26 votes, average: 4.81 out of 526 votes, average: 4.81 out of 526 votes, average: 4.81 out of 526 votes, average: 4.81 out of 526 votes, average: 4.81 out of 5 (26 votes, average: 4.81 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.
Loading...

A Final Word (I Think!) on Group Visions

I am getting some push-back on my discussions of visions.  One of the most informed and hard-hitting critiques was this.

I certainly agree that it is within your scope of expertise as a New Testament scholar to use the term “vision” to describe the beliefs of people in Antiquity who used this term to describe certain religious experiences.  It is within your scope of expertise to define this term as defined by those ancients.  However, with all due respect, as a physician I must point out that it is not within your scope of expertise to use this term to determine what was going on physiologically or psychologically during these experiences.  This determination belongs to experts in the field of medicine and psychiatry.  That is why I believe you should stop using the terms  “veridical vision” and “non-veridical”.  Medical experts and psychiatrists/psychologists believe that these ancients experienced one of three things in these “vision” experiences:  a dream (a nightdream or a daydream), an illusion, or an hallucination.  That’s it.  There are no other options.  For you to create other categories is to create confusion.

In response, let me first say something about terminology.  This reader is pointing out that psychologists use three terms for such experiences: dream, illusion, and hallucination.  Fair enough.  The question is whether we think these three things have something in common.  The answer, I think, is yes.  They all involve someone thinking she has seen something that in fact was not really there.   Should we have a category for such an experience broadly (encapsulating all three options)?  It seems to me that would be very useful indeed.  The category I use is …

THE REST OF THIS POST is for members only.  If you don’t belong yet, JOIN!  You’ll never put your money to better use!  And every penny goes to help those in need!

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.

image_pdfimage_print

Does Jesus Claim to Be God in Mark? And My Former Converts. Mailbag March 19, 2017
What Really Happens With Group Visions

68

Comments

  1. wostraub  March 17, 2017

    Bart — perhaps the raised saints as recorded in Matthew 27:51-53, which many people “witnessed” following Jesus’ resurrection, is another example of what you’re talking about. Thanks for another great post!

  2. godspell  March 17, 2017

    I am far from clear in my mind that Paul ‘saw’ Jesus–his descriptions of his experience in the epistles are not terribly specific. Acts says he saw a blinding light and heard a voice. It’s quite different from what we read about in Matthew and Luke, where he’s this warm human presence, presenting himself in the flesh to people who knew and loved him. Obviously those accounts were written by people who never knew Jesus at all, but most likely, neither did Paul.

    Today, when people ‘see’ Jesus, they’re influenced by generations of artistic portrayals of Jesus. There was nothing of the sort available in the decades following Jesus’ death. So a vision of Jesus experienced by somebody who never met him would be different from that experienced by someone who was an intimate friend and companion.

    As to the psychiatric profession, all due respect to their expertise, but it wasn’t so very long ago they were talking about penis envy and how homosexuality was a mental disorder brought on by poor parenting skills. 🙂

    • Sharon Friedman  March 19, 2017

      I agree (or dare I say, Amen!). Just because many people today believe that something couldn’t have happened, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

  3. Wilusa  March 17, 2017

    Even though I incline to the belief that people *can* share a group hallucination (experiencing the exact same “vision”), I certainly don’t think that’s necessary to explain the supposed appearances of Jesus to his disciples and long-ago followers.

    I do think that for individual experiences, what we call “dreams” are the most likely to be remembered as significant.

  4. TBeard  March 17, 2017

    I have read where sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations and in some settings it happens to whole crowds at once.

  5. UCCLMrh  March 17, 2017

    No “explanation” of the risen Christ is needed, just as no “explanation” is needed of Moses crossing the Red Sea (or whatever sea is might have been). Neither is an historical account in the modern sense, and neither needs to be “explained.” The whole project is futile.

  6. Gary  March 17, 2017

    If you intend to continue to use the term “group visions” I would strongly encourage you to REPEATEDLY emphasize to your readers that by this term you are not inferring that groups of people can have the same detailed hallucination—because this is what I fear many of your readers will assume you mean. As I have pointed out previously, medical professionals state that it is impossible for two people to have the same detailed dream or hallucination.

    If you do not make this point very clear, this is what I am afraid will happen: A former fundamentalist Christian who has become an agnostic or atheist due to the excellent work of people like yourself will misunderstand your position regarding “group visions” and get into a discussion with a knowledgeable Christian apologist regarding the detailed group appearances mentioned in the Gospels. He will tell the Christian, “Those group appearances can be explained by a group hallucination. Bart Ehrman, the famous New Testament scholar, says so.”

    The Christian apologist will eat this budding skeptic alive! The Christian apologist will point out that medical experts state that detailed group hallucinations are impossible and that Bart Ehrman is wrong!

    The poor skeptic will come out of this debate severely shaken. The point is: No skeptic should be given the impression that the detailed appearances stories in the Gospels can be explained by “group hallucinations”. Your use of “group visions”, if not carefully explained, could lead to that misunderstanding.

    • godspell  March 20, 2017

      The skeptic can simply point out that all the accounts we have are from decades after whatever happened, written by people who were not there.

      I mean, if you’re that easily shaken, you’re not so much a skeptic as somebody who just believes whatever he was most recently told. Authorities are well and good, but people need to think things out for themselves sometimes. Think in terms of your own life and experiences, try not to think of it as deciding whether God exists, because there are no authorities on that, and never have been, and never will be.

      Does it make sense that people under a lot of stress, who deeply loved and revered their teacher who got fastened to a piece of wood until he died, and who had quite possibly been told by him that he’d return in some form, would have visions to that effect, and that over time, these differing and often confused stories of personal revelation would be crafted into a more coherent narrative?

    • jcutler79  April 26, 2017

      Gary, given that that you clearly think group hallucinations are impossible per scientific data, does that mean you think it is impossible that all of the reported Marian apparitions to multiple people were group hallucinations? I didn’t see in your comment anything addressing that. The only logical assumption your comments leave me with is that you must accept the validity of all the Marian apparitions involving more than one witness (e.g. the Our Lady of Knock appearance of 1879 reportedly seen by 15 people, including adults). Nothing necessarily wrong with that. I just thought I would see if you would confirm that.

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  March 17, 2017

    I agree 100% with this post.

  8. Silver  March 17, 2017

    Re Paul’s vision and conversion experience:
    William Sargant, a psychiatrist who researched brainwashing and thought reform, comments on Paul’s experience:

    Battle for the mind William Sargant Pan Books 1957 Page 105
    The case of Saul on the road to Damascus confirms our finding that anger may be no less powerful an emotion than fear in bringing about sudden conversion to beliefs which exactly contradict the beliefs previously held. Acts chapter 9 tells us,
    “And Saul yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord went unto the high priest and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues that if he found any of this way whether they were men or women he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed he came near Damascus and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven and he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, “Saul, Saul why persecutest thou me?” And he said, “Who art thou lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” And he trembling and astonished said, “Lord, what will thou have me to do?”

    A State of transmarginal inhibition seems to have followed his acute stage of nervous excitement. Total collapse, hallucinations and an increased state of suggestibility appear to have supervened. Other inhibitory hysterical manifestations are also reported:
    ‘And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened he saw no man: but they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus and he was three days without sight and neither did eat nor drink’.
    This period of physical debilitation by fasting, added to Saul’s other stresses, may well have increased his anxiety and suggestibility. Only after three days did brother Ananias come to relieve his nervous symptoms and his mental distress, at the same time implanting new beliefs.

    ‘Ananias went his way and entered into the house and putting his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptised. And when he had received meat he was strengthened’.

    Then followed the necessary period of indoctrination imposed on Saul by the brethren at Damascus and of his full acceptance of all the new beliefs that they required of him.
    ‘Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus and straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the son of God. But all that heard him were amazed and said,”Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem and came thither for that intent that he might bring them bound unto the chief priest?”

  9. Judith  March 17, 2017

    Now you have me laughing before I even begin – A Final Word (I think!).

  10. Silver  March 17, 2017

    I realise that in the context of a discussion of group visions my comment about Paul’s conversion experience in a book by William Sargant is not relevant. Please ignore.

  11. Tony  March 17, 2017

    I sure hope this is not the final word on visions, since “visions”, real, imagined or faked, are likely at the origin of the Christian religion.

    There are different, and often mixed up, sources of visions within the NT. The three obvious ones are Paul (notably 1 Cor 15), the Gospels, and Acts, (road to Damascus). There is no doubt that, for most of Christianity’s 2000 year history, those three sources were deemed interchangeable. Even today Christians and scholars alike appear to freely read Acts into Paul, the Gospels into Paul and any other combination of those three as deemed convenient.

    My view is that both the Gospels and Luke-Acts derive their visions/appearances ideas from Paul – who was the primary (and only) source of the resurrected Jesus. That specifically makes 1 Corinthians 15 a worthwhile subject of analysis. Here is one such an analysis by Earl Doherty:

    http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp06.htm

  12. kentvw  March 17, 2017

    BUT! I’m Dr. Bart! I need to use really big words!! For Heavens sakes!! Why don’t folks get that??

  13. seahawk41  March 17, 2017

    OK, this comment is not to the point of what to call these kinds of experiences, but to emphasize how very real they can seem. I was in a serious accident in 1992, and in the first week or so in the hospital I was receiving multiple pain killers: morphine and demerol at one point and morphine and percocet later. As you might guess, I experienced many hallucinations during that time. I can think of four right now for which I still recall the details, and probably more if I were to think about it a while. At least three of these were so “real” and vivid that I was surprised to find that reality contradicted them, or I asked relevant people to verify details (wrong–it didn’t happen) or insisted that something in one of them had to occur in order for a real world thing to happen. These things were *real* in the sense that I believed them. If I had a suggestible personality, I probably would have gone on believing them in spite of massive evidence to the contrary.

  14. Rick
    Rick  March 17, 2017

    George Carlin no doubt would have called your “non-veridical visions” something less erudite than that or dreams, illusions or hallucinations. The good Doctors comments not withstanding, Carlin would not have been wrong either.

  15. dragonfly  March 18, 2017

    Speaking of visions, Paul really doesn’t give us much to go by about his conversion experience. Acts gives us three slightly different accounts. Do scholars think these accounts are from three different sources, or did Luke accidentally write the account a bit different each time? Given the lack of alternative sources, do we just assume the gist of it is pretty much what actually happened?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2017

      I have a discussion of this in my forthcoming book. I’m not sure if Luke just modified stories he heard or if he heard different stories. But parts of what he says line up with what Paul says in Galatians, and other parts not so much.

  16. SergioRW  March 18, 2017

    Or maybe he just did not die on the cross and, very hurt and sick lived for some weeks (and was seen) and then died.

  17. RonaldTaska  March 18, 2017

    This series of posts reminds me of all the fake or false political claims being raised these days and how millions of people believe these claims even though these claims are very likely false claims. Moreover, due to factors like confirmation bias, these claims are not usually changed by evidence, even overwhelming evidence. For me, a retired psychiatrist, part of the problem is, that outside of your writing, I was just not familiar with the term “non-veridical.” I am, however, especially reading the daily political news, convinced that humans, whatever you want to call it, just plain embellish, distort, and make stuff up and then other humans believe this made-up stuff. It happens every day.

    Eventually, I am afraid that many of us figure out that there just are no answers to the big questions of life (did Jesus really rise from the dead in this case) and stop searching.

  18. John  March 18, 2017

    I am not sure why focusing on group hallucinations is so important in this context. Surely it is more relevant to show that the text referring to these , like 1Cor 15 or group meals etc.are problematic from a historical POV and leave it at that. You won’t then get dragged down rabbit holes attempting to explain away something that probably never happened in the first place.

  19. tompicard
    tompicard  March 18, 2017

    this may be nit-picking but since on the subject

    you claim you want to provide
    an “explanation [that] ‘works’ whether you are a Christian believer or not.”

    then why use ‘veridical’ rather than ‘corporeal’ ?

    Christians will usually accept that all the visions you are describing are non-corporeal, but may object when you say they are non-veridical.

    Does your argument lose any of its force if ‘non-corporeal’ is used instead?

    Secondly, sorry if you have answered before but . .
    Did Paul believe in Jesus’ physical resurrection?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2017

      Corporeal would refer to the body itself raising. If Jesus arose in, say, just spirit, once could still have a veridical vision of him.

  20. Jason  March 18, 2017

    Isn’t it just as decontextualizing to apply modern psychology to a(n alleged) group of first century Jews as it is to try to make Jesus out as a communist, feminist, Republican or hippie? How would other first century peoples have reacted to reports of such a vision-with a groan and a nod, like we talk of the tin-foil hat crowd today, or with exhuberance and/or envy, like a friend who gets to see the next “Star Wars” film early?

  21. Paul  March 19, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I’ve enjoyed these posts re group visions and hallucinations, but have a more basic question. Is there any historical evidence, besides the NT, to support the view that anyone *at the time of Jesus’s death* witnessed or even believed he physically rose from the dead? What is the earliest record of the claim that Jesus rose from the dead?

    If the resurrection claim didn’t appear until years after Jesus died, then why is there a need for group visions or hallucinations to explain why people ‘witnessed’ his resurrection? Isn’t the more likely explanation that for years Jesus’s followers believed he spiritually but not physically rose from the dead, and that the ‘physical resurrection’ story was invented years later to bolster the claim of Jesus’s divinity?

    Isn’t that the case with all of Jesus’s other claimed miracles? We don’t need psychology to explain how witnesses might think they saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead or change water into wine because there *were no witnesses* to those events; those events never happened, they were simply invented years later.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2017

      The earliest record we have is the apostle Paul, in 1 Thessalonians. This is the very first surviving Christian writing, so we don’t have any earlier references to it because we don’t have any earlier writings. But it is clear from what Paul says that Christians were saying Jesus was raised not long after his death (I don’t think we know it was three days later, but it was certainly not, say, two years later),

      • James Cotter  March 21, 2017

        richard carrier said :

        “…this study in no way supports the idea that the raising of Lazarus, say, could have been a false memory. That is impossible.” : That’s good, because it didn’t happen, so no one had to remember it anyway (see above). But it’s also false. A man who was merely misdiagnosed as dead could have been misremembered as dead for several days when in fact he was only just taken to burial within hours of pronouncement. Thus, what became a fabulous story of resurrection, was actually just one more commonplace story of misdiagnosed death, all from simply misremembering (and then exaggerating over time) a single detail.

        Dr Ehrman, i know you don’t believe this is the same situation with jesus, but if jesus did survive , is it possible that very early on his survival could have been misremembered as resurrection from the dead ?

        if luke was respondiing to groups who said that jesus was a ghost and needed to have flesh and bone jesus who asked to be handled, why could’t there have been groups who denied he had died?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 21, 2017

          1. Do you mean is it absolutely impossible that that was the case? No, few things are historically impossible. But that doesn’t make them probable. 2. We have evidence for the objects of Luke’s polemic, but we have no record of anyone ever claiming he never died Ountil the modern period).

  22. webattorney  March 19, 2017

    My mother whom I loved very much recently passed away, so I was “hoping” that I would have some near hallucinatory experiences such as hearing her voice or feeling her presence or even seeing her life-like bodily form standing at the backyard etc., but I never experienced this within the last 6 months after her death. Therefore, I have become more skeptical of this group or individual hallucination unless the person experienced drugs or some bodily or mental deprivations. In short, I am very skeptical that Jesus’ disciples ever experienced some sort of group hallucinations.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2017

      I’m sorry to hear about your mother. Sincere condolences.

  23. bcdwa288  March 19, 2017

    Humans are very gullible. One need only look around the world to realize that huge numbers of people can be influenced in any number of ways to claim to believe absolutely anything. Could Christianity and the other world religions all be monumental group non-veridical visions? But, then, before it is possible to believe, one must understand. For example a person cannot believe the Bible is true unless they first understand it. A person cannot worship the word “God”. She can only worship what she understands the word “God” to mean or to represent. So every individual’s claim to be Christian or to believe in God represents something different from every other individual’s claim. I think, in reality, every single person is agnostic to some degree. They just can’t admit it, even to themselves.

  24. Jana  March 19, 2017

    Off topic, would this article be of interest? http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/israeli-warehouse-clues-jesus-life-death-46240622 Reconstructing the era of Christ via recent archaeology?

  25. Gary  March 19, 2017

    Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, prominent evangelical Christian New Testament scholars and apologists:

    “In order to avoid the tremendous pitfalls of the hallucination theory, it is common today for critics to claim that the appearances [of the resurrected Jesus] were a type of vision. …What exactly does the term “vision” mean? Its definition can be somewhat hazy. In fact, a skeptic who suggests a “vision” to explain the appearances to the disciples seldom defines whether the vision is like a dream, an hallucination, an epiphany, or a real experience of something without a body. Getting a solid definition from a critic for what he means by a “vision” can sometimes be as difficult as nailing jello to a wall.”

    —“The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”, pp. 110-111

  26. mannix  March 21, 2017

    Q: What’s the difference between people from Tennessee and those from Mississippi?
    A: Tennesseans think Elvis is dead.

    Sightings of expired individuals , whether “hallucinations” or “illusions”, continue to occur. Those who have a greater stake in the person being alive may be in a state of denial. A sighting by one person may have a domino-like effect on others who would love the “vision” to be true, leading to a “group” phenomenon.

  27. Jon1  March 24, 2017

    Bart,

    On pg. 194 of your book “How Jesus Became God”, you refer to a hallucination study by A.Y Tien involving over 18,000 people. You say, “Remarkably, 13 percent of them claimed to have experienced at least one vivid [visual] hallucination”. I tracked down this study to see for myself what it said (“Distributions of Hallucinations in the Population,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 1991). I think you may have misread this study. Can you please tell me where you are getting the “13%” number from? The only “13%” number in the whole six page report is for ALL types of hallucinations looked at – visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory. The author does not break down the visual hallucinations specifically. This seems to be a significant data point for you because you say in one of your videos: “One out of eight of us [13%] will have had or will have a vision of a deceased loved one” (Lecture at Fresno City College at the 28:30-29:15 minute mark: https://ehrmanblog.org/lecture-at-fresno-city-college/).

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2017

      Right — I probably misspoke. I meant hallucination (which could be auditory as well as visual), not “visual vision.”

      • Jon1  March 26, 2017

        Thanks Bart. I have two other questions about your hypothesis that a hallucination of Jesus gave birth to the resurrection belief:

        1) Are you saying that just a visual hallucination of Jesus standing there was enough to trigger the resurrection belief, or are you saying that the image of Jesus also said something to the percipient, or did something, or touched the percipient, or had a two way conversation with the percipient? In your book, you seem to imagine the vision at least talking: “If Jesus came to them, alive, after his death, and talked with them – what was there to doubt?” (How Jesus Became God, pg. 190).

        2) When the first follower of Jesus had his hallucination of Jesus and concluded that he was raised from the dead, and then five minutes later walked out of his hut, how did he make sense of the fact that nobody else was resurrecting?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 27, 2017

          1. I don’t think we know what they saw, but my guess is they just had a vision and thought it was Jesus. 2. They thought the others were comin’ soon, I suppose!

          • Jon1  April 27, 2017

            Bart,

            If I understand your book (HJBG) correctly, when one or more of Jesus’ followers had their bereavement hallucination of Jesus, the reason they did not think it was the SPIRIT of Jesus the non-Messiah visiting them from heaven (or the place of the dead) is because Jesus’ followers did not believe in the separation of body and soul. In other words, their only choice was to believe that Jesus was bodily raised or that what they just saw was a trick of their own mind. Am I understanding your logic correctly?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 28, 2017

            Yes, roughly. They thought life after death was a bodily existence, and so since they experienced him bodily, they assumed he had come back into his body.

          • Jon1  April 28, 2017

            Ok, so if I understand you correctly, a follower of Jesus has a hallucination of Jesus that is so realistic that it causes him to conclude immediately that the general resurrection had begun and reignites his belief that Jesus is the Messiah. I think I got that correct, but please correct me if I am wrong. Now the hallucination ends and the image of Jesus just disappears into thin air, and the percipient walks out of his hut and notices that nobody else is resurrecting from the dead. From a previous question I asked you, you think the percipient at this point drew on his Jewish beliefs about vindication of and reward for the righteous to conclude that Jesus had been raised to heaven and was visiting from there, and the general resurrection would soon follow. I think I got this correct, but again please correct me if I am wrong. So last question: Why in your mind would any of Jesus’ other close followers believe this guy’s claim?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 30, 2017

            Why does anyone today believe claims that someone has seen a miracle? Happens all the time. I know people who claim they have seen amputees grow back limbs. Just because it doesn’t make any sense doesn’t mean people won’t believe it. And we shouldn’t think these people were university-trained logicians or even advanced theologians. They probably had a very rudimentary theology indeed.

          • Jon1  May 1, 2017

            Bart,

            After the first bereavement hallucination of Jesus, when Jesus’ followers were trying to make sense of Jesus disappearing into thin air and the fact that nobody else was resurrecting from the dead, they could have just concluded, as everyone else has throughout history, that the percipient’s imagination had just played a trick on him, or that the body and soul actually could live separately from each other (as some of their Jewish neighbors believed) and that the spirit of Jesus the NON-Messiah had just visited the percipient. Either one of these two interpretations would have been consistent with other well-known characteristics of bereavement hallucinations. As one the world’s most experienced experts on these phenomena says, “[In] these post-mortem cases…it is very rare to find an apparition which seems to impart any verbal message….As a rule…the apparition is of the apparently automatic, purposeless character….We have, indeed, very few cases where actual apparitions give evidence of any continuity in the knowledge possessed by a spirit of friends on earth” (Frederic W.H. Meyers, with modern studies and examples agreeing). If the percipient himself did not notice it, surely the other followers of Jesus must have asked themselves why Jesus said so little and left so soon (say, 15 seconds) instead of staying and explaining why he had been crucified and then laying out the new apocalyptic game plan. I am not saying a resurrection belief is impossible from a bereavement hallucination, but I think there is a missing ingredient that would have made it a lot more plausible. Are you interested? (And you can still keep your hallucination.)

          • Bart
            Bart  May 2, 2017

            Yes feel free to spin your theory. And maybe it won’t have any problems!

          • Jon1  May 2, 2017

            Bart,

            I think the ingredient missing from your hallucination hypothesis is the psychological concept of “cognitive dissonance”. I think you are familiar enough with this concept that you would agree with me that Jesus’ followers definitely experienced cognitive dissonance when Jesus died. The resurrection belief coming about from a post-mortem bereavement hallucination of Jesus would be significantly more plausible IMHO if, in conjunction with a hallucination of Jesus, there was also a concerted effort by Jesus’ followers to find, or at least a very strong receptivity to accept, any explanation that would reduce their cognitive dissonance. Any explanation that allowed Jesus’ followers to believe that Jesus was still the Messiah despite his death would have been preferred over the continued harsh reality of Jesus’ death that disproved his messiahship and showed that they had been wrong about Jesus all along. Cognitive dissonance and its associated rationalizing, or receptivity to cognitive dissonance reducing explanations, would have made the radical leap from a post-mortem bereavement hallucination to the resurrection belief much more likely, and it would have significantly increased the chances of Jesus’ other followers coalescing around the resurrection belief because it would have reduced their cognitive dissonance too. Leon Festinger (the founder of cognitive dissonance theory) makes this point when he says that when a movement is faced with cognitive dissonance, and someone in the group finds a way to reduce that cognitive dissonance with a new belief or rationalization, he/she “can usually turn to others in the same movement, who have the same dissonance and the same pressures to reduce it. Support for the new explanation is, hence, forthcoming” (When Prophecy Fails, pg. 30). That is the best I can do in a tight little sound bite that will fit in a blog post. So I will stop here and ask what you think of what I have said so far and if you interested in more, or where you see problems with my suggestion to improve on your hypothesis (I am not proposing a separate hypothesis here).

          • Bart
            Bart  May 3, 2017

            John Gager, a well known scholar of antiquity, argues in his book Kingdom and Community that it was precisely the cognitive dissonance created by the crucifixion on the one hand and the failure of Jesus to return on the other that can explain how Christianity became a religoin at all. And yes, Festinger is an important theoretical background to his study. I recommend that book, but also, highly, When Prophecy Fails itself!

          • Jon1  May 3, 2017

            Interesting. You seem unmoved by my suggestion to incorporate cognitive dissonance into your own hallucination hypothesis. Why is that? Why did you not incorporate the concept of cognitive dissonance from John Gager when you were initially formulating your hallucination hypothesis? Adding cognitive dissonance to your hallucination hypothesis would seem to make a lot more sense of the radical leap from a post-mortem bereavement hallucination to the resurrection belief, and it would seem to make a lot more sense of Jesus’ other followers coalescing around the resurrection belief because it would have reduced their cognitive dissonance too.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 4, 2017

            It’s pretty simple really. I don’t think when they had their visions of Jesus they experienced cognitive dissonance. On the contrary, I think the visions *resolved* their cognitive dissonance (created by the reality that the one they *thought* was the messiah had, instead of establishing a kingdom, been arrested, tried, and tortured to death). That too is what Gager thinks.

          • Jon1  May 4, 2017

            Bart,

            You seem to have misunderstood me. I said pretty clearly, “Jesus’ followers definitely experienced cognitive dissonance WHEN JESUS DIED.” I never said that the visions caused cog dis.

            What I was questioning was your position that JUST VISIONS of Jesus would have led to the resurrection belief (and resolved the cognitive dissonance of Jesus’ followers). It seems to me that the resurrection belief would be significantly more likely to have come about if, in conjunction with a vision of Jesus, there was also a concerted effort by Jesus’ followers to find any explanation that would have reduced their cognitive dissonance. Searching for explanations to resolve cognitive dissonance is what people with cognitive dissonance sometimes do, and sometimes with spectacular results (e.g., Millerites — Jesus’ second coming occurred in heaven instead of on earth). Cognitive dissonance and its sometimes associated rationalizing of new beliefs out of thin air would seem to make the radical leap from a vision of Jesus to the resurrection belief much more likely, and it would seem to have significantly increased the chances of Jesus’ other followers coalescing around the resurrection belief because it would have reduced their cognitive dissonance too. Why do you not draw on these aspects of cognitive dissonance when explaining your hallucination hypothesis?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 6, 2017

            Whoops. My bad. You’re right, I must not have read you correctly. Yes, the view you’re sketching fits well with Gager’s views. I don’t go into that approach myself simply because I don’t think we can psychoanalyze these people from 2000 years ago from whom we don’t have any written accounts. I’m not sure what hte psychological processes were. Though cognitive dissonance does make sense for why they might see visions (as *part* of the explanation, anyway).

          • Jon1  May 6, 2017

            Bart,

            I respect that you do not want to psychoanalyze Jesus’ initial followers, but in my mind, you MUST propose some extra psychological process involved because your hallucination hypothesis as is stands right now is, IMHO, not very plausible. The good news is, you do not need to psychoanalyze Jesus’ followers specifically. You can refer to a phenomenon that affects all of us — cognitive dissonance and its associated cognitive dissonance induced rationalization. Let me explain a little more.

            Your current hypothesis, as I understand it, entails the following sequence of events and thought process by a percipient who had a post-mortem bereavement hallucination of Jesus. One, the percipient was an apocalyptic Jew who did not believe the soul could live separately from the body and thought the end times general resurrection was near. Two, the percipient had a post-mortem bereavement hallucination of Jesus that involved a completely realistic looking image of Jesus, but like most post-mortem bereavement hallucinations it lasted for only a handful of seconds, involved very little interaction, and disappeared into thin air at the end of the appearance (research available to back this up). Three, this experience left the percipient momentarily thinking that the general resurrection might have just begun and Jesus really was the Messiah, but he was puzzled by Jesus’ brief and minimally interactive visit, and he was baffled by Jesus’ disappearance into thin air and the fact that when he looked around for everybody else who should have been resurrecting from the dead, he found no one. Four, at this point the percipient had three choices: A) conclude that his experience was a figment of his own imagination, B) conclude that his Jewish neighbors who believed the soul could live separately from the body were right and that the spirit of Jesus the NON-Messiah had just visited him, or C) leave the brief and minimally interactive qualities of the visit unexplained, draw on his Jewish beliefs about vindication of and reward for the righteous to conclude that Jesus was the Messiah and had been resurrected up to heaven ahead of the general resurrection and had appeared from there, and the general resurrection would soon follow. Five, the percipient chose the last option. Six, other followers of Jesus also believed the last option was the best interpretation of the percipient’s experience.

            In my view, the last two steps of your hypothesis are too far-fetched to believe. If the percipient was absolutely unwilling to accept the possibility of a spiritual visit by Jesus, I think the percipient would have just concluded that the experience was a figment of his own imagination, just like those who do not believe in a spiritual afterlife today (research available to back this up). Without the experience themselves, other followers of Jesus would have been even more critical of a brief, non-talkative image of Jesus that did himself give the explanation offered by the percipient. The pink elephant in the room for some of Jesus’ followers might even have been why Jesus did not appear to ALL of them at the same time and explain why he was crucified and then lay out the new apocalyptic game plan.

            However, the hallucination hypothesis would be significantly more plausible IMO if, in conjunction with a hallucination of Jesus, there was also a concerted effort by Jesus’ followers to find any explanation that would reduce their cognitive dissonance. It is human nature for completely normal people to sometimes do this, and sometimes it has produced spectacular results in a religious context, like the Millerites concluding Jesus’ second coming occurred in heaven instead of admitting that had been wrong about his second coming on earth (more examples available if desired). Any explanation that allowed Jesus’ followers to believe that Jesus was still the Messiah despite his death would have been preferred over the continued harsh reality of Jesus’ death that disproved his messiahship and showed that they had been wrong about Jesus all along. Cognitive dissonance and its associated rationalizing would have made the radical leap from a post-mortem bereavement hallucination to the resurrection belief much more likely, and it would have significantly increased the chances of Jesus’ other followers coalescing around the resurrection belief because it would have reduced their cognitive dissonance too. As Leon Festinger says, when a movement is faced with cognitive dissonance, and someone in the group finds a way to reduce that cognitive dissonance with a new belief, he/she “can usually turn to others in the same movement, who have the same dissonance and the same pressures to reduce it. Support for the new explanation is, hence, forthcoming….[The] group was able to accept and believe…[the] explanation because they could support one another and convince each other that this was, in fact, a valid explanation.”

            Note that cognitive dissonance would not CAUSE any visions (as you seemed to imply). Rather, cognitive dissonance induced rationalization would only increase the likelihood that the visions were INTERPRETED in such a radical way as resurrection so that it would resolve their cognitive dissonance. In short, I don’t think you can get such a radical rationalization as resurrection without cognitive dissonance induced rationalization playing a role.

            Can I ask you a favor? Can I send you a paper that I have been working on that I think will convince you that you need to add cognitive dissonance induced rationalization to your hallucination hypothesis?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 7, 2017

            I wish I had time to read papers/articles of others! It would make life much richer. But I simply don’t have time. The Blog already eats up more of me than I can afford. Sorry!! But feel free to continue with the comments.

  28. Jon1  May 7, 2017

    OK, I’ll continue with another comment then. Let’s try this one:

    One of the world’s leading experts on hallucinations says, “[In] these post-mortem cases…it is very rare to find an apparition which seems to impart any verbal message….As a rule…the apparition is of the apparently automatic, purposeless character….We have, indeed, very few cases where actual apparitions give evidence of any continuity in the knowledge possessed by a spirit of friends on earth” (Frederic Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, pg. 9, 21, available online at https://books.google.com/books?id=SsTinAAACAAJ). And here is a typical example of a post-mortem bereavement hallucination from another world renowned expert on hallucinations, except the name Jesus has been substituted for the percipient’s grandfather: “Jesus walked in and I was so happy to see him that I got up to meet him. I said, ‘Jesus,’ and as I moved towards him, he suddenly wasn’t there” (Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations, pg. 233). Is it your view that this is all it took for one of Jesus’ followers to conclude that Jesus really was the Messiah, had been resurrected up to heaven ahead of the general resurrection, had appeared briefly from heaven, and the general resurrection would soon follow? And is it your view that just reporting this experience and his interpretation to the other close followers of Jesus is all it took for most of them to believe it too?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 8, 2017

      I don’t think there’s any way to know what really happened, other than that some of the disciples thought they saw Jesus after his death. I don’t think we know, for example, whether they (originally) thought he had said anything. But yes, just reporting the vision was indeed enough to get others to believe. Paul is evidence.

      • Jon1  May 8, 2017

        Paul is evidence for what? That a 15 second, non-interactive hallucination of Jesus could lead to the resurrection belief?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 9, 2017

          We don’t know how long his vision lasted or what it’s nature was — only that he claims to have seen Jesus alive after his death and this convinced him that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

          • Jon1  May 9, 2017

            Right, but do you agree that, in order for a vision to convince Paul of Jesus’ resurrection, that either 1] Paul’s vision had to be a lot longer and more interactive than a post-mortem bereavement hallucination (i.e., more along the lines of an ecstatic vision), or 2] Paul had to be attracted to Christianity in some other way (maybe big fish in a little pond, instead of little fish in a big pond) and a short, non-interactive vision was the final straw that made him convert?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 11, 2017

            No, I don’t agree with either point. I’m not sure they’re wrong, but I don’t see why they would have to be right.

          • Jon1  May 11, 2017

            Your answers seem wishy-washy. Let’s try this. Here (again) is a real, typical post-mortem bereavement hallucination with the name Jesus substituted for the percipient’s grandfather: “Jesus walked in and I was so happy to see him that I got up to meet him. I said, ‘Jesus,’ and as I moved towards him, he suddenly wasn’t there” (Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations, pg. 233). Is it your opinion that this experience alone would have been enough to convince Peter (or Paul) that Jesus really was the Messiah and had been raised from the dead up to heaven? I realize we don’t know what really happened; this is just a hypothetical question, but with a very representative example of a real post-mortem bereavement hallucination.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 12, 2017

            Yes, that’s my view. I’m not sure what’s particularly wishy-washy about it though! I don’t know if the experience was exactly like Sacks describes or not. We don’t have access to what they actually experienced — so how can we *say* what they experienced, other than that they experienced something. Why is this particular point so important to you?

          • Jon1  May 12, 2017

            Bart,

            The wishy-washy comment came from the impression I got when I asked the same question six posts earlier. I gave the same example from Sacks’ book and then asked: “Is it your view that this is all it took for one of Jesus’ followers to conclude that Jesus really was the Messiah, had been resurrected up to heaven ahead of the general resurrection, had appeared briefly from heaven, and the general resurrection would soon follow?” Your reply was, “I don’t think there’s any way to know what really happened….We don’t know how long his vision lasted or what it’s nature was.” I did not mean my comment in a derogatory manner; I was just being honest in the way your answers came across. But you came across completely clear this time. In your view, a brief, minimally interactive visit by a disappearing Jesus with no accompanying general resurrection would have been enough to convince a close follower of Jesus that Jesus was the Messiah despite his death, had been resurrected up to heaven ahead of the general resurrection and had appeared from there, and the general resurrection would soon follow. Furthermore, in your view, other close followers of Jesus would have agreed with this interpretation based only on the percipient telling them about his experience (you previously said, “yes, just reporting the vision was indeed enough to get others to believe”).

            These questions are of interest to me because I find your proposal that a post-mortem bereavement hallucination of Jesus gave birth to the resurrection belief too farfetched to believe, and I wanted to make sure I was not missing something. I think the percipient, and his peers who listened to his experience, had two more likely choices: 1) that their Jewish neighbors who believed the soul could live separately from the body were right and that the spirit of Jesus the non-Messiah had just visited the percipient, or 2) that the percipient’s experience was just a figment of his own imagination, which is what many people today who do not believe in a spiritual afterlife conclude about these experiences (according to hallucination expert Jan Dirk Blom, “Bereavement hallucinations often have a highly realistic appearance. However, individuals in possession of proper reality monitoring skills tend to recognize these quite easily as non-sensory percepts [presumably after a few moments of reflection]” (A Dictionary of Hallucinations, 2010, pg. 63)).

            I don’t mean to take away from your belief that a post-mortem bereavement hallucination of Jesus gave birth to the resurrection belief. I just don’t find it believable myself, which led me to consider another explanation that I find more plausible, which I have tried to pitch to you, but you do not seem interested.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 14, 2017

            That’s fine. I’m obviously not going to persuade you!

          • Jon1  May 14, 2017

            Thank you for the exchange. As I have said before, it is admirable your willingness to engage the public like you do. I wish more scholar would do the same.

  29. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  May 7, 2017

    “The Blog already eats up more of me than I can afford”

    Well, that is a bummer. 🙁

    But think about this: I can outsmart all of my friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers in a biblical discussion now. When someone tries to one-up me, I throw out every scholarly term I’ve ever read on here whether I know what it means or not. I say words like “double tradition” because it sounds unassuming. Then I come out with “textus receptus”–that one is tricky to use because it sounds a little too much like a magical spell from Harry Potter. And just when they think they’ve won, I ask them what they think about Mark’s adoptionist Christology. There’s no comeback for that. And that’s all because of this blog!

You must be logged in to post a comment.