Tag Archives: Mike Licona

Do Historical Scholars Think Jesus Existed? #2 Post of 2012

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Every once in a while, you may hear from hyper-skeptics that Jesus probably never existed, or that if he did exist, we cannot know anything about him because the historical evidence is so poor.  Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, provides a sampling of quotes from scholars who have studied the historical Jesus, and who regard the idea that Jesus never existed as simply false.  These quotes span from 1958 to present day.

Truth is not determined by a vote, but when it comes to historical studies, it certainly is important to see where the scholarly consensus lies.  After all, these people have supposedly studied the evidence far more than the average person.  So, below I have copied Licona’s collection of quotes just to give you an idea of the consensus opinion on the existence of Jesus.

Bultmann (1958): “Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community.”

Bornkamm (I960): “To doubt the historical existence of Jesus at all . . . was reserved for an unrestrained, tendentious criticism of modern times into which it is not worth while to enter here.”

Marxsen (1970): “I am of the opinion (and it is an opinion shared by every serious historian) that the theory [‘that Jesus never lived, that he was a purely mythical figure’] is historically untenable.”

Grant (1977): “To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars.’  In recent years ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus’—or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.”

M. Martin (1991): “Well’s thesis [that Jesus never existed] is controversial and not widely accepted.”

Van Voorst (2000): “Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their [i.e., Jesus mythers] arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely.”

Burridge and Could (2004):  “There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more.”

Allison (“Explaining,” 2005): “No responsible scholar can find any truth in it.”

Maier (2005): “the total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.”

R. J. Miller in Scott, ed. (Finding, 2008): “We can be certain that Jesus really existed (despite a few hyper-historical skeptics who refuse to be convinced).”

Vermes (2008): “Let me state plainly that I accept that Jesus was a real historical person.  In my opinion, the difficulties arising from the denial of his existence, still vociferously maintained in small circles of rationalist ‘dogmatists,’ far exceed those deriving from its acceptance.”

C. A. Evans in Evans and Wright (2009): “No serious historian of any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria.”

Why Is Paul So Important to Historians Studying the Resurrection of Jesus? #5 Post of 2012

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Historical scholar Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, asks just this question.  His answer is important to understand.

A priority must be assigned to Paul because he is the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus, and there are numerous extant texts he wrote that give us clues pertaining to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself.  And he personally knew the other disciples, who were also claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.

Paul’s conversion is especially interesting because he was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred.  Therefore Jesus’ resurrection is reported not only by his friends but also by at least someone who was a vehement foe at the time of the experience.  Paul’s belief that he had witnessed the risen Christ was so strong that he, like the original disciples, was willing to suffer continuously for the sake of the gospel, even to the point of martyrdom.

Let’s recap what Licona is saying.  Paul is important because:

  1. He is the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus.
  2. There are numerous extant texts he wrote that give us clues pertaining to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.
  3. Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself.
  4. He personally knew the other disciples, who were also claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.
  5. He was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred.
  6. He was willing to suffer and be martyred because his belief in the risen Jesus was so strong.

In future posts, we will look at a couple of skeptical arguments as to why we should discount Paul’s writings as evidence of the resurrection.  Licona presents these arguments and then responds to them, so stay tuned.

How Do We Overcome Our Horizons (Biases)? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of the post series, we looked at three guidelines for historians who are attempting to limit the undue influence of their horizons. These guidelines are taken from Mike Licona’s book The Resurrection of Jesus. In part 2, we will review Licona’s next three guidelines.

4. Submitting ideas to unsympathetic experts may assist in minimizing the negative impact of horizon. This is taking peer pressure to the next step by submitting our interpretation of data and historical descriptions to those who are certain to have a different opinion and a motivation to locate weaknesses in competing hypotheses. While historians are inclined to catch comments that support the view they embrace and to skim quickly through comments that oppose it, their critics are not so inclined and will labor diligently to identify and expose weaknesses.

5. Account for the relevant historical bedrock. Some facts are so evidenced that they are virtually indisputable. These facts are referred to as “historical bedrock” since any legitimate hypothesis should be built on it. If a hypothesis fails to explain all of the historical bedrock, it is time to drag that hypothesis back to the drawing board or to relegate it to the trash bin. Historical bedrock includes those facts that meet two criteria. First, they are so strongly evidenced that the historian can fairly regard them as historical facts. Second, the majority of contemporary scholars regard them as historical facts.

6. Detachment from bias is non-negotiable. . . . Roy Hoover articulates this principle well: “To cultivate the virtue of veracity, you have to be willing to part with the way tradition and conventional wisdom say things are, or with the way you would prefer things to be, and be ready to accept the way things really are. Veracity has to be the principal moral and intellectual commitment of any science or scholarship worthy of the name. That means, as I see it, that as a critical biblical scholar you have to be concerned first of all not with how your research turns out, not with whether it will confirm or disconfirm the beliefs or opinions or theories you had when you began the inquiry. You have to care only about finding out how things really are—with finding evidence sufficient to enable you to discover that and with finding also whether or not what you think you have discovered is sustainable when it is tested by the critical scrutiny of others.”

Licona observes that for a historian to be completely objective, or better said, completely unaffected by his horizon, is impossible.  However, if these guidelines are followed, biases can be kept in check enough so that objective scholarship results.

How Do We Overcome Our Horizons (Biases)? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Those who take on the task of interpreting the ancient accounts of Jesus’s life are faced with a difficult task.  As we’ve seen from previous posts, the horizon of each individual must be faced and addressed before investigation begins.

But does the horizon of an individual render objective study of history impossible?  Clearly not.  What a historian must do is limit the influence of his horizon on the historical investigation, especially when aspects of his horizon may directly distort his interpretations.

Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus, offers six guidelines for historians who are attempting to limit the undue influence of their horizon.  Licona goes into some detail about each of these guidelines, but I will only introduce them and give a brief description of each one from Licona’s book.

1. Method can serve as a means toward achieving greater objectivity. Method encompasses many parts, including the manner in which data are viewed, weighed and contextualized; criteria for testing the adequacy of hypotheses; and the fair consideration of competing hypotheses. Of course, method is not a sure means for avoiding too much subjectivity, but it is helpful. . . . Therefore, attention to method may reduce the amount of control a horizon has on a historians research, but it alone is inadequate.

2.  The historian’s horizon and method should be public. It is certain that at least portions of the historian’s horizon can be public or open to scrutiny. For example, historians who hold to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus most likely have a theistic component to their horizons, and this component may be challenged. Methodological naturalists, who do not allow for the possibility of the supernatural in historical investigation, should likewise have their horizons open to challenge. Moreover, historians should be clear about the methods they employ for achieving results.

3. Peer pressure may also be helpful in minimizing the impact of horizon on the historian’s work. Judges of a sporting event such as gymnastics seem to be able to lay aside or at least minimize their prejudices and national pride when acting in the capacity of a judge. How is this accomplished when national pride and prejudice can be so strong? Perhaps it is the knowledge that a number of other judges with similar strictures are also making judgments and that, if the judgment of a particular judge is far different than those rendered by the other judges, it may reflect a personal bias of a sort. Thus, peer pressure can act as a check on bias and can serve to minimize the effects of horizon.

In part 2 of this series, we will look at the final 3 guidelines for curbing the influence of one’s horizon.

What Are Some Examples of Bias Affecting Historical Scholarship on Jesus?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the previous blog post, I cited Mike Licona’s analysis of horizons and their impact on historical interpretation.  In this post, I will go back to Licona and review just a handful of the numerous examples he gives of horizons affecting particular scholars’ historical analysis.

The scholars who Licona quotes are all affected by a strong anti-supernatural presupposition. Seeing these concrete examples should prove to be quite eye-opening to those outside the historical  research community.

The first example comes from Charles Hartshorne, a scholar who The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy refers to as “one of the most important philosophers of religion and metaphysicians of the twentieth century.” Licona describes Hartshorne making the “following comments in reference to a debate on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus between then-atheist philosopher Antony Flew and Christian philosopher Gary Habermas”:

I can neither explain away the evidences [for the resurrection] to which Habermas appeals, nor can I simply agree with [the skeptical position]. … My metaphysical bias is against resurrections.

According to Licona,

Flew himself later said, “This is in fact the method of critical history. You try to discover what actually happened, guided by your best evidence, as to what was probable or improbable, possible or impossible. And the miracles are things that you just take to be impossible.”

Continuing with examples, “A. N. Harvey confidently asserts that the biblical picture of Jesus is ‘incompatible with historical inquiry’ and requires a ‘sacrifice of the intellect’ to hold it.”  Harvey also writes, “An historical event which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.”

Harrington adds that believing that the corpse will one day be reanimated and transformed is to “ask too much of my credulity.”

Licona then reveals the horizons of one the most famous NT scholars of the 20th century, Gerd Ludemann.

It is clear that the horizon of atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann is a driving force behind his historical conclusions when he a priori rules out the historicity of the ascension of Jesus reported in Acts 1:9-11 “because there is no such heaven to which Jesus may have been carried.”

Tabor makes similar remarks:

Women do not get pregnant without a male—ever. So Jesus had a human father…. Dead bodies don’t rise. . . . So, if the tomb was empty the historical conclusion is simple— Jesus’ body was moved by someone and likely reburied in another location.

Licona then cites Jewish scholar Alan Segal:

When a heavenly journey is described literally, the cause may be literary convention or the belief of the voyager; but when reconstructing the actual experience, only one type can pass modern standards of credibility.

These kinds of examples can go on and on.  Because these are historical scholars writing books about the life of Jesus, it is imperative for the reader to understand the anti-supernatural horizon of these writers.  This fact must be taken into account when reading their works.

Of course the same could be said of Christians who are writing on the historical Jesus, but everyone recognizes Christian scholars’ horizons, while non-Christians often try to deny they bring any presuppositions to their historical Jesus research.  This is obviously false.

What Role Do Worldviews Play in Historical Research?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

When it comes to a person interpreting historical texts, particularly where ultimate issues (e.g., heaven, hell, God, sin) are at stake, that person’s worldview (or horizon) often plays a critical role.  What is involved in a person’s horizon?

Historical scholar, Mike Licona, provides a useful explanation of horizon in his book The Resurrection of Jesus:

Horizon may be defined as one’s “preunderstanding.” It is how historians view things as a result of their knowledge, experience, beliefs, education, cultural conditioning, preferences, presuppositions and worldview.  Horizons are like sunglasses through which a historian looks. Everything she sees is colored by that horizon.

What are a couple of examples of how these sunglasses cash out in our everyday lives?

Take baseball, for example.  In a baseball game, if there was a close play at second base, do you think the runner was safe or out?  It depends on whether your son is the guy stealing second or the shortstop tagging him.  When we read books about Jesus, we find ourselves in agreement or disagreement with certain authors usually based on whether the Jesus they reconstruct is like the one we prefer.

Are there historians who are exempt from their horizons?

For better and for worse, historians are influenced by their culture, race, nationality, gender and ethics; their political, philosophical and religious convictions; their life experiences, the academic institutions they attended and the particular community of scholars from which they covet respect and acceptance. They cannot look at the data devoid of biases, hopes or inclinations. No historian is exempt.

After making the claim that no historian is exempt, Licona provides a long footnote which chronicles various scholars’s views on horizons.  He is not alone in making his claim:

Allison (“Explaining,” 2005): “To observe the obvious, people’s arguments regarding the origins of Christianity are unavoidably driven by large assumptions about the nature of the world, assumptions that cannot often if ever be the upshot of historical investigation” (133);

R. Evans (1999): “We know of course that we will be guided in selecting materials for the stories we tell, and in the way we put these materials together and interpret them, by literary methods, by social science theories, by moral and political beliefs, by an aesthetic sense, even by our own unconscious assumptions and desires. It is an illusion to believe otherwise” (217);

McCullagh (The Truth of History, 1998): “I conclude that the cultural bias now being discussed, which does not involve false or misleading descriptions of the past, is inescapable, and provides the main reason for saying that history is subjective. In this way I agree that history is subjective” (35);

Meier (1991): “Whether we call it a bias, a Tendenz, a worldview, or a faith stance, everyone who writes on the historical Jesus writes from some ideological vantage point; no critic is exempt” (5);

Moore-Jumonville (2002): “In the end, differences in hermeneutical method around the turn of the century (as today) had to do with one’s presuppositions and the relationship one constructed between theology and criticism” (167);

A. G. Padgett, “Advice for Religious Historians: On the Myth of a Purely Historical Jesus” in Davis, Kendall and O’Collins, cds. (1998): “World-views don’t just give us the questions we ask; they also affect our understanding of the evidence and our historical judgment. There just is no such thing as data apart from some interpretation” (293-94);

Waterman (2006): “We as observers must bear in mind an inevitable bias in our own theological interests. The latter is the so-called ‘historian’s subjectivity,’ which is influential in choosing and judging historical materials” (86-87; cf. 12).

What do we conclude from this brief survey of the effect of horizons on historical interpretation?

Horizons are of great interest to historians since they are responsible more than anything else for the embarrassing diversity among the conflicting portraits of the past.  How can so many historians with access to the same data arrive at so many different conclusions? Horizons. Geoffrey Elton writes, “The historian who thinks that he has removed himself from his work is almost certainly mistaken.”

Are we able to do objective historical analysis?  Yes.  Can we mitigate the effects of our horizons?  Yes.  But just like the first steps an alcoholic must take in getting treatment, you first have to admit that there is a problem.  After all, those who deny there is a problem with horizons in historical research are likely to be the most impacted by their horizons.

Should We Calculate Prior Probabilities to Determine if Jesus Was Resurrected?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I am aware that there are philosophers who employ Bayesian analysis to determine probabilities that historical events occurred, but I am becoming skeptical of the value of these analyses.  A Bayesian analysis requires a calculation of the prior probability that a historical event occurred, without considering any of the evidence we have that the event occurred.  But how we do calculate prior probabilities for a historical event?

I think the problem was clearly illustrated in a debate between Greg Cavin and Mike Licona.  Cavin mounted an attack on the resurrection of Jesus by arguing against the prior probability of it.  Remember that prior probability calculations ignore the actual evidence for the event.  Here is Licona’s summary of Cavin’s argument (note: Greg Cavin has contacted me and denied that he made the argument presented below, so I have edited the comments below to represent a generic argument made by a generic atheist named Bob; even if Cavin did not make this argument, I have heard arguments like it made plenty of other times by other atheists):

[Bob’s] first argument is the probability that Jesus rose is astronomically low, since, even if God exists, he doesn’t have a tendency to raise people from the dead. In support he said that, of the estimated 100 billion people who have lived and died on the Earth, the historical evidence is inadequate to suggest that any have been raised from the dead. So, even if the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection were good, there would still be only a 1 chance in 100 billion that Jesus was raised.
Bob argues that the prior probability of Jesus rising from the dead is 1 in 100 billion.  Given this low prior probability, there is no need to even look at the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  The evidence doesn’t matter because it can never overcome 1 in 100 billion odds.  Here is Licona’s response:
I replied that historians don’t use prior probabilities in historical inquiry.  One cannot calculate the prior probability that the U.S. would drop nuclear bombs on Japan during WWII, since in all of human history no nation had dropped a nuclear bomb on another before or since WWII.  Moreover, I’ll be 51 in two weeks.  That’s a lot of days in my life. Yet Sunday was the first day I had ever spent in Temecula, California. Given my “tendency” not to go to Temecula, one should conclude that I wasn’t there that evening.  Historians examine a historical report then look at the evidence for the event occurring.  Thus, prior probabilities are the wrong tool for historical inquiry.  It’s like using a calculator for an archaeological dig.
I think Licona’s response is compelling.  You cannot determine whether a historical event occurred without actually examining the evidence for it.  Calculating prior probabilities may be an interesting exercise, but I doubt that it is the best way to approach historical inquiry.  It just doesn’t matter that resurrections are rare.  In fact, even Christians claim that resurrections are rare in history.  But that fact just has no bearing on whether Jesus rose from the dead.

Can Historians Use Anonymous Sources?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A common complaint about the reliability of the letters and books contained in the New Testament is that we don’t know, for sure, who wrote all of these documents.  In particular, the four Gospels are singled out as being anonymous since there is nothing in the text of the four Gospels that says, “So-and-so wrote this Gospel.”

There are many historical scholars who do believe that we can identify the authors of the Gospels and most of the other letters in the New Testament, but what if we could not?  What if the authors of these documents were unknown?  Would we have to throw out the contents?  Are they worthless, in that case, for historical investigation?

Historical scholar Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus, says “no.”  Licona first answers the charge that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses:

Bracketing the fact that a number of scholars have taken a contrary position, this challenge is not unique to the New Testament literature.  No surviving account of the life of Alexander the Great was written by an eyewitness.  Tacitus and Suetonius were not eyewitnesses to the majority of the events they reported.  Nevertheless, historians remain confident that they are able to recover the past to varying degrees without ever knowing who their sources were.

Historian C. Fasolt argues that Paul’s letter to the Roman church is helpful as a historical source “only on the assumption that it was written by Saint Paul.”  Is Fasolt right?  Licona notes historian M. S. Cladis’s response to Fasolt:

This is going to be news to countless social historians of the religions of the ancient Mediterranean basin who investigate archaeological and textual work without always knowing the specifics of the exact agents involved.  Indeed, these historians are investigating the society that shaped the agents, even if they do not know most of the agents’ names (and all that this means).

They collect, analyze, and interpret evidence from a variety of sources—monuments and tombs, literary texts and shopping lists—in order to learn something important about the socio-historical circumstances in which people, like Paul, lived, moved, and had their being.  The historian of antiquity, then, can learn much about the past from the ‘Letter to the Romans’ whether or not that text was actually written by Paul.

Here is the takeaway point: even if we grant that the books and letters of the New Testament are anonymous, we can still gather important historical information from those texts.  Anonymity of the sources is not a death knell for historical New Testament studies, and should not be used as some kind of sweeping indictment of the texts.  We can know what happened to Jesus and his disciples two thousand years ago, using the New Testament documents as our sources.

Will There Ever Be a Historical Consensus that Jesus Was Resurrected? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you are a Christian who is waiting for the day when most historical scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, affirm that the evidence does indeed indicate that Jesus was resurrected, I’m afraid you’ll be waiting until the Second Coming, when there will be no doubt.  Why is that?  If, as we say on this blog, the historical evidence for the resurrection is so strong, then shouldn’t every scholar be lining up behind it?

In part 1 of this two-part series, we started looking at the writings of historical scholar Mike Licona on the issue of consensus in historical Jesus studies.  Excerpts are taken from his book The Resurrection of Jesus.  We pick up where we left off.  

Given the challenges of historical consensus, especially with regard to the historical Jesus, what should we expect in the future?  According to Licona,

It is highly unlikely that a consensus will ever exist pertaining to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. While strong agreement exists regarding a number of “facts” often used as evidence to support the resurrection hypothesis, no consensus will ever exist for the conclusion that the resurrection hypothesis is an accurate description of what actually occurred.

After all, how likely is it that historians who are Muslims and atheists will confess that the resurrection hypothesis is the best explanation or that Christian historians will confess that the resurrection hypothesis is not the best explanation? Yet, either Jesus rose from the dead or he did not; and historians holding one of these positions are more correct than those holding the other.

Because of the uncertainty of historical knowledge, many historical descriptions will never receive a stamp of approval from the consensus of the relevant scholars.  This should not restrain the historian from stating that his or her hypothesis is probably true.

Licona concludes that a consensus that Jesus was resurrected will elude us for the foreseeable future.  This fact does not mean that Jesus did not rise from the dead, only that consensus across a broad spectrum of scholars is impossible given the major influence of worldviews.  After all, an admission that Jesus rose from the dead would usually entail a radical realignment of the worldview of a non-Christian scholar.  Although this may happen from time to time, it is highly unlikely to happen at a high enough rate to create a consensus.

As Christians, where does this leave us?  I think it means that we are free to point out where there is a positive consensus about the historical facts about Jesus, but we must realize that those facts will only give us a minimal list of true facts.  Beyond the minimal consensus facts, we may argue for additional facts using solid historical criteria, but we should not expect non-Christian scholars to always agree with our arguments.

We also now have an idea why there are such divergent views on the historical Jesus.  Although scholars may agree on a short list of facts, many of them feel free to argue for additional “facts” that suit their worldview.  As lay people reading books written by historical Jesus scholars, we must always be on guard for the author’s worldview nosing its way into the book.

Another implication is that reading historical Jesus works from one side of the philosophical or theological spectrum will never be enough to get a reasonable view of the historical evidence.  Readers must force themselves to pick up works from the other side of the spectrum as well. 

A co-worker of mine once told me he longer believed in the historical Jesus of Christian tradition after reading a book by a liberal Jesus scholar.  When I asked if he read works by believing Christians or conservatives, he answered “no.”  He just assumed that the scholar he read had the final word.  As Licona has shown, no scholar has the final word.  We must all engage the evidence for ourselves.

Will There Ever Be a Historical Consensus that Jesus Was Resurrected? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you are a Christian who is waiting for the day when most historical scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, affirm that the evidence does indeed indicate that Jesus was resurrected, I’m afraid you’ll be waiting until the Second Coming, when there will be no doubt.  Why is that?  If, as we say on this blog, the historical evidence for the resurrection is so strong, then shouldn’t every scholar be lining up behind it?

Historical scholar Mike Licona addresses this issue in his book The Resurrection of Jesus:

Given the prominent role of horizons [i.e., worldview] in every historical inquiry, we can anticipate that consensus opinions will often elude historians . . . .  Unfortunately, rather than an objective and careful weighing of the data, the subjective horizons of historians, especially historians writing on religious, philosophical, political and moral topics, exert the most influence in their final judgments.  Moreover, many members of the audience to whom historians present their research are no less biased.  Accordingly, what is judged as sound and persuasive research to one group may be viewed as inadequate and overly biased by another.

Licona’s point is straightforward: worldviews (or horizons) of historians exert a strong influence on their interpretations of data.  There may be some historians who can limit that influence, but there are just as many who cannot.  He continues:

A consensus opinion can be valuable for recognizing objectivity when the group is composed of scholars from all interested camps with the exception of some fringe positions.  Tucker cites agreement among historians of the Holocaust: “Jewish and Gentile, German and British, right-wing and left-wing historians agree that there was a Holocaust.”

Here is another important point.  If you have agreement on historical facts from a full spectrum of worldviews, then this is valuable for recognizing objectivity.  However, just because a historical interpretation does not garner assent from a broad spectrum does not indicate that it is not objective.  In other words, consensus across a broad spectrum is a good positive test, but not a good negative test.

With regard to historical biblical studies, Licona offers the following analysis:

A group exhibiting greater heterogeneity is the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).  Annual SBL meetings are attended by members of many theological and philosophical persuasions: liberals, conservatives, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists, all from numerous countries and ethnic groups from all over the world.  If a consensus opinion is going to be of any value for historians, it must come from such a group.

However, a consensus from even this group is valuable only when all of its members opining on a subject have personally researched that particular subject.  For example, a consensus opinion of all SBL members on a matter pertaining to a recent archaeological find has little value if less than five percent of all SBL members have a significant knowledge of that find and expertise in the field.  Similarly, little if any value should be assigned to those scholars opining on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus who have not engaged in serious research on the matter.

Licona argues that consensus opinion on the historical Jesus can be valuable coming from a group such as the SBL because of its heterogeneity.  However, he warns that only scholars who have actually studied the subject in depth should be counted toward the consensus.

In part 2 of this series, we will finish off Licona’s analysis of consensus among historical biblical scholars.