Last Easter I argued that Jesus' resurrection cannot be explained in terms of mythology. But I also pointed out that people who think Jesus is a myth equivocate between whether they mean "mythology" or "urban legend." While mythology takes a long time to develop, urban legends are just stories that have been passed along throughout society. Since they do not result from a long process of mythologization -- where at some point the story is misinterpreted or corrupted -- either the person(s) who first told the story experienced something they misunderstood for something else, or they didn't. If they didn't, they must have known that they didn't (i.e. they made it up), although I suppose insanity could be a possible explanation as well. If they did experience something which they subsequently misunderstood, it was either something outside the person or it was something inside the person's mind (i.e. a hallucination). Thus an urban legend must have at least one of the following causes: the person who originally told the the story 1. simply made it up (for example, Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster); 2. was insane; 3. hallucinated; or 4. experienced something which he mistook for something else (such as Elvis and UFO sightings).
Now the problem with saying that Jesus' resurrection was an urban legend is that it cannot fit into any of these categories.
1. There are two reasons mitigating against the idea that the early Christians made up the resurrection: first, the resurrection of Jesus was significantly different from the Jewish concept of resurrection, not to mention pagan concepts of the afterlife. The Jewish concept was that everyone who has ever lived would be resurrected at the end of the world. Jesus' resurrection is that of an individual man in the midst of history. No one has ever explained how the idea of Jesus' resurrection would even occur to anyone if it hadn't actually happened.
Second, the people who claimed to have seen Jesus alive from the dead were willing to experience horrific deaths rather than deny that it happened. If they just made it up, what possible motivation could they have had for this?
2. The writings of the early Christians show no signs of mental instability. On the contrary, they make up some of the most inspirational writings ever written. Paul is widely considered one of the greatest minds of the ancient world.
3. The first reason why Jesus' resurrection appearances cannot be ascribed to hallucination is the same as the first reason why the early Christians couldn't have just made it up: Jesus' resurrection contradicted the fundamental Jewish concept of resurrection. Hallucinations are projections of the mind; one cannot hallucinate something that isn't already present in the mind. So it's a straightforward syllogism:
a) Hallucinations can only be of what is already conceived.
b) The early Christians could not have conceived of Jesus' resurrection (because it contradicted the Jewish concept of resurrection).
c) Therefore, the early Christians could not have hallucinated Jesus' resurrection.
As William Lane Craig has written, if the disciples were to hallucinate Jesus after his death, they would have hallucinated something that fit into the religious paradigm they accepted, such as Jesus having been assumed into heaven. They wouldn't have had hallucinations of Jesus risen from the dead.
The second reason the hallucination theory doesn't work is more obvious: Jesus appeared to groups of people. Hallucinations are individual experiences, there is no such thing as a collective hallucination. Again, a hallucination is a projection of the mind. For more than one person to hallucinate the exact same thing at the exact same time is implausible in the extreme.
4. There are two reasons countering the idea that people experienced something which they mistakenly took to be Jesus alive from the dead. First is that these weren't brief glimpses experienced by people who didn't personally know Jesus. They were groups of people who knew him intimately, and they spoke with and physically touched "whatever it was." It is a category mistake to compare Jesus' resurrection appearances with catching a brief glimpse of someone with long sideburns in a crowd and thinking it's Elvis, or seeing nondescript lights in the sky and thinking that they're alien spacecraft.
For example, virtually all New Testament scholars agree that in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul is quoting a creed which dates to within a few years of Jesus' crucifixion. This creed claims, among other things, that after Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to the apostles, to Jesus' brother James, and to a group of 500 people at once. The appearance to the apostles has multiple independent attestation, being further described in the Gospels of Luke and John. James opposed his brother during his ministry, but something convinced him that his brother rose from the dead, since he preferred to be put to death rather than deny it. And Elvis never appeared to 500 people at once after his death.
Second, if the early followers merely mistook something else for Jesus alive from the dead, what exactly was it? The difficulty of anything other than Jesus himself giving the early Christians the impression of Jesus raised from the dead has led to absurdities. One philosopher (not a New Testament scholar) has suggested that Jesus must have had an evil twin. If that's the alternative to believing in the resurrection, then there's just no contest.
(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)
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