‘Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus,’ edited by W. David Beck and Michael R. Licona – A Brief Review

If it happened, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth would have been one of the most important (if not the most important) event in human history. It is little wonder that apologists spend so much time and treasure defending it. One of the premier defenders of Jesus’s resurrection in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been Gary Habermas, professor of philosophy and apologetics at Liberty University, and a recent volume edited by W. David Beck and Michael Licona entitled Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lexham Press, 2020) aims to honor Habermas who has not only influenced Beck and Licona but countless other apologists. In the course of roughly 392 pages and a dozen and a half chapters, various authors offer their thoughts on subjects which Habermas has engaged in his nearly half-century career. Contributors include J.P. Moreland on substance-dualism (ch. 2), William Lane Craig on the connection between Jesus’s “atoning death” and the resurrection (ch. 6), Dale Allison on near death experiences and their relationship to Christian theology (ch. 10), and more. In some ways, Raised on the Third Day is a Who’s Who? of Christian apologists and thinkers.[1]

Though subtitled “Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus,” some of the essays in the volume seemed irrelevant to this lofty goal. For example, in ch. 5 we read Francis Beckwith’s engagement with political philosopher John Rawls. Specifically, Beckwith attempts to take Rawls’s “neutralist liberalism” on subjects like abortion and see how it could be applied to issues like whether Christian bakers should be required to make cakes for same-sex weddings. It’s a piece better suited for a volume on contemporary issues in Christian political philosophy than one on the resurrection of Jesus. The same could be said of David Baggett’s piece on a “minimal facts” moral argument (ch. 7) as well as W. David Beck’s on the underlying structure of moral arguments (ch. 8). These too would be more appropriate for a work on philosophy of religion rather than one on the historicity of the resurrection of God’s son.

In addition to these seemingly misplaced essays, Raised on the Third Day features not one but two separate chapters on the Shroud of Turin. Whatever the value of the shroud and no matter its authenticity, it generally plays a very minor role in evangelical apologetics and, to my knowledge, has no direct bearing on the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Mark Foreman offers a variety of “naturalistic” hypotheses to explain the image on the shroud, including the idea that the shroud was at some point irradiated. This, he writes, “is currently the best explanation for how the image was formed on the Shroud” (p. 55). But while some might think that it was the resurrection itself that was the radiating event, Foreman cautions against such a conclusion writing, “The fact is, we simply do not know what a resurrection event would look like, nor what residual effects it might leave behind. To make any such claims is to go beyond the evidence, even if the Shroud is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus. I am open to the radiation hypothesis as being in line with the resurrection, but I would not claim it is evidence of it” (p. 58). In which case, what good is the shroud? To prove Jesus died? We already knew that. 

Two essays do stand out. The first is Beth Sheppard’s contribution entitled “Racing Toward the Tomb: Purity and Sacrifice in the Fourth Gospel” (pp. 225-255). Sheppard is a professor at Ingram Library at the University of West Georgia and has a variety of works including one on how biblical scholars and historians make use of the New Testament documents to reconstruct the past entitled The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament (SBL, 2013).[2] Prior to reading her contribution to Raised on the Third Day, I was unaware of Sheppard’s work. Now that I’ve been introduced to it, I can say that her writing is as delightful as it is informative. Whether it’s disputing Habermas’s claim that the scene in John 19:34-35 is “evidence that the type of wound Jesus received was lethal” (see pp. 226-230), or alerting readers to the Fourth Evangelist’s desire to “portray Jesus as possessing a constant state of purity” (p. 248), Sheppard writes methodically and thoroughly. If there is any essay worth rereading in Raised on the Third Day, it is Sheppard’s. 

The second essay that stands out does so for reasons opposite of Sheppard’s. It is Frank Turek’s closing chapter entitled “What Everyone Should Learn from Gary Habermas” (pp. 325-338). The only redeeming quality of the piece is its brevity; it is one of the shortest in the volume. Turek, taking his cues from Habermas and Michael Licona, trots out many of the same, tired arguments for the reliability of the Gospels that when looked at closely simply do not hold water. For example, he spends considerable space on the criterion of embarrassment, making such asinine claims as Jesus’s genealogy is unlikely to be an invention because it includes “two prostitutes… (Tamar and Rahab), an adulterer (Bathsheba), and a king (David) who lies, cheats, and murders to cover up his sins. That’s certainly not an invented royal bloodline!” (p. 329). Setting aside the fleeting utility of the criterion of embarrassment, Turek’s lack of imagination and general unacquaintance with any scholarship that doesn’t have the word “apologetics” in the description makes Raised on the Third Day seem amateurish. (And I should know – I am an amateur.) 

Raised on the Third Day is not the best book on the resurrection of Jesus I’ve ever read, nor is it the worst. But apart from Sheppard’s contribution and perhaps that of Dale Allison on NDEs, it is not a very useful volume. Readers would do better to pick up Allison’s recent work on the resurrection or even Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010). Or save your money and perhaps one day Habermas himself will publish that “magnum opus” everyone keeps talking about.[3] 

[1] Sometimes these categories overlap!

[2] See http://bethmsheppard.com/biography/.

[3] Sometimes I make myself laugh.

Bible Study for Amateurs #22 – Hey Jude 3-4!

Intruder alert! Intruder alert!

Bible Study for Amateurs #21 – Hey Jude 1-2!

The first of ten episodes looking at the NT epistle of Jude utilizing some of the tools from my amateur toolbox mentioned in episodes 11-20.

Hiatus (and a Milestone!)

Due to some unforeseen circumstances in the “real world,” I’ll be on hiatus from posting for the short term. How long that will be is unknown. It could be days, weeks, or a month. Either way, my presence will be spotty on Twitter and here on the blog and I’ll be even less reliable than I was before. Hopefully everything works out quickly and I can get back to “work.” This blog will not be completely silent, however, as ten more episodes of Bible Study for Amateurs will begin dropping Thursday. (I recorded and scheduled them a couple of months ago.) Be sure to check those out!

I do want to mention that WordPress informed me that the blog has reached 100,000 views since its inception. It’s hard to believe and I am grateful for both of my readers who have put in the hard work of viewing my material 50,000 times each! In all seriousness, thank you to all those who read, watch, listen to, share, and otherwise engage with my minor contribution to the world of biblical studies. It is much appreciated!

If you need to reach me, the best way to do that is via email: amateurexegete@gmail.com. I’ll try to check Twitter DMs when I’m able. See you soon!

Biblical Studies Carnival #193 (March 2022)

The month of March was a busy month in biblical studies and I’m keenly aware of the fact that I missed a ton of stuff. In fact, there’s some stuff I just didn’t include in this month’s carnival because I didn’t want to overwhelm readers! Below you’ll find links to articles, blog posts, podcasts, and YouTube episodes covering everything from gendered sexual violence in the Bible to the meaning of “baptism for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15. 

Before we get to the carnival itself, let me just say how much I enjoy doing it. My process is fairly simple: I set aside a few minutes every weekday to peruse social media, the various blogs I subscribe to, and YouTube to see who is posting what in the field of biblical studies. Once I find something, I immediately save it to my Safari “Reading List.” After I’ve read, listened to, or watched the piece, I write a brief entry in my working copy of the carnival. Slowly, over the course of the month, I build a tiny library of things that I believe readers will find thought-provoking. At the very least, found them thought-provoking and interesting. 

If you would like to host a carnival, please contact Phil Long either on Twitter (@Plong42) or via email (plong42@gmail.com). He’s in charge of keeping the carnival running and is always looking for bloggers who would like to host it. As I’ve said before, the carnival always results in extra traffic for my website, which means that readers may find some of the material I’ve produced and engage with it. So, it’s an excellent way to promote your own website! 

Here are where you can find the next two carnivals: 

As of right now, Dr. Long has no one lined up to do any future carnivals beyond the June 2022 edition. If you’re interested in doing it, please reach out to him and let him know.

Now, without further ado, here is Biblical Studies Carnival #193.

Hebrew Bible & LXX

  • Andrew Tobolowsky offers readers of Ancient Jew Review a preview of his latest book The Myth of the Twelve Tribes of Israel: New Identities Across Time and Space (Cambridge University Press, 2022). Here is how he sums up his book: “In a nutshell, I argue that the various efforts to, as I put it, ‘become Israel’ throughout the world and throughout history are not so very different from the biblical effort to describe an Israelite past and identity as scholarship generally supposes.” 
  • Interested in the Greek Psalter? Drew Longacre noticed that the website for the Editio critica maior of the Psalter put up an online catalogue of manuscripts as well as images of some of those documents
  • Claude Mariottini started a series on King David earlier in the month. Using his pastor’s sermons as a springboard, Mariottini briefly outlines Paul’s early life up to the rejection of Saul as king over Israel and the anointing of David by Samuel. I think this sort of interplay with what is preached from the pulpit will be both helpful and enlightening. Mariottini is an Old Testament scholar and can bring much needed insight into the texts his pastor is going through in his sermon series. 
  • Does the Torah prohibit face masks? Marc Zvi Brettler takes up this question in a recent post over at thetorah.com. He writes, “As a biblical scholar who was in Israel for most of the pandemic, and is still here, every time I saw or heard a mask announcement, its vocabulary brought me back to the biblical text.” 
  • In a recent episode of the podcast Chapter, Verse, and SeasonJoel Baden and Eric Reymond talk about Genesis 15 and the promise to Abraham that he would “possess” the land of Canaan. As they point out, possess could mean “inherit” but it could also have much darker connotations. 
  • Who killed Goliath? Was it David (1 Samuel 17)? Was it Elhanan (2 Samuel 21:19)? Or did Elhanan kill a brother of Goliath and not the giant himself (1 Chronicles 20:5)? Kaspar Ozolinš works through the relevant Hebrew texts and thinks that the passage in 2 Samuel 21 has been corrupted through scribal error, originally referring to the killing of Goliath’s brother. 
  • William Ross has announced at his blog the publication of a volume he co-edited entitled Postclassical Greek Prepositions and Conceptual Metaphor. Greek nerds should be excited about this one, especially as it pertains to Septuagint and NT studies.
  • Over at The Shiloh ProjectKarina Atudosie and Katherine Gwyther look at “gendered sexual violence” in the Bible, especially the Song of Solomon, on the one-year anniversary of the rape and murder of Sarah Everard in the United Kingdom. Regarding the biblical text they write, “The Song might lull us into thinking about all kinds of sensualities, but we should remain alert to its abusive elements, no matter how fleeting these are.” It is a powerful piece.
  • Spencer McDaniel looks at the book of Proverbs and its promotion of corporal punishment for children (e.g., Proverbs 13:24). He responds to objections that the “rod” to which the author(s) of Proverbs refers is actually a shepherd’s staff and, thus, is something far more palatable to our modern senses than a rod that beats and strikes. 
  • Over at SlateAbraham Riesman considers the book of Job, discussing (among other things) Edward Greenstein’s fantastic translation of the biblical text. Riesman reflects on Job and writes, “In the face of all that appears to be in front of the world today, amid all the calamities we are hurtling toward or already enduring, I’ve found no choice but to share Job’s outraged honesty. Job provides a framework for why it’s worth it to keep going.”
  • Dan McClellan talks about the angel of Yahweh, Jesus, and the idea of “divine images” in a recent video on his YouTube channel. The 15-minute video is a partial summary of a piece he wrote for Biblical Interpretation back in 2017. (McClellan does a lot with Tik-Tok but alas I’m not cool enough for that.)
  • Last year, Gilles Dorival published a book looking at the reception of the LXX in the city of Alexandria, Egypt and among early Christians. Over at his website, Ed Gallagher offers a brief overview of the book that piqued my interest in the volume. I’ve now added it to my Amazon wish list and will cross my fingers that the price drops.
  • In addition to his series on King David (see above), Claude Mariottini posted a quasi-commentary on Isaiah 5:1-7 – “The Song of the Vineyard.” He writes that “the song of the vineyard was intended to force Israel to realize their failures before Yahweh.” This seems like a common theme in the Hebrew Bible, right?
  • Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg examines the commandment to honor one’s parents. She looks at how the command was interpreted in later Jewish literature and concludes that it is not without “major limits.” For example, it doesn’t mean you don’t have rights or that you parents can lord over you. In other words, the commandment is not absolute. 
  • Do you want to see a 3-D printed version of an ancient horned altar? Aren Maeir has a picture of one that was printed using scans of the altar at the Ashdod Philistine Museum. It’s pretty cool.
  • The New Revised Standard Version is getting an update! Mark Wingfield has the details, noting that many of the “most significant changes” are likely to appear in the Old Testament rather than the new.  
  • Who was Isaiah? What sense can we make of the biblical text that bears his name? Andrew Abernethy looks at those questions in a recent post for The Ancient Near East Today. Abernethy’s book Discovering Isaiah: Content, Interpretation, Reception was published by Eerdmans last year. 
  • Heather Thiessen began looking at the book of Ezra earlier in the month. (She does this as part of a Bible study class at her church.) The first post in this series looks at background and context before moving on to an examination of the passages themselves. Readers looking for a place to go that regularly offers excellent notes on biblical texts and topics should put Thiessen’s website at the top of their list. 
  • Joshua Bowen appeared on the UnHoly Trini-tea podcast to talk about “plagiarism” in the Hebrew Bible. Bowen does an excellent job of looking at historical context and the phenomenon of ancient intertextuality. 
  • A recent archaeological find has had social media in a frenzy: a curse inscription, tentatively dated to the Late Bronze Age, that appears to mention the name Yahweh. Christopher Rollston offers an overview of this find and cautions against making too much of this while there is still much to consider as all the evidence isn’t in. 
  • Carol Newsome appeared on the Two Testaments podcast to talk about Job 42, finishing up the Old Testament portion of the series. (See below for the final episode on Romans in the New Testament portion.) As always, Newsome is thought-provoking. 
  • Over at the YouTube channel The Study of Christianity you’ll find part 10 of a series that Twitter user @StudyofChrist began a while back covering the book of Daniel. He goes into a lot of historical background which is helpful for setting the stage of the book of Daniel itself. 

Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha,
and the Dead Sea Scrolls

  • Seth Sanders discusses the age of 1 Enoch, particularly the section known as the “Book of the Watchers” (i.e., chs. 1-36), warning against overconfidence in particular datings (e.g., fifth century BCE over 3rd century BCE, etc.). 
  • Over at her blog Faces & Voices, Roberta Mazza points her audience to the continued interest of American evangelicals in unprovenanced antiquities, especially those related to the Dead Sea Scrolls. In particular, she links to two brochures by Brandon Witt wherein he offers for purchase various ancient documents. Mazza writes, “To me it is a mystery why American evangelicals seem entitled to sell their unprovenanced and forged Biblical trinkets without any consequences.” Indeed. 
  • Brent Nongbri talks about 7Q5, a Greek manuscript from Qumran that has a storied history, including the claim that it is a fragment from the Gospel of Mark. 
  • Elena Dugan rethinks Second Temple literature, outlining some of the ways scholars of times past have engaged with that literature, often in ways that denigrated their authors. 
  • Jason Staples was recently on the podcast Biblical World and discussed his recent book The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism. He also mentioned that he is working on a book on the apostle Paul and his ideas surrounding Israel. Staples thinks (or so I understood him to think) that Paul believed that the prophets of old who predicted gentile inclusion in God’s people must have meant that the lost tribes of the northern kingdom intermingled with the nations and, thus, the phenomenon of gentile faith in Jesus was actually a sign that these intermingled tribes were returning and, therefore, prophecy was being fulfilled. That’s a simplistic version. Listen to the podcast to get the big picture.

New Testament and
Early Christian Literature

In Memoriam

This month we lost some heavyweights in the field. Here are three about which I was made aware during my readings, though there were undoubtedly more. (Please, feel free to add any that I’ve missed into the comments.)

Jimmy Akin and Joseph’s Two Homes (Evangelical Eisegesis #4 – Catholic Edition)

Matthew depicts Joseph as living in Bethlehem and setting in Nazareth later. Luke depicts Joseph as being from Nazareth, going to Bethlehem for the census and birth of Jesus, and then returning to Nazareth. How can these two be reconciled? If you’re Jimmy Akin that’s easy! Joseph owned two homes. Or did he?

Michael Jones, Jude, and 1 Enoch (Evangelical Eisegesis #3)

Michael Jones of Inspiring Philosophy suggests that the author of the epistle of Jude uses 1 Enoch 1:9 the way a pastor might insert a pop-culture reference into a sermon. But is this what’s going on with Jude’s citation of 1 Enoch? Let’s investigate!

‘The Pharisees,’ edited by Joseph Sievers and Amy-Jill Levine – A Brief Review

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” If your upbringing was anything like mine, then perhaps you heard those words spoken from the pulpit from time to time. In my home church, it was usually uttered by some fiery evangelist directing his ire at people using an NIV or NASB or RSV or NKJV or any translation of the Bible that didn’t read “King James Version” on the spine.[1] If the context of those words, taken from Matthew 23:13ff, was ever given, it was done so in passing before the pulpiteer moved on to the central thrust of his sermon. And never were we offered historical context, specifically an examination of who the Pharisees were based on all our available ancient sources. Instead, what the canonical Gospels reported concerning the Pharisees was (pun intended) taken as gospel. Consequently, for much of my life I had a one-sided view of the Pharisees, and it was only when I encountered historically informed critical scholarship that I began to understand not only the polemical context of the Gospels’ language but also the socio-historical context of the Pharisees themselves.

Yet navigating those contexts can be difficult. Thankfully, a recent volume edited by Joseph Sievers and Amy-Jill Levine offers interested readers a guide to the Pharisees. Published in 2021, the 506 page The Pharisees contains over two-dozen essays by a diverse and noteworthy group of scholars. As Sievers and Levine note in the preface (pp. ix-xviii) the individual pieces are revised versions of papers presented in 2019 at a conference hosted by the American Jewish Committee in conjunction with the Pontifical Biblical Institute. [2] On the final day of the conference, Pope Francis himself addressed the attendees, and his remarks can be found in the Appendix of the volume (pp. 441-444). Such ecumenical cooperation is admirable, especially given the troubled historical relationship between Christianity and Judaism. 

The Pharisees covers a wide range of topics. To open the volume, in ch. 1 Craig Morrison examines the name “Pharisee” and investigates its ultimate etymology. He surveys the ways in which its etymology has been discussed in lexicons (pp. 6-8), encyclopedias and Bible dictionaries (pp. 9-11), and in more scholarly circles (pp. 11-14) including commentaries (pp. 14-17). In the end, Morrison recognizes that figuring out where the name “Pharisee” came from is perhaps moot: “Though the name Pharisee had an original lexical meaning, today that meaning is lost” (p. 18). Our focus should instead be on “how the name is used in particular texts and genres and by different authors” (p. 19). 

Other essays in The Pharisees cover historical questions surrounding their mysterious origins (ch. 2), the difficulties created by archaeological evidence related to ritual purity (ch. 3), supposed anti-Pharisee rhetoric in the literature of the Qumran community (ch. 4), and Josephus’s portrayal of the Pharisees in his corpus (ch. 5). In ch. 6, Paula Fredriksen, a scholar whose many works have influenced me significantly, looks at the apostle Paul and his purported relationship to the Pharisees. After examining the Pharisees in the works of Josephus and the canonical Gospels of the New Testament, she writes, “We come, finally, to Paul, the only self-identified Pharisee. Boxed in by later tradition, the historical Paul is hard to see” (p. 125). She goes on to note the ways in which centuries of misunderstanding (not to mention, poor translation) have created a version of Paul that is at once anachronistic and eisegetical. 

Space does not permit a full consideration of every essay in the volume, as there are many that stand out (at least to me): Jens Schröter on the relationship of Jesus and the Pharisees (ch. 12), Matthias Skep on how early apologists like Justin Martyr and Hippolytus of Rome understood and used the Pharisees in their works (ch. 14), Randall Zachman on the Pharisees in the writings of Martin Luther and John Calvin (ch. 18), Angela La Delfa on artistic depictions of the Pharisees (ch. 19), and Adele Reinhartz on “The Pharisees in Film” (ch. 21). Particularly helpful was Amy-Jill Levine’s contribution on how ministers and teachers should address the subject of the Pharisees (ch. 24). She discusses the “cultural tone deafness” exhibited by many who unwittingly promote anti-Semitism in their rhetorical depictions of the Pharisees (p. 407). (See my fiery evangelist in the first paragraph of this review.) She advocates for a more historically informed reading of them, writing that “when the historical context is insufficiently emphasized, corrections to the [Gospel] text’s negative presentation of the Pharisees may be insufficiently emphasized as well” (p. 410). And this is not the only guidance she offers. Christian preachers and teachers would do well to purchase this volume for Levine’s essay alone. 

As someone whose education was rooted in conservative Christian traditions, traditions that often avoided discussions surrounding the history of the Pharisees or refused to even consider that their depiction in the canonical Gospels produces more heat than light, The Pharisees is a vital addition to my library. It functions as a crash course on the history and reception of this ancient Jewish sect that is both readable and scholarly. It should appeal not only to those interested in Second Temple Judaism but also for those who want to better understand the complex relationship Jews and Christians have had, a relationship that was strained (in part) due to misunderstanding of the Pharisees. 

[1] For a sneak peek into my childhood and its relationship to the KJV (i.e., Ruckmanism), see part 9 of the introduction to my ongoing series “(Re)Considering Christianity: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion.

[2] A decade prior, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, the predecessor of Pope Francis, declared that year to be the “Year of St. Paul.” One of the products of the pope’s declaration was the creation of a volume on the apostle Paul written by various contributors including Jewish scholar Mark Nanos who wrote an essay entitled “Paul and Judaism.” This brief but helpful essay can be found in Mark D. Nanos, Reading Paul within Judaism, Collected Essays of Mark D. Nanos, vol. 1 (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017), 173-177. 

A Request for a Sign from Heaven (Errant Bible #2)

An examination of one of my favorite contradictions in the Bible. Did Jesus tell his opponents he would not give a sign to them (Mark 8:11-13) or did he refuse to give any sign except one – the sign of Jonah (Matthew 16:1-4)?