The Resurrection of Jesus and His Modern Appearances: Revisiting the “Liar” Hypothesis?


Duccio di Buoninsegna’s “Appearance on Lake Tiberias.” Source: WikiMedia Commons.


This week, leading up to Easter Sunday, I’ve been working on comprehensive post that lays out the current academic and critical status quaestionis on the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. In the meantime though, there was an interesting incident that happened on the Christianity subreddit on Reddit (which I’ll refer to as “/r/Christianity” from here on): one that I think has a broader relevance that ties in nicely with this line of research.

It started a couple of days ago, with a post from an Anglican user who claimed to have had a profound religious experience a few days prior to that. Purportedly, they had been out walking, when they suddenly fell to the ground, and consequently had some sort of encounter and conversation with the archangel Michael, which apparently accounted for a large chunk of “lost” time (from sunset to sunrise the next day, in fact). The encounter ended with the angel predicting that he’d soon have another profound spiritual encounter: “[Jesus] will come to you on the day of His death [=Good Friday] and give you His message.”

Right on schedule, the same user reported back yesterday with a new post: “Today, I’m sure I met Jesus, as told.” It’s since been deleted, but you can still find an archived version of the post here.

At the outset, I want to say that I’m immensely skeptical about the veracity of most of the claims in this new post.

If the events described in the first post could be explained by the person having had some sort of profound subjective visionary experience—or, considering some of the details they mentioned, even simply a dream—this new post suggests an experience that went far beyond the subjective: a full-blown preternatural encounter that took place in external reality (“I was concious [sic] the whole time“), replete with a real flesh and blood Jesus.

In this regard, I think this might be an instructive analogy to the way that early Christian traditions about the resurrection of Jesus could have developed.

The great majority of scholars of early Christianity, non-Christian scholars included, concede that the earliest Christians had some profound (if subjective) experiences that somehow conveyed to them that Jesus had returned to life. And if this is true, it seems likely that these primitive experiences served as the original catalyst for the sort of embellished accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and his post-resurrection appearances that we find in the New Testament gospels.

In other words, in both cases here, it may be that what originally began with subjective experiences was soon transformed into full-blown narratives that went far beyond the subjective.

All that being said, onto the Reddit post. (And before going on, it might be helpful to read the post itself, unimpeded by my own comments on it.)

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This is my honest recount of what happened this Good Friday. Before I start, I’d like to say both that one, I went to a doctor to check for any symptoms of mental illness, and they found nothing. I’ll go again to check though.

So begins the new account; and so immediately began my skepticism.

In response to his first post, many /r/Christianity users—even some who were inclined to believe him (or at least weren’t automatically disinclined to)—had advised that this person visit a doctor/neurologist/psychologist, just to verify that he didn’t actually have serious psychological/neurological issue which was manifesting in this purported supernatural vision.

But here I think it’s important to note that in his original post—which, again, was posted only two days prior to this newest one, on Wednesday night—this person said nothing about an upcoming visit to any medical professional. In fact, in one of their follow-up comments to someone on /r/Christianity who had suggested that “this could also be the sign of a more serious [mental] problem emerging,” the original poster simply responded that a friend of theirs “had no worry or reaction on seeing me the next day.” This to me speaks against the idea that the original poster had even considered a visit to a medical professional before this.

Are we really to expect, then, that not even two days later they’re back with an account in which they had already been to a doctor? (For that matter, what kind of doctor was this? A psychologist or neurologist? A general practitioner?)

As I wrote in a comment to the person themselves, the extremely brief, casual “I went to a doctor . . . and they found nothing” seems like a too-convenient way to quickly dismiss the concerns that many /r/Christianity users had raised: a “nice little [way] to preemptively hand-wave away any objections along these lines.” Further, another commenter on Reddit rightly noted that

He fell to the ground and lost consciousness for the entire day. My doctor wouldn’t have run a mental illness test if I lost consciousness. He’d send me to ER [to] get an MRI or CT scan. Diagnosing schizophrenia involves ruling out other mental health disorders, and medical conditions. He’d send my blood off screening too and I’d still be waiting for results.

For that matter, “I’ll go [to the doctor] again to check though” also seems way too casual to really lend credibility to the whole thing. Of course, to the original poster himself, I suppose they might think that the inclusion of this detail would only further lend credibility to the whole thing, and to their supposed willingness to be open-minded about the source and validity of their experience. But—unless they’re questioned about it—is there anyone who really expects this person to report back about this follow-up visit which may or may not ever take place? And, again, was the first visit really so uneventful that he can just casually promise going to “check again,” as if it’s as simple and mundane as stopping by the grocery store?

In any case though, moving on:

as God is my witness I will not lie once in this recount, and it will all be a truthful retelling of what I’ve seen and experienced.

This testimony, immediately following the line quoted above, I think genuinely presents us with a major conundrum—and one that in some ways strikes to the very heart of the issues relating to how people come to believe in religious claims at all; or, more technically speaking, gets to the heart of some of the major issues of “religious epistemology.”

This is a real person who’s trying to make sure that their story isn’t interpreted as a work of fiction or an allegory or anything, but that they’re sincere and that they’re attempting to tell the truth to the best of their ability.

Again, as I said, I think this is easily connected with broader issues of the epistemology of religious testimony. For example, the preeminent Christian philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne, discussing the New Testament testimony to the historical resurrection of Jesus, writes

apparent testimony to historical events must be regarded as real testimony—in the absence of evidence to the contrary. There is evidence in the case of some apparent testimony in the New Testament that it should not be so interpreted. There are, for example, grounds . . . for supposing that some of the apparent descriptions of the ‘signs’ in St John’s Gospel (e.g. the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda) were not intended by the author to be understood as historical narratives. But there is not, I shall urge, general reason for supposing that much of the apparent testimony to historical events in the New Testament was not so intended; and in the absence of such reason we must interpret apparent testimony as testimony. It looks as though St Paul, St Luke, etc. purport to tell us what they have been told, both by witnesses who purported to see the tomb empty, and by witnesses who purported to have met the risen Jesus; and, in the absence of counter-evidence, we must suppose that these writers are telling us just that. (The Resurrection of God Incarnate, 27)

Further, both Swinburne and many other Christian philosophers and theologians run against the grain of skeptics here in suggesting that, in evaluating such seemingly well-intentioned testimony, before anything else we might actually proceed from a standpoint of trust. For example, New Testament scholar and theologian Ben Witherington writes

It is . . . not good scholarship to have as a beginning point a posture of distrust toward the subject of one’s historical study. One ought to begin with a posture of trust when approaching a certain historical subject, not with a hermeneutic of suspicion, for the very good reason that proving, or even just showing a reasonably strong case for, a positive after you have assumed a strong negative is virtually impossible. . . . Ancient texts deserve the same respect and benefit of the doubt and willingness to trust and list to, at least initially, that biblical scholars want their colleagues to exhibit when evaluating their own modern works. (The Living Word of God: Rethinking the Theology of the Bible, 87)

While I’ll return to the issue of trust and truth-telling a bit later, let’s get back to the story itself:

On Thursday, I went to speak with the priest of my local church about what I saw. He essentially told me he would not question whether it was real or not, but that I should pray by his altar and he would pray for me too.

I also find it a bit curious here that not only did they manage to have a meaningful neurological examination by a doctor within 24 hours, but in that same period also managed to meet with a priest. Granted, I’d imagine that some priests have a bit more open schedules than doctors/neurologists do; but maybe it’s a bit telling that they also never mentioned anything about this planned meeting in their original post, either. (Tellingly though, several Reddit commenters had advised meeting with one.)

However, I’m willing to grant that this part is true; and in any case, the meeting with the priest was only really significant as a setup for the rest of the story.

Come Good Friday (yesterday), our Reddit poster prayed, “for a few hours at least,” and “participated in all the activities and prayers with the public.” After this,

It was about 5:00 when I left. I went to sit at a pond next to the church, just to be with myself. The message [of the archangel Michael] from last Friday had almost left my mind, though I was still anticipating something.

Eventually I convinced myself nothing was going to happen, so at around 6:00 I started home. My route home goes through a forest, and a larger, main pond/almost lake I go past. If anyone ever fishes here, I haven’t seen them.

On the pebbled shore of this lake next to the path, there was a man facing away from me, attempting to untangle a giant fishing net that was spread across from him on the ground. It was very tangled, and he seemed to be struggling with it. I was tired and honestly just wanting to get home after my disappointing night. But something in me told me to help. After all, that’s the Christian way.

Several details in this are obviously suspicious. First and foremost, this whole setup recalls several incidents in the New Testament gospels, in which Jesus appears to his disciples specifically while they’re fishing, with a net, in a sea/lake. See, for example,

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:1-5)

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. . . . 3 Simon Peter said to [the disciples], “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  (John 21:1-6)

Like in our Reddit story, both of these encounters take place on the shore (Luke 5:2; John 21:4). And specifically in reference to the shore being “pebbled” in the Reddit story, it might be worth noting that several readily accessible homiletic commentaries on these gospel stories also comment specifically on it being “pebbled”: for example, in reference to the mention of the dirtiness of the nets in Luke 5:2, Martin Vincent notes that this was due to “the sand and pebbles accumulated during the night’s work.” Similarly, a commentary on John 21 notes the strangeness of Jesus’ walking with wounds in his feet, “on a beach of pebbles and small shells.”

More important, however, is the motif of the lack of recognition of Jesus, common to both the Reddit story and to John 21.

As noted in John 21:4, “Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know/recognize that it was Jesus.” Further, the Reddit user’s lack of recognition that the man he encountered was Jesus—the obvious conclusion that he wants to convey—is fundamental to his story. He begins to suggest this (which makes for a nice classic sort of literary irony) after he had mentioned the man struggling with the fishing net, as he describes the man further:

He was tall, I’m 5’10 and he was definitely taller. He had fairly short hair, and wore a light beard. His skin was an olive complexion, I thought nothing of this as where I live has a moderate middle eastern population.

Here I think we have what seems to be another preemptive response to a potential objection, regarding how it is that the poster didn’t immediately notice that something was out of the ordinary here. First, it so happens that this person’s “olive complexion” wasn’t that noteworthy because they live in an area with a “moderate middle eastern population.” Jesus, though, was of course a native of Palestine, and whose skin is regularly poetically described as “olive”-colored (a description we don’t regularly find outside of Orientalist ruminations, it might be added).

I don’t think there’s any denying that most of the description here clearly points toward Jesus—and perhaps to some specific popular conceptions of his appearance, too. In fact, minus the mention of the “light” beard, we might think of the well-known artistic reconstruction of Jesus’ face/appearance as was done by Richard Neave, widely reported on in various media. Perhaps more interesting here, though, is the mention of the height of the man: over 5′ 10″.

And although tallness is also a not-uncommon motif in purported appearances of angels to humans, if we’re thinking particularly about traditions of Jesus here, we might think of the purported image of Jesus depicted in the Shroud of Turin, which is often estimated as being six feet tall; perhaps even 6′ 2″. (A height of six feet for Jesus is also mentioned by the 8th or 9th century monk Epiphanius, and other sources.)

Continuing in the Reddit post:

There was nothing inherently striking or powerful about him, and as I approached his expression seemed pained, but smiled as I came.

Ignoring the fact that here the original poster claims there was apparently nothing striking about a six+ feet tall man using a fishing net in a lake in which he’s never seen anyone fish before, the detail about his expression seeming “pained” might naturally evoke Good Friday—the day of Jesus’ excruciating death.

In any case, it’s at this point, naturally, when the first dialogue between the two takes place. (Our poster uses the abbreviations “M'” for “me” and “H” for “him” here.)

M: Can I help you with that, mister? H: I would like the help, if you could spare the time. M: Of course. I’m sorry if I’m no use, I’ve never fished before. H: I was once the same. My friend fishes more than me.

I sat down next to him next to this lake and we both started untying the biggest knot. His hands were long and slender, and I remember hardly being able to look away from them.

H: Are you looking forward to Sunday, (my name)? I always do. (I didn’t notice at the time and only realised later I never gave my name to him.) M: Yeah. It’s a nice celebration. I like eating all the eggs too. We both laughed. The knot we were working on came undone and we picked up the next. M: It won’t be the same as usual though. My father died a month ago, and he loved Easter. I’m still not over it. H: Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Your father is alive, as you will see when you too are risen again.

This, again, arouses incredible suspicion. The man—at least as our poster portrays him—seems to speak in the heightened and archaic prose of King James (Biblical) English: “I was once the same,” etc.

“My friend fishes more than me” might be taken to be inspired by Jesus’ disciples being fishermen, as portrayed in the New Testament. (Further, in the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of his close disciples explicitly as “friends.” And is it too much to suggest that the singular “friend” of Jesus in the Reddit story might be inspired by the eminent “beloved disciple” of Jesus, from the gospel of John?)

And, as I also mentioned in my own follow-up comment to the original poster here, hardly anything here suggests the normal cadences and character of natural interaction. For example, I find it nearly impossible to believe that the Reddit poster didn’t notice how the man addressed him directly by name, despite his having not told him—especially considering that this happened in only the third sentence that the man said to him. (And, needless to say, the preternatural knowledge of Jesus is one of the hallmarks of his portrayal in the New Testament gospels. More specifically, it’s regularly noted that, in Luke 19, Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name, despite their lack of previous interaction.)

In the man’s last sentence quoted above, he assumes the full Biblical guise of Jesus, explicitly quoting “himself” in “Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4), and then delivering a sort of prophecy that the original poster would see his father again in the resurrection.

Following this, the interaction becomes even more contrived; now seemingly just a vehicle for the mysterious man to impart Biblical kōans:

M: Why are you even fishing here, mister? There’s probably nothing in there, and it’s all polluted anyway. H: Do you hunger when a bowl is shown to you? When there is food to be had, I deliver it.

The rest of the interaction is little different in this regard, as the Reddit posted finally can’t hold back any longer in asking the man who he is (obviously a poor attempt at narrative suspense):

We sat there, the net in the water. No one else was around. I had the feeling I could be open with him, and I told him about my girlfriend breaking up with me. He told me not to be afraid, and we held each other. I was on the verge of tears, and as I embraced him I no longer wanted to cry. What he just said reminded me of my encounter last Friday, so I broke away and asked him ‘who are you?’

H: I am what I am. If you think I am, I am within you. I didn’t know what to think. About ten minutes passed, and the man pulled in his net. Nothing was in it but a single, tiny fish. I remarked how little it was.

H: Is life not more than food? Take it and eat it and be thankful you can eat. M: Thank you, sir. H: You should go home, your friend is worried about you. I’ll stay here and try to catch some more. M: I-… ok, thank you for the fish. And thank you, for your time.

Our Reddit storyteller rightfully notes that the man telling him “not to be afraid” resembles the previous interaction with the archangel; and in the Bible and other Judeo-Christian literature, “do not be afraid” is practically a required phrase when divine beings and/or angels first appear to mortals.

In any case, even beyond the fact that Jesus continues to speak in a practically verbatim New Testament idiom, there are several other things that we could be skeptical about here. The emphasis on the catch of a single fish might resemble that of Matthew 17:27, where Jesus has Peter cast his hook to find a fish with a four-drachma coin in its mouth. Of course though, as it is, the single fish seems to mainly serve as an lesson about the virtue of reliance on God over mundane worries about sustenance—which just so happens to be the precise message of Matthew 6:25-34, down to the verbatim quotation of “Is life not more than food?”

I also find the fact that apparently ten minutes passed without any dialogue between them to be highly sketchy. This is an excruciatingly long time for two people to be silent without extreme awkwardness; and one thinks that, if this were an actual honest account, there would be much more description about what happened during this time.

Finally, when our original poster returns home to his friend, fish in tow,

When I got in, my dogs greeted me happily and my friend was indeed concerned where I was and was glad I was back. For dinner time, I insisted we share only the little fish I had. My friend was confused, but agreed because for easter he was open to shows of faith. So I cooked the fish and we ate it, and I gave him the bigger half.

It’s interesting here that here, his friend explicitly reiterates the concern that Jesus had predicted earlier (“You should go home, your friend is worried about you”): a detail that was altogether lacking from the original first post. Incidentally, as someone had asked in a comment on that original first post,

What situation were you in such that you fell asleep outside overnight and nobody realized?

One wonders then if, in this new story, the emphasis on the friend’s concern—again, first mentioned by “Jesus,” and then affirmed by the friend himself—isn’t somewhat of a “correction” of the original omission: a crucial detail that our poster only realized was missing after a respondent had made him aware of this.

Finally, it’s tempting to think that the last line quoted above—”My friend was confused, but agreed because for easter he was open to shows of faith. So I cooked the fish and we ate it, and I gave him the bigger half”—is in fact really intended to be our lesson for Easter: even those who are skeptical should be open to the possibility of faith; and further, believers should be willing to “go the extra mile” in terms of charity.

All together, in the poster’s new story, there are a constellation of improbable and unrealistic details that I think should lead us to be confident if not certain that this story isn’t substantially true.

Now, it’s hard to tell whether there’s any kernel of truth to this newest story. Of course, though, one of the most salient points that I want to draw attention to is that the poster wants us to believe that he’s telling the truth: again, recall “as God is my witness I will not lie once in this recount, and it will all be a truthful retelling of what I’ve seen and experienced.”

In light of this then, if the original poster is indeed a Christian, but if this story is fabricated (at least in some of its more significant elements), this can only be understood to be a kind of pious lie: a concocted story by a consequentialist who believes that deceptive means can serve truthful ends, if it ultimately serves to strengthen faith.

And it’s on this note that I think we might be able to finally start drawing some connections with ancient Christianity. First and foremost, those who’ve kept up with the academic study of early Christianity might be increasingly familiar with the idea of the pious lie from recent discussion on early Christian pseudepigraphy—something that’s been increasingly understood as a fundamentally deceptive practice. And, incidentally, in some early forged texts, the false “author” actually insists that he’s telling the truth, or even has the gall to caution his readers against people who would purport to forge writings in his name! (I think Bart Ehrman or someone else has dubbed this “ironic” pseudepigraphy.)

But perhaps it can be connected with other forms of dubious religious “truth”-telling as well. Again, one of the first sentences in the Reddit user’s newest post was “as God is my witness I will not lie once in this recount, and it will all be a truthful retelling of what I’ve seen and experienced.” Although I suggested that this is poignant language that in some sense might instinctively compel us to give someone the benefit of the doubt, it’s been recognized that very similar language can sometimes be a mere literary device, of questionable historical value. 

Perhaps the most obvious comparable statement to this, as it’s known from early Christianity, and indeed found in the New Testament itself, is the gospel of John’s claim to eyewitness testimony and authorship, in John 19:35 and in the final lines of the gospel itself, at 21:24-25.

one of the soldiers pierced [Jesus’] side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth. (John 19:34-35)

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” . . . 24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:20, 24-25)

Here we also have poignant language of both eyewitness testimony and proclaimed truthfulness: first, to the crucifixion of Jesus itself; and in the latter verses, in the context of Jesus’ miraculous post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, but also in reference to the events of the gospel of John as a whole. (I’ve discussed these texts and their context more in my post here.)

Further speaking of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus: New Testament scholar Richard Miller, in discussing the early Christian dissatisfaction with the abrupt ending of the New Testament gospel of Mark—which appears to draw on the Greco-Roman motif of a mysterious absence of a corpse signifying its preternatural disappearance from the earthly plane, and its “translation” to the heavenly realm; but which was subsequently expanded on by later New Testament authors and redactors (“providing supermundane, epilogical content extending the Markan narrative”)—writes that

As is particularly visible in the Romulean apotheosis traditions deployed in Roman imperial propaganda, post-translation appearances, speeches, ascensions, and eyewitness testimonies became optional appendages to the “translation fable” convention. (“Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity,” 768; emphasis mine)

All of that being said, there’s also the possibility that the current Reddit post that I’ve discussed was simply concocted by a non-Christian in order to make transcendent Christian religious experiences look silly, or others look silly for believing it: something that, naturally, renders this whole post moot, and in some way also invalidates the larger comparisons and inferences here.

Nonetheless, if we at least take the Reddit poster’s claim to be a Christian at face value, I think this might give us valuable insight into the nature of Christian belief, testimony, and truth-telling: insights that, again, might be correlated with the earliest Christian traditions, too.

Near the beginning of this post, I wrote

The great majority of scholars of early Christianity, non-Christian scholars included, concede that the earliest Christians had some profound (if subjective) experiences that somehow conveyed to them that Jesus had returned to life. And if this is true, it seems likely that these primitive experiences served as the original catalyst for the sort of embellished accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and his post-resurrection appearances that we find in the New Testament gospels.

Putting all the pieces together now: do the parallels between these ancient accounts and the modern one that I’ve discussed here—a generally implausible sequence of events or a broader lack of realism, and/or the use of stock motifs or stereotypical or “fictional” language—open the door for seeing the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in the New Testament as actual pious fabrications: that is, as in some sense knowingly untruthful? And, on analogy with modern stories like this, could this even open the door for seeing direct first-person accounts of Jesus’ appearances, like that of the apostle Paul (Galatians 1:12f.; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8), as pious non-truths, too?

Despite the openness of many non-Christians to these ideas, I’m still reticent about the latter. I think there’s little reason to doubt that several important early Christians did have visionary experiences in which they perceived a resurrected Jesus.¹ (Whether or not things became exaggerated in the course of the transmission of these reports is, of course, another issue. For example, does Paul accurately report the resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15?)²

Nevertheless, as a whole, I think that in light of what I’ve mentioned, and in light of other considerations as well, we might have more room than is typically supposed—even by secular scholars—to see some of the more significant early Christian traditions about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as being bound up in a broader complex of “untruthfulness.” What the exact theological ramifications of this are has yet to be fully explored.

That aside, however, even the mere fact that it can be difficult to truly find substantive qualitative distinctions between ancient accounts (whether they’ve believed to be true, or appear to be false) and modern fabrications, or perhaps even irreligious parodies thereof—the latter of which can elicit just as much credulity as anything else here—I believe speaks toward some serious outstanding problems in religious epistemology, and we can approach and evaluate sacred truth-claims. 

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[1] In a comment on Reddit in response to the original version of this post, someone wrote

I think there well could have been a snowball effect if one person (say Peter) claimed to have seen some sort of vision of Jesus, then the others claimed to have had similar visions. One or two might have even actually seen something similar once the suggestion was in their minds, but I think there’s a good chance others might just have started saying they saw Jesus so as not to be left out or lose standing in the group.

If, again, we want to be cautious about a simple blatant lying here, I certainly think “[o]ne or two might have even actually seen something similar once the suggestion was in their minds” is a helpful suggestion—especially insofar as it portrays the idea of visionary experience here as something like a “meme” that could inspire or elicit people’s own experiences.

And/or perhaps it led people specifically to exaggerate the content or significance of their experiences.

[2] More generally speaking on all of this, as Matthew over at Kelsos notes in a recent post

An author can write a letter or narrative about things due to other causes then the experiences actually taking place (e.g. hearsay, literary embellishment, lies, misinterpretation of natural phenomena, etc.). When we especially know very little about the circumstances in which such literature was produced, it leaves its causes for being written open to a much wider range of explanations.

This is especially important when discussing the expected evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Since Paul’s letters and the Gospels could have been produced from a wide range of causes, I think they are (roughly speaking) equally expected for a number of non-resurrection hypotheses (e.g. mythical translation fables, hearsay, embellishment, hallucinations or non-veridical visionary experiences, etc.).