The review of Bart Ehrman's, How Jesus Became God continues. The posts so far are:
1. Divine Humans in Ancient Greece and Rome
2. Divine Humans in Ancient Judaism
3. Did Jesus Think He Was God?
Today is chapter 4, "The Resurrection of Jesus: What We Cannot Know."
Boy, this chapter was a "glass is pretty much empty" downer. If I were to capture his point in this chapter it would be this: From a historical perspective, just about any explanation other than Jesus really rose from the dead is more likely.
On the one hand, I thought his explanation of historical study, while pessimistic, was not far off. He recognizes, for example, that presuppositions are always involved in historical study. And he claims not to have an anti-supernaturalist presupposition. I think it's actually pretty clear that he is biased against supernaturalist explanations, but he gives lip service to the possibility that there may be a supernatural explanation surrounding a historical episode.
The philosophy of history he gives here is not far from my own. Historical inquiry tries to explain events in terms of the normal operations of cause and effect.  Theological faith is then an additional layer of interpretation that comes into play 1) when cause and effect seems less than adequate as an explanation, 2) especially when revelation has pointed to a miracle at that point. So, trying to speak objectively in these historical terms I have sometimes said in the past, "If resurrections happen, it is quite likely that Jesus was one of them."
Ehrman would disagree. His chief target in this chapter is the burial of Jesus. "Without an empty tomb, there would be no ground for saying that Jesus was physically raised" (168). In fact, I think he is going to argue that the earliest resurrection versions saw Jesus as spiritually raised and then the versions of the resurrections became more and more physical as time went by.
Interestingly, he does believe that at least one person and possibly more than one person thought they saw the resurrected Jesus after he died. He sees a "vision" of this sort as the seed that would lead to Christians believing that Jesus is God. That's the next chapter. But he does not think it likely that Jesus was ever buried and, thus, does not think it likely that there was ever an empty tomb.
It is a little sad that his sense of things was actually more open to an empty tomb until he started researching this book. And, unfortunately, he seems to have been reading Crossan in his research. Accordingly, all he found were the references where the Romans left people on crosses to make their point emphatically, to let the birds eat their flesh. His references to Pilate are all about his cruelty.
Craig Evans has thoroughly balanced this one set of quotes with another in chapter 4 of How God Became Jesus, including archaeological evidence of buried individuals in Israel who had been crucified. If a person wants to be objective, the bottom line is that you simply cannot say either that Pilate would or would not have let someone take Jesus' body down from the cross. Evans makes a strong case that, since Jewish leaders instigated Jesus' crucifixion, Pilate would also have let them bury the body for reasons of Jewish purity.
I find Evans' argument quite compelling. It seems very plausible historically that Jesus' crucifixion was not, in origination, an instance of Pilate rubbing Roman authority in the noses of the Jews but an example of Jewish leaders getting permission to have someone put to death. It then makes sense that Pilate would give them permission to dispose of him before the Sabbath.
Ehrman is correct that we cannot prove these things historically. But the same chapter could have been written to show that Jesus' burial and empty tomb are perfectly plausible from a historical point of view. His aim is to show both that the evidence can be explained a different way and to argue that, in relation to Jesus' burial, it is more likely that he wasn't.
I don't think he makes his case. I think he only demonstrates that the evidence for Jesus' burial can be explained in other ways. I don't think he demonstrates that it should be explained in other ways. The hints he finds are too vague to have much force. So he argues from the tradition in 1 Corinthians 15 that the burial part was kind of added in. Seems less than obvious to me. He sees a discrepancy between the plural of Acts 13:29 and the singular name of Joseph of Arimathea in Mark 15:43. Since I take the sermons of Acts to be somewhat amplified versions anyway, I don't find this small difference substantial.
And while Paul has almost nothing to say of Jesus' burial, apart from this comment in 1 Corinthians 15:4, his understanding of resurrection in the rest of the chapter assumes that the previous body is the starting point for the transformation of resurrection. "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable" (15:42). Note well--the earliest source of the resurrection sees resurrection as the transformation of the previous body, not a spiritual resurrection. If anything, Paul's writings become less clearly tied to a corporeal resurrection as time goes by, not more (cf. 2 Cor. 5).
I want to close with a warning. You can once again see the reverse image of the fundamentalism with which Ehrman started here. Those who never read chapters like these--or who are immensely stubborn intellectually--can blissfully argue for "detailed inerrancy" of the sort the Nazarenes voted down last year. But few open-minded fundamentalist souls of this sort will survive his opening assault on page 134.
It is not essential for Christian faith that we be able to historically line up the resurrection accounts in detail, in my opinion. Those who think it is may find themselves eventually like Ehrman. Zealots of this sort are often the first to lose their faith. I personally believe that Luke omits all references to Galilee intentionally so that his account flows more smoothly. The way the fundamentalist is oriented around details hits a snag on this sort of thing. I myself would not call this an error because I think Luke does it intentionally, following a different standard of history writing than we are used to today.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Christian faith rides on these "fundamental" propositions, not on being able to prove the historicity of every part of every story in Scripture, in my opinion. We will keep our smartest children from faith crisis if we keep such things in mind.
 There is perhaps a tinge of the postmodern in his version. He does not reference cause and effect but instead references historical explanations that are "generally held." In this sense he allows for the acceptable interpretations of the past to change over time as the current worldviews of historians change. I do consider his perspective an advance on Ernst Troelstch, whose criterion of analogy held that we cannot accept that things happened in the past that do not happen today.