Jesus’ resurrection: was Paul hallucinating?

I really want to be done with my post series on William Lane Craig, but after putting up yesterday’s post, I realized I really need to say more about the possibility that Paul and other people who claimed to have seen Jesus after his death were hallucinating (or otherwise deluded).

First of all, we know that hallucinations, false memories, and so on seem to be an important source of religious and paranormal beliefs. This is something I pointed out in my first book, focusing on the example of “alien abductees.” The short of it is that there are many people in the US today who, as far as anyone can tell, sincerely believe they have been abducted by space aliens. They aren’t all lone psychiatric patients; there are organizations for these people.

Biblical scholar Dale Allison makes a similar point in his book Resurrecting Jesus. Allison brings together a huge number of reports of visions and apparitions to show that the reports of Jesus’ post-mortem appearances aren’t terribly unique. I mention Allison in large part because he’s another person Craig has lied about. Here’s what Craig has said:

Allison’s familiarity with the literature is daunting. Pages 279-82 of his essay contain only 16 lines of text and nearly 200 fine lines of references! But his very strength as a bibliographer becomes a weakness, since he tends to accept all reports uncritically, lumping together serious studies in journals of psychology with New Age popular books and publications in parapsychology. Most of the so-called veridical visions of deceased persons are gathered from parapsychological literature of the late nineteenth century. What is wanting is a careful sifting of the evidence and a differentiated discussion of the same. Allison’s discussion reminded me of literature I’ve read on UFO sightings, in which the serious is mixed with the ridiculous, leaving one in great uncertainty about what to make of such experiences.

Craig insinuates that Allison is just like the UFOlogists, but there’s an important difference: Allison doesn’t “accept” all the reports in the sense of thinking the stories really happened. He’s just pointing out the parallels between reports. I suppose if challenged on this, Craig would claim by “accepts” he means “includes in the footnotes,” but that’s not what the word means and it’s not what people who read only Craig’s side of the story will think.

There are two other bad arguments Craig makes here that I think are worth pointing out here. First, he sometimes falls into citing the details of the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’ resurrection as a refutation of the hallucination hypothesis (Reasonable Faith p. 385). This is a bad argument, because even assuming some people really believed they had seen Jesus after his death, that doesn’t mean all the details of the Bible stories are true.

It’s also a dishonest argument, given that Craig claims to only use “facts” generally agreed on by Biblical scholars. Many Biblical scholars, including Gerd Ludemann (who Craig cites often a skeptic who supports his views) think some people really believed they had seen Jesus after his death, but don’t think the Bible’s accounts of those experiences are at all accurate.

Craig also criticizes the possibility of hallucinations on the grounds that it requires “psychoanalysis” of Jesus’ early followers. Um, no. If you found a letter from a pagan saying a pagan god had appeared to him, would you need “psychoanalysis” to suspect the author had hallucinated? Of course not, and the same applies to Jesus’ followers.

Okay, there. Now I’m done writing about Craig’s arguments.

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  • Steven Carr

    Did Paul hallucinate travelling to the Third Heaven?

    And why was Paul unable to produce a single bit of detail as to what a resurrected body was like, even when trying to explain what a resurrected body was like to Christian converts who were scoffing at the idea of a corpse rising from a grave?

    The only detail Paul produces is to explain to them that ‘the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’ and then to write another letter explaining to them that even if the earthly body is destroyed, they would get a new one , made in Heaven.

  • Ian MacDougall

    The Gospels have been the inspiration of many a revivalist preacher; the turgid writings of Paul the inspiration for many a turgid sermon from a turgid-minded Paulian parson. But if one bothers to wade through the epistles of Paul the Apostle, one is struck by the abscence of references to the life, miracles, sayings and so on of Joshua bar Joseph, aka Jesus Christ.

    Why we may ask, is this so?

    The answer according to my reading lies in the fact that the Epistles of Paul the said Apostle were written BEFORE the Gospels. As far as Paul is concerned, the information that matters is: Christ lived, and was identified as the son of God; Christ died by crucifixion, Paul accepts for the sins of all; Christ was resurrected, proving that there will be life after death.

    On this narrow foundation, he built his theology.

    • wholething

      But if one bothers to wade through the epistles of Paul the Apostle, one is struck by the abscence of references to the life, miracles, sayings and so on of Joshua bar Joseph, aka Jesus Christ.

      This goes for all the epistles. You don’t see any reference to Jesus’ life, miracles and sayings outside the Gospels, even the ones that are supposedly written by his companions, even when the point they are trying to illustrate would be made by just saying that Jesus said it. They talk alot about his crucifixion and resurrection. The closest they come to saying that Jesus existed on Earth is with the phrase “in the flesh”, but in 1 Timothy 3:16

      And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

      the phrase “seen by angels” shows that the phrase “in the flesh” does not mean “visible by humans.”

      There are two verses that seem to place Jesus in the first century. One is in 1 Timothy 6:13 that says Jesus testified before Pontius Pilate but looks like an interpolated margin note, especially in light of the verse three chapters before and quoted above.

      The second is in 1 Thessalonians 2:15 and says Jesus was crucified by the Jews. The next verse says the Jews received “the wrath of God” for it. For something to appear to be a just punishment of a nation and known to the rest of the world would be historically noteworthy would be the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but that happened after Paul was dead. So that passage is an obvious interpolation.

      In Robert M. Price’s The Jesus Myth and Its Problems, he compiles the works of several authors who have proposed that certain gospel passages were drawn on Old Testament verses or from Homeric works. In combination, there is a very short list of verses in the Gospels that do not come from those sources.

  • kimrottman

    Craig himself “psychoanalyzes” Jesus’s followers in order to arrive at the conclusion that the resurrection really happened. I don’t know if he’s done it elsewhere but, in a debate with Sam Harris, he discussed how deeply Jesus’s followers believed and how many of them had strong incentives to disbelieve.

  • MNb0

    Quite uninteresting.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Anyone else feel the same way? Anyone disagree? Need to know whether or not to include this section in The Book

      • wholething

        I disagree with that guy. I thought it was interesting.

      • andyman409

        You probably should include at least something on the resurrection, even if it is only a few pages. If you want my advice, I’d suggest focusing less on the empty tomb and more on the poor historicity of the gospels resurrection accounts. Also pertinent to the discussion is the nature of the resurrection body. It is too often assumed that, not only was the resurrection body wholly physical, but that it could not be the product of subjective visions. This is bullshit. As far as I can tell, even if the early christians believed jesus physically rose, it doesn’t mean his body was tangible or physical- only that the disciples believed that the body could be physical and tangible. In other words, I see no reason why non-physical encounters with jesus couldn’t have been conseptualised as physical appearances in the minds of the disciples and/or the gospel writers.

        • Phil

          The whole issue of whether the disciples were hallucinating has been so soundly laid to rest I am surprised to find someone that still holds to that theory. Gary Habermas has soundly refuted the hallucination theory over and over, and includes current medical and psychological data that support his refutation. Add to that Michael Licona’s writings. Habermas and Licona also have data that show how few critical scholars ever want to argue in that direction because it becomes impossible to defend as probable. To include it in a book as a serious proposal, or even a main theory seems like intellectual suicide. Your book could become a ‘lazy fly ball to centerfield,’ caught and retired. I do realize it is your book, but you asked for feedback.

  • elainep

    If jesus was the son of god why does god not acknowledge his son once and for all, just show himself to us in human form,as we are all made in his image, prove he made us,prove that Jesus walked on water etc. put everyones mind at rest once and for all. And those who have made so much money from his existence can keep it butif he does not appear they can give it all to the poor.

  • Lord Griggs[ Ignostic Morgan, Inquiring Lynn, Skeptic Griggsy, Carneades of Ga., Fr.or Rabbi Griggs]

    Was Yeshua a schizotypal and his sheep schizoids as someone suggests? The man was megalomaniacal and narcissistic as was putative Yahweh! As described he is the scam of the ages as a moral leader as Jako Miklos,deist,notes in Confronting Believers.”
    I’m schizotypal but lack ” The Transcendental Temptation.” I objurgate both superstitions the paranormal and its twin the supernatural.
    Paul and Muhammad hallucinated,having fits.

  • Banned Atheist

    There’s a steadily growing and much maligned wing of comparative religious scholarship that takes the hallucinatory hypothesis quite seriously, and not just in regards to Paul, etc.

    In fact, you inspired me, Chris! The academic wing entheogenic theory of religious history has fascinated me for years — from Gordon Wasson to John Allegro to Carl Ruck — and I’ve written about it before, but never really thought too much about it in context of atheism.

    You’ve made me reconsider the theory in light of what it means for biblical interpretation, and I posted some of those thoughts here:

    (Y’know, rather than cluttering up your comments thread with my longwindedness.)

    • andy

      It is perfectly normal for people mourning the loss of a loved one to hallucinate them alive again. These hallucinations occur often, and have now been documented. No drugs are needed to stimulate them

  • Steven Carr

    How is the scientific and medical theory coming on that somebody can be dead for 3 days and then walk out of his grave and then fly into the sky?

  • David Ashton

    I posted a very long comment on this which has just disappeared irretrievably after accidentally pressing the wrong computer button, so I will just summarise my comments with considerable brevity but without documentation: (1) Jesus was a real person engaged in exorcism and healings, which suggest the possibility of special “medical” knowledge, psychological and chemical; (2) his followers must have been effectively re-invigorated by experiences after a humiliating death which also put him under an OT curse; (3) Christian scholars themselves have undermined the original credibility not only of the reported discovery of his empty tomb but of the actual burial by a secret rich disciple; (4) the “resurrection” experiences of Paul, Peter and other key followers are paradigmatic, but were subject to literary development in the NT documents; (5) a frequent feature of these experiences was a shared meal; (6) the possibilty arises that these “communions” entailed entheogens, sufficient to produce illusions which some believed but not others; (7) eventually these memories were retrospectively redacted with apologetic and theological embroidery.