The Swoon and Hallucination Theories

In 2022 - The Power of His Resurrection, Lectureship by Aaron Johnson

Automated Transcript:

Afternoon, everyone. I think what brother Kenyon was trying to express there when he was talking about people dropping out and filling in, as he really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel, but we’re, we’re gonna do our best for more than a century. It is astounding, the amount of paper and ink that has been marshaled to talk about the life of Jesus and the so-called historical Jesus.

Various new Testament scholars have been skeptical about the authenticity of the gospel accounts. And so they have tried to distinguish the Jesus of faith from the Jesus of history. And in order to do that, they have developed so-called criteria of authenticity. That is to say that we have this criteria here, this criteria here, this was discussed in the bottom up approach if you were here for that lecture.

But the idea is if you put a particular saying of Jesus or something that Jesus did through those criteria, and it comes outstanding, that it is more likely to be authentic. Now it’s debatable just how successful these criteria have been. Nevertheless, there has been genuine progress made in historical Jesus studies. Namely, there are now certain facts that surround the fate of Jesus and the rise of early Christianity that are accepted by a large majority of scholars working in the field today.

Now I’m not going to enumerate these facts in detail for our purposes. I’m just going to simplify them to four facts that we will consider. And that is that after Jesus’ crucifixion, he was buried in a tomb fact. Number one fact, number two, that that tomb was then later found empty about three days later. Fact, number three, that around this time the disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus,

and then fax number four. Paul, the former persecutor also had an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus. Now these facts while the, the, the tomb is somewhat controversial, these facts are agreed upon by the vast majority of new Testament scholars writing this today. So we’re not talking about anything that is restricted to just conservative Christians over here.

These are affirmed by atheists, agnostics, Jews, Christians, liberal, conservative. These are just the facts of the matter. So let me give you a roadmap of what we’re going to talk about in this session. Firstly, I’m going to give you an argument for thinking that Jesus did come to occupy the tomb after his crucifixion, since that’s a little bit more controversial.

So we’ll discuss an argument for that. Then we’ll outline what the Swoon theory is. And then we will assess its explanatory quality with respect to the historical evidence. So firstly, then let’s talk about an argument for Jesus being buried after his crucifixion, from one of these so-called criteria of authenticity, namely the criterion of similarity, it goes by a couple of different names,

some call it a historical plausibility, other contextual appropriateness. We’re just going to call it historical similarity. What is this criteria? New Testament scholar, NT Wright argues that quote when something can be seen to be credible within first century Judaism and credible as the implied starting point of something in later Christianity, then there is a strong possibility of our being in touch with the genuine history of Jesus and quote,

Garrett Tyson, a German new Testament scholar. He’s got a more complex formulation, but one of the planks is all we need for our purposes. He says that quote, the better a tradition suits its concrete Jewish Palestinian and Galilean context. The more it’s claim to authenticity and quote, and then John Meyer, the eminent historical Jesus scholar lists one of his second order criteria as quote,

sayings of Jesus that reflect concrete, customs, beliefs, judicial procedures, commercial and agricultural practices or social and political conditions. In first century, Palestine have a good chance of being authentic. In other words, if something happens in Jesus’ life that is plausible within the Jewish Palestinian context. And if that event accounts nicely for a later development in Christianity, then what we’re looking at is probably authentic.

So what we’re going to do is look at that first piece is the burial of Jesus is that coherent with respect to the background of first century Palestine. And then we’ll look at that second element of later developments. And for this first part, the first plank here, the Jewish context, I’ll be relying on a book by Craig Evans, new Testament scholar entitled Jesus in his world.

The archeological evidence Evans observes that since the time that Abraham’s life was recorded, burial in the Jewish culture was extremely important. Ask yourself why is it that the men of valor in first Samuel 31 risk their lives to recover the disgraced bodies of now dead king Saul and his sons from the city wall? Why would they risk life and limb to retrieve those bodies and bury them?

Because burial was incredibly important to their culture, but it was not just the Jewish brethren, but the Jews were concerned about it. Didn’t matter if you were Jew or Gentile friend foe, honorable despicable. If you died, the Jews would see that you were buried. And this is because it’s a commanded by God in Deuteronomy 30, Deuteronomy 21 verses 22 and 23.

There we read quote. And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day for a hanged. Man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land. That the Lord, your God has given you for an inheritance.

So the emphasis here is not on honoring the dead or anything like that. Rather the emphasis is on keeping the land that God had given them pure. And you would do that by burying anybody no matter what phylo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher that lived contemporaneously with Jesus. So his writings are of particular interest. He creatively reimagines what Jacob must have been thinking.

When Joseph, when the false report of Joseph’s death reached his ears. So you could think of phylo as writing old Testament fan fiction, that’s what’s going on here. So he says, speaking in the place of Jacob quote child, it is not your death that grieves me, but the manner of it, if you had been, if you had been buried in your own land,

then I should have been comforted and left. None of the customary rights undone. And indeed, if you had died by violence or through premeditation, it would have been a lighter ill to me, slain, as you would have been by human beings who would have pitied their dead victim, gathered some dust and covered the corpse. And if they had been the cruelest of men,

what more could they have done, but cast it out and buried and go their way. And then perhaps some passer-by would have stayed his steps. And as he looked, felt pity for our common nature and deemed the custom of burial to be its Dew and quote here again, we see the emphasis that burial plays within the Jewish context. There’s a document called the temple scroll.

The temple scroll was another document that was in use contemporary to Jesus’ ministry. So it is of particular interest. And the temple scroll is basically a paraphrase slash interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. And so it was used as an authoritative document in this respect, but in its paraphrase of that passage from Deuteronomy, remember Deuteronomy 21 verses 22 and 23. Here’s the temple scrolls paraphrase of that verse quote.

If a man is convicted of a capital crime, you are to hang him also upon a tree until dead, but you must not let their bodies remain on the tree overnight. You shall most certainly bury them that very day. Indeed, anyone hung on a tree is a cursed of God and men, but you are not to defile the land that I’m about to give you as an inheritance.

Now, Craig Evans observes that in Deuteronomy, the order of events was that the person is killed, hung on a tree, then buried, but in the temple scroll, the person is hung on a tree until dead and then taken down. And given the context in which the temple scroll was in use, namely Roman occupation, this seems like a perfect example or a perfect description of crucifixion.

If that’s the case, then we have in authoritative document in use during Jesus’ ministry that actually prescribed the burial of crucified victims. Let’s talk about Josephus. The Jewish historian Josephus lists, the virtues that are common to all Jews in his work against Appian. He says, quote. However, there are other things which our legislature ordained for us beforehand, which of necessity we ought to do in common to all men as to afford fire and water and food to such as wanted to show them the roads and not to let anyone lie and buried.

Therefore it’s very significant. When in his work Jewish war, he talks about the rebels, the IO Damian rebels that overtook the city of Jerusalem in 80 66. And here’s how he describes the iota means. He says, quote, they actually went so far in their impiety as to cast out their dead bodies without burial. Although the Jews are so careful about burial rights that even malefactors or criminals who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset.

So Josephus has just stated explicitly what all of the others seem to have implied, namely, that if you are crucified in Palestine, the Jews will have you buried before sundown. That’s what Josephus is saying. So, and listen to the argument that Josephus is making. See, he is saying that the Iranians are just incredibly barbaric. Why? Well, because they left the bodies of the Jews on buried.

Well, maybe Josephus is anticipating a rejoinder from a non-Jewish audience right after all the reader might think, well, Josephus is not all that uncommon for an opposing military force to leave the bodies of the opposing nation without proper burial, to which Josephus responds well. Here’s why it’s a big deal. Us Jews. We don’t just bury the bodies of an opposing nation.

We bury the bodies of crucified victims. Josephus is picking the most extreme example that he can think of in this case crucifixion and saying, even in that extreme case, the Jews will still Barre your body. So what’s the conclusion of this point, even if we had no record of Jesus’ burial and only the record of his crucifixion, we would still be able to say with some confidence that given the customs of the Jews in this time and place,

Jesus would probably have received a proper burial, but we do have records of Jesus’ burial, several of them. In fact, we will talk about that more in my next session, but right now we have many accounts of Jesus’ burial. So it fits nicely into the Jewish context. That’s the first part of the criteria of similarity. Second part, does it account well for later developments in Christianity?

Well, let’s look at some of those developments. First Corinthians chapter 15, starting in verse three, it says that Jesus died in accordance with the scriptures and that he was buried. So there we have a development. What about Romans chapter six verse four, that we were buried with him through baptism into death acts chapter 13, verse 29. And when they had carried out all that was written of him,

they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. Therefore, since Jesus’ burial is credible within even expected within the Palestinian context. And since it provides a credible point of origin for later developments within Christianity, it passes the criteria of similarity with flying colors. So Jesus’ body almost certainly came to reside in a tomb after his crucifixion. How do we explain this fact,

what’s the best explanation for those facts that I listed before? Firstly, that after his crucifixion Jesus came to Jesus’ body, he came to occupy a tomb. Secondly, that about three days later, the tomb was found empty that the disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus. And that Paul had an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen.

Jesus, how do we explain these facts? Well, the spoon theory says that Jesus never actually died. He survived the crucifixion. And in that way, it accounts for these facts, right? The appearances of Jesus easy, right? He never died in the first place. So of course he could appear later. So what we’re going to do now is take a step back and examine the historical plausibility of the Swoon theory that Jesus never actually died and see what we can come up with.

Well, this one theory as was mentioned in the, the bottom up lecture earlier today, this woman theory is disqualified almost immediately on account of its not being able to explain the crucifixion, right? It does not actually account for the death of Jesus. It denies the death of Jesus. The reason that this is so problematic is because the Romans as was mentioned were extremely proficient when it came to making sure that crucified victims died.

In fact, the cause of death of crucifixion is pretty much agreed to be ex fixation. That is to say lack of oxygen when the arms are stretched out and the body pivoted and left to sag, the diaphragm is forced to contract. That is to say, you’re forced to inhale. So as you are suspended there with gravity, you are forced to inhale and your lungs begin to fill with carbon dioxide.

And the only way that you can exhale is by pushing up on your legs so that your diaphragm can relax and you can exhale all of that carbon dioxide, rich air, and then sink back down. And now you have fresh air in your lungs. That means that just as long as you can watch someone stop bobbing up and down for five minutes. They’re dead.

There’s no question. In fact, if you wanted to make sure that a crucified victim died, you broke their legs, right? That’s what pilot was going to do when he found out that Jesus had already died, right? Why would you break the legs of a crucified victim? Why would that expedite the process? Well, now they can’t push themselves up and the carbon dioxide will build up in their lungs.

You wait five minutes, they’re dead. So very low probability just because of the cause of death. It’s very easy to identify. But then also in the book of John, which recorded several additional details to the crucifixion, the scholars generally think are authentic. The soldiers are reported to have pierced the side of Jesus. So if that’s the case, then we’re doubly sure that Jesus has died.

And then finally, as mentioned before, the Romans were not prone to making mistakes. Think about it. If there was a history of crucified victims surviving the ordeal, don’t you think that it would lose some of its deterrent? It’s only a deterrent because it was so thorough, so proficient. So all of this leads a new Testament scholars to believe that Jesus with virtual certainty met his end on the Roman cross,

Michael Lacona, who did his dissertation on Jesus’ resurrection and cause a wide swath of historical Jesus scholars. On the conclusion of Jesus’ fate, there was an atheist new Testament scholar GERD Ludemann. He writes quote Jesus’ death. As a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable. John Dominic Crossan, who denies the authenticity of a large majority of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the canonical gospels comments,

that there is quote, not the slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius, pilot, and quote, therefore the cause of death, the spear in the side, the proficiency of the Romans combined to make the spoon theory incredibly historically implausible to the point that it has been abandoned by nearly every new Testament scholar writing on the issue for the last 50 years.

It’s just not even a topic of conversation, but let’s say that Jesus did survive crucifixion. He somehow managed to survive the, the crucifixion process. He’s still not out of the woods yet because after you’re taken down from the cross, you don’t miraculously heal from all of the wounds that have just been inflicted upon you. So there’s still the massive improbability of him surviving his wounds.

Well, we have one record of someone surviving crucifixion in the Roman world. And this comes from Josephus. He says quote. And when I was sent by Titus Caesar with Cornelius and a thousand horsemen to a certain village called in order to know whether it was a place fit for a camp. As I came back, I saw many captives crucified and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance.

I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus and told him of them. So he immediately commanded them to be taken down and to have the greatest caretaking of them in order to their recovery. Yet, yet two of them died, but one recovered. So even given the best medical technology that Rome had to offer,

you still only had at best a one out of three chance of surviving, but Jesus received no medical treatment. Remember he was given a burial, so he’s left to his own. So he’s almost certainly succumbing to his wounds, but let’s say that he didn’t succumb to his wounds. He survived. How does he escape the tomb? He can’t. So this cannot even account for the empty tomb.

Jesus is trapped inside. So unless you pair this with something like the conspiracy theory, where the disciples come and steal the body, you’re still left with an occupied tomb, but let’s just say he escaped the tomb, leaving it empty to be discovered by the women. On Sunday morning, there is still the massive improbability of Jesus. Being able to convince anyone that he had resurrected from the dead sea overcoming all of this,

how will the battered bleeding half dead Jesus convince his disciples that he was now experiencing the glory and power of the resurrection. David Frederick Strauss imagines this half dead Jesus somehow emerging from his tomb, creeping down the streets of Jerusalem, weak and frail in desperate need of medical attention. How could this Jesus ever give the impression to his disciples, that he was the conqueror over death in the grave,

the prince of life, this kind of gruesome and pitiful appearance from Jesus Strauss observes quote could only have weakened the impression that he had made upon them in life and in death and could heart and could by no possibility have changed. Their sorrow to enthusiasm have elevated their reverence into worship. Let me provide just a brief summary of the ground that we’ve covered. Jesus’ burial in a tomb passes the criteria of similarity with flying colors.

It makes sense within the context of the Jewish Palestinian culture and it accounts well for later developments in Christianity. Secondly, the swarm theory has no ability to account for the facts surrounding Jesus’ death. And resurrection crucifixion was a death sentence, not a death sentence with a chance of survival, but even if he did survive, he would certainly have succumb to his wounds.

Even if he didn’t succumb to his wounds, he would have been trapped in the tomb. Even if he had escaped the tomb, he would never have been able to convince anyone, Paul, the disciples or anyone else that he had conquered the grave and had resurrected from the dead for all of these reasons. And more that we don’t mention here. It is no wonder that virtually no scholar writing on this issue for the last 50 years defends this theory,

it has been relegated to the fringes of academia to put it generously and has only found refuge in the popular sensationalist writings of the likes of Dan Brown’s DaVinci code. That is to say no fair-minded assessment of the historical data could lead to the conclusion that Jesus never really died. Some other explanation for the evidence is required.


Aaron Johnson
The Swoon and Hallucination Theories
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