Bart’s Blog

Modern Visions of Jesus

21

The disciples were not, of course, the only ones who had visions of Jesus after he died.  People continued to see Jesus alive afterwards.  And in fact, he continues to appear in modern times.   Here are a couple of interesting examples taken from the draft of ch. 5 of my book, How Jesus Became God:

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And consider the modern appearances of Jesus.   Some of these are documented by Phillip H. Wiebe, in his book Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters from the New Testament to Today.  I should stress that Wiebe is not a religious fanatic on a mission.  He is chair of the Philosophy Department at Trinity Western University, which is to be sure, a Christian school, but it is not a place for wackos.  And Wiebe is a serious scholar.  His book is published by Oxford University Press.   Still, at the end of the day, he thinks that something “transcendent” has led to some of the modern visions of Jesus that he recounts.  In other words, they – or some of them – are veridical.

His book narrates twenty-eight case studies, which he examines from psychological, neuropsychological, mentalist, and other perspectives.  Included is a vision of Jesus experienced by Hugh Montefiore, a well-known New Testament scholar at Cambridge University and later bishop of the Church of England, who converted to Christianity from Judaism at age sixteen because he had a vision in which Jesus appeared to him and told him to “follow me” – words that, at the time, the young Monefiore did not know were drawn from the New Testament.

Of particular interest are instances in which Jesus is said to have appeared to entire groups of people, rather than just to an individual.  No case is more intriguing that the last one the Wiebe recounts in his study, that of Kennthe Logie, a preacher in a Pentecostal Holiness Church in Oakland California in the 1950s.   There are two appearances worth detailing.  The first occurred in April of 1954.  Logie was preaching at an evening service.  In the middle of his sermon, around 9:15 p.m., the door to the church opened up, Jesus walked in and came down to the aisle smiling to people on the right and the left.  He then walked through (not around) the pulpit and placed his hand on Logies’ shoulder.  Logie, understandably, collapsed.  Jesus spoke to him in an unknown foreign tongue, and Logie revived enough to reply to him in English, having understood what was said.   Wiebe tells us that fifty people were there and witnessed the event.

Strange things happen.   But what happened five years later was even stranger.   This one was seen by two hundred people, who confirmed they had seen it.  And remarkably, it was captured on film.  The reason it was captured on film, Logie later indicated, was because very strange things had been happening in the church and they wanted to document it on 8 millimeter.  Wiebe himself saw the film in 1965.    A woman from the congregation was standing to give her testimony, when suddenly she disappeared and was replaced by a male figure who was obviously Jesus.  He was wearing sandals and a glistening white robe, and he had nail prints in his hand.  His hands were dripping with oil.  After several minutes, during which he apparently said nothing, he disappeared and the woman reappeared.

Unfortunately, by the time Wiebe had decided to write the book, some twenty-six years after first seeing the film of the event, the film had disappeared.   Logie claimed it had been stolen.   Still, Wiebe was able still to find, and interview, five people who were there and agreed that they saw it happen.   Moreover, there still were surviving photographs of the other odd occurrences in the church back in 1959: images of hands, hearts, and crosses had started to appear from nowhere on the church walls, with liquid like oil flowing from them, and a fragrance being emitted.  The walls were checked by a sketici, and there was no natural explanation for these appearances (no hidden windows or the like).   Wiebe has seen the photographs.

Skeptics may point out that the time between when these events allegedly happened in the 1950s and Wiebe’s written account about of them amounts to several decades, and that may indeed raise some suspicions of the accuracy of the witnesses’ memories.   But Wiebe points out that it is about the same amount of time between the life of Jesus and the earliest Gospels.   Believers may take comfort in that fact and assume that these things really did happen in Kenneth Logie’s church.  Nonbelievers will take equal comfort in the fact and assume that the Gospel accounts cannot be trusted either.

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Response to Carrier
Visions of Mary

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Discussion

  1. Scott F  March 28, 2013

    “images of hands, hearts, and crosses had started to appear from nowhere on the church walls, with liquid like oil flowing from them, and a fragrance being emitted.”

    Weeping statues are one of the more common “miracles” – apparently not too difficult to pull off. Have we all seen A Leap of Faith (great flick!)

  2. Xeronimo74  March 28, 2013

    ‘nails prints in his hands’? Isn’t that one of the obvious signs it’s a fake since crucified people would not have had, contrary to popular belief, their palms nailed but their wrists?

    And it’s such a shame that both Jesus and Mary have become so shy in the age of camera phones, Youtube and the like …

  3. hwl  March 28, 2013

    In your book, do you plan to show your hand and present arguments on why you don’t find any of these eyewitness reports evidentially compelling – rather than just say as a nonbeliever, you don’t believe in them?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 29, 2013

      No, I’m not interested in trying to prove or disprove them. My point is that people apparently have these visions and *they* believe them. That’s by far the most important matter, I think. But my guess is that most readers who read such things will by highly skeptical. And again, it’s always easier to be skeptical about the miracles that are not in one’s own religion!

  4. wisemenwatch  March 28, 2013

    This was pre- Amazing Randi, right? He’d know what to do about this.

  5. Wilusa  March 29, 2013

    The mother of a childhood friend of mine had a “vision of Jesus.” It was associated with a tragic experience: her having twin sons who died at birth. I’m not sure whether she had the vision before the twins’ birth (and later saw it as having been a “warning”), or after (and saw it as consolation). Either way, she was in bed with her husband, and woke to see “Jesus” in a bedroom mirror. She couldn’t move or speak, and so couldn’t rouse her husband.

    I don’t believe she saw the real Jesus of Nazareth. And I don’t think that if anyone else had been there, awake, they would have seen what she did. But as I understand it, people who have such visions often report that “paralysis” that prevents their waking someone else. I think this type of vision is created by the person’s own psyche, but it’s an interesting phenomenon. I wish I knew whether she had the vision before or after the tragic deaths.

    Perhaps “hallucination” isn’t an ideal term for all visions that aren’t objectively real? I think that for some people, it has negative associations.

  6. Xeronimo74  March 29, 2013

    Bart, speaking about visions, I just happened to notice this in Acts 10:40-41: “but God raised him up on the third day and *caused him to be seen*, not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses God had already chosen”

    ‘God caused him to be seen’? Isn’t that a weird expression?

    a. because ‘the risen Christ’ seems to be the passive part again (just like when he was raised, instead of raising by himself)
    b. it sounds like God switched on a kind of projector so that ‘the risen Christ’ could be seen by (some carefully selected!) people.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 29, 2013

      Yes, it is a strange phrase, literally something like “he gave him to be manifest,” or something like that….

  7. Walid_  March 29, 2013

    I can’t buy the film disappearing issue, it’s not logical, something like that would have been copied hundreds of times on all sorts of media.
    Witnesses can go through collective hallucination periods.
    Also, do these things still exist and still ooze oil?

    and by the way, what kind of oil was it? brakes? motor? sunflower? olive mature? ..

  8. Adam0685  March 29, 2013

    Neurologist Oliver Sacks’ book “Hallucinations” is interesting.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/27/renowned-author-oliver-sacks-examines-life-through/?page=all

  9. tcc  March 30, 2013

    It’s a little odd that the Jesus most of these folks see is the guy in the DaVinci paintings, and not a 5 foot, dark skinned palestinean from the first century. If one of these people claimed to talk to a Jesus that looked like THAT, and they said they couldn’t understand a word he was saying, because he was speaking Aramaic, I might believe that person.

    • Xeronimo74  March 31, 2013

      Agreed! The Jesus from these ‘visions’ is based on those medieval/renaissance paintings indeed. Same goes for the ‘Mary’ that people ‘see’ …

  10. bobnaumann  March 31, 2013

    Now that virtually everyone has a phone with video capabilities, why don’t we have more documentation of these “appearances”?

    And why has no one thought to collect a sample of the oil, blood, or other fluids associated with these “appearances” for analyses?

  11. RonaldTaska  March 31, 2013

    When I first moved to Durham in 1974 to start a psychiatry residency at Duke, I read in the Herald-Sun that a minister named Johnny Godair had raised a man from the dead during a Sunday morning service at the Pentecostal Church on Carver Street in Durham So, I went down there to several services to learn what I could. Actually, I was not able to learn many details, but did learn that, just like the incidents described above, the belief in this event was widespread throughout the congregation there. By definition, a widespread belief that is part of a subculture is not a delusion, but it is certainly extraordinary. One wonders, however, why this event was not more widely publicized in Time magazine, etc.

  12. EricBrown  April 8, 2013

    Bart,

    Love your writing style, and recognize that this is a draft, but I think you’ve used “at the end of the day” twice in two consequetive posts (or at least consequetive as I read them). please try to avoid this (and other) cliches in the final version!

    I work in finance/Wall Street type circles and there, at least, this phrase is grossly overused.

  13. gavm  April 14, 2013

    there have been a million different sightings of لَا إِلَّهَ إِلَّا الله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ الله /there is no god but god mohamed is the messenger (the islamic version of john 3:16) especially during ramadam but again nothing substantial or repeatable. there has been a lot of research into this phenomenon that show they prob cant be taken seriously any more.

  14. Miriam  May 21, 2013

    Are there any claims of seeing Jesus “after” His ascension in the NT by anyone other than Paul and his companion Luke (which are both biased)? I don’t recall any others. I believe Paul had a typical “alien abductee” type experience (really demonic in origin, not creatures from other planets). His conversion story is very similar to that of Mormon Joseph Smith and others who founded cults after their “divine revelationn” experiences from supposed alien visitors.

    Bart, what’s a really good reliable book for Old Testament study similar to what you do with the NT?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 23, 2013

      Paul doesn’t say he saw Jesus after the ascension — he doesn’t have an idea of the ascension at all; for him, Jesus was taken up to heaven at the time of the resurrection.

      OT book: I’d suggest Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Friedman.

      • Miriam  May 23, 2013

        Thanks, Bart.

        I was referring though to Paul saying he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus (or at least a bright light with Jesus’ voice). I remembered later that the author of Revelation also claimed to see Jesus. Anyone else? I don’t recall any others. Kind of interesting that these accounts were included in the canon considering Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24 about not believing anyone who claimed to see him prior to His big return! Even crazier He used the examples of people falsely claiming to see him in the wilderness and in their private chambers, the exact places that Paul claims to have met with him. Go figure.

        Regarding the OT question, after I asked for your recommendation I found one of your previous posts recommending Who Wrote the Bible. I ended up ordering the other 2 you recommended that were a bit more advanced, The Bible Unearthed and How to Read the Bible. They are in transit! I’m also reading some Dead Sea Scrolls books by James Tabor, Robert Eisenman, and James Charlesworth.

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