In this post I will look into some arguments against the resurrection of Jesus with a special focus on the theory of hallucination. For a long time this option was nearly ignored, easily discarded and considered to be a complete nonsense. However after acquiring better understanding of hallucinations throughout history, earlier conclusions are not so unquestionable anymore. In the the first part I will present the environment in which the entire debate takes place. Later in the second, the key-words will be defined and at last I will analyze the hallucination hypothesis in light of the new discoveries in the realm of psychology.
Year 1863 gave birth to a book called “The Life of Jesus” written by a French philosopher and historian Ernest Renan who first suggested that the Bible should be subjected to the same critical methods as any other historical document. At that time this idea caused controversy and evoked rage among many Christians. In his book, Renan takes this path that ultimately leads him to make this statement: “Let us place, then, the person of Jesus at the highest summit of human greatness”. He believed that the whole resurrection story was made up as a consequence of a hallucination and while Jesus was “inexhaustible principle of moral regeneration” and “condensed all that is good and elevated in our nature” he strongly disagreed with the classic notion of his divine status: “This sublime person, who each day still presides over the destiny of the world, we may call divine … in the sense that Jesus is the one who has caused his fellow-men to make the greatest step towards the divine” Today Christian scholars widely accepted this challenge proposed nearly 150 years ago and in the attempt to explain the events that took place on Easter 30 A.D. they apply the same procedures and historical criteria of authenticity as if they were investigating other ancient sources like Thucydides’ “Peloponnesian War” or the “Annals” of Tacitus.
The Time Problem
While nearly 2000 years’ time span might represent a major obstacle to trust the content of a source, we must realize that this is not the crucial gap that we ought to be looking at, for “the crucial time gap is not the gap between the evidence and today; rather what’s important is the gap between the evidence and the original events that the evidence is about.” Craig continues by saying: “Good evidence doesn’t become poor evidence just because of the passage of time!” Since most of the primary sources that speak about Jesus’ life come from within 60 years of Jesus’ crucifixion while the eyewitnesses were still alive we can consider them as good sources for there was insufficient time for any historical influence to alter or erase the essential facts. In contrary, e.g. most of what we know about the major conqueror of antiquity Alexander the Great was written down by Arrian & Plutarch 400 years after his death. However these records are widely regarded as trustworthy accounts.
The Three Facts
Now, based on conclusions of mainstream New Testament critics we can say today that there are three independently established facts around the person of Jesus Christ:
- Jesus’ empty tomb
- Jesus’ appearances alive after His death
- The origin of the disciples’ belief in His resurrection
At this point, we have this evidence that needs to be clarified and the next step is to decide which explanation of the evidence is the best explanation. There is a good number of alternative explanations that naturalists proposed in effort to disqualify the resurrection hypothesis. Here are some of the well-known ideas.
Empty Tomb (Natural) Explanations
There are two main variations of this theory. First says that disciples stole the body and fabricated the resurrection story and the second that Roman or Jewish authorities stole the body to make sure no one would proclaim that Jesus rose from the dead.
Apparent Death (resuscitation or swoon) hypothesis (response)
Critics suggested that Jesus did not in fact die on the cross, but only swooned so disciples thought he was dead and they buried him alive. Later Jesus woke up and escaped from the tomb to convince His disciples of his resurrection.
Displaced Body hypothesis
Proposes that because it was late and his family tomb was close, Joseph of Arimathea placed here the body only temporarily and removed it later to the criminals’ common graveyard, which confused disciples, who finding the tomb empty thought Jesus was raised from the dead.
A “dog ate my homework” parallel made its way also to one of the theories explaining Jesus’ resurrection. John Crossan together with few modern skeptics simply suggested that wild dogs may have eaten the body of Jesus.
Occupied Tomb Explanations
Unknown tomb hypothesis
The idea which says that actually nobody knew where Jesus was buried for his body was probably cast into a common pit.
Wrong tomb hypothesis 1
Is alike the unknown tomb, only with the exception that in this case discoverers of the empty tomb went to a wrong tomb.
The story of Jesus’ resurrection was picked up from other, older ancient religions in which we can find similar attributes of these “saviours” as well as the substantial alikeness of the events taking place.
Legend hypothesis (response)
All the accounts for the resurrection are fraudulent and the entire story was a legendary product of the years after the Christ that piled up one small detail after another.
Spiritual resurrection hypothesis
This theory puts forwards the idea that Jesus’ body in fact remained in the tomb, but it rapidly decayed and the entire resurrection was only spiritual.
Hallucination (occupied tomb) hypothesis (response)
Here we are given an option that asserts that resurrection appearances were mere hallucinations of the disciples caused by great emotional or physical distress.
Twin hypothesis 1
Shortly, Jesus truly died on the cross, he was buried, but he had a twin that nobody knew about who came on the scene presenting himself as resurrected Jesus Christ.
Passover plot hypothesis
This seems to be a modernized combination of many of the previous theories. Here Jesus believed he was Messiah and plotted a very detailed plan that would fulfill the Old Testament prophecies which he was well acquainted with. To accomplish this plan he brought on board Joseph of Arimathea and an anonymous “young man”. He was given a drug that caused people to think he was dead, however the plot to gloriously wake up was ruined by a soldier who thrusted a spear into His side. After this Jesus’ remains were quickly taken and in attempt to save the plan the unknown “young man” pretend to be the risen Messiah.
Today we can say that most of these theories are abandoned by the majority of contemporary scholars as they do not explain the whole scope of evidence mentioned above or because after weighing various factors in assessing rival hypothesis, they come out as less convincing if possible at all. Professor David Stanley asserted that “In general, most of these stories belong to sensational journalism.”