Sunday, January 29, 2012

Resurrection Sundays: Scholarly rejection of naturalistic hypothesis

I am proud to declare that Resurrection Sundays are returning! Hooray! However, they are not going to be weekly events, as they were originally. I will release new segments on Sundays- but not always once a week. I plan to focus the bulk of my energy on other subjects, such as sociology. With that said, let me return to the post.

Apologists like William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas like to rub in that contemporary scholarship still snuffs naturalistic alternatives to the resurrection. Here is a quote from the former illustrating my point:

"Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy theory, the apparent death theory, the hallucination theory, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars."
Indeed Craig is right- no naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars. However, what really irritates me is the part about these hypothesis being universally rejected by contemporary scholars. As these apologists point out- even skeptics tend to avoid defending any particular hypothesis. The same point is brought up in Habermas' article "The Late Twentieth century resurgence of naturalistic responses to Jesus resurrection".

So, why do most scholars, including the skeptical ones, avoid using these hypothesis. My guess is that it's because all the traditional ones really are terible! The swoon theory is one I've never found persuasive at all- although not for the same reason most apologists do. Most apologists like Craig don't find it persuasive since they question how a half dead Jesus could be glorified to the status of a God. Personally- I think the biggest problem with it is that Jesus would have eventually died anyways. Another thoery I find no weight in is the wrong tomb theory. I don't know- I just find it hard to believe that, after Jesus' body dissapeared, the disciples never once thought to ask Joseph of Arimethea about it. I admit that the conspiracy theory is at least possible- although I'm not exactly a fan of theories that are un-provable and un-falsifyable.

As you should all know, the only theory I put stock in is the subjective vision theory. According to it, Jesus stayed dead- shortly afterwards, his disciples hallucinated him alive. Sadly, this theory is equally rejected by most scholars. However, there is one version of this theory which hasn't been totally rejected by scholars... this being the bereavement experience. First created by Gerd Ludemann, this theory relies not on ordinary hallucinations, but on bereavement hallucinations. There big difference. Although regular hallucinations require certain emotional and physiological conditions to occur (such as lack of sleep or food), bereavement hallucination dont seem to require anything (other than, of course, bereavement).


Fortunatley, it is very easy to show that, after Jesus' death, Peter and "the twelve" (and possibly Mary) where most likely in a state of grief. Furthermore, it is possible that James was also in this state. Although it is universally conceded that James was at some point a skeptic, it is impossible to know how long he was a skeptic for, or when he actually converted. So, if we make the mild concession that James was a disciple before his vision, we already have half of the appearances covered in terms of emotional precedent. When it comes to the twelve- we can speculate an appearance to some of the disciples (perhaps late at night), in which several of them hallucinated at the same time. The ones that didn't see Jesus perhaps went along with them- or they were in a different room. In the end, it was decided that the appearance was objective since the few disciples capable of seeing Jesus saw him. We do have precident for these sorts of appearances- at least in the apparitional literature Allison so fequently cites.


Furthermore, it doesn't seem like a stratch to assume that the vision to the "500" was a later occurrance, perhaps an elvis sighting/mass delusion, that happened a signifigant amount of time after the first three. Perhaps the vision to the "rest of the disciples" was of the same nature. Neither of these appearances appear anywhere else, so I can't say much about there historicity. Finally, a year or so later, one can argue that the appearance to Paul, was due to either temporal lobe epilespy, a conversion disorder or even some sort of guilt complex a la Ludemann. See- we pretty much have all the appearances covered! It's not as good an explanation as the resurrection hypothesis, but hey- it's something.

However, the problem is that, misfortunatley, most scholars aren't aware of the fundamental differences between the bereavement hallucination theory and the regular hallucination theory. As Habermas points out, the hallucination theory was considered to be refuted in the 19th century- a time when bereavement hallucinations weren't even known to exist! Dewi Rees started his research into bereavement hallucinations in 1971. Furthermore Gerd Ludemann was the first biblical scholar to actually recognize them over 20 years later! So as we can see, it isn't a surprise that this theory hasn't gotten a fair hearing from the majority of scholars- it's only been in existence for about ten years!


So what does this mean for the future of the Hallucination hypothesis in biblical studies? For the time being, not much. However, I like to imagine that, after Dale Allison released "Resurrecting Jesus", the hallucination hypothesis, gained a little more credibility. I mean, even Gary Habermas admitted afterwards that naturalistic explainations were at least possible.

"Perhaps due to this, my perspective is from the angle of the affirmative case, even though, like Allison, I am well aware of the inability to close the door completely against alternative suggestions"

Coming from Habermas, a quote like this does mean a lot. Craig similiarly responds in his response to Allison. I can only hope that, in the future, this theory gets a more fair hearing than it has in recent years.

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