Resurrection, Rumors, and Romania

Resurrection, Rumors, and Romania June 18, 2018

Following up on yesterday’s post, I remembered a blog post that I wrote more than a decade ago, about things that I had learned from the experience of living and teaching in Romania, which relate directly to areas that I research and teach. One of them was rumors. Looking back now I regret having given the impression that the spread of rumors was something specific to that culture or absent from my own – we have seen very clearly in recent years (and probably in recent minutes) how uncritically people in the United States believe and spread misinformation. Nonetheless, because it connects so precisely with my blog post from yesterday, and because it has been more than a decade since I wrote it, I thought I would share part of it again:

On a recent visit to Romanian relatives in Canada, one of them told me how Tim Hortons coffee had been laced with tobacco to make it more addictive. I immediately spotted it as an unreliable rumor (it had all the signs), as a quick search at Snopes confirmed for me today. Romania is a remarkable place when it comes to rumors – perhaps it was the lack of reliable news during the communist era, but the rumor mills seem to work as effectively and as rapidly as ever, in the present as in the past.

An important question that needs to be asked by anyone working on the historical study of Jesus is whether our information constitutes anything other than rumor, or more strictly speaking “legend” (which may be defined as rumor that persists for longer periods – just as we speak of “urban legends” for persistent rumors today). Those seeking a more mundane occurrence behind the miracle stories have long suspected that stories such as that about Jesus walking on the could have arised through a misunderstanding of a story about him walking beside the sea (since it is the same preposition in Greek). The version of the story in John chapter 6 lends plausibility to this – the focus there is on the rapid end of the storm and arrival at the other side once they have seen Jesus. But as in all cases of rumor transmission, while it can be asserted that there is often a historical core, studies show clearly that any original piece of reliable information gets obliterated in the transmission process, or at least obscured so badly as to be unrecognizable. The point, in the end, is that rumors circulate and we cannot know what basis, however slim, there may have been in history, or what it may have looked like.

One may think of the allusion in the Book of Revelation to the return of Nero from the dead, the beast whose “deadly wound was healed”. Roman authors from this period show just how widely such rumors were believed, and the chaos that ensued. While even today news reporting, official bulletins, television and the internet do not always succeed in stemming the tide of rumors, imagine in the situation in the ancient world where no such ‘reliable’ sources existed. If at least one New Testament author believed the Nero rumors, why would we expect them to not also provide us similarly rumor-based information elsewhere?

Realizing how unreliable the information that circulates among the populace is – whether the subject is science, politics, religion or coffee – makes me very concerned about the reliability of the New Testament’s information – perhaps more so than any historical critical investigation could. Nevertheless, books such as Allport & Postman’s Psychology of Rumor, Vansina’s Oral Tradition As History, and DiFonzo’s Rumor Psychology: Social And Organizational Approaches, all confirm that oral reporting can at times be verified, but can often obscure the truth rather than inform us about it. One of my current research projects is to identify instances of texts reflecting oral transmission of a common saying and to seek to apply the insights of the aforementioned studies, as well as my own experiences.

For Christian faith, questions such as these are profoundly disturbing. It is easy to imagine how a misunderstanding could generate a story such as that of Jesus’ empty tomb. The practice of secondary burial was a distinctively Jewish one, and it is possible to imagine how a Gentile Christian pilgrim visiting Jerusalem could have misunderstood about this and sparked off the rumor that eventually became the empty tomb story found in Mark. This is not to suggest that Christian faith in the resurrection was based only on a rumor – Paul had such faith based on visionary and other experiences, and he doesn’t mention the empty tomb, and so the rumor – if there was a rumor – might have arisen later. My point is simply that it seems impossible to ever be certain, using the tools of historical study, that something like this scenario (misunderstanding leading to rumor) did not occur. As so often, historical study’s most troubling questions for religious believers do not relate to its disproving of things they hold dear, but of its inability to prove those things that are, for many Christians, of central importance – the resurrection and other stories of the miraculous being a case in point.

Click here to read the rest of that post from 2007, and find out what else I learned from living in Romania that was relevant to biblical studies. And please do share your thoughts on this topic, especially (but not only) if you were reading this blog back then and may have given the matter more thought in the intervening decade!

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  • Excellent post! This is why I often find it absurd to read efforts to uncover the “historical Jesus” by going over the very same texts with a fine tooth comb. It is exceedingly rare that historians ever uncover “new” data about Jesus. Writers about Jesus just keep going over the same basic texts, applying criteria that might suggest the truth behind the rumor, and often grossly overstating the dependability of such “criteria”. Of course, such work can be useful; I just find that it’s reliability is too often overblown.

    Apologists often insist that, because “oral reporting can at times be verified”, the earlier the text or tradition, the more reliable it must be. But the recent fallout about the so-called “first-century Mark manuscript” is a perfect example of how early reports can often be completely unreliable.

    Here, we had multiple independent reports, some from actual scholars, that “a first-century Mark manuscript” had been discovered in a “mummy mask”, dated to the first century by the most renowned papyrologist “on the planet”, and confirmed by multiple witnesses. None of the men who delivered this false report were “liars”; they simply wanted it to be true so badly that they eagerly accepted misinformation without verification, jumped to additional conclusions, and reported it with language that often implied that they were involved in the discovery themselves. At any time, the actual scholars or owner of the manuscript, Dirk Obbink, Daniela Colomo, or the Egypt Exploration Society could have corrected or quelled these rumors, but instead they chose silence for six years until the quiet publication of the actual scholarship.

    • The Mouse Avenger

      Apologists often insist that, because “oral reporting can at times be verified”, the earlier the text or tradition, the more reliable it must be.

      Well, I dunno…Aside from the occasional slip-up, it sounds pretty sound to me. ^_^

      • How so? Clearly, the possibility of verification does little to stem the tide of false information we receive, even in today’s news reports. The purported first-century mummy mask Mark manuscript is a perfect example.

        Just because verification can take place does not mean that it will take place.

    • Jeff

      So let me get this straight. Secondary sources relayed details of the story that were inaccurate, either because they had received incorrect information or had misunderstood the information they had received. But, the primary sources, the originators of the tradition in question, exerted a control over the tradition, corrected the mistaken information that the secondary sources had provided, and set the record straight with the correct information? That sounds basically like how the “memory in community” effect of the core Christian tradition is posited to have worked, contra the “telephone game” scenario.

      The state of affairs you and James posit, in which simple stories become dramatically exaggerated and embellished as they are retold outside of their originators’ control, is of course something we’re all familiar with and many comedy-of-errors stories are based on this kind of thing. But to accept it as a plausible explanation for the NT, where we have traditions that lock into place from a very early time, we have to assume either that the original eyewitnesses and storytellers disappear from the scene almost immediately, or that they are active participants in the embellishment process. The trouble with the former is that we know that’s not what happened. The trouble with the latter is that it doesn’t appear to have much (any?) evidentiary support.

      • I’m not sure what you think my view is, but let me articulate it myself here in this context. There are useful models and examples, but what they indicate is that human transmission of information and story is not of one type, and so we cannot simply apply a set unified model and say that it must apply to all instances. Both precise recollection and complete fabrication can be formulated early and passed on faithfully thereafter, and both accurate and inaccurate information can undergo transformation, sometimes through deliberate effort and sometimes inadvertently.

        As for your final two scenarios (which are obviously not the only options), eyewitnesses do not disappear but neither does it seem that they traveled the Roman world correcting departures from their own perspective; and the Gospel of John seems a good example, if its claims are taken at face value, of an eyewitness embellishing and transforming the tradition in dramatic ways.

        • Jeff

          Thanks for a quick and careful reply. What I was reacting to was your statement in this post about how a claim of the early witnesses might have been misunderstood and misconstrued outside of the community, e.g. a Roman hearing how Jesus’ bones were removed from a tomb and placed in an ossuary, and mistakenly inventing an empty-tomb narrative. Or a real-world example of this happening, the charge by Romans that Christians were cannibals, which obviously came from a misunderstanding of the Eucharist.

          I agree with you that we don’t have any reason to think the witnesses had Google Alerts set to themselves, but at the same time wouldn’t you agree that the broader community gave special pride of place to the teachings of the eyewitnesses? I like David Dungan on this: that the crux of the orthodox argument vis a vis competing heterodox/heretical sects was: we have received the traditions of the eyewitnesses, directly from the eyewitnesses themselves in an unbroken chain of transmission. You don’t have anything like this. Poseurs!

          Everything else you say is true of course — yes, it’s possible that the core stories were fabrications from the start. That gets to the question of whether they’re the sort of stories the putative eyewitnesses, embedded in that particular cultural milieu, are likely to have fabricated. That of course runs afield from the current discussion and so I won’t belabor it, but I claim that that sort of question seems more likely to be the one that needs consideration than whether the entire Resurrection tradition could be based on a simple misunderstanding of Jewish burial customs. I do think the earliness of the traditions (as evidenced e.g. by credal affirmations in Paul’s letters that presumably predate him) makes a telephone-game explanation less compelling.

          • Mark

            > the NT, where we have traditions that lock into place from a very early time,

            Certainly the idea of the resurrection must have been very early, but even Mark is at best ~40 years after the fact. Most adults from the time would be dead. Very little of it can be from eye witnesses. Matthew and Luke are basically harmonies using written pre existing sources like the Diatessaron. The only gospel that makes claim to contain eye witness is John, I think; this is the most doubtful case of all, though – it seems to have a pretty complex history and it seems unlikely to have been completed before the 2nd century.

          • Jeff

            I’m not sure that’s accurate. Short life expectancies in the classical era reflect, I believe, the very high infant mortality rate. If you were 25 at the time of the death of Jesus, you would be 55 by 60 AD, and it’s not certain you were dead at that point. Not to mention that there’s no requirement that the author of Mark only began to acquire his information immediately upon commencement of the text, etc.

            But anyway, more to the point, the early traditions I was referencing were the credal statements in the Pauline letters.

          • Mark

            I agree of course that something like 1 Cor. 15 was locked in place early: “that Christ died for our sins [elsewhere: crucified by the rulers of the age] and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day”

            Mark seems to be writing in the apocalyptic atmosphere of the Jewish War and its aftermath – all of which he takes to validate the Jesus-messiah message. If that’s what’s prompting his apocalyptic-messianic thriller, his motive for writing will have arisen after the informants you imagine are 60-something. I guess by dint of being old they are less likely to have perished in the war itself.

            The short one-trip-to-Jerusalem career Mark seems to impute to Jesus, repeated in the diatessera of Matthew and Luke, seems much less likely to be true than the account in John. If Mark is wrong about this fairly fundamental feature of the story, one wonders if he had access to anyone familiar with Jesus’ career. This is something a follower he could cross-examine would be unlikely to be wrong about. Of course he has access to a bunch of particular stories, many plausibly still recounted by eyewitnesses twenty years later.

          • Those who came to be considered heretics also claimed to have a connection with apostles. I think the balance of probability is in favor of the earlier and less emphatic claims we find in the New Testament being more direct and authentic than those later ones. But we find both “orthodox” and “heretic” alike crafting things in the name of authorities, and so I would at the very least suggest that this does not make for as clear-cut a distinction as some hope it could.

          • James, why do some people claim the 1 Corinthian creed dates to within (some say specifically) five years of the crucifixion? What’s the evidence? Why couldn’t it have developed just a few years before Paul wrote the letter?

          • The reasoning is that Paul presents this as something which he and those who side with other apostles agree on, and thus they consider it to date from around the time when Paul becomes connected with the Christian movement if not earlier.

            Another factor is the divergence between 1 Corinthians 15 and the Gospel tradition. It isn’t clear though whether that is an argument for it being early or late – either could fit its independence from what ends up in the Gospels.

          • That sounds awfully speculative to me. Creeds have been invented throughout Christian history – are still being invented today. It’s not necessary for a creed to date to Paul’s conversion in order for Paul to reference it.

            Thanks for the answer, BTW!

          • Paul does say that it is something that he received, and something that is shared with other apostles. And so that certainly seems to push it back earlier. Whether it took the form of a creed well before Paul wrote, or whether he is enshrining in creedal form a list of information that didn’t reach him as a unit is obviously an open question.

          • He references the other apostles in the creed, but when does he say that the creed itself is “shared with other apostles”?

          • He says “what I received I passed on to you” and then adds in reference to the other apostles, “whether they or I were the ones who proclaimed it, this is what we proclaim, and this is what you believed.”

          • Mark

            What is the skeptical position here?

            Calling it a ‘creed’ in the later sense might be wrong. But its only content is that: Jesus died, was buried, rose in three days & was seen by some. We know he thought the death was by crucifixion from other passages. The claim that this was ‘for our sins’ might be a Pauline commentary, as might the claim about scripture – the assemblage of suitable prophecies must have developed in detail over the years. Maybe understanding of the ‘resurrection’ changed over time.

            But how could he differ from the ‘church’ he was ‘persecuting’ on points like crucifixion, death, burial, ‘resurrection’, “vision”? He emphasizes that he later compared notes with the Jerusalem people.

          • John MacDonald

            Mark said: “What is the skeptical position here?”

            Beau has been trying to argue we don’t have reliable evidence that Cephas and the twelve had visual experiences they interpreted to be the risen Jesus, or even that Cephas and the twelve ever made such claims.

          • I’ll thank you to let me state my own arguments John.

          • John MacDonald

            Sorry. I didn’t know whether or not you were going to reply to Mark. Sorry to step on your toes.

          • That’s not how I would state my argument. I’m actually in a agreement with James’ way of stating the case:

            “I think that we have good reason to think that early Christians saw things that they interpreted as seeing Jesus. Dreams, glimpses in a crowd or on the shore while out fishing, other things – that it is hard to say.”

            It’s the specificity of your statement that I tend to push against:

            “I think it’s pretty conclusive that Cephas, Paul, and the twelve were at least reporting that they had visionary experiences”.

            My reason is that James’ statement doesn’t specify which disciples or how many disciples had an experience, and acknowledges that the experiences could have been dreams or glimpses in a crowd. I think his more open-ended background is easily enough to explain the 1 Cor. 15 creed.

            Apologists like to take statements like yours as “facts”, enumerating the specific apostles and nailing down a phrase like “visionary experience”, to then exclude every possibility but a real resurrection (or – in your case – a lie). I can easily see how a few dreams, followed by a few ecstatic religious events in which participants feel the “presence” of Jesus (much like modern Pentecostal worship services), could easily explain what we see in the creed. I even think that followers who’d experienced such religious events would easily go along with the wording of the creed without thinking of it as a lie.

            (Well, I didn’t actually “see” Jesus, but I felt him and I’m sure a few of the fellows standing next to me saw him.)

            Or Jesus rose from the dead and walked around talking to followers in the flesh. Either case could explain the creed – though I do have an opinion about which is more likely.

          • John MacDonald

            Carrier focuses on “ophthe,” and concludes either the disciple were schizotypals, or they were lying. Clearly, the more moderate “dreams” or “glance in a crowd” is a reasonable explanation too!

          • Carrier also thinks Jesus was a myth and that Paul believed the death, burial, and resurrection all happened on a mystical plain in Heaven.

            I don’t think you can draw too many conclusions from the Greek word “ophthe”, given that it is an obvious poetic device used in poetic repetition, and the original apostles didn’t speak Greek. It’s a debated point whether or not the creed was ever a translation from Aramaic, much less what an “original” would even have looked like.

          • I still don’t see in your comment an explanation of why the creed should be earlier, only an argument that it could have been early.

            To what are you referring when you say “He emphasizes that he later compared notes with the Jerusalem people”?

          • Mark

            I’m just referring to Galatians 1:15-2:5 He went off to Arabia as soon as ‘God’s son was revealed in (?) him’ and started preaching to Gentiles there and in Damascus. What he preached he understands to be the same as the others preached – since with this revelation, he gives up persecuting them, and he goes to visit Peter 3 years later, and then gets his ‘gospel’ revalidated 14 years later. Whatever he was teaching in Arabia must have been what the people he was persecuting were already teaching, though he thinks he has a special deputation to teach it to Gentiles – which of course gave rise to all the circumcision and Law controversies.

            The present microscopic so-called creed – crucified / buried / ‘resurrected’ / ‘seen’ – would surely be constant throughout all that, though the meaning of ‘resurrection’ and ‘seeing’ Christ must have been a bit blurry. In Galatians he speaks of Christ as ‘revealed in’ him, in Corinthians he just says he saw him, which is a little odd.

          • Well, I could see how the creed might not contradict whatever happened in those early years, but I don’t see why it would have necessarily existed then.

          • Mark

            You think Paul might only found out about the death of Jesus and his supposed re-appearance sometime well after he had appeared to Paul himself? Maybe he found out about the crucifixion (not mentioned here) 17 years after he thinks he conferred with Christ?

            I’m not sure what you are counting as the ‘creed’. Obviously the particular list of supposed witnesses and their order might have been fixed later, or by degrees.

          • No, I don’t think that at all. I’ve haven’t said anything to remotely suggest those statements.

            The creed is the words of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 (though some scholars argue that 7 was not original). It’s a very specifically worded piece of theological poetry.

          • More specifically, Mark, I do actually think that Christian’s clearly had a belief in the resurrection before Paul; I even think it likely that some had an experience that they interpreted as “seeing” him, though it might have been a dream or a glimpse in a crowd. Such experiences would then have evolved into grander claims, much as Christians often feel that God communicates with them today.

            It’s the specific wording of the creed that I don’t think we can be sure of. The creed may help us get a suggestion of what early Christians believed, but as evidence of specific experiences, it is weak.

      • Why, of course, Jeff! Communities always self-correct knowledge in the direction of truth. That’s why there are no communities on earth that promote false information. No communities that claim the moon walks were faked; no communities that claim Obama was born in Kenya; no communities that claim Darwin was converted on his deathbed; no communities that claim that aliens crash-landed in Area 54; no communities that claim scientific evidence for a 6,000 year old Earth; no communities that claim the Earth is flat.

        And clearly, legendary information didn’t take hold in early Christianity. There’s no evidence for it; that’s why the gospels are so completely harmonious – no contradictions whatsoever.

        • Jeff

          Ah, argument by mere ridicule. Love it.

          • and by multiple obvious examples!

            Ridicule is so crass. I guess that’s why Jesus never used it.

          • Jeff

            Bye now.

          • What? No reply to the numerous examples that completely disprove your point?

      • Sorry for chasing you away with ridicule, Jeff.

        You are, of course, right, that in this case, the information was eventually corrected. However, for most of the apologists in question, you won’t see any great Mea Culpa’s or highly publicized self-corrections. Daniel Wallace gave the clearest apology, but even he understated the assurances he had initially provided in his debate with Ehrman.

        However, these same apologists are often guilty of overstating “evidence” that cannot be self-corrected. Gary Habermas, (one of those who confidently announced the discovery of the FCM) routinely takes speculative history (such as “the empty tomb”), and labels it as “fact”. This type of pseudo-scholarship is widely disseminated in apologetic literature.

        Much of what we can glean about the history of early Christianity can only be speculation. Apologists, as opposed to historians, have a vested interest in claiming speculation as “facts”. In this particular instance, six long years later, they have had to recant their “facts” with the publication of clear evidence to the contrary. But clear evidence to the contrary is not always possible.

        I’m not sure what you consider “traditions that lock into place from a very early time” in terms of the New Testament; but it does seem clearly evident to me that there is legendary material in the New Testament.

        • Jeff

          No worries, and apology accepted. I understand of course that sarcasm is not out of bounds for internet discussion, I’m just too apt to get drawn in to it myself and am trying to stay above the fray! Thanks for this post.

          I can agree with a lot of your points here. Over recent years I’ve drifted away from paying much attention to apologists like Strobel or McDowell and have been much more interested in scholars like Hurtado and Bauckham. (Some might say these and other scholars have an apologetic bent of course…). I put Wallace in the category of scholar, but I think he has quite a lot of egg on his face after this episode. Why he was willing to publicly advocate a claim that was not yet confirmed and that was outside his speciality as a way to score debate points is beyond me — that strikes me as way outside of acceptable scholarly practice, /even if the claim was eventually verified/. I don’t like that kind of thing at all.

          I also agree with you that there is little about the early Jesus movement that we know with certainty. I wouldn’t consider the Resurrection a “fact” in the sense that it’s forensically proven or provable; I think James is correct on this. At the same time, I don’t think the quality of evidence is complete garbage or that it’s the wrong kind of evidence. I’ve heard numerous atheists take this view; I don’t know if that’s your view so I’m not attributing it to you, but I think there’s a difference between saying “for me, the evidence isn’t persuasive” and saying “the evidence is so poor that anyone who claims to believe in it is a great fool!”. I just don’t think we can prove either way, and the most we can do is try to say what’s plausible or implausible. I’m ok with that, and agree with you that declaring things to be facts, that are not themselves in the category of fact/falsehood, does everyone a disservice.

          What I meant was the traditions exemplified by the creedal affirmations in Paul’s letters, especially 1 Cor 11, 1 Cor 15 and Phil 2. Paul speaks in 1 Cor of things “he received”, and that kind of language is repeated throughout the patristic writings (I mentioned Dungan before as a source on this). The first couple of centuries seem to evidence a concern not with breaking new ground about the life of Jesus but about preserving the traditions handed down going all the way back to the originators. That doesn’t mean that Paul, Mark, and John are all saying exactly the same thing: obviously there are differences and there are additions as things go. But at least some of the central “gist” of the story is present even before Paul starts writing, and once the Gospels are completed, there is a significant contingent that wants to treat those as sufficient and not continue to expand or create more stories, although of course there are others who do this very thing!

          Hope that makes a bit more sense.

          • It does, yes, but the problem is that there’s no definitive way to separate what Paul “recieved” from what is in Paul’s own agenda. I agree that the beginning of the creed seems like something “received”, but even then, it’s not clear to me why something “recieved” is more reliable than what Paul tells us in his own words. It might be slightly older, but not necessarily more reliable. There might be an element of tradition preservation going on, but there are also elements of religious competition going on, with Paul’s repeated arguments for his own apostleship, his continued fight against “false” gospels, his insistence that he received the gospel himself, long before meeting any other apostles, and the episode in which he chastises Peter in Antioch.

            I think there is a distinct limitation to what can be derived from one man’s letters.

            I don’t find physical resurrections credible, so I do tend to put that event into the same category as other ancient tales of magic.

          • Paul E.

            Certainly a physical resurrection is in such a category, but I’m not sure what types of experiences the early Christians had that led to such a belief. Paul doesn’t describe these appearances. There are none in Mark. In Matthew, some people who experience an appearance are still said to doubt. The description of Paul’s experience in Acts is not really a physical appearance per se. There’s an early ambiguity in the experiences that later took physical form, including the Thomas episode, later on. I think this fits a possible scenario like you observed with the so-called first century Mark manuscript pretty well. It’s an ambiguously dated fragment at first that became attached to very specific claims with specific witnesses, along with a personalization of some of the stories. Similar enough for it to be a cautionary tale.

          • John MacDonald

            Paul E said “I’m not sure what types of experiences the early Christians had.”

            Paul says the experiences of himself, Peter, and the twelve were visual (ophthe). Whatever they saw, they interpreted it as being the resurrected Jesus.

          • “Ophthe” is part of a greek poetic repetition. I don’t think you can read too much into the word about whatever experiences the early Christians had. More than anything, the word is a poetic way of drawing all these experiences together.

            The only “ophthe” in the verse we know anything else about (from Paul’s writings) is Paul’s “ophthe”, and that was clearly not an experience of a man walking about with him.

            I find the numbers a bit suspect too. Nowhere else in the New Testament do we hear anything about this oddly round-numbered 500 witnesses to Jesus. If it were true, one would think you’d read about it elsewhere. And if the 500 is merely rumor, it makes one wonder about the 12 as well.

          • John MacDonald

            There could have just been a bunch of people (Peter and the 12) having mystical visions/hallucinations out of grief, and despair. and out of love for their departed master. Dr. Tabor explains that such mystical visions were commonplace in the Judeo Christian tradition. Tabor writes:

            – “There are five figures in the Bible who, according to standard Jewish and Christian interpretation, are reported to have ascended to heaven: Enoch (Gen 5:24); Elijah (2 Kgs 2:1-12); Jesus (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9); Paul (2 Cor 12:2-4); and John (Rev 4:1). There are also four related accounts in which individuals behold the throne, or heavenly court, of Yahweh: Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel (Exod 24:9-11); Micaiah (1 Kgs 22:19-23); Isaiah (Isa 6:1-13); and Ezekiel (Ezk 1, 10). Finally, there is the scene in which an otherwise unidentified ‘son of man’ comes before the throne of God in an apocalyptic vision of Daniel (Dan 7:11-14).”

          • John MacDonald

            It would make sense the distraught Cephas and the 12 would be having visions of Jesus in a new, resurrection body because Jesus was always going on about the eschaton.

          • Could have been one man seeing a “resurrection body” and a few eager followers of indeterminate number, feeling ecstatic and eager to say “yes”.

            How wonder how you can tell a “resurrection body” from a “regular body”, does it glow green or something?

          • John MacDonald

            I have no idea what the difference is between a regular body and a resurrection body, but Paul seemed to think it was important (1 Cor 15:44, 50)

          • Sure, important to Paul from a theological standpoint, but nothing from which you could describe specifically what any other apostle might have been experiencing.

          • There could have been a couple of dreams, and several ecstatic worship services. I’m not convinced all “12” had to have the same experience for the notion to find it’s way into Christian poetry, any more than the purported “500”.

            It is true that bereavement visions are common, and not just in ancient cultures:

            ” One study, by the researcher Agneta Grimby at the University of Goteborg, found that over 80 percent of elderly people experience hallucinations associated with their dead partner one month after bereavement, as if their perception had yet to catch up with the knowledge of their beloved’s passing. As a marker of how vivid such visions can seem, almost a third of the people reported that they spoke in response to their experiences. In other words, these weren’t just peripheral illusions: they could evoke the very essence of the deceased.”


          • John MacDonald

            Yep, heightened states of mental awareness/arousal such as what we find in terrible grief (which Cephas and the twelve might have been experiencing) or meditative practice may certainly lead to visual and/or auditory hallucinations/visions. My best friend’s mother swears she heard her deceased husband making noise in the house after he died. She wasn’t crazy. It’s just that the brain does strange things when it is in a heightened state of awareness. Similar effects can be produced with LSD.

          • Yep. Could have been that.

            Or could have been just a dream and few charismatic styled worship sessions.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, it could have been that too. It’s hard to draw definitive conclusions when the evidence is so paltry, old, and ambiguous.

          • Yes, exactly.

        • Jeff

          And…Disqus strikes again. For some reason posts of mine at a few sites have been getting deleted as spam for the last month, and my reply to you is the latest victim. I’m not sure why this is happening. I’ll see if Disqus restores it before reposting it, but the most important points were, thanks for the apology, I appreciate the points you made in this most recent post, and I agree with many of them. Hopefully the full response will reappear at some point…

          • I’m not sure why that happened, but I have made you a trusted user on this site, and so hopefully it won’t continue to happen here!

          • Jeff

            Thanks so much. It’s happened on a few sites so it’s either a Disqus thing or a me thing. Either way I appreciate your help!

          • Disqus does that to me sometimes too!