Licona, Michael R. (2010) The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic. (Buy from IVPress.com here)
Michael Licona credits Gary Habermas with “three minimal facts that are regarded as indisputable by almost all scholars” writing on the fate of Jesus.
(1) Jesus died by crucifixion.
(2) Shortly thereafter some of Jesus’ disciples had experiences that led them to proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and that he appeared to them.
(3) Within a few years Saul of Tarsus converted because he believed that the postresurrected Jesus appeared to him. (pp. 302-303)
Today I will examine (1). Licona says there are four reasons to affirm that Jesus died by crucifixion: (1) It is attested to in multiple sources. (2) The reports are early (e.g. Paul is writing about it a little after two decades later). (3) The Passion Narratives “appear largely credible given their satisfying of the criterion of embarrassment”. (4) The low probability of surviving a crucifixion (though some fringe writers have proposed he survived. (pp. 303-317)
Let’s review each:
(1) Yes, there are multiple sources that discuss Jesus’ crucifixion: The Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, the other early epistles, the Apostolic Fathers, Josephus, and a long list of early Christian literature. There should be little doubt that many people testified to knowing either first hand, or through other witnesses, that Jesus had died by crucifixion.
(2) Some folklore develops over long spans of time. Jesus’ crucifixion seems common place. When Paul begins writings in the 50′s he is part of a tradition that has already been in place. Plus, I don’t find sufficient reason to create a story about a crucified Messiah.
(3) As I said, there is little reason to invent the crucifixion. It is embarrassing. That Jesus was crucified seems like something to ignore rather than to discuss and invest with meaning. While Licona doesn’t say this (yet) it seems to me that another reason for believing that the resurrection happened is the later exaltation of the cross. If the cross was the end it would have been nothing to discuss.
(4) Though some did survive crucifixion, if we take into consideration the extent to which Jesus’ was beaten prior to his crucifixion, and if we accept the details of the crucifixion and burial, there is basically no chance that Jesus survived.
I doubt many would disagree with Licona that Jesus died by crucifixion. This seems fairly evident and therefore it qualifies as bedrock for examining the other two claims mentioned above which we will do next.