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Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 12: Preliminary Investigation

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 12: Preliminary Investigation October 29, 2021

WHERE WE ARE

I am working my way through Peter Kreeft’s 14 objections against the Hallucination Theory, the view that one or more of Jesus’s disciples experienced a hallucination or dream about Jesus after the death of Jesus, and this experience was mistakenly believed to be an ordinary sensory experience of a living and embodied Jesus who had risen from the dead, and that this experience (or those experiences) became the primary basis of the early Christian belief that Jesus had physically risen from the dead.  Kreeft’s objections against this theory are presented in Chapter 8 of his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA).

So, far I have shown that Kreeft’s first two objections against the Hallucination Theory FAIL:

OBJECTION #3: FIVE HUNDRED WITNESSES

Kreeft presents his third objection against the Hallucination Theory in a single paragraph:

The five hundred saw Christ together, at the same time and place.  This is even more remarkable than five hundred private “hallucinations” at different times and places of the same Jesus.  Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter.   (HCA, p.187)

The term “witnesses” in this context has this meaning, as I have previously argued:

6b. One who actually furnishes evidence by giving a firsthand account of something.  

Recall that Kreeft’s second objection was that “The Witnesses were Qualified”, which turned out to mean the claim that the TESTIMONY of the WITNESSES of alleged appearances of the risen Jesus was CREDIBLE.  Kreeft’s first three objections against the Hallucination Theory are concerned with the TESTIMONY of WITNESSES, which evokes the idea of a court trial.

The idea of proving the resurrection of Jesus in a court trial has been around for at least a few centuries.  Back in 1729, Thomas Sherlock wrote a defense of the resurrection of Jesus called The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus.   This idea is a common theme in Christian apologetics:

In his book The Resurrection Factor, Josh McDowell fully embraces this idea in his discussion of the alleged five hundred witnesses:

Let’s take the more than 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive after His death and burial and place them in a courtroom.   Do you realise that if each of these 500 people were to testify only six minutes each, including cross-examination, you would have an amazing 50 hours of firstshand eyewitness testimony?  Add to this the testimony of many other eyewitnesses and you could well have the largest and most lopsided trial in history.  (The Resurrection Factor, 2005 edition, p.79)

This is a wild apologetic fantasy by McDowell, and I will throw some cold water on this fantasy right now.  There is ONLY ONE firsthand testimony of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus in the entire New Testament, namely that of Paul.  Speaking about Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and specifically about the opening verses of Chapter 15, the great New Testament scholar Raymond Brown points out Paul’s uniqueness in this regard:

…Jesus “was seen”…[by] Cephas (Peter), the Twelve, and more than 500; then James, all the apostles, and “last of all me.”  The concluding reference to himself is extremely important since Paul is the only NT writer who claims personally to have witnessed an appearance of the risen Jesus.  (An Introduction to the New Testament, 1997, p.534, emphasis added)

Paul never claims to have met or seen the historical Jesus during Jesus’ earthly life, and as far as we know he never had met or seen the historical Jesus during Jesus’ earthly life, so Paul had no way to IDENTIFY anyone as being Jesus of Nazareth.  Because Paul never met the historical Jesus, Paul’s “testimony” about seeing the risen Jesus is WORTHLESS as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

Furthermore, Paul did not see the crucifixion or burial of Jesus, so Paul did not himself witness the death of Jesus.  Thus, Paul did NOT know that Jesus had in fact DIED prior to the alleged appearance of Jesus to Paul.  That means that Paul did NOT know that the person who he “saw” and who he identified as Jesus, had risen from the dead.  Thus, there is ZERO credible firsthand testimony of an appearance of the risen Jesus in the New Testament.

If we take the idea seriously of there being five hundred “witnesses” who “testify” in a court trial about having experienced an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, this turns Objection #3 by Kreeft into a pathetic joke (as well as Objection #1 and #2).  So, that is precisely what I shall now do.

 

PREPARATION FOR A MURDER TRIAL

When a person is charged with the crime of “murder”, that is a very serious matter, because we usually punish murder severely, with the death penalty or with life in prison.  We expect that person to have a fair trial in which he or she will be vigorously defended by a competent lawyer, and we expect that the prosecuting attorney to attempt to build a strong case for the guilt of the accused person using both eyewitness testimony, physical evidence, and documentary evidence.   The accused should only be found “guilty” of murder if all twelve members of the jury are persuaded by the evidence and arguments that it is beyond reasonable doubt that the accused did in fact commit the murder in question.

Before a witness for the prosecution testifies in a murder trial, that person has already previously been interviewed two or three or more times by a police officer and/or by one or more homicide detectives.  The prosecution already has a very good idea of what that person claims to have seen (or heard, or felt, or smelled, or tasted) relative to the murder or the murderer or the victim, and thus what that witness is likely to testify during the court trial.

So, let’s back up in time, to before the trial, to the time when the investigation and interviews of witnesses are just starting.

There is typically at least a “preliminary investigation” and a “follow-up investigation” of a murder scene and of relevant eyewitnesses.

 

PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION OF THE SCENE OF THE ALLEGED APPEARANCE OF JESUS TO FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE

Here are guidelines provided by the National Institute of Justice for a preliminary investigation of a crime scene (from p.14 & 15 of Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement):

An appearance by Jesus to a crowd of people was not a crime, so we would not expect there to be a criminal investigation of this event.  Nevertheless, the claim that “Jesus physically rose from the dead” is a central claim of Christianity, so whether a risen Jesus did in fact visit a crowd of people is an important issue that should be carefully investigated.

Was there a “preliminary investigator” who carefully gathered evidence from the location where this alleged appearance of Jesus occurred?

We don’t know.  However, it is highly improbable that there was a “preliminary investigator” who carefully gathered evidence from the location where this alleged appearance of Jesus occurred.  First of all, the whole idea of a “detective” who carefully investigates a crime scene and witnesses is a modern idea:

The first private detective agency was founded in Paris in 1833 by Eugène François Vidocq, who had also headed a police agency in addition to being a criminal himself. Police detective activities were pioneered in England by the Bow Street Runners and later the Metropolitan Police Service in Greater London. The first police detective unit in the United States was formed in 1846 in Boston.  (from “Detective” in Wikipedia)

So, the alleged appearance of Jesus to the crowd of five hundred people took place about 1,800 years before there were any people who were professional detectives.

Furthermore, these “witnesses” were “brethren” according to Paul (1 Corinthians 15:6), meaning that they were Christian believers.  They already believed in God, and in miracles, and that God had miraculously raised Jesus from the dead.  They were not the sort of people who would be skeptical about an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  In fact, if one of them had “investigated” this event, we would have good reason to suspect that he or she was too BIASED to be an objective investigator.

Who else would carefully and objectively investigate an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus?  Non-Christian pagans would have little interest in this event.  Most pagans at that time believed in gods, ghosts, souls, magic, and other supernatural beings and forces.  They would not have been skeptical about an appearance of Jesus (although they might tend to think of the event as the appearance of a god or a ghost, rather than as the seeing of an embodied person who had previously died).

The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem generally were opposed to Christianity and wanted to suppress this religious movement, so they would not be interested in taking claims of alleged appearances of a risen Jesus seriously and doing a serious and objective investigation of such claims.  If they were really worried about stories of hundreds of witnesses to an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, they might try to hunt down and threaten or kill those witnesses, to silence them, but would not make a serious investigation into this event.

PI-B1. Did a preliminary investigator identify the person who had allegedly appeared to the crowd of five hundred people?

Probably not.  First of all, it is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation of this alleged event.   Second, even if there had been a preliminary investigator of this event, it is highly probable that he or she would not have investigated the event on the day it occurred, but rather some days or weeks or months later.  If there was no preliminary investigation on the day of the event, then whoever the person was who appeared to the crowd (if an actual physical person DID appear to the crowd), would have probably been long gone, so nobody could point this person out to the preliminary investigator at the time of the preliminary investigation.  The identification of this person would require descriptions and testimony from eyewitnesses who were present at the event.

PI-B2. Did a preliminary investigator determine/classify what crime or incident had occurred?

Probably not, because it is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation of this event.  But if there had been a preliminary investigation, the investigator might well have tried to determine whether an actual physical man (whom some believed to be Jesus) had been visually observed by the crowd or if the experiences of this alleged appearance of the risen Jesus were hallucinations or dreams or subjective visions.  Such a preliminary determination would probably be helpful to any later investigations, but because there probably was no preliminary investigator or investigation, we have no such determination to help us figure out what actually happened.

PI-B3. Did a preliminary investigator broadcast an updated description of the incident, perpetrator(s), and/or vehicle(s)?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that anyone began a preliminary investigation of this event, so it is highly improbable that anyone “broadcast” an updated description of the event, or of the man who had appeared to the crowd (whom some believed to be the risen Jesus).  Furthermore, there were no radios, telephones, cameras, video cameras, televisions, or newspapers in the first century, so “broadcasting” information about this event would be difficult, if not impossible, to do.  If some person was disguised as Jesus, or just happened to look like Jesus, and had appeared to the crowd, and then left town a short while later, it would have been difficult to track that person down, because of the lack of communication technology in the first century.

PI-B4. Did a preliminary investigator verify the identity of the witness(es)?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was any preliminary investigator or investigation of this event.  Furthermore, if there had been a preliminary investigation, it probably did not occur on the same day as the event but took place days, weeks, or months later.

Since the five hundred people were Christian believers, they probably had gathered for a religious service or religious activity when the alleged appearance of Jesus took place.  But not everyone shows up for every religious service or every religious activity in their church or Christian community, so just being a member of that Christian community would NOT mean that one was present during this event.   Thus, it would be important for there to be a preliminary investigation on the same day as the alleged appearance, so that an accurate list of the names of people who were actually present during this event would be documented.

It would be too easy for people who were part of the local Christian community to later claim (and even believe) that they had been present during this event when they were in fact NOT present during the event.  Since it is highly improbable that anyone conducted a preliminary investigation, and even more unlikely that someone conducted a preliminary investigation on the same day as the event or even the next day, it is extremely unlikely that anyone accurately identified and documented the names of the people who were actually present during this event.

PI-B5. Did a preliminary investigator separate witnesses and instruct them to avoid discussing details of the incident with other witnesses?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation of this event, so it is highly improbable that anyone separated witnesses and instructed them to avoid discussing details of the incident with other witnesses.  Furthermore, the knowledge that discussion of details of an event between eyewitnesses to the event is likely to contaminate and distort the memories of those witnesses about the event is a very recent bit of scientific knowledge about the fragility of human memory.  So, even if there had been a preliminary investigator of this event, it is unlikely that the investigator would have cautioned the five hundred witnesses to avoid discussing details of the alleged appearance of Jesus with each other.  Thus, it is extremely unlikely that a preliminary investigator separated witnesses and instructed them to avoid discussing details of the incident with each other.

Given that this event would have been viewed by the Christian believers who were present at the event to be a highly significant religious event, it is extremely probable that they would have discussed the details of this event with each other unless someone in a position of authority had instructed them to avoid discussing details of the event with each other.  In fact, even if there had been a preliminary investigator who instructed these Christian believers to avoid discussing details of this incident with each other, it is highly probable that they would have ignored this instruction and gone ahead and discussed the details of the event with each other.  Therefore, it is highly probable that the Christian believers who were present during this event discussed the details of the event with each other.  This is a serious problem for the credibility of any testimony of these witnesses to the alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.

PI-B6. Did a preliminary investigator canvass the area for other witnesses?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was any preliminary investigator or investigation of this event.  Furthermore, since the event probably took place during a gathering of Christian believers for a religious service or religious activity, it would be very important to search for other witnesses who were NOT members of that Christian community, and thus who would NOT be subject to the religious biases and peer pressure of that Christian community.   An outsider could have provided a more objective point of view that would either confirm or disconfirm the testimony of the Christian believers who were present during the event.

A preliminary investigation is usually conducted at the scene of a crime, especially at the scene of a murder.  But it is highly improbable that a preliminary investigation took place in relation to the event where five hundred people allegedly had an experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  And even if there had been a preliminary investigation, it is unlikely to have satisfied the various criteria spelled out above for a proper preliminary investigation.  As noted in the guide by the National Institute of Justice, this has significant implications for any later investigation of this event:

The preliminary investigation at the scene forms a sound basis for the accurate collection of information and evidence during the followup investigation.  (Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement, p.15)

 

PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION OF THE WITNESSES OF THE ALLEGED APPEARANCE OF JESUS TO FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE

A very important part of a preliminary investigation of a crime concerns eyewitnesses. Here are guidelines provided by the National Institute of Justice for a preliminary investigation of eyewitnesses (from p.15 & 16 of Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement):

PI-C1. Did a preliminary investigator establish rapport with the witnesses?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation of this event.  Also, since there were no professional detectives around in the first century, it is unlikely that a preliminary investigator of this event would know that it is important to establish rapport with a witness before and during an interview of the witness.

PI-C2. Did a preliminary investigator ask about the condition of the witness?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation of this event.  Also, since this would not be a criminal investigation, there would not be any particular reason to be concerned about an injury of the witness or about trauma to the witness because of having experienced a violent event.  This second question also seems closely connected to the first question.  Asking about the condition of the witness is a way to help establish rapport with the witness.

If a witness was seriously injured at the scene of a crime, then another reason to ask about the condition of the witness would be to determine if the witness was conscious and in a state of mind to be able to clearly understand and to provide reasonable answers to, questions about the crime or event in question.   That sort of question would also be relevant in the case of a witness to an alleged appearance of Jesus.  Is the witness currently in a state of mind to be able to clearly understand questions about the event and to provide reasonable answers to those questions?   There probably was no preliminary interview of any witnesses to this alleged appearance of a risen Jesus, so this question was probably not asked.  If there was a preliminary investigation of witnesses, we have no idea whether this question was asked.

PI-C3. Did a preliminary investigator ask open-ended questions; augment with closed-ended questions? and avoid leading questions?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation of this event.  Furthermore, since there were no professional detectives around in the first century, it is unlikely that a preliminary investigator of this event would know that it is important to ask questions in the manner described here and to avoid asking leading questions.  So, it is extremely unlikely that a preliminary investigator of this event asked questions of witnesses in this manner and avoided asking leading questions.

PI-C4. Did a preliminary investigator clarify the information received with the witnesses?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation of this event.  If there was a preliminary investigation, we have no idea whether the investigator clarified the information received with the witnesses.

PI-C5. Did a preliminary investigator document the information received from each witness, including the identity of each witness, in a written report?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation of this event.  Since most people in the first century were illiterate, even if there was a preliminary investigation of this event, the investigator probably could not write a report, and most other people would not be able to read a report if one had been written.  Since this was a matter of religious beliefs and disagreements and not a criminal investigation, it probably would not have been considered worthy of the effort to find investigators who could read and write reports of information obtained from witnesses to this event.  So, it is extremely unlikely that a preliminary investigator documented the information received from each witness, including the identity of each witness, in a written report.

PI-C6. Did a preliminary investigator encourage the witnesses to contact investigators with any further information?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation of this event.  Furthermore, there were no telephones and no postal services available in the first century, so “contacting” an investigator in another city or town at a later date would probably be difficult to do.  A preliminary investigator would be unlikely to have significant power or authority over the witnesses (like a police detective or FBI agent has), so if there had been a preliminary investigator, that person would be unlikely to demand or even request that the witnesses contact them with further information after the investigator left the area.  So, it is extremely unlikely that a preliminary investigator encouraged the witnesses to contact investigators with any further information.

PI-C7. Did a preliminary investigator encourage the witnesses to avoid contact with the media or exposure to media accounts of the incident?

Mass media accounts of current events did NOT exist in the first century, so this question does not apply as it is worded.  However, the purposes behind this question do apply to a first-century preliminary investigation of witnesses to an event.  Gossip and word-of-mouth allowed stories about current events to spread across a city or town, and even between cities and towns.

There are a few problems with gossip spreading a story or account given by a witness to an event.  First, gossip and word-of-mouth is an unreliable way of accurately transmitting a story or account, so this means of communication creates changes and distortions to the original story.  Second, to the extent that the original story is preserved and communicated through gossip, it can influence and corrupt the memories of other potential witnesses to the event.  Similarly, listening to gossip about the event could impact and corrupt a witness’s memory of that event.  But since there were no professional detectives in the first century, an investigator into this event would be unlikely to understand the fragility of human memory, and would be unlikely to encourage witnesses to avoid communicating their stories to others (initiating gossip), and would be unlikely to encourage witnesses to avoid listening to any stories being told about the incident (exposure to gossip).

PI-C8. Did a preliminary investigator encourage witnesses to avoid discussing details of the event with other potential witnesses?

Probably not.  It is highly improbable that there was a preliminary investigator or investigation into this event.  Furthermore, there were no professional detectives in the first century, and knowledge about the fragility of human memory is a recent scientific discovery,  so even if there had been a preliminary investigator into this event, it is unlikely that the investigator would have encouraged the witnesses to avoid discussing details of the event with other potential witnesses.  Thus, it is extremely unlikely that a preliminary investigator encouraged witnesses to this event to avoid discussing details of the event with other potential witnesses.

 

CONCLUSIONS ABOUT PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION OF THE SCENE AND WITNESSES OF THE ALLEGED APPEARANCE OF JESUS TO FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE

First of all, it is highly improbable that anyone conducted a preliminary investigation into the scene and the witnesses of the alleged appearance of the risen Jesus to five hundred people.

Second, if there was a preliminary investigator and a preliminary investigation into the scene and the witnesses of the alleged appearance of the risen Jesus to five hundred people, it is very unlikely that this preliminary investigation satisfied the above criteria for a careful and proper preliminary investigation into an event.

Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that there was a careful and proper preliminary investigation into the scene and the witnesses of the alleged appearance of the risen Jesus to five hundred people, in accordance with the above criteria for a careful and proper preliminary investigation.

 

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