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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Did the Disciples Hallucinate? -- Part Three

In a prior post, I referred to NT scholar Gerd Lüdemann's book What really happened to Jesus: a historical approach to the Resurrection. The book is a popularization of his more thorough treatment of the subject, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry . Ludeman is perhaps the best defender today of the hallucination theory among NT scholars. In 1997, William Craig debated Ludemann at Boston University. The debate turned into a book entitled: Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann .

Craig has also written an article, Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Lüdemann's Hallucination Hypothesis, which is available on his web site.

In the article, Craig gives his problems with the hallucination theory. First, he says that it lacks explanatory scope, i.e., the ability to explain all the factors associated with the resurrection. He writes:
This is the central failing of the Hallucination Hypothesis. Offered only as a way of explaining the post–mortem appearances of Jesus, its explanatory scope is too narrow because it offers nothing by way of explanation of the empty tomb. In order to explain the empty tomb, one must conjoin some independent hypothesis to the Hallucination Hypothesis.

If this is the central failing of the theory, then I think Craig is in trouble. Why should all the various details surrounding the resurrection as reported in the gospels have to be explained by one theory? In reality, the hallucination theory is part of a bigger theory that would include how the empty tomb legend developed. Craig's objection seems ludicrous. Reports of unusual phenomena are sometimes complicated, especially when more than one person is involved; to require that one explanation fit all the circumstances involved is absurd. For example, many different people report seeing UFO's. Must all of these be explained under one theory? They all saw a weather balloon? No, there is a multitude of different things that one could see that might make him think he is seeing a UFO.

Second, Craig maintains that the hallucination theory lacks explanatory power, i.e., the ability to adequately explain the nature of the appearances. He writes:
... the diversity of the appearances is not well–explained by means of such visions. The appearances were experienced many different times, by different individuals, by groups, at various locales and under various circumstances, and by not only believers, but also by unbelievers like James the brother of Jesus and the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus.

This diversity is very difficult to explain by recourse to hallucinations. For hallucinations require a special psychological state on the part of the percipient. But since a guilt complex "ex hypothesi" obtained only for Peter and Paul, the diversity of the post–mortem appearances must be explained as a sort of contagion, a chain reaction.

Just like Gary Habermas, Craig is presupposing the inerrancy of the NT reports. If one does that, then, of course, there is no way to explain the resurrection in naturalistic terms. The counter-apologist must not allow himself to be drawn into this trap. It could be that Peter and Paul are the only ones who actually did see something. The stories of the appearances to the Twelve, to James, and to the 500 could be legendary developments. Or, some others could have claimed to see visions too as we know that it was a status symbol (1 Cor. 9:1). You didn't want to be a second-class citizen. This "me too" phenomena is seen in all kinds of human social settings. For example, in some Charismatic churches, one is not a good Christian unless one has spoken in tongues. There is huge sociological pressure to "fit in." Under this kind of pressure and the contagious excitement of those who have claimed the supernatural gift, many people will claim something that they are really not sure they have experienced but, as time goes on, they do convince themselves of the reality of their experiences (See Glossolalia: behavioral science perspectives on speaking in tongues, by H. Newton Malony and A. Adams Lovekin).

Craig argues that the diversity associated with the various appearances argues against the hallucination theory. He says:
It is important to keep in mind that it is the diversity that is at issue here, not merely individual incidents. Even if one could compile from the casebooks an amalgam consisting of stories of hallucinations over a period of time (like the visions in Medjugorje), mass hallucinations (as at Lourdes), hallucinations to various individuals, and so forth, the fact remains that there is no single instance in the casebooks exhibiting the diversity involved in the post–mortem appearances of Jesus. It is only by compiling unrelated cases that anything analogous might be constructed .
But the fact that there are so many different cases in history that can be amalgamated as Craig says is proof that hallucinations can take place under a lot of various circumstances.

Craig also maintains that an hallucination would not have been interpreted by the disciples as a physical resurrection. He writes:
Subjective visions, or hallucinations, have no extra–mental correlate but are projections of the percipient's own brain. So if, as an eruption of a guilty conscience, Paul or Peter were to have projected visions of Jesus alive, they would have envisioned him in Paradise, where the righteous dead awaited the eschatological resurrection. But such exalted visions of Christ leave unexplained their belief in his resurrection. The inference "He is risen from the dead," so natural to our ears, would have been wholly unnatural to a first century Jew. In Jewish thinking there was already a category perfectly suited to describe Peter's postulated experience: Jesus had been assumed into heaven. An assumption is a wholly different category from a resurrection.

This argument is also put forward by N. T. Wright in his massive volume, The Resurrection of the Son of God. There are at least two problems with it.

First, there was a lot of diversity among Jewish beliefs in the first century. There were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, as well as others. There were also sects and cults that had incorporated various Greek ideas into Jewish theology. To maintain that the Jewish belief in the afterlife was monolithic in the first century is mistaken.

Second, the concept of the resurrection seems to have entered Jewish theology during the exile and is found primarily in the Hebrew writings after that time, namely Daniel and 2 Maccabees. Many scholars believe this belief in the resurrection was adapted from the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism . The concept of the resurrection in Jewish theology arose as a way to explain how God would vindicate the martyrs. Initially, it seems that Jews who believed in a resurrection expected only the martyrs to be raised (see Life after death: a history of the afterlife in the religions of the West, by Alan Segal, pp. 248ff.)

Since Jesus would have been viewed by his followers as a martyr, it would have been natural for them to think that he would be resurrected. As for the argument that they believed the resurrection would only take place at the end of the age, the fact is they did think they were at the end of the age. Jesus had taught that the end was near. He said that this generation will not pass away until all these things be fulfilled (Matthew 24:36). The author of Matthew's gospel, which is commonly thought to be written primarily to a Jewish audience, is the only one to include the resurrection of many saints in connection with Jesus' death (Matthew 27:52-53). When Paul offered the first theological interpretation of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he argued that Jesus' resurrection was the first-fruits (15:23) and that soon all believers will join in that resurrection (15:51-52).

I will continue discussing Craig's objections to the hallucination theory in the next post.


  1. Why should all the various details surrounding the resurrection as reported in the gospels have to be explained by one theory?

    I have the same reaction to this as you. I would note that the hallucination theory also does not explain why the sky is blue, who killed JFK, or why the Cubs have not made the World Series since 1945.

    It seems to me that historians spend a lot of time deciding which accounts to believe and which accounts not to believe. If we follow Craig's logic, wouldn't the hypothesis that a miracle occurred always have the greatest explanatory since the historian would never have to reject any detail of any account no matter how fantastic or contradictory it might appear?

  2. You are probably aware of the many scientific tests done with the six visionaries who claim to see the Virgin Mary. In all cases none of the tests have shown the seers to be hallucinating. There is much documented evidence on this fact.

    This testing has occurred at different time intervals during the 29-history of these claimed apparitions – and it continues. When the “apparitions” first began in 1981 the seers were young people in their mid-teens with the exception of the youngest who was 10 years old.

    Three of the seers still experience “apparitions” and much of the testing has been carried out while the seers are receiving the “apparition”.

    1. Did others see these apparitions? If not, were they objective phenomena?

  3. • Your reference to historical enquiries relating to Jesus and the Resurrection is interesting. Cardinal Ratziner (now Pope Benedict XVI) writes of the necessity not to dismiss the historical approach to the truth of Jesus in his book Jesus of Nazareth.

    Allow me to quote (in two posts) a section from the book’s foreword.

    “I would like to sketch at least the broad outlines of the methodology, drawn from these documents, that has guided me in writing this book. The first point is that the historical-critical method – specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith – is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work. For it is the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolising suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on earth. The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnatus est – when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history.

    “If we push the history aside, Christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion. So if history, if facticity in this sense, is an essential dimension of Christian faith, then faith must expose itself to the historical method – indeed, faith itself demands this. I have already mentioned the conciliar Constitution on Divine Revelation; it makes the same point explicitly in paragraph 12 and goes on to list some concrete elements of method that have to be kept in mind when interpreting Scripture. The Pontifical Commission’s document on the interpretation of Holy Scripture develops the same idea much more amply in the chapter entitled ‘Methods and Approaches for Interpretation.’

    “The historical-critical method – let me repeat – is an indispensable tool, given the structure of Christian faith. But we need to add two points. This method is a fundamental dimension of exegesis, but it does not exhaust the interpretive task for someone who sees the biblical writings as a single corpus of Holy Scripture inspired by God. We will have to return to this point at greater length in a moment.

    more to follow...

  4. “For the time being, it is important – and this is a second point – to recognise the limits of the historical-critical method itself. For someone who considers himself directly addressed by the Bible today, the method’s first limit is that by its very nature it has to leave the biblical word in the past. It is a historical method, and that means it investigates the then-curent context of events in which the texts originated. It attempts to identify and understand the past – as it was in itself – with the greatest possible precision, in order then to find out what the author could have said and intended to say in the context of the mentality and events of the time. To the extent that it remains true to itself, the historical method not only has to investigate the biblical word as a thing of the past, but also has to let it remain in the past. It can glimpse point of contact with the present and it can try to apply the biblical word to the present; the one thing it cannot do is make it into something present today, – that would be overstepping its bounds. Its very precision is interpreting the reality of the past is both its strength and its limit.

    more to follow

  5. “This is connected with a further point. Because it is a historical method, it presupposes the uniformity of the context which the events of history unfold. It must therefore treat the biblical words it investigates as human words. On painstaking reflection, it can intuit something of the “deeper value” the word contains. It can in some sense catch the sounds of a higher dimension to self-transcendence. But its specific object is the human word as human.

    “Ultimately, it considers the individual books of Scripture in the context of their historical period, and then analyses them further according to their sources. The unity of all of these writings as one “Bible,” however, is not something it can recognise as an immediate historical datum. Of course it can examine the lines of development, the growth of traditions, and in that sense can look beyond individual books to see how they come together to form the one “Scripture.” Nevertheless, it always has to begin by going back to the origin of the individual texts, which means placing them in their past context, even if it goes on to complement this move back in time by following up the process through which the texts were later brought together.

    “We have to keep in mind the limit of all efforts to know the past: We can never go beyond the domain of hypothesis, because we simply cannot bring the past into the present. To be sure, some hypotheses enjoy a high degree of certainty, but overall we need to remain conscious of the limit of our certainties – indeed, the history of modern exegesis makes this limit perfectly evident.”

  6. ---

    I was just discussing 1 Corinthians 15 yesterday with an old friend from my old church. She was using Paul's argument between verses 12-18 as verification of the truth of his claim. I then pointed to the verses later on in this chapter, along with 1 Thess. chapter 4, where Paul makes rather unequivocal claims that Christ will return within the lifetimes of those "who are still alive" (as in alive during Paul's time), as good reason to be highly skeptical of all of Paul's truth claims. By whatever authority Paul came to the conclusion that Jesus was going to return within his very lifetime, a conclusion that was absolutely wrong; if he came to the same conclusion by that same authority that Jesus rose from the dead (his visions and encounters with Christ, possibly), then we are safe to assume that he is just as wrong about that.

  7. Pilgrim,

    No, I was not aware of any scientific tests done on the visionaries. Thanks for your email sharing a book on the subject-- Scientific and Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje by Rene Laurentin and Henri Joyeux.I look forward to reading it.

    As far as the Pope’s comments, I agree with him that Christianity has to be based on historical fact or its not Christianity. This is one reason why when I left evangelicalism I could not opt for liberal Protestantism.

    I also agree with him that the historical-critical method must be employed and employed honestly. I think once you do this, the facticity of the NT evaporates.

    I also agree with him that our understanding of history will never be perfect or even definitive. Due to the nature of the case, we cannot arrive at absolute certainty about events in the past. We can only arrive at relative certainty. Some things are obviously much more certain than others. For example, one could be pretty certain that President Kennedy died on Nov. 22, 1963 (even if there is still some uncertainty about how many shooters were involved, etc). However, one can be far less certain about the resurrection of Jesus or even the death of Jesus due to the sparse historical records.

  8. Pilgrim,

    I have ordered the book you suggested and in doing some quick research on the internet, I found that my friend Dr. Hector Avalos wrote an article back in 1994 in which he evalutated the research by Rene Laurentin and Henri Joyeux. His article is available online: Mary at Medjugorje: A Critical Inquiry .

    I have read it and he is not impressed with the work of Laurentin and Joyeux. Nevertheless, there has been other scientific studies since the time his article was published (1994) and I intend to look at those as well.

    I will eventually do a whole post on the subject. Thanks again for bringing this to my attention. I believe we should be fair-minded in trying to evaluate the evidence.

  9. I found this statement by Dr hector Avalos interesting:

    `Solar Miracles' as Evidence for Marian Apparitions

    Solar miracles are cited often by theologians and laypersons as
    proof of the authenticity of the visionaries' experiences.
    Ironically, the reports of such solar miracles are the most
    definitive proof that people can and do report the occurrence of
    non-occurring events at Medjugorje.

    One dramatic case may be found in a 1988 videotape recorded by
    "20/20," the ABC news program. Stone Phillips was sent to
    accompany a group of pilgrims to Medjugorje. At one point in the
    report a crowd of pilgrims reported seeing the sun "coming closer"
    and "dancing" at the same time that ABC cameras were trained on the
    sun. Of course, any such movement of the sun would be an event of
    astronomical proportions that should have been witnessed by a large
    part of the planet, astronomical observatories, and hundreds of
    different types of instruments. Yet, the videotape showed no
    movement in the sun, and Stone Phillips likewise confirmed that he
    saw no movement in the sun. As in the case of the subjects in the
    Barber and Calverley experiment, the report by a group that a
    non-occurring event is occurring indicates that a psycho-social
    process is the best explanation.

    The report of a "dancing sun" also demonstrates other important
    points about group delusions. The reports of non-occurring events
    need not be due to lying, which involves making statements that the
    speaker believes to be false. For example, a pilgrim may say, "I
    see the sun moving," to express the following interpretation of raw
    perceptions: "Marian apparitions should be accompanied by a moving
    sun, and therefore that is what must be happening." Once the
    believer assumes that this rationale is true, then he or she allows
    the use of phrases such as "see" (e.g., "I see the sun moving")
    even though empirical evidence says otherwise.

    more to follow

  10. While I do not cite solar phenomena as proof of the claimed apparitions I have witnessed this at Medjugorje.

    Claims of the sun “spinning” and “dancing” are usually lumped together as one and the same phenomenon. In my experience of witnessing this solar phenomena they are not the same phenomenon.

    The most common phenomena is what people term as the “spinning” sun. I can say that this is a dramatic experience when witnessed for the first time. It normally occurs during the late afternoon (but there are other times), perhaps an hour or so before sunset. The sun can be gazed at with no strain on the eyes and the effect is usually of a white disc spinning and pulsating in front of a darker disc with a multitude of colours flaring around the circumference. As when describing any event the witnesses will give different accounts of what they actually see which can often be very emotional and personal.

    I have lost count of the times I have witnessed this, not only in Medjugorje but in other places and countries which leads me to the conclusion that this is a natural phenomenon.

    Interesting, I have attempted to photograph this phenomenon but found it impossible to capture the effect within any range of shutter and aperture exposure. I have seen video footage which does not do justice to the effect perceived by observers.

    The second phenomenon is what I refer to as the “dancing” sun. I equate this to the claimed “miracle” of Fatima witnessed by some 70,000 people and reported widely in newspapers of the time.

    I have witnessed this in Medjugorje – once only – joined by seven other people. The effect began in a similar fashion as the so-called “spinning sun”. But what followed still has me puzzled today. The sun seemed to descend towards me. In fact, I thought it about to crash to the earth. It then receded, and then moved to my right across the sky to a two o’clock position before returning to its starting point. From there it again started to descend towards me and once more receded. Its next move was to my left and a 10 o’clock position. When this happened I literally had to turn my head to follow its movement. Once more it moved back to its starting point before descending towards me. Finally, it settled back to its original position, pulsating and spinning. The whole event probably lasted between five and ten minutes. I don’t wear a watch so I am not able to give an accurate time. But I do know it happened around 6.30pm locql time.

    This happened on my second visit to Medjugorje. On later visits I saw what is known as the “spinning” sun and have done so ever since – but never the “dancing” sun again. I have visited Medjugorje 35 times in10 years.

    My natural instinct is to question and all claims of miraculous phenomenon, especially any claims of photographic evidence because of my background and experience in photography. Usually I can supply a technical reason for so-called “miraculous” photos.

  11. Hi Ken,

    you say: "Just like Gary Habermas, Craig is presupposing the inerrancy of the NT reports."

    You are wrong, just as Gary Habermas, Craig is not treating the text as inerrant or even reliable when he is arguing for the resurrection.


  12. Jan,

    I believe that they are. For example, they argue for the guards being posted at the tomb, the group appearances in the gospels, the disciples finding the grave clothes, etc. They use these events which are highly dubious to argue for the empty tomb and thus the resurrection.

    Each one of Craig's minimal facts is supported by the statements in Scripture which no one except an inerrantist believes is true.

  13. Ken,

    you say "Each one of Craig's minimal facts is supported by the statements in Scripture which no one except an inerrantist believes is true."

    But this is simply false, there are many scholars who are not inerrantists who accept some of the statement in scripture which leads them to conclude that the tomb in fact was empty. Just to name two for now: Hans von Campenhausen and E.L. Bode.

    The whole point of Habermas and Craig's minimal facts approach is to argue for the resurrection based on facts which are widely acknowledged by most scholars which include critical scholars like von Campenhausen.

    So when you say Craig and Habermas are presupposing the inerrancy of the NT-reports you are wrong and you are misrepresenting their case.


  14. The whole point of Habermas and Craig's minimal facts approach is to bootstrap into the argument all sorts of elements from the biblical accounts that don't enjoy wide acceptance.

    For example, there may be widespread agreement that some disciples had an experience that they understood to be an appearance of the risen Christ but that would not mean that there is consensus on which ones had an experience, the exact content of each experience, or when or where the experiences occurred. Nevertheless, Habermas and Craig demand that any historical theory account for the variety of experiences exactly as they are described in the New Testament.

    There may be widespread agreement that Jesus was buried, but that would include scholars who think that Jesus' body was thrown into a common grave such that no one would have known where it was buried. Nevertheless, Craig and Habermas insist that any theory include the "fact" that Joseph of Arimathea buried the body in a tomb in a known location.

    Craig and Habermas even bootstrap their bootstraps. They take as fact that all the named disciples saw exactly what the gospels say they saw without establishing that there is any consensus on that point. Then they add the "fact" that the disciples died for those exact beliefs even though the evidence for the martyrdom traditions are all so late as to enjoy little acceptance among historians.

  15. Jan,

    I would like to see the documentation on the two scholars that you mention so that I can read in context what they are saying.

    The amusing thing is that Craig claims almost unanimous consent among NT scholars on his "minimal facts," but strangely only a minority come to the conclusion he has. If his "minimal facts" are so strong, then why isn't there almost unanimous consent on his conclusion? Its a non seqitur.

    As Vinny rightly points out above, Craig and others bootleg in additional facts along with their "minimal facts" such as the grave clothes were in the tomb--so obviously no one stole the body because they wouldn't remove the grave clothes. Their were guards at the tomb, so no one could have gotten past the guards, etc.

    The report of the appearances in the Gospels happened exactly as they are described, etc.

    What scholars may agree on is the bare facts of:

    1) Jesus was buried (but not necessarily in JoA's tomb.

    2) the empty tomb (I am not so sure that is supported as widely as Craig claims; I think there are many who believe this to be a legend)

    3) Some people (not necessarily in groups) reported seeing Jesus alive after his death (okay but not necessarily as reported in the gospels, with him eating fish, Thomas touching him, etc.

    4) Christianity grew very rapidly because of the conviction of his followers that he had been raised--Okay, no problem there but I think there were other contributing factors as well.

  16. Gary Habermas has a slightly different list of "minimal facts":

    1) Jesus died by Roman Crucifixion--okay no problem

    2) Jesus’ tomb was empty--once again, I am not so sure that this is nearly unanimously accepted. I think there is much disagreement here as to whether he was buried in a tomb, especially JofA's, or whether he was buried in a criminal grave or possibly even thrown into gehenna.

    3) Jesus appeared to the disciples--There are reports that Jesus appeared to the disciples but the majority of scholars do not accept every detail of the reports in the gospels.

    4) Jesus appeared to skeptics/foes--I would say that everyone agrees that Paul thought he saw Jesus. Exactly what he saw, even from Acts 9, 22, and 26 is not precise. It sounds like he just saw a bright light. As for James, there is no consensus that James was an unbeliver until he reportedly saw Jesus.

  17. Interesting post, Ken, and many points to agree with. But I disagree with your argument that "since Jesus would have been viewed by his followers as a martyr, it would have been natural for them to think that he would be resurrected". I responded at length here, explaining the faulty reasoning.

  18. Hi Loren,

    Thanks for interacting with my blog and I am very pleased to meet you. I have the utmost respect for Alan Segal and probably learned more from reading his book on the Afterlife than from any other source. Anyone who is able to have Alan Segal post on their blog is impressive to me.

    You said: I would point out that while it's true that afterlife beliefs weren't monolithic, there is no documented precedent -- among any groups -- for one individual (messiah or otherwise) to be resurrected prematurely

    I definitely agree but I would add that there was no expectation of the messiah dying at least in 2nd Temple Judaism.

    You continue: It wouldn't have been natural at all, because again, there was no precedent (as far as we know) for anyone -- messiah, martyr, prophet, whatever -- to be prematurely resurrected before everyone else at the end of the age. To reply, as Pulliam does, that the disciples already believed they were living in the end is incredibly greasy, begs the question, and puts the cart before the horse. Paul's argument that Jesus' resurrection was the first fruits came as a consequence of dramatic revisionism, not a natural outgrowth of what was in place.

    "Natural" was a poor word choice on my part. What I should have said was that the resurrection in 2nd Temple Judaism was, for those who believed in the resurrection, for martyrs. Whatever else the disciples may have thought about the death of Jesus, certainly martyrdom was a big component. My point is that its not as wildly novel an idea as Wright and others make it out to be. What was novel was the idea that one person would be resurrected a considerable time before the rest were resurrected. I think some of the Jewish Christians had a problem with this and thus, the interpoloation of Matt. 27:51ff. as a possible explanation after the resurrection was not completed in the first generation of believers. The first generation of believers expected Jesus to return at any moment and complete the resurrection. When the first theologian, Paul, sat down to try to make sense of this, he called Jesus the first-fruits of them that sleep. At least thats how I see it at the moment.

    As far as the references in the gospels to Jesus dying and being raised, I tend to see these as later additions as well. They were put in to make it look like the early Christian's beliefs were not ad hoc . Thus, I think the disciples were shocked when Jesus was killed. As their theology grew, they came to see his death as a sacrifce to God but I don't think they thought this when he was on the cross.

    I appreciate the dialogue as I am always looking to refine my thinking.