only perform minimal interaction—you probably already know my response. *grin* But first a relevant quote:

“When one is arguing for the truth of Christianity and the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, falling back to the martyrdom argument is a sign of argument-weakness.” Dr. Jim West.

Dr. Licona initially and heavily relies upon on 1 Clement 5:2-7; I will include his translation in its entirety:

Because of envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars have been persecuted and contended unto death. Let us set the good apostles before our eyes. Peter, who because of unrighteous envy, not once or twice but endured many afflictions and having borne witness went to the due glorious place. Because of envy and rivalries, steadfast Paul pointed to the prize. Seven times chained, exiled, stoned, having become a preacher both in the East and in the West, he received honor fitting of his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world., unto the boundary on which the sun sets; having testified in the presence of the leaders. Thus he was freed from the world and went to the holy place. He became a great example of steadfastness.

Licona follows with the very qualified statement, “Clement reports that Peter and Paul suffered multiple attacks and most likely refers to their martyrdoms, although the latter is not without question.” Pg 367. “Most likely” and “not without question” does not instill confidence.

He notes “unto death” does not necessarily mean death (see Mark 14:34; Matt. 26:38). He provides argument that similar wording in Polycarp points to martyrdom, but with qualifications.

Licona then turns to Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philipians, 9.2 which says:

I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness, and to exercise all patience, such as ye have seen [set] before your eyes, not only in the case of the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and the rest of the apostles. [This do] in the assurance that all these have not run in vain, but in faith and righteousness, and that they are [now] in their due place in the presence of the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not this present world, but Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead.

And in footnote 327 (pg 369) for additional sources, he cites Ignatius Letter to the Smyrnaeans 3.2, 4 (I couldn’t find anything new there), Tertullian, and further stated Peter is reported as having been crucified upside by Origen, in a work lost, but quoted by Eusebius.

I can’t help but note the failure to point out Acts of Peter here!

Licona goes on to use Dionysius, as quoted by Eusebius. The final statement of footnote 327 is worth quoting:

Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus and a leader in the church of the late second and early third centuries. The fates of the apostles are reported in a work attributed to him. However the actual dating and authorship of the text is doubtful. The fates given for Peter and Paul are consistent with what others wrote. The accounts regarding the remaining apostles are interesting and may contain historical kernels, but they are anecdotal and cannot be accorded too much weight.

As to James, the brother of Jesus, Licona utilizes Eusebius’ quotes of Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria. (here) (pg 455)

He then points out Josephus. Licona states we cannot presume Clement and Hegesippus embellished the accounts because Josephus may have down-played it. Licona does not explain why Josephus would have down-played it, and failed to address the numerous reason Christian authors would have to embellish it!

Licona hurt his credibility, however, when he states, “James’ martyrdom is multiply attested by at least two independent sources: Josephus and one or more Christian sources. We do not know anything about the origin of the tradition(s) from which Hegesippus and Clement drew.” (emphasis added) (pg 458)

Yes we do. It’s called “Second Apocalypse of James.”

Dr. Licona noted initially (and correctly) in his book how worldviews bias our review of history. Yet it was instances like this (and numerous others) where his own bias was far too evident and unaddressed that ultimately left me disappointed in the book.

Why are Hegesippus and Clement “independent” of Josephus? What is he relying upon to claim that? Why are their accounts not considered embellished (especially in light of the mid-step embellishment of 2nd Apocalypse), and Josephus considered trimmed down for “economy or unstated reasons.” (his words)

Perhaps the most interesting conclusion we have is that the best we have, according to him, is Peter and Paul and even then only on the very thin evidence of 1 Clement. Evidence even Licona qualifies as being questioned.

As I pointed out to Clay Jones, The author does not give any details surrounding Peter or Paul’s death. We don’t know when, we don’t know where, we don’t know by whom (Roman? Jewish? Other?), and of course the most important—we don’t know why.

The author is deliberately giving examples of steadfastness, and listing the travesties occurring to these individuals. He states that Peter suffered “many labors”—but skips the bit about Peter being crucified? He gives specifics about Paul—seven (not six. Not eight) times in bonds, exiled and stoned—but skips the bit about Paul being beheaded for his belief!?

The author talks about Abel being slain for “jealous and envy.” The author says Joseph was persecuted “unto death” (although not dying). If the author is willing to say some were killed because of “jealous and envy” but others were only persecuted “unto death” (but not killed) for jealously and envy, and our subjects Peter and Paul fall in the “unto death” category, it would seem in line with the author’s intentions they were NOT martyred.


  1. He notes “unto death” does not necessarily mean death (see Mark 14:34; Matt. 26:38). He provides argument that similar wording in Polycarp points to martyrdom, but with qualifications.

    This is the exact thing that bothers me about most pro-Jesus arguments. They hang on the interpretation of a single word. It, frankly, takes a lot more than faith to believe in the whole Jesus thing based on a wild guess that a certain word means this or that because it means so somewhere else.

    I had grown quite tired of that type of cheap argument by the time I gave up Christianity.

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  3. Any evidence that apostles did die unwilling to recant belief in the resurrection only proves that they believed in the resurrection. It doesn't begin to prove that the resurrection actually took place. It makes me wonder if I'm missing something here. Why is so much emphasis placed on this argument?

    Also, it makes me wonder what evidence about Jesus's resurrection would actually be compelling today? DagoodS, as an attorney, if you were going to defend the act of Jesus rising from the dead, what evidence would you want to have to present to the jury?

  4. DoOrDoNot,

    I think people use this argument because they hear it so much. One apologist tells another who tells a Sunday School teacher who teaches a class and on and on and on. And no one ever bothers to check it out.

    Coincidentally, I was working on a blog post about how I would argue for the Resurrection as an attorney. I have been mid-way through it for about a month. Your comment is the impetus to finish it.

  5. Good stuff as always. Thanks for drilling into a detailed example. The post about how you would argue for the redirection sounds great.

    I just heard Richard Carrier on the Conversations from the Pale blue Dot podcast with Luke talking about his upcoming big double volume historical Jesus books where he focuses heavily on method and Bayesian probabilities. Curious if you're familiar with Carrier's approach and your thoughts on it.

    Also I thought this YouTube series from ProfMTH on the "die for a lie" was detailed and helpful to understand why this approach is very ineffective for apologists, curious if you have an opinion on it given your knowledge: