If, in our modern database records of case studies we can’t find a single instance in which just one person had an hallucination of a deceased person, and then insisted that the dead person had come back to life (not as a ghost, but as a corporeal being) and left the grave, then how on earth are we going to find SEVERAL people who have had hallucinations, and who then insist that the dead person had bodily come back to life, and left the grave?
–Christian reader of this blog
The problem with this statement is that it contains a huge assumption. It assumes that we know anything about what the original eyewitnesses to Jesus appearances believed they saw, and then, what these eyewitnesses then told others about what that they believed they had seen.
Detailed stories about Jesus appearances were not written down until five to six decades after Jesus’ death, by authors whom most experts suspect were not eyewitnesses nor even associates of eyewitnesses. These detailed appearance stories do not appear in the earliest Christian writings, the epistles of Paul, nor do they appear in the earliest gospel written, the Gospel of Mark. Therefore, the most that we can assume, if we listen to the majority of experts, is that a significant percentage of early Christians quickly came to the belief that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.
But what period of time is “quickly”?
Even if the Early Creed as quoted by Paul in First Corinthians 15 was formed approximately three years after Jesus’ death, as many conservative Christians claim, that still gives time for the Appearance Stories to have evolved and to have been embellished. Rumors in our own time evolve very quickly. Why should we expect it to have been any different in the first century?
Bottom line: We have no idea what the original eyewitnesses saw nor what the original eyewitnesses told others that they had seen. Even conservative Christians will admit that the Early Creed is not chronologically accurate as it fails to mention any women discovering the empty tomb prior to any appearances to the male disciples. This indicates one of two things: the Early Creed is a theological statement, not an historical statement, or, the Early Creed is chronologically accurate and the appearance stories in the last three Gospels are historically inaccurate. And both these options are bad for conservative Christians. If the Early Creed is only a theological statement, never meant to be read as an accurate recording of historical events, but rather for the purpose of evangelization and perhaps to establish the authority of the Jerusalem church, how do we know that certain appearance stories weren’t invented? And of course if the detailed appearance stories in the Gospels are historically unreliable, that leaves the bare-bones account of appearances in the Early Creed, in which not one single description is given of what the eyewitnesses saw or even where these appearances occurred!
But what about the claim that there are no recorded accounts of anyone else claiming to have seen a dead person and then continuing to believe that that dead person is alive and that his or her grave is empty. I suggest that if we dig (no pun intended), we will probably find such stories. Here is one.
Mourning seems to be a time when hallucinations are particularly common, to the point where feeling the presence of the deceased is the norm rather than the exception. One study, by the researcher Agneta Grimby at the University of Goteborg, found that over 80 percent of elderly people experience hallucinations associated with their dead partner one month after bereavement, as if their perception had yet to catch up with the knowledge of their beloved’s passing. As a marker of how vivid such visions can seem, almost a third of the people reported that they spoke in response to their experiences. In other words, these weren’t just peripheral illusions: they could evoke the very essence of the deceased. Occasionally, these hallucinations are heart-rending. A 2002 case report by German researchers described how a middle aged woman, grieving her daughter’s death from a heroin overdose, regularly saw the young girl and sometimes heard her say “Mamma, Mamma!” and “It’s so cold.”
Did this grieving mother believe that her daughter was still alive and that her grave is empty? The article doesn’t say. But I think it is pretty safe for us to assume that this mother believed that she was seeing and speaking to her daughter, not just an ethereal, ghostly representation of her daughter. Why couldn’t the experiences of the disciples of Jesus have been very similar to that of this mother?
Using critical thinking skills, we can dismiss these stories, including the stories about Jesus, as nothing more than grief hallucinations; and in Jesus’ case, heart-gripping grief hallucinations which resulted in carefully crafted, heavily embellished works of evangelization decades later.
End of post.