When I lecture or debate on whether it is possible to “prove” the resurrection of Jesus on historical grounds, I talk about how — whether you believe in the resurrection or not — almost certainly the reason the disciples originally *believed* Jesus had been raised is that one or more of them had a vision of him after he died.  (Believers would say their “vision” was something they actually saw; non-believers would say they were mistaken for one reason or another, or they imagined it, etc — that it was a hallucination of some kind).

But it is often noted that in the New Testament, after his death Jesus appears not only to individuals (Peter, Paul, and Mary, for example) (!) but to groups (the “twelve,” the “apostles” and “500 people” at one time, according to 1 Cor. 15:5-8).  But how could *that* be possible?  One person might mistake something she saw for a person, or dream they saw someone, or whatever.  But *groups* of people?  How can historians possibly explain “group visions” of a person unless the person was really there?  You can’t plausibly argue for “group HALLUCINATIONS” can you?  It  seems counter-intuitive: aren’t hallucinations by definition the inner workings of a person’s mind?  

So how does that work?  My answer is, I don’t know: my guess is that one person says they see something and others are persuaded and “see” it too, or later “remember” that they too saw it; but, it’s just a guess.  In any event, as odd as it might seem, group hallucinations are a well-documented phenomenon.  Or at least they are explicitly AFFIRMED precisely by

the apologists who complain that I can’t explain the appearances of Jesus to groups because groups cannot have hallucinations.  That is to say, even though these apologists say that “it’s not possible” when it comes to Jesus, they think that it does happen in other instances.  Most specifically, in the instance of Jesus’ MOTHER.

These apologists (the ones I’m talking about) are Protestants.  They don’t believe Mary appears to anyone, let alone groups.  How then do they explain that groups *claim* they have seen her?  Well, apart from saying they don’t really see her even though they claim they do, they don’t have anything to say.  Why is it different with Jesus?

So are group hallucinations possible? Here is what I say about it in my book How Jesus Became God.

******************************

The Blessed Virgin Mary & Group Hallucination

René Laurentin is a modern-day Catholic theologian and expert on modern apparitions, who has written many books on the topic.[1]  He has a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne in Paris, and two PhDs, one in theology and one in literature.  He is not your average intellect.  He deeply and sincerely believes that Mary – the mother of Jesus who died 2000 years ago — has appeared to people in the modern world and that she continues to do so.  Here I give just two examples from his writings.

In Cua, Betania, in Venezuela, a woman named Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchin received peculiar spiritual powers: she could tell the future, levitate, and heal the sick.  The Virgin Mary appeared to her several times, starting in March 1976.   The most striking occurrence involved lots of other people, on March 25, 1984.  After the Catholic mass that morning, a number of people went to enjoy some time outdoors near the local waterfall, when the Virgin Mary appeared above it.

A Series of Visions

This began a series of visions.  Mary came and went, often visible for five minutes or so, the last time for half an hour.  Among the observers were doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, engineers, and lawyers.  People over the weeks to come started picnicking there.  At times up to a thousand people observed Mary there, bathed in light and accompanied by the smell of roses.  This continued until 1988.  Later a Jesuit priest, Monsignor Pio Ricardo, who was a professor of psychology at the Central University of Caracas, interviewed 490 people who claimed to have seen Mary there.  They convinced him.

A second example comes from Cairo, Egypt in 1986, at a Coptic church.  Mary had appeared a number of times between 1983 and 1986.  Once she appeared on the roof, four Coptic bishops arrived to authenticate the vision.  They did indeed see her.  At other times she was seen by (non-Christian, obviously) Muslims.  In some instances, she was actually photographed.  Laurentin indicates that he actually has a photograph of a similar apparition from another Coptic suburb, from 1968.

People BELIEVED Mary was Appearing: Group Hallucinations

My point is not that Mary really is appearing in these times and places.  But people deeply believe she is.  And it is not just illiterate peasants, but highly educated people.  Terrifically anecdotal collections of Mary’s visions can be found in numerous books, such as Janice Connell’s Meetings with Mary: Visions of the Blessed Mother. [2]

Connell provides sixteen chapters detailing visions of Mary, from a believer’s perspective, from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as these are documented from Lourdes, Fatima, Garabandal, Medjugorje, and so on.  There is, for example, the “cosmic miracle of the sun” that took place at Fatima on October 13, 1917.  We are told the sun was seen to spin wildly and tumble down to earth before stopping and returning to its normal position, radiating indescribably beautiful colors.  The miracle was seen and attested to by over 50,000 people.

Do such miracles happen?  Believers say yes, unbelievers say no. 

But it is striking and worth noting that typically believers in one religious tradition often insist on the “evidence” for the miracles that support their views and completely discount the “evidence” for miracles attested in some other religious tradition, even though, at the end of the day, it is the same kind of evidence (for example, eyewitness testimony) and may be of even greater abundance.

Protestant apologists who are interested in “proving” that Jesus was raised from the dead rarely show any interest in applying their finely-honed historical talents to the exalted Blessed Virgin Mary.

[1] See, for example, René Laurentin, The Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary Today (Dublin: Veritas, 1990; French original 1988).   The examples that I give below are all drawn from this book.

[2] New York: Ballantine Books, 1995.

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2022-11-18T16:43:29-05:00November 13th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

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109 Comments

  1. chixter November 13, 2022 at 8:27 am

    Good points. When I was about 18 yrs old I was alone working on my car at night in my parents garage. Earlier that day I had attended the wake of a friend who died in a car crash a few days before. I was on a creeper board under the vehicle, I pulled out to retrieve a tool, looked up and “saw” my deceased friend standing in the doorway outlined by the night. He was wearing his blue burial suite. It wasn’t just a glimpse, he was standing there even as I stood up. As I moved closer he faded out. This was about a 30-40 second time frame. I realize that my mind manifested this appearance now that I understand how traumatic it is for an 18 year old to lose a close friend his same age. Never the less, at the time it seemed very real.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:25 pm

      So many people have trouble belieiving that something similar could have happened to a disciple or two of Jesus….

    • rfleming November 14, 2022 at 7:13 pm

      My sincere condolences regarding the loss of your friend several years ago. I understand your comment of a personal, very real experience. However, in the end, from what I understand (not meaning to put words in your comment), did you soon realize the vision of your friend was not real? Not meaning to be crass, but such an experience would not cause a person to go around proclaiming someone is still alive. However, from what biblical historians interpret, particularly from Paul’s letters, he and several other individuals persisted in claiming Jesus was alive after the crucifixion – and staked the rest of their lives continuing the Jesus movement. There are other reasonable explanations besides “resurrection”, “hallucinations”, or “apparitions” for this (see comment from OmarRobb below and my reply – once it is posted).

      • Jesse80025 December 2, 2022 at 7:50 pm

        I find this post to be missing key (and very obvious) characteristics about the role of expectations in Early Christianity and in the original posters post about seeing their dead friend. The early Christians were EXPECTING Jesus to initiate a general resurrection of the dead. The original poster was not expecting his friend to do anything such thing. The disciples of Jesus had ALREADY given up EVERYTHING to follow around this guy proclaiming to be ushering in the millennium era, aka Kingdom of God. They must have felt desperate after Jesus’ death. Jesus already came for the outcasts, and now they would be EVEN MORE outcast, as they were the followers of another false messiah. Imagine how a grief hallucination of Jesus by Peter, Mary, or another core disciple, would have been met then with this background in mind. The flaw in most apologetic thinking, concerning the resurrection, these days, is that many Christians (of whom I am one as well) tend to think of Jesus’ disciples as regular, everyday people, when, in reality, if you’re thinking about the event seriously critically, you have to admit they are far more likely to be comparable to bizarre cult members.

  2. giselebendor November 13, 2022 at 8:48 am

    David Strauss attributed hallucinations to the mind’s ability to renew faith after the “shock of Jesus’ violent death”.

    Others explained hallucinations as the result of severe grief and mourning, with contagious religious ecstasy.

    In the HB, the people of Israel “hears” God’s voice.Immediately,they ask Moses never to hear it again,“ lest we die”.

    How did “ all “ the people “ hear” God’s voice?A couple might have, including Moses and his siblings, or said that they did.After that, the biblical writers “ amplified” the story, exaggerating it just as Metushelah lived for 969 years, 2 million left Egypt,etc,etc.

    Exaggeration is extremely common in the HB. Perhaps the report of the Apostles and many others witnessing a Resurrection was also later exaggerated. One or two may have reported it, sincerely. And then the miracle tale grew. In fact, I can’t see how it could have been otherwise. The HB was an ubiquitous document, with NT exaggeration marking a continuity.

    Elie Wiesel said that he believed the Holocaust could be repeated because, he said, he believed in madness.

    And let’s not forget the Salem Witch Trials or the various group suicides throughout history.

    I believe collective madness is real, and we are still witnesses of it.

    • AngeloB November 16, 2022 at 10:11 pm

      I agree Gisele

      • Serene November 24, 2022 at 8:39 pm

        Could be, just, don’t the Gospels go to such great lengths to explain that Jesus’ survival wasn’t just “visions”?

        The Marian attestations are group visions, — and attestations to paranormal phenomena like visions *also* exist in the NT, just, the authors emphasize that this time, that wasn’t what happened.

        Maybe he had a Rabbi Yohanen Ben Zakkai moment.

        Maybe they were engaging popular support for Jesus receiving the Galilee-Peraea tetrarchy in the 30s Galilee war — on the Kingdom of Heavens side — high-altitude Nabataea?

        All that tunneling we’ve found under all the famous places in the Gospels. There are earlier places in the Gospels where he just disappears.

        Rebel code guesses:

        Judas Iscariot – Judas the Galilean’s Sicarii son

        Theophilus – High Priest (same name)

        Paul — Saulus the Herodian

        The Adversary/Prince of this World/Bar-Abas: Prince Marcus

        Jesus: Prince Obodas. As a king, his regnal name becomes Malichus II.

        Thomas the Twin (possible substitute for a 100x reward?)

        Mary, Apostle to the Apostles — chosen in homage to Ishmael’s 12 sons and 1 daughter

        Mary, the mother — Essene handmaiden to a traveling king of kings above Herods.

        Obodas Aretas IV – the biological father

        Barnabas – a name given to him by the Way. Likely cute.

  3. Hormiga November 13, 2022 at 9:06 am

    A closely related phenomenon is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_psychogenic_illness .

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Havana_syndrome may be a contemporary (and fraught) instance.

  4. DoubtingTom November 13, 2022 at 9:07 am

    Makes me wonder how people knew the apparition was Mary. how did they recognize her, having never met her? Surely she didn’t sit for a portrait to be painted of her that still exists to this day.
    Possibly the apparition was Isis, Aphrodite, Cleopatra, or Mary Magdalene?

    • rfleming November 14, 2022 at 7:45 pm

      I was thinking the same thing. There is a huge difference between people having a “vision” of someone they have no idea what he/she looked like and what kind of a person he/she was, versus individuals who had personally met and interacted with the person. According to Paul’s letters, this included Jesus’ own brother, James, in addition to many of Jesus’ disciples, and Paul himself. These were not “mass hallucinations”, but individual experiences that caused them to dedicate their entire lives to the movement. I think equating modern-day mass hallucinations to the ancient apostolic experiences is an erroneous view. There are other reasonable explanations for why Paul, James, and many others saw Jesus alive after the crucifixion without relying on resurrection from death.

  5. flshrP November 13, 2022 at 9:44 am

    It could be that religious visions are really caused by FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Peter says he has seen the risen Christ. Mary Magdalen says she does also. And soon everyone in the room is saying that they see the same vision. It happens all the time in contemporary charismatic religious meetings. If you want to be a member of the group, you have to buy into the prevailing groupthink. Otherwise, you’re an outsider.

  6. Seeker1952 November 13, 2022 at 11:01 am

    I know little about Revelation and look forward to your book. My impression is that, in Revelation, the “end” will come in a series of long, drawn-out stages, eg, thousand year reigns of the anti-Christ and/or Christ.

    I had always thought the idea was that the whole thing would happen very suddenly with the coming of the Son of Man/Christ—lasting a day or two at most. Yet also, in the Synoptics in places like Luke 21 and Paul (meeting believers in the clouds), Jesus is said to speak about a prolonged period of great turmoil and suffering prior to the appearance of the Son of Man.

    Will your book on Revelation address the other NT references to something similar to what happens in Revelation, eg, do a comparison? If so I can wait for the details.

    But can you briefly say whether or not my new/recent suspicion of there being a prolonged period of turmoil referred to in the Synoptics is correct?

    I always thought/assumed that Fundamentalists and Evangelicals based all the details of their dire predictions on Revelation. Is at least a similar, broad framework for the end also suggested in the Synoptics and Paul?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:33 pm

      1. Yup, I will be talking about a range of biblical books, including OT; 2. Revelation’s scenario is tricky and complicated, but the beginning of teh disasters could start any day now. Maybe Thursday. The COMPLETE end won’t be till afte rthe millennium (which is a 1000 year period of peace after the Final Battle of Armageddon) 3. They use a huge range of biblical passages, as I’ll be explaning.

      • Duke12 November 16, 2022 at 12:36 pm

        Note that in the Orthodox Christian tradition, belief in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth is considered a heresy (Chiliasm). As I recall, one of the beefs with Papias is that he did believe in the 1000 year reign? It’s interesting: the 1000 year reign looks pretty obvious if you read Revelation at face value (at least in English). But Orthodox clergy and lay theologians will bend over backwards explaining, in great detail, why that absolutely isn’t the case.

        • BDEhrman November 22, 2022 at 5:18 pm

          Yes, that’s the main recorded objection to his views. ANd yup, the chiliasts took a hit especially starting in the 4th c. I’ll be dealing with that a bit in my book coming out in March (on the Apocalypse).

  7. OmarRobb November 13, 2022 at 12:24 pm

    The conclusion of group hallucination presupposes two things:

    1# There were people who claimed that they saw Jesus after the crucifixion.
    2# These people were not intentionally lying.

    But if we going to have these two presuppositions then which is much more probable: Group hallucination or Jesus didn’t die on the cross in the first place?

    Jesus head has not been hit, his neck has not been cut, his legs have not been broken, and six hours on the cross is not normally deadly. Many now do relive these six hours of crucifixion every year and it is not very dangerous to them. I learnt that Josephus noticed three of his friends been crucified, he informed Titus who ordered these three to be brought down. Two of them died in treatment and one survived. I can assume that it took more than six hours from the time on which Josephus noticed his friends until they were brought down.

    ——->

    • OmarRobb November 13, 2022 at 12:26 pm

      ———–>

      Actually, I have just recently learnt that there is a “Hollywood mission-impossible type” hypothesis which is really too much, but it is funny, and deserve to be mentioned:

      There is a claim that some friends of Jesus have prepared a plan for saving him: they put a strong drug in the water and vinegar, so Jesus went unconscious, then a friend of Jesus ran to Pilate asking for Jesus body. This friend was very convincing specially when followers of Jesus start to appear in the area and there was fear that things might go out of hands.

      It is a Hollywood type hypothesis, and It is really too much. But is it totally impossible?

      However, this hypothesis presuppose that Jesus friends knew the decision of Pilate that Jesus will be crucified. But this presupposition is highly unlikely.

      But still, if there were people claiming that they saw Jesus after the crucifixion, and we assumed that they were not intentionally lying then there is a high probability that Jesus simply didn’t die on the cross. By paralleling this conclusion with the available data about the crucifixion then this conclusion should be highly considerable.

    • rfleming November 14, 2022 at 6:36 pm

      I fully agree with your view. Add that there is no mention of nails in any of the written accounts of the crucifixion in the Canonical Gospels, further supports that Jesus could have survived the “crucifixion.” And in the post-appearance story to his disciples in Luke 24:36-43 there is no mention of “wounds” of any kind. Jesus is simply showing exposed parts of his body not covered by clothing (like his hands and his feet) to prove he is flesh and blood and not a ghost. At some point after the Synoptic Gospels are written, the Gospel of John first introduces the concept of “nail wounds” in a sensationalized version of the post-appearance story called “The Doubting Thomas.” Again, continuing your point, it amazes me that biblical historians do not consider the idea that Jesus really did appear live after the crucifixion, without the need for resurrection or hallucinations or apparitions as an explanation for why the Jesus movement took hold.

    • Jesse80025 December 2, 2022 at 7:56 pm

      Surviving crucifixion is highly unlikely. And the historical accounts mention very specifically that he died – and the entire movement is based around it. I’d love to share a bit of what you two are smoking but if you actually look at the sociological evidence concerning mass hysteria, you’ll see group hallucinations are SUPERRRRR common. Check Robert Bartholemew, Tanya Lurhmann, the Toronto Blessing, the Marian Apparition at Zeitoun, and Marian Apparition at Fatima, the Salem Witch Trials, for all the best collection of group hallucination documentation that I’ve been able to find. Honestly, it wasn’t that hard. I’m not a full time scholar – just an IT guy who is passionate about this research.

      • OmarRobb December 3, 2022 at 8:06 pm

        I rather prefer if our arguments here are not personalized to the level of smoking. The opinion I am presenting here is based on logic and supported by information. Logical based opinions are not necessarily factual, but also, they are not mere speculations.

        There is no factual evidence that Jesus died on the cross. What is available is that Jesus screamed and went completely silent and appeared out of conscious. This is the “sensory based description” of what happened without judgment. People (who were not medical experts) translated this sensory description as death. There is a good probability that this description is true. But also, there is another small probability that Jesus went into apparent-death coma (deep coma), and this type of coma does scientifically exist.

        However, there are many accounts that Jesus has been seen and people talked to him after the crucifixion. This cannot be a group hallucination because this type of hallucination doesn’t scientifically exist as people cannot have the same exact hallucinated details. Therefore, the probability of a deep coma become much higher specially if we considered the data related to the crucifixion that I have mentioned in my previous post.

        • BDEhrman December 5, 2022 at 12:37 pm

          I’m not sure why you’re saying that Jesus’ screaming/silence is factual but his dying is not. The same text says both things, and the texts are our only soures of informtation. It doesn’t say he lost consciousness but that he died. (that’s what “breathed his last” in Mark 15:37, 39 means [as in Aeschylus, Euripides, Josephus, Plutarch, etc.], and it is confirmed by the statements of vv. 43 and 44 as well as by the use of the term “corpse” in v. 45; not merely “body”)disabledupes{86be8b875d1e3ff3442b124313fd8cac}disabledupes

          • rfleming December 5, 2022 at 5:41 pm

            Dr. Ehrman,

            You mention the Gospels state that Jesus died on the cross. But, according to the Gospels, all we have is the declaration of a Roman centurion. The three Synoptic Gospels state that the women and according to Luke 23:49, “…all his acquaintances… stood at a distance and saw these things.” And a heretofore never mentioned person, Joseph of Arimathea, a “secret disciple”, a rich man, and only with direct approval (direction?) from Pontius Pilate is allowed to take Jesus from the cross.

            However, we have multiple witnesses swearing they saw Jesus alive afterward (according to the Gospels and Paul’s letters). Which is more believable, a pronouncement from the same Roman centurion who declared Jesus as the son of God (sounds like explicit and unmitigated Roman propaganda), or multiple witnesses?

          • BDEhrman December 7, 2022 at 6:24 pm

            I think we have more than that. The narrators tell us he died as well.

          • rfleming December 5, 2022 at 5:47 pm

            If you take the Gospel writings at face value, Pilate argued against crucifixion, he had Roman guards (even a centurion) at the crucifixion site, he directed who could take Jesus from the cross, and he was directly involved in assigning guards at the tomb. Pilate invented the title “King of the Jews”. Jewish authority didn’t want it, and even Jesus responded, “Thou sayest.” Don’t you see the potential for serious Roman deception going on here? And the Jewish people weren’t accepting it. Isn’t it possible that Pontius Pilate may have been an eccentric man who was the cause of all this make-believe? He wouldn’t have been the only Roman ruler with strange and eccentric behavior.

            You might say one can’t take the Synoptic Gospels at face value. I have an upcoming Platinum-member post highlighting the similarities of Paul’s seven letters with the Gospels suggesting the Gospels may have been indicative of the very early Jesus movement. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 “…the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets…” This is not contrary to the Gospel accounts that the Jews rejected Jesus’ teachings, maybe because they were smart, intelligent people.

          • OmarRobb December 6, 2022 at 10:39 am

            When Sam says: Dan was angry, Sam here summarized many sensory-based descriptions into one single judgmental interpreting word: angry. This is the genius of the language: to summaries many things into just few words. However, in delicate analysis we might need to return back to the sensory descriptions as they are much easier to be analyzed and verified. If we asked Sam how he knew that Peter was angry then he would probably say: Peter was frowning, shouting (etc.). These are “more” sensory-based descriptions.

            So, Jesus screamed (sensory), then went silent (sensory) and motionless (sensory) and the people (who are not medical experts) interpreted that as being dead.

            So, there are things inaccurate in the Gospels: either the account of Thomas with Jesus (John 20.26) and other similar accounts and the disappearance of the corpse (etc.) are all inaccurate, or Jesus died on the cross is inaccurate. The second option seems to me simpler.

            Based on the logic I presented in my previous three posts, I am preferring the opinion that the death of Jesus on the cross was just an assumption based on “group hallucination”. I think he was in a deep coma, and this type of coma does scientifically exist.

          • BDEhrman December 7, 2022 at 6:30 pm

            Yes, you’re welcome to think that — others have. But it’s not right to say that the Gospels themselves leave that open as a possibility.

          • rfleming December 6, 2022 at 11:00 am

            Do many biblical scholars claim Pilate crucified Jesus because Jesus claimed he was a king? What do they base this on? It seems opposite of what was written from that time. In all the Gospels, after Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews, and Jesus replies, “Thou sayest,” Pilate then seeks to release Jesus, and even argues profusely against crucifying Jesus. [Mark 15:9 – And he [Pilate] answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”] [John 19:15 – Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”] [John 19:21-22 – The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’, but, ‘This man said I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”]

            Do some scholars claim Pilate crucified Jesus because Jesus was causing instability? Pilate was the one who was causing a riot by defending Jesus. If biblical scholars speculate exactly opposite of the only written sources we have from that time, isn’t that worse than word-of-mouth? I know the opinions are based on educated research, but they could also skew underlying perceptions of events – maybe, unintentionally keeping real meanings hidden?

          • BDEhrman December 7, 2022 at 6:31 pm

            YEs, that’s the common view. That’s the charge at the trial; it’s what was on the placard over his head; and it’s not a charge that Christains would likely have invented later when telling stories about him, since the term “King of the Jews” is not one they every used of Jesus so far as we have any evidence (never in the NT, e.g.).

          • OmarRobb December 9, 2022 at 7:06 am

            I do agree with your replay on December-7-6:30pm.

            I also think that you agree with me, or actually in the true accurate honest terms: “I do agree with you” (according to my understanding to your work) that there are no factual data in the Gospels (or the factual data there are very limited).

            This due to fact that the data in the Gospels has passed through “anonymous oral tradition” from one generation to the next until it was documented about 80AD by “anonymous authors” then it was copied and circulated by “unprofessional scribes” until about 170AD then the churches stated to recruit “professional scribes” for the job. This is one of the reasons that we find differences and contradictions in the Gospels and Manuscripts.

            My understanding (in layman term) is that one of the work of the Biblical scholarly is to use common-sense tools to filter the data in the Gospels into three main categories: The highly-likely true, the highly-likely false, and the “might be/might not be” category.

            If my layman term is accurate then which category do you think “the death of Jesus on the cross” is under: the true, the false or the “might be” category?

          • BDEhrman December 16, 2022 at 10:56 am

            I do think there are factual data in the Gospels — of course there are. Just as there are factual data in just about every book that comes to us from antiquity. The death of Jesus on the cross is magnificently-highly-historically-true, in teh judgment of just about everyone who has seriously examined the matter.

      • rfleming December 4, 2022 at 4:48 pm

        Following is a summary of one possible explanation for Jesus surviving a Roman “crucifixion” that fits with the Gospel stories:

        Christianity was born from Roman manipulation of the religious heart of Jewish resistance to their authority in Judea. Jesus’ ministries were a collaboration with local Roman authority to change the culture of the Jewish people to be more conducive to Roman rule, collection of taxes, acceptance of gentiles, submissiveness, etc. The miracles attributed to Jesus were staged with clandestine support from Rome to enhance the popularity of the movement. The Jewish people saw through Jesus’ teachings as not being divine from their god, saw his teachings as blasphemous, and as such, rejected him and called for his execution. The Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, did not want to crucify Jesus, argued profusely in front of a Jewish mob, and instead performed a staged crucifixion where Jesus did not die on the cross (a Roman centurion declaring his “death”). In one last “miracle” Jesus appeared live after the crucifixion to his closest followers to cause them to think he had risen from the dead. This provided the motivation to continue a movement which, unknown to them, was a Roman perversion to Judaism.

  8. Neurotheologian November 13, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    Hi Bart. I totally agree with you that especially protestants / evangelicals frequently discount as hallucinations the “evidence” for the appearances of Mary or the saints attested to by Catholics or appearances of other angelic / divine beings in other religions, or even in non-religious people. In fact, protestants often discount NDEs and end-of-life phenomena, especially when for some reason or another, the experiences don’t fit with their theology / world view! Of course, physicalists discount the “evidence” for such appearances and experiences because such phenomena don’t sit well with their view! Of course, there will always be some amongt the experencers who have either convinced themselves that they saw what others saw when in fact they didn’t, others who dare not admit that they didn’t see anything (The Emperor’s New Clothes comes to mind) and those very hypnotisable individuals whose top-down predictive processing is strong that they do halluinate what others say they are seeing. However, as you point out, the numbers are so large in some mass appearances that even sceptical psychologists have become convinced of the veracity of the appearances as non-hallucinatory.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:35 pm

      Non-hallucinatory, of course, does not mean that Mary appeared. It means that groups of people probably actually saw something, and many/nearly all of them in the end agreed on what it was they saw.

    • stevenpounders November 17, 2022 at 6:53 pm

      I wouldn’t say that physicalists “discount” NDE’s and end-of-life phenomena. Rather they have a different explanation for these phenomena, which doesn’t include anachronistic ghost theories.

  9. Neurotheologian November 13, 2022 at 1:11 pm

    I’m currently of the view that the resurrection appearances were of a spiritual body, ie what I think Paul meant by a ‘soma pneumatikos’ as opposed to a natural physical body (‘soma psychikos’) contrasted in 1 Cor 15:44. In 1 Cor 15:8, Paul makes no effort to differentiate his own clearly non-phsyical experience from the appearances to ‘the 12’, Peter, James and the 500 in one place. How else would the phsyical body (soma psychikos) of a resurrected Jesus walk through walls, appear and disappear on the road to Emmaus, travel up to Galilee without walking there and be ‘taken up to Heaven’ (as in the ascension)!? Paul no longer has confidence in the flesh (Phil 3:3) and expects our resurrections to be of the same type as Jesus (Rom 6:5; Phil 3:11). Visible appearances must involve activation of the visual cortex and if audible, involve activation of the auditory cortex and if tangible, involve activation of the somato-sensory cortex. In other words, even the Johannine narrative of Thomas putting his hands in the wounds could be consistent with the ‘soma pneumatikos hypothesis’, although the fish-eating and empty tomb might be tricky to square up!

  10. kt November 13, 2022 at 2:09 pm

    Even Socrates was known to have said that he received much inspiration for his “deamon” (the divine self) through a particular inner voice, and even from dreams and visions. We are repeatedly met with expressions, impressions and experiences that present themselves to us as aspects of reality that go beyond the local realistic space-time world. Through my lenses, I see my world present itself to me, over and over again, with observations, experiences outside the “objective” world or a sub-empirical explanation. I really think we should challenge our own concept of ontology and also allow ourself to expand our own metaphysical toolbox to view experiences and view concept of life. This is nothing new, and was dominant in the great thoughts, ancient ideas and religions of millennia ago.

    In my mind, much points to our own “Self”, and we should definitely appreciate a deeper understanding of our own being, our own “Self” (of which even the books of Plato’s Republic are in my mind an analogy of) to find an answer to the phenomena of life.

  11. Abrownm24 November 13, 2022 at 2:15 pm

    Do you know of any good books that provide a survey/overview of group hallucinations in recent history?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:36 pm

      The only ones I’ve looked at involve appearances of Mary. Laurentin’s is the most scholarly.

  12. HollyJune56 November 13, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    These apparitions of the Virgin Mary have mystified me ever since I read about them as a young girl. I wish I could come up with a good explanation of how thousands of people supposedly saw the sun spinning, or how hundreds saw Mary floating above a waterfall, accompanied by the scent of roses. It is much easier to explain the appearances of the resurrected Jesus as wishful thinking, stories handed down by pious believers and changing as the years rolled on. But the apparitions of Mary from the 19th and 20th centuries were investigated and written about at the same time they happened, and we have those records to study today. How in the world can they rationally be explained?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:38 pm

      Lots of ways! One is that groups actually saw something and that when one claimed it was Mary others said “that’s right” and then people started affirming it until they all remembered it that way. THat kind of colelctive memory of an originally ambiguous phenomenon is well attested in other spheres.

  13. MatthewJ November 13, 2022 at 2:32 pm

    I have seen this argument come up from time to time. When people ask me how would I, as a skeptic, account for something like this, I reply with the following:

    1.) Unlike the Marian apparitions, which are sometimes detailed, regarding the place, the people, and what was seen, heard, etc, the appearance traditions of Jesus in 1st Corinthians 15 aren’t detailed at all. We are told that Jesus appeared to the “Twelve” and to the “disciples” and to over 500 people. No word about what they saw, how any of these people knew it was Jesus, no word about his appearance, words spoken, etc. Not very much information to go by.

    2.) I read from an essay by Keith Parsons that one skeptic (Rebecca Long, I think) was at the scene of one of these “group sightings” where it was claimed that the sun was zigzagging and multiple people saw it at the same time. She set up a telescope to show anyone who cared to look, that the sun was doing no such thing.

    To be continued (word count)…

  14. Jon1 November 13, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    Bart,

    Regarding the appearances to the “twelve,” the “apostles” and “500 people” at one time in 1 Cor 15:5-7, my takeaway from your recent debate with Michael Licona was that you thought all of these group appearance traditions were just *legendary stories* that Paul picked up during his travels, not *actual* events that needed to be explained. However, now you seem to be trying to explain these appearance traditions as *actual* events like group hallucinations (I think you really mean *illusions*) based on *real* physical phenomena that *actually* existed at the time (like the water mist and light combination at Betania and some kind of photographable light phenomena in Egypt) that was only *interpreted* by the group as the Virgin Mary. Can you please clarify? Are you proposing three group illusion events occurred at Christian origins?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:41 pm

      I believe I have repeatedly and explicitly told you that I don’t know what lay behind these specific experiences that Paul mentiones — whether they were just legends Paul picked up or misunderstood events or something else. I have never proposed three group illusion events. What I have said many times in writing is that I think up to three of Jesus’ followers claimed to see him alive after his death and that that stories then caught on. I’m saying here that group hallucinations *are* possible if you mean by that what I explain in my post. Groups of people CAN claim to see things that weren’t really there. I’ve never said that is what happened int he case, say, of “500 borthers and sisters”

      • Jon1 November 15, 2022 at 8:18 am

        Sorry Bart, I guess I read too much into your post.

  15. MatthewJ November 13, 2022 at 2:41 pm

    Continuing…

    So, the paucity of explicit detail regarding the appearances of Jesus and the fact that it’s possible for multiple people to claim a “group sighting” of the sun zigzagging about to be wrong is a good rebuttal to the apologists’ claim that “group hallucinations” are impossible. However, I wouldn’t even call it “hallucinations” as my understanding of modern psychology indicates that hallucinations are defined as individual appearances and one person cannot cause another person to hallucinate the exact same details at the exact same time. What I suggest in turn, as far as appropriate terminology goes, is a “group sighting”.

    However, there remains one argument that apologists use against any kind of “group sighting” or “mass hallucination”, etc. It’s that none of the earliest Christians were expecting Jesus to have risen from the dead. A resurrection was only supposed to occur at the end of time and to everyone at once. No one individual resurrection was supposed to occur before the general resurrection and so, this argument goes, most early believers came to accept that Jesus had risen, against their better judgment and in defiance of what they would naturally come to expect and be inclined to believe.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:42 pm

      The flaw is pretty clear to my mind at least. It’s true, they *weren’t* expecting to see Jesus raise from the dead (his being the messiah has nothing to do with the issue). Just as I wasn’t expecting to see my grandmother in my bedroom two weeks after she died.

  16. illogician November 13, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    And yet, not one of these people could pick Mary out of a police line-up.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:43 pm

      I’ve often wondered how the disciples knew it was Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Name badges?

      • Kirktrumb59 November 18, 2022 at 12:35 pm

        “I’m Brian.”

      • Adiehl December 9, 2022 at 3:51 pm

        Yes, Bart. I have often wondered this and don’t see it discussed often. How likely is it that 500 people would have recognized Jesus given people’s flawed memories and the lack of pictures, videos, etc?

  17. thepauldasilva November 13, 2022 at 4:02 pm

    Very interesting Dr Ehrman. I recently read Oliver Sacks book “Hallucinations” which was very enlightening on this general subject.

    I have a question related to this post, but not the direct subject. When did Mary the mother of Jesus start to become venerated by the Roman church? Was there a particular church father, or church community that drive this? Or a particular incident?

    I always find it fascinating that catholic depictions of her, and Jesus, look nothing like people who are native to the Levant.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:44 pm

      It’s a slow development over time. She begins to be an object of direct interest as early as the second century, as attested in the Gospel called the Proto-Gospel of James. Her veneration increases over time until by the fifth century she is widely called Theotokos — the Mother of God. A good book you might consult is Miri Rubin, THe Mother of God.

      • Seeker1952 November 15, 2022 at 10:01 am

        What makes the most sense (not necessarily historic sense) to me is that people, consciously or not, were looking for a feminine image of God that they could relate to. Presumably, Mary was seen as more forgiving and merciful than than a rather stern, judgmental Father.

      • fiadeiro November 19, 2022 at 4:21 pm

        What about the Gospels of Matthew and Luke? A virgin impregnated by God. The primitive followers of Jesus, his brothers, the Ebionites, had nothing to do with the supernatural birth of Jesus. They believed Jesus was born from the natural union of Joseph and Mary.

        The pagans of the time, to whom Paul preached, needed a goddess in their pantheon. For the Roman churches, Mary and the saints, fulfill the role the various gods had in their old religion; as protectors of nations, of cities, of professions, of diseases, of problems of their daily life.

        Even today, in Catholic countries, the Virgin Mary is venerated even more than Jesus. If you measure “veneration” by the number of candles people light to their saints, the Virgin Mary beats Jesus hands down. If you don’t believe me, just go to Seville during the Holy Week. Most of the cathedrals are in the name of Mary.

        • BDEhrman November 22, 2022 at 6:25 pm

          Yes, that’s where it clearly begins. But that beginning itself didn’t necessarly lead to the worship of Mary — since many Christians over the centuries have recognized that she was chosen by God to bear his Son but do not worship her.

  18. Stephen November 13, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    1) Whatever the origin and intent of the credo Paul passes on in 1 Cor 15 it does serve to validate the leadership. All the “right” people have an experience individually and collectively. Was the Resurrection experience really that neat? Shouldn’t this neatness arouse our suspicions? And indeed, Paul uses the credo to establish his own authority.

    2) As far as the “more than five hundred brothers”, at the time these resurrection experiences would have taken place, would there have even been 500 followers of Jesus in the entire world? Who would these folks have been?

    Thanks

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:53 pm

      Good question. I can’t think of a single place in the world at the time were there would have been 500 though! Good point.

      • Jesse80025 December 2, 2022 at 7:58 pm

        Bart, that’s a really interesting claim – that there wouldn’t have been more than 500 followers of Jesus in any one place in the entire world. Can you elaborate on what evidence/reasoning you have for that?

        • BDEhrman December 3, 2022 at 7:00 pm

          This would have been in the early years or even decades after Jesus’ death. The church was very small then. Even a community like Corinth, which appears to be one of the largest when Paul was writing them, could not have had this number of Xns. I talk about the issue of numbers and Christian population grown in my book The Triumph of Christianity.disabledupes{2841639d38363b004613f76b23184ebc}disabledupes

  19. rborges November 13, 2022 at 8:08 pm

    A related question: just how (and when) did the veneration of Mary begin?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:55 pm

      We don’t know exactly, but the earliest indication of it is in the Proto-Gospel of James in the early second century. A good book to check out would be Miri Ruben’s The Mother of God, who traces the full history.

  20. improv58 November 13, 2022 at 10:49 pm

    One of the Medjugorje visionaries came to my catholic church in NY several years ago and Mary appeared to him in front of all of us (a full church). When he finished kneeling and conversing with Mary he told us she was happy we were there. No one else saw her. I assumed she flew away after they conversed. Mary has appeared every day in Medjugorje for decades. She always says the same things. We must pray to prevent the horrors of the earth. I assume all the carnage that’s occurred since she started appearing decades ago is all our fault (the people who knew about her suggestion to pray but didn’t pray hard enough).
    My late mom went on a pilgrimage to Fatima, Lourdes, and Medjugorje in the 1990s and came home with snapshots of the sun spinning, a white skinned angelic beautiful Mary in a blue outfit, and a medal that turned colors.
    However she wasn’t cured of her pain and I believe was very disappointed although she never said it aloud.
    Anyway, her and I seeing others see apparitions sure did make us think something was there.

  21. AngeloB November 13, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    Fascinating topic! 🙂

  22. R_Gerl November 14, 2022 at 4:20 am

    I am very skeptical of the claim that group hallucinations are possible. The probability of two, or more, people having the same neural misfiring’s that create the same hallucination of the same thing at the same time is vanishingly small. Oliver Sacks book “Hallucinations” is an excellent read for anyone interested this subject. I am still trying to find psychiatric authoritative references that recognize group hallucinations as a genuine phenomenon. The so-called miracle of Fatima was nothing more than the sun coming through the clouds, not a group hallucination. The YouTube link below explains the cause of the Warraq “apparitions” and the Egyptian “apparitions” in 1968 and 1986 certainly have a similar explanation: misidentification of ordinary lights. Please view this video from start to end. Some of the 1968 photographs were re-touched hoaxes. The so-called “apparitions” you mention at a waterfall was undoubtedly pareidolia on light going through water vapor. I think all of this explains alleged miracles with multiple witnesses.

    Debunking Mary Apparition in Warraq, Egypt:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFZfWWeAGiM

    Retouched, and therefore fake, photo:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Zeitoun

    https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/CJxSgaqG6y7z6Rbij/are-mass-hallucinations-a-real-thing

  23. Rickwood911 November 14, 2022 at 5:10 am

    Do you believe 500 people believing they saw Jesus at the same time is historical? In my opinion it might have been a massive exaggeration of the actual number. 500 just seems ridiculous. Not sure.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:59 pm

      No, I don’t. I think Paul just heard this as a rumor.

    • AngeloB November 20, 2022 at 6:05 pm

      The greater the number, the more it appears believable. That’s probably why the number was greatly exaggerated or even made up!

  24. R_Gerl November 14, 2022 at 5:24 am

    Some additional information that shows these alleged miracles are, in fact, not miracles at all. The first link shows how fraud was involved in the claim by three children that they had witnessed the virgin. The second link gives additional details about the alleged miracle relating to the first link. The third link provides additional information about faked photographs that were created surrounding the alleged apparitions of Mary in Egypt. Those apparitions supposedly took place over several years so having several retouched and faked photographs being produced during that time was inevitable.

    https://cdn.centerforinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2009/11/22164423/p14.pdf

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_Sun#Criticism

    http://parasociology.blogspot.com/2013/04/marian-apparitions-at-el-zeitoun-and.html

  25. Highfits November 14, 2022 at 7:36 am

    I’ve ordered How Jesus Became God. One notable example of group belief is the “Angels of Mons”, a widely accepted belief that in 1914, angels helped 4000 trapped British soldiers to escape from being surrounded by Germans in the WW1 battle of Mons. It later transpired that it was taken from a fictional story by a journalist, and became part of war propaganda in WW1.

  26. fishician November 14, 2022 at 12:27 pm

    I suspect this is how the belief in Jesus’ resurrection took hold. Mary says she saw Jesus. The male disciples are not to be outdone by this woman so they have their own visions of Jesus. Someone claims to see Jesus in the clouds, and the surrounding believers want to see it, and/or don’t want to admit that they don’t see it, so you’ve got this report of 500 believers seeing Jesus. And yet all 4 Gospels hint at unbelief among some of the disciples, so not all were caught up in this. As an MD I think individual and group psychology is a much stronger force than most people appreciate. It is amazing what the human mind is capable of believing, even in the face of evidence against it, especially when your peers reinforce your beliefs.

  27. Ruby November 14, 2022 at 12:41 pm

    The whole apologetics industry has me thinking that Christianity isn’t about faith… with so many trying to prove the unprovable. If Christianity is supposed to be about faith… why all the emphasis on evidence and proof? Is it faith or isn’t it. It can’t be both… or can it?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 6:03 pm

      Yup, you’re right on target. If it can be *proved* it’s not faith.

  28. bholly72 November 14, 2022 at 1:01 pm

    Simple questions about the appearance to the 500. Exactly when did it occur? Where? Who were the witnesses? How far away were they? How many of them could recognize Jesus on sight? How long did the appearance last. What kind of lighting conditions obtained. Did each and every one claim to see Jesus? If not, why not? We’re the witnesses interviewed about the event? How well do their stories compare to each other. Did anyone say, “Look, it’s Jesus?” If so, who? How confident were the witnesses in their identification? And so on.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 6:04 pm

      Ah, we wish we know what Paul had in mind. He never tells us a thing further. My guess is that it was a rumor he heard. When I was a Christian I heard all kinds of allegedly “verified” stories of the experiences of others that turned out to be completely bogus.

  29. curtiswolf69 November 14, 2022 at 1:45 pm

    I know that you are not a psychologist but I will ask this question anyway. Are you aware of any studies conducted by psychologists that tried to duplicate the conditions under which group hallucinations can occur? If so, were they successful in creating group hallucinations?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 6:05 pm

      I don’t. I read psychological literature on visions for a couple of years, but don’t recall off hand any trying to replicate conditions with groups.

  30. jhague November 14, 2022 at 2:02 pm

    I would guess that you are correct with group hallucinations…one person says they “see” something and others are persuaded and “see” it too. My guess is that most individuals that say they “see” something are having a dream, a drug induced event or a mental disorder event. For the groups, religion can certainly make a group of people very emotional where they may agree with something (a vision) that they would not normally agree to. We also have to allow for people not being honest. Some may lie about a vision just for the attention. Personally, I do not think that Paul had any “visions.” I think he needed to come up with a way to have been with Jesus so that he could say he was an apostle so he created his visions of “Christ.”

    • dabizi November 14, 2022 at 11:17 pm

      Growing up a Jehovah Witness we were taught that a demon could appear as a vision of Mary, in order to lead people astray.
      In middle school my mom fell out with the Jehovah Witnesses and then I was told to accept that what i had been told was all false.
      I went to medical school and i understand that an individual’s visual hallucination can be a normal grief response.
      Psychiatry is trying to evolve as a specialty, from an offshoot of psychology making diagnoses using x number of y criteria, to a discipline that may someday base diagnoses on biological markers, with molecular explanations for psychiatric diseases (ie, dysregulated complement C4 and schizophrenia). Perhaps nebulous factors like sleep deprivation or conformity pressure are all we need to understand mass hallucinations. Perhaps it is more complicated, such that science has not explained such phenomena yet.
      It is okay to concede we do not have a confirmed explanation for mass hallucinations; it is okay to say we don’t know.

  31. longdistancerunner November 14, 2022 at 5:59 pm

    My freshman year of high school I was sitting in Algebra class when I looked out into the hallway and saw the “ Fonzi” of my school ( cool, tough hood who grew a beard!) walking the hall and getting ready to skip class.
    As he walked up the stairs to his locker to get his coat and leave, I thought to myself “ I’d better watch him until he climbs those stairs out of sight because I will never see him again.
    The next day the word was all around school. This “ Fonzi” character had pulled his motorcycle off the highway at 1am, to use the bathroom and as he walked back to the bike, a semi driving by, he fell underneath the front tire and was killed.
    That was in 1971.
    Every since then, it’s haunted me. Did I really think that to myself as I saw him out in the hallway getting ready to skip school or did somehow, I think I thought that after the fact?
    I think I actually remember thinking that!
    But the mind is a peculiar thing when considering what we think we see or think we think.

  32. EMichelSilva-96 November 14, 2022 at 6:03 pm

    Hello Dr. Ehrman

    1)When the gospel of John mentions that the wife of Pilate had a dream that he should set free Jesus, and also regarding the conversation he had with Jesus when he asked the famous question, “What’s the truth?” And all that conversation  How did the writer of the gospel know all these details? Do you think it was all made up, sort of like a “filler conversation” that never took place or what? Please provide me with your insights on this matter.

    2)Do you think that when paul said that more than 500 brethren saw jesus, he was exaggerating or making some things up to some extent? This is since none of the gospel and early traditions mentions this fact, please let me know your opinion.

    • BDEhrman November 18, 2022 at 3:11 pm

      I think the first detail is in Matthew, and the other is indeed in John. You raise one of the important questions, and I think the answer is that it’s completely implausible that these are historical events — good evidence that we are dealing not only with events that happened but also with stories surrounding Jesus that are non-historical.
      My guess is that Paul heard a rumor to that effect. I personally don’t think he was inclined to lie, but if something like this really happened, surely others would have mentioned it (these others were writing long after him, so surely the stories would be floating around)

  33. EMichelSilva-96 November 14, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    3)When Justin the Martyr talks about the acts of Pilate and tells Caesar to investigate the trial of Jesus and his miracles. Do you think that the historical Pilate had some records of the real Jesus or that all these were just made up?

    • BDEhrman November 18, 2022 at 3:12 pm

      It’s made up. We do have an “Acts of Pilate” from teh second century, but it’s completely legendary. And a *great* book!!

  34. wpoe54 November 14, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    From my experience in a fanatical religious movement in my late teens and twenties, I would say that all it takes is one person to assert a vision or experience and then it is incumbent on nearly everyone else to confirm it because “they experienced as well.” It is a social phenomenon and I would say those who follow the leader are not lying, they are “convinced” they experienced what they say they did. I think the best evidence that this is the phenomenon of Jesus’s disciples is that the descriptions of what was seen are not consistent and nothing new is added to the religion. If some “broke bread” with the actual Jesus, what a missed opportunity to ask questions and to be able pass on consistent teachings. But the key is they “recognized” Jesus, not that he imparted even greater wisdom. Paul is just repeating a mantra passed around among the followers, the “500,” the “12,” the visions had become a rote formula by the time Paul wrote what he had heard. And who knows what he personally experienced – what we know is that it justified his own teachings to say he alone was told by Jesus.

  35. RICHWEN90 November 15, 2022 at 9:44 am

    Hypnosis is still rather mysterious and needs to be taken more seriously. Groups of people can be hypnotized and suggestions applied by the hypnotist can result in the reporting of counter-factual events– with great conviction. A group setting can create the dynamic required, of suggestibility and expectation. Seeing things, in such a setting, could be likened to table tipping or the movement of a pointer in a spiritualist session. In a group setting, the dynamic isn’t the work of a single person, a hypnotist giving suggestions and guidance– so the outcome is likely to be the result of feedback within the group, and quite chaotic. In some cases a charismatic central figure can hypnotize a group (Hitler? An evangelist?) and then feedback within the group takes it to another level. Dangerous stuff.

  36. kuotinen November 15, 2022 at 11:49 am

    Agreed that group hallucinatory or misattribution of visual phenomena occur, as with Mary.

    But isn’t it at least equally if not more probable that the alleged group appearances (all the disciples, the 500), were legendary, rumors that grew in the telling over the years after an initial person or very small number of people, had individual visions of Jesus? Particularly if one of those initial people was a powerful personality like Peter?

    • BDEhrman November 18, 2022 at 3:26 pm

      The question as always is how one establishes the relative historical probability of one theory over another. I.e, what *makes* one view more probable than another, apart from our personal perspectives?

    • BDEhrman November 18, 2022 at 3:26 pm

      The question as always is how one establishes the relative historical probability of one theory over another. I.e, what *makes* one view more probable than another, apart from our personal perspectives?

  37. cmayfield33 November 15, 2022 at 1:48 pm

    I’m currently reading “How Jesus Became God” and this section was particularly convincing for me. I think the whole book (or the majority that I have read) is a good read and enlightening about the different christologies.

  38. WM November 17, 2022 at 4:02 pm

    Sathya Sai Baba Vibhuti MIracle | Shiva Shiva Shiridi Pureeswara | Shiridi Sai Abhishekam
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnCwebH0gyk
    Watch 4 min video and let us know what you think,
    I have personally seen him materialize vibhuti as he walked around the ten thousand devotees.

  39. ClaudeTee November 17, 2022 at 10:36 pm

    Incidents of mass hysteria have occurred in recent times. In 1994, some 60 schoolchildren in Ariel, Zimbabwe reported encountering an alien spaceship, and all described seeing “aliens” exiting a flyer saucer that landed near their school. More recently, in 2019 and early 2020, 12 teenage girls from the same school in the upstate New York town of LeRoy, New York all began experiencing similar, and bizarre, uncontrollable Tourette-like twitching and shaking. Ultimately, it was determined that their symptoms were entirely psychosomatic, and could be attributed to “mass psychogenic illness,” a form of mass hysteria, which can be as contagious as a virus.

  40. AndySeattle November 18, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    Prof. Ehrman, can we safely assume that the gospel authors understood Jesus’ resurrection to have been physical/bodily rather than in the form of a vision or spiritual apparition? It seems like the purpose of the scene in Luke 24 where Jesus eats food is there for the purpose of dispelling the latter interpretations.

    • BDEhrman November 23, 2022 at 12:47 pm

      Yup, and for just that kind of reason.

  41. KeitaTakahata November 20, 2022 at 8:35 pm

    1) The gospels highlight the conversation between Pilate and Jesus, but it always confused me. How would the writers know a word of what was spoken in that room?

    2) Since Pilate was a Roman official, wouldn’t he have been speaking in Latin? Jesus in Aramaic.

    3) Would you say it’s historical that Mary, Peter and Paul saw Jesus for themselves? Not that they agreed with what others were claiming as their own experience…

    • BDEhrman November 23, 2022 at 5:57 pm

      1. They wouldn’t (at least in John, where the two are alone). 2. Yes, if historically they did talk to one another, which I doubt, it would have had to be through an interpreter; 3. I’d say that it’s probable that they CLAIMED they did (though not certain). Paul himself makes the claim; the others have to be inferred, but given the abundance of the multi-layered attestation, it seems likely to me. What they actually saw, if anything, is a different question.

  42. jayakron November 21, 2022 at 7:33 pm

    A few years ago I overheard a middle-aged woman talking about having seen apparently miraculous phenomena while in Yugoslavia. I suspected she was talking about Medjugorje, and I was right. She told me that in her early 20s she was traveling across Europe and happened to run into a fellow traveler who was very Catholic and who ardently wanted to visit Medjugorje. The young woman had no interest in religion at all but agreed to accompany him to this pilgrimage site. While there, she said she twice witnessed completely inexplicable phenomena of lights that she’d never seen the like of before or since. Her Catholic traveling companion however experienced nothing for the entire trip! It bears mentioning that the young woman was not converted to Catholic belief by the experience. She’s still convinced what she saw was inexplicable, but religious belief had no part in the experience.

  43. Erland November 28, 2022 at 1:14 am

    Could some of these sightings of Mary have been trickery? Were there any protestants, atheists or other non-believers of sightings present, and what did they then see or not see?

    • BDEhrman November 30, 2022 at 7:55 pm

      I don’t know. I think it was almost always misperception and the spread of rumors that caught on.

  44. Helen Young December 1, 2022 at 8:06 pm

    What intrigues me is that so many people say they have “met” Jesus, in his spirit, and insight, and love, and in faith. These people, at least most of them, don’t report to actually have “seen” him, or have had a vision of him. It’s just something they have felt in their hearts and in the inner mind. I’m thinking that this has possibly happened to billions of people since the year 30ish CE.

    This for me is far more intriguing and more of a “proof” than the empty tomb, or the stories from the New Testament. They seem to say more about Christ’s eternity or his actually being eternal as well.

  45. Jesse80025 December 2, 2022 at 8:09 pm

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Dr. Tanya M. Lurhmann is the dean (or, head? or something?) of the sociological anthropology department over at Stanford, and a past president of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, and wrote three sociology books which I think might help you in your future debates/research, on this. One is on charismatic Christians, who DO have visions, one is on the experience of God, and another (my favorite) is a sociological study she conducted as her doctoral project of witches in Northern England. In her witch book she talks about a practice of “guided spirit journeys” where one person narrates a mystical journey through the “astral” realm and others share the experience.

    Also, the three best attested group hallucinations that I’ve ever been able to find myself are; the Marian apparitions at Zeitoun and Fatima, and the Salem Witch Trials. You had some great examples in your book, How Jesus Became God, as well, I must say! Loved it 🙂 I hope that helps. I just thought you might find that helpful.

  46. normative November 13, 2023 at 10:49 am

    Do we need group hallucinations to explain anything? Paul makes a formulaic claim about a mass appearance, tellingly not mentioned in any of the gospels, but otherwise we’ve got appearances to individuals and (eventually) small groups. That seems most efficiently accounted for by a few separate individual visionary experiences plus exaggeration in retelling and perhaps a bit of me-tooing from disciples who didn’t want to be left out.

    • BDEhrman November 13, 2023 at 8:11 pm

      Right. I myself don’t think there were group visions. But if there were, they too are easily explicabledisable. dupes{8899938ad9a555214ccf3430c6615ac5}disabledupes

  47. BibleGeek February 19, 2024 at 1:39 pm

    Dr. Ehrman,

    As to the 500 at once, where and when do you think this tradition began? Also, do you believe Paul could have added it/invented it to bolster his point that Jesus was resurrected for “dramatic/theatrical effects?” Similar to what Licona thinks the author of Matthew did in Matthew 27:52-53?

    • BDEhrman February 20, 2024 at 6:46 pm

      I’m afriad I have no idea. Paul *could* have made it up of course, but I doubt if he did. I just don’t think he was the lying type. Matthew 27 is different. Does Licona actually think Matthew made it up? I know he thinks its not historical; I don’t either, of course. But I should think it’s simply a story Matthew heard.

  48. BibleGeek February 21, 2024 at 4:53 pm

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Licona chalks it up to being literary devices common in Greco-Roman biographies. He described the events in Matthew 27:51-53 as being “poetical,” a “legend,” an “embellishment,” and literary “special effects” that never historically happened but were written by the author to help convey their theology (Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus ( IVP Academic (October 7, 2010), p. 306, 548, 552, 553).

    Catholic scholar Raymond Brown also argues that the New Testament appearance tradition of the raised saints was probably fictitious. He said “[Regarding] the raising of the holy ones and their appearance to many in Jerusalem (Matt 27:52-53 [the rising saints passage])….truth conveyed by drama can at times be more effectively impressed on people’s minds than truth conveyed by history [emphasis added]. R.E Brown, Death of the Messiah, II (ABRL, 7; New York: Doubleday, 1994), 1311-1312.

    I’ve been studying a lot more about the genre of Greco-Roman biographies and it appears there is a lot of flexibility in how authors wrote their stories. If this is true, then this means there is another layer of complexity in trying to determine what the authors actually believed happened as opposed to what they added for literary effect.

    • BDEhrman February 25, 2024 at 9:25 pm

      Yes, it’s clearly fictitious. What I’ve never figured out is what criteria Licona uses to decide that a passage is legendary or an embeliishment; my sense is that he does it on the basis of his personal opinion rather than anything concrete. Something like “Hey, that CAN’T be right. Must be poetic.” But how do we decie? Why not say the salking on the water is poetic? Or, well, most anything else?

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