Why Skeptics Do Not Need the Hallucination Theory to Reject the Resurrection

Why Skeptics Do Not Need the Hallucination Theory to Reject the Resurrection May 8, 2016

According to Victor Reppert, skeptics need the hallucination theory in order to reject the resurrection. Why? Read his blog post to find out.

I see his point, i.e., I understand where he is coming from when he says that he thinks (non-extreme) skeptics need the hallucination theory. But I disagree with him for at least two reasons.

First, Reppert assumes that the Resurrection hypothesis explains the data, but that’s merely an assumption on his part. He gives no good reasons to believe that assumption is true and there are good reasons to doubt it. The Resurrection hypothesis does not entail an empty tomb, Jesus’ alleged postmortem appearances, or the origin of the Christian faith. He is implicitly combining the Resurrection hypothesis with several extra, add-on, ‘auxiliary’ hypotheses. But then it follows that he is not making an apples-to-apples comparison when he compares the Resurrection hypothesis to its competitors.

Second, as it stands, in his post he fails to consider the full set of mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive alternative explanations.

This is the case even if we set aside positions based upon ‘extreme skepticism’, such as Robert Price’s suggestion that 1 Corinthians 15 is a post-Pauline interpolation or the mythicist hypothesis (i.e., “Jesus never existed”). Reppert covers all of the traditional bases, such as the theft hypothesis (“the body was stolen”), the survival hypothesis (aka the “swoon theory, i.e., “Jesus survived his crucifixion”), and the wrong tomb hypothesis.

What is left? Here are two alternative explanations.

1. In my book, The Empty Tomb, I defend a hypothesis I call the “relocation hypothesis.” As explained here, the relocation hypothesis is the view that Jesus’ body was stored (but not buried) in Joseph’s tomb Friday before sunset, and moved on Saturday night to a second tomb in the graveyard of the condemned, where Jesus was buried dishonorably.

From a logical perspective, what is significant about this hypothesis is that it entails an empty tomb. In other words, if the relocation hypothesis is true, there is a 100% probability that Jesus’ female followers discovered his (first) tomb empty on Sunday morning. In contrast, the resurrection hypothesis does not entail an empty tomb. (See the paper I just linked for a defense of my last sentence.)

I do not claim that the relocation hypothesis, all by itself, explains Jesus’ alleged post-mortem appearances. The relocation hypothesis would have to be combined with an auxiliary hypothesis to explain the alleged postmortem appearances, just like the Resurrection hypothesis has to be combined with an auxiliary hypothesis. The combination hypothesis of relocation + hallucination is certainly an option, but it’s hardly the only option. One could also combine with the relocation hypothesis with a hoax hypothesis, according to which the hoaxer was neither Jesus nor his early followers.

2. A second alternative explanation is the twin hypothesis, according to which Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother who faked the Resurrection by walking around pretending to be Jesus, after the real Jesus had died. This possibility was identified by Christian historian Paul Maier — note I said “identified” not “defended” — and then defended by Robert Greg Cavin in his Ph.D. dissertation. Unlike the Resurrection hypothesis, the Twin hypothesis entails all of the data to be explained. It has an overall higher balance of prior probability and explanatory power. According to Bayes Theorem, that’s all one needs to show that the Resurrection is not the best explanation.

Christians will often object to both hypotheses by pointing out that there is no direct textual evidence for either scenario, i.e., there is no passage in the NT or in extrabiblical sources which say either of these things happened. That’s true. They don’t. And it is also true that a moment’s reflection will reveal that, if we approach the topic not as a believer in the Bible but the same way we would approach any historical question, we often believe historical claims on the basis of other kinds of evidence besides direct textual evidence. It’s a fallacy to dismiss a historical claim merely on the basis of the lack of direct textual evidence.

I don’t claim that either explanation is true. But I do claim it is far from obvious why the Resurrection hypothesis is a better explanation than either the relocation or twin hypotheses.


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