O'Collins starts by summarising Dewi Rees' study of Bereavement experiences in senior widows and widowers:
Rees found that close to half (46.7%) reported contact with their beloved dead at various times during waking hours; dreams were not considered in the study. The bereaved had “felt the presence of the deceased” (39.2%), “seen” them (14%), “heard” them (13.3%), “spoken” to them (11.6%), and, very occasionally, been “touched” by them (2.7%). Some of the widows and widowers interviewed reported having had more than one type of experience, and in 36.1% of all the cases these experiences of the beloved dead lasted for years.
Than, he pointed out two similarities between Bereavement experiences and the supposed Resurrection appearances of Jesus:
first, the grief experienced by both Rees’ bereaved persons and the disciples after the death and burial of Jesus... A second addition that I now make to the analogy proposed by Rees concerns the unexpected nature of the encounters with the risen Jesus
I agree with him that these are some fairly striking points of similarity. However, despite the shoe fitting finely, O'Collins argues that the parallels end here, and proposes eight areas of dissimilarity between these bereavement experiences and the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. I will review each of them below.
Area's of dissimilarity
1) By naming “the disciples,” what I had in mind was, first of all, the fact that the Twelve and others, both women (e.g., Mary Magdalene) and men (e.g., Cleopas of Luke 24: 13-35), were disciples and not married partners of Jesus.
He also adds that the disciples made radical claims about Jesus, and that this somehow acts as an additional dissimilarity. This argument is weak, since it ignores the many stories of non widows having supposed encounters with the deceased. Besides, if these bereavement experiences are hallucinations, something which I will argue for in the future, than there is no reason to suppose they would be exclusive to widows. I can imagine widows and widowers being more likely to hallucinate their loved ones, but that's it. The second argument is equally poor:
2) Jesus died a horrible and utterly shameful death on a public scaffold. In the eyes of his contemporaries, the crucifixion involved being cursed not only by human beings (the religious and political authorities responsible for his execution) but also by God... Rees reports no cases of anything like that among his 293 widows and widowers.
Well, we do live in the 21 century; not very many are cursed and publicly executed. Some of the widows Rees interviewed did have spouses that were killed by accidents, which I think suffice as "violent deaths". O'Collins, however, needs to prove his point, so he declares that only a perfect analogy will do. I think he forgot where the burden of proof lies.
3) A third, enormous difference emerges from the fact that, unlike the disciples of Jesus, none of Rees’s widows and widowers ever alleged that their beloved departed had been raised from the dead
Oh come on! Even Licona acknowledges that this is a poor argument (see the appendix of The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical approach). At any rate, there aren't very many people in the modern day that believe in corporeal resurrection, so the lack of modern day analogies shouldn't be surprising. At any rate, modern widows and widowers would probably say their spouse became a ghost or went to heaven, since those are the modern day expectations. The resurrection was an ancient expectation, even if it was supposed to occur at the end of the world.
4) A fourth reason for differentiating between the Easter experiences of the disciples and Rees’s widows and widowers emerges from the New Testament reports about appearances to groups, as well as to individuals
This argument is interesting, since he actually criticizes a lot of the Apparitional literature Allison uses to make his case.
On the question of bereaved people experiencing (or not experiencing) as a group some beloved, deceased person, Allison (who knows and values Rees’ ground-breaking research) has also taken issue with me. He claims that there are “many firsthand accounts of several people seeing at once the apparition of a person recently deceased.” But he cites no examples and gives no references. Notice that he does not say “bereaved people” having such an experience, and that is the issue. Is he thinking of parapsychology and alleged cases of the spirits of the deceased being brought back from the dead through mediums? But many scholars, including professional psychologists, find only pseudo-science in the works of parapsychologists. In fact, Allison himself observes: “reports of collective apparitions are…prominent in the literature of parapsychology but not in normal psychology.” That silence on the part of professional psychologists might have warned Allison not to introduce, as he does, repeated references to a number of long-discredited parapsychologists.
Allison himself is very forthright about the lack of rigor in many of his cases. As a matetr of fact, he clearly states that he is comparing "like with like" when he uses them, since the Gospels are also equally poor sources. I concede, however, that I don't quite know how to explain the group experiences in naturalistic terms. After all, I don't even know what goes back to the eyewitnesses! Our earliest source, 1 cor 15, gives us three group experiences: one to "the twelve", one to the "five hundred", and one to "all the apostles". By the time we reach the gospels, however, the appearance to"the twelve" is all that remains. How one explains this one naturally depends on how accurate you think the narrative is.
5) A fifth dissimilarity arises when we notice that around 40% of Rees’ widows and widowers continued to experience their deceased spouses for many years. But the appearances of the risen Jesus to individuals or groups took place over a limited period of time and did not continue for years.
How do we know what they would've made of later experiences? Apologists often argue that the initial experiences must of been qualitatively different from later ones, since the early church called them "appearances" instead of visions. However, this still doesn't tell us exactly how they were different? Perhaps the difference between appearances and visions had to do with whom had them, or when they occurred. How could one prove these suggestions wrong? Furthermore, according to Licona, word studies don't help either, as the greek word for "appearance" could mean many things. So, even if the disciples had later experiences, how would we know?
6) “one difference between the Easter experiences and those reported by the widowed…Widowed people’s experiences of their dead spouses tend to occur weeks or months after the person’s death; in contrast, Jesus appeared to his friends soon after the crucifixion.
Depends how you define "soon". A few weeks doesn't seem too long to me. At any rate, how do we even know when the disciples started having their experiences? The phrease "the third day" was an idiom that could refer to any short period of time, not just 3 literal days. Another issue is whether the experiences all happened within a short period of time. What if some occurred weeks or months later than others? After all, the creed Paul refers to in 1 Cor 15 includes the appearance to himself, which occurred years after Jesus was crucified. We just don't know how much time passed between appearances.
(7) Prior to Rees’ study, only 27.7 % of the bereaved who experienced their dead spouses had mentioned these experiences to others
This is really weak. Did O'Collins forget the stigma that is associated with hallucinating in the modern day?
8) In Easter Faith I pointed out an eighth difference: unlike the first followers of Jesus, “none of those whose bereavement experiences are reported by Rees dramatically changed their lifestyle and became missionaries proclaiming to the world their experience and what it implied.”
O'Collins got so desperate for another pot-shot that he re-used the seventh point. Again, in the modern day there is a stigma against having wierd experiences. In ancient times, no such stigma existed. The problem wasn't whether you saw something- it was how you interpreted it. This, if anything, was the problem the disciples would have had.
Well, there you have it. For what it's worth, I'm still offering a copy of the paper to anyone who wants it. Conact me here for it.