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Group Visions and Agnostic Jesus Scholars: Mailbag March 12, 2017

I will be dealing with two interesting questions on this week’s Readers’ Mailbag.  The first has to do with whether hallucinations can explain why Jesus’ followers thought he had been raised from the dead; the second involves with me personally: if I no longer believe in Jesus, why do I keep studying, writing, and teaching about him?

To make sense of the first question I need to provide some background.  In my book How Jesus Became God I argue that the followers of Jesus believed he was raised from the dead for one and only one reason, that some of them (I don’t think we know how many) had visions of him after his death, and they concluded that he must have been raised from the dead (I argue that the “empty tomb” did not lead anyone to believe; either did anything else).  In my book I stress that this explanation works for everyone, whether a Christian believer or not.  Christians would say that the disciples claimed to see Jesus after his death because he really did appear to him;  non-Christians would say the disciples had non-veridical visions.  That is, they saw things that weren’t there.  They had hallucinations.

In the book I talk about what we know about non-veridical visions from extensive psychological research.  This research makes it completely plausible that the disciples actually had visions of Jesus (hallucinations), even if in fact he had remained dead.  With that background, comes this question.

 

QUESTION:

If the hallucination hypothesis had a weakness would it be group appearances and a cultural lack of expectation of a middle-of-history resurrection?

 

RESPONSE:

Now I need to unpack the question a bit further.  The questioner is pointing out that in the Gospels we have accounts of groups of people having visions: are group hallucinations even possible?  Wouldn’t the fact that lots of people saw Jesus at once show these were not hallucinations?  Moreover, Jews in the first century believed that the resurrection of the dead would come at the very end of time, but wasn’t belief in Jesus’ resurrection the belief that a resurrection had occurred somewhere in the middle of history, rather than at the end of it?  They would not, then, have interpreted their visions of Jesus as a “resurrection,” no?

With respect to group visions, I want to make two points. The first is that I’m not sure there actually were group visions.  I think we can say that some individuals had visions of Jesus – they are best attributed to Peter, Paul, and Mary, as it turns out – but I’m not sure if the group visions are historically probable.

But second, suppose they are probable.  Can groups have non-veridical visions?   In my book I argue that not only can groups have visions, such visions are extremely well documented.  I give the evidence in the book.

This is a point that is often raised in my debates with conservative evangelical Christian apologists on whether historians can prove the resurrection.  The argument these apologists make is that groups  cannot have hallucinations.  What is striking about my opponents in these debates is that they are always strongly Protestant evangelical and they personally do not support Roman Catholic views, at all — including views about Mary being the Mother of God, a special person in the heavenly realm.  Why does that matter?  Because to a person they absolutely do not think that the Blessed Virgin Mary actually appears to her followers today.  BUT, it is extremely well documented that she does so.   Not just to individuals, but to groups.  Often large groups – hundreds of people at once.  The documentation is overhwhelming.

Since these apologists do not think Mary really appears to these groups, they must (necessarily) think that these groups are “just seein’ things.”  I.e., they are having some kind of false visionary experience.  In other words, they are having a group hallucination.  In other words, these evangelical apologists think not only that group visions are possible, but that they happen all the time.  So much for the argument that there cannot be group hallucinations.

On the second point of the question:  Jews did not expect a resurrection in the middle of history but only at the end of history, so wouldn’t that show they were not expecting something like Jesus’ resurrection and that therefore they did not make it up or conclude that it happened just on the basis of a vision?

This one is a bit easier to answer.  The followers of Jesus who came to believe he was raised from the dead did not think this was a resurrection in the middle of history.  They thought that since the resurrection was to happen at the end of time, and since Jesus had been raised, his resurrection was the beginning of the general resurrection in which all people would be raised.  They concluded they were indeed living at the end of time.  That is why they thought the end was near.  And Jesus’ death and resurrection had ushered it in.

This is the reason Paul talks about Jesus as “the first fruits of the resurrection” in 1 Corinthians 15.  This is an agricultural image.  On the first day of the harvest the farmer gathers in the “first fruits.”  And when does he go out to harvest the rest?  Does he wait 20 years or 2000 years?  No, he goes out the next day.  Paul thought the resurrection of Jesus came at the end of the age and that everyone else was to be raised very soon.  The end had come.  And it had been inaugurated by Jesus.

 

QUESTION:

Your (agnostic) viewpoint raises a serious question – in my mind, anyway:  Why do you find Jesus and his ministry so compelling that you have taught about him at the collegiate level, authored numerous books about him, and lectured about him as much as you have?

 

RESPONSE:

I get this question a lot.  Why would I spend my life reading, thinking, studying, writing, and teaching about someone I don’t believe in?  On one level the question makes a lot of sense.  To be deeply interested in Jesus, shouldn’t you be a believing Christian?

At the same time, I think the question is easily answered.  I teach in a major research university.  In major research universities there are numerous historical and literary scholars who teach numerous things.  Rarely do they “believe” in what they teach.

For example, professors of Political Science may teach and write about Karl Marx.  That doesn’t mean they have to be Marxists.  Professors of Philosophy may teach and write about Plato or Nietzsche.  That doesn’t mean they have to be Platonists or Nietzscheans.  Professors of European History may teach and write about the Third Reich.  That doesn’t mean that they have to be Nazis.  Professors of Criminology each about violent crime.  That doesn’t mean they have to be axe murderers.    And on and on and on.

Those of us who are professional scholars almost always gravitate to a topic that we are deeply interested in, passionate about, even obsessed with.  Not because we believe in it but because we realize how important it is.

And who in the history of Western Civilization was more important than Jesus?  I have no trouble at all understanding why I am obsessed with knowing about his life and teachings and about the religious movement that arose in his name after his death.  For me this is the most important subject in our entire curriculum.  Jesus’ followers ended up taking over their world (after about four centuries), and the Christian church became the most massive and influential institution of the West, whether considered politically, socially, culturally, economically, intellectually – or any other way.  To me it makes perfect sense that I study, write, and teach about the Christian tradition, starting with Jesus; it would be weird if I were not interested!

If you’re not a member on the blog, think about JOINING.  It costs less than an order of greasy french fries per month, and you’ll gain knowledge instead of weight.  And all the money goes to good causes.  So JOIN!

 

 

 

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Are Group Visions Possible?
What I’m Thinking about the Afterlife

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Comments

  1. Wilusa  March 12, 2017

    Re the second question: I don’t actually disagree with you, but I can’t help thinking you would have been *less likely* to develop that intense interest in Jesus if you had not, in the *beginning*, been a believer.

  2. doug  March 12, 2017

    Regarding hallucinations: shortly after I moved far away from home, I thought I saw my father in a shopping mall. Upon closer examination, it was someone else, not him. But it had been a comforting feeling to think of him being near. Perhaps the wish was father to the thought.

    • mannix  March 13, 2017

      That would technically be called an “Illusion”…a misinterpretation of something which exists. Other examples are “seeing” Jesus or Mary on vending machines or pieces of toast. A “hallucination is “seeing” or ‘hearing” something which is NOT there (e.g. snakes on the wall during DTs). A famous group vision celebrates a centennial this year with Fatima…whether this was an illusion or frank hallucination I am not clear.

    • Scott  March 16, 2017

      This would line up nicely with what Luke reports happened on the road to Emmaus, just the other way around!

  3. godspell  March 12, 2017

    Honestly, suppose only devout French Bonapartists were allowed to write about Napoleon? It would just be one long Abel Gance film. I’m impressed, actually, by the depth of scholarship out there about the historical Jesus, and how varied the beliefs of the scholars are. He’s only the most famous and influential human in all of world history. Alexander the Great was worshipped as a god–so nobody can write about him unless they have a little shrine to him in their office?

    People study so little history in school, and very few have any real understanding of the discipline at all. You’re being most patient with them than I would be. I won’t insult you by calling that good Christian Charity. But it certainly qualifies as the secular equivalent thereof. 😉

    As to the mass visions, they seem to occur in particularly when a group of people is under enormous emotional stress, frightened by events outside of their control. During the French Revolution, there was something called ‘The Great Fear’. French peasant villages out in the countryside got little news of what was happening in the cities, and had a hard time understanding what they heard. Stories began to circulate of bands of brigands ravaging the countryside, burning and raping. Large numbers of people would panic, thinking they heard and even saw these brigands approaching, when in fact nothing of the kind was happening.

    Just before WWI broke out, people in the English countryside would report seeing German zeppelins overhead–they were not there. I suppose they could have been alien spacecraft. Probably not, though.

    The Salem Witch Trials are another example. HIstory provides us with no shortage of examples.

    Mass panic and hysteria are a very real phenomenon, and can at times lead to mass hallucinations. People would not necessarily all see and hear the same things, but in a small religious group with the same beliefs, they’d be close enough to be smoothed out afterwards. The inconsistencies would be gradually forgotten. All that would be remembered was that common shared experience of revelation. The Master is still with us. We knew he couldn’t die.

    • bigalster  March 13, 2017

      On the Salem Witch trials and events,it has been clearly established that it had nothing to do with Satanism.They
      ( the “witches’ )had consumed ergot-tainted rye that induced delusions,hallucinations and convulsions. Occam’s razor clearly explains that the simpler explanation is usually the better. Your theory on group hallucinations&visions i think is right,One good point is the hypocrisy of the evangelical fundamentalists relative to their skepticism towards the appearances of Mary.

      • godspell  March 15, 2017

        bigalster, I’m not sure the ergot-tainted rye theory has been proven–merely posed as a possible explanation. Why wasn’t everybody having hallucinations, if there was all this hallucinogenic food around? It’s possible, but it’s not a proven fact.

        Point is, people can convince themselves of just about anything–mind-altering substances can play a role in that, but not a necessary role. There are mind-altering substances produced in our own brains.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  March 12, 2017

    I’m an atheist Jew and I’m endlessly fascinated by not only Jesus and Christianity, but by all religions and founders of religions. I think the reason is that I find the human mind to be endlessly fascinating from an anthropological, or one could even say a zoological point of view, and religion is a great window into the human mind.

  5. Tony  March 12, 2017

    The non-veridical visions theory fits Paul’s appearances descriptions in 1 Corinthians 15 well. Except Paul is not writing about followers or disciples of an historical Jesus. Instead, Paul writes as a cult member who believed in a celestial Jesus who was killed and resurrected in the firmament by Satan. Paul’s resurrected Jesus was strictly spiritual.

    The Gospel writers created the earthly historical Jesus and changed Paul’s resurrection/visions process completely. The resurrected Gospel Jesus comes back, not in visions, but as human as before. He can be seen, touched and eats fish. In Acts he hangs around for 40 days talking about the kingdom of God before being whisked away to heaven.

    Interestingly, from about the second century onward, The Gospels’ Jesus creation gets read back into Paul’s letters. That is truly an amazing story.

  6. Gary  March 12, 2017

    I am currently reading Habermas and Licona’s book, “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”. In chapter 6 the authors address the Hallucination Theory. Here is a quote:

    “Although the hallucination theory enjoyed some popularity over one hundred years ago and still has a few adherents, it suffers from a number of problems. First, we know today that hallucinations are private occurrences, which occur in the mind of the individual. They are not collective experiences.” Habermas and Licona go on to say that a group of people can all hallucinate at the same time but they are not going to have the exact same hallucination. As a physician I have to agree with them. It is highly improbable that a group of eleven men would sit in the same room, all in an hallucinatory state, and hallucinate that the same dead man appeared to them, saying the same exact words, performing the same exact actions, such as eating broiled fish and letting someone poke his finger in his wounds.

    It is certainly possible that the disciples all experienced an hallucinatory state at the same time due to a lack of sleep or due to severe grief and each perceived, due to a bright light, a rush of wind, or other stimulus, that Jesus had appeared to them, but their stories would not have agreed in such extensive detail. So a generalized, nondescript misperception of reality such as this may have been how the group appearance claims in the Early Creed took form, but could not explain the uniform, very detailed group appearance claims in the Gospels.

    I believe a better explanation for the group appearance claims in the Early Creed is that groups of believers saw a bright light or felt a rush of wind while they were worshipping and believed that this was an “appearance” of Jesus. After all, according to the author of the Book of Acts, all Paul saw was a “bright light” in his appearance experience.

    As a physician who does not believe in the supernatural, I believe that the detailed group appearance claims as told in the Gospels can be explained by only one means: They are literary inventions. They never happened.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2017

      Of course we don’t know, historically, if a group had a vision of Jesus whether they all saw the exact same thing or not. There is literally no way for us to know. (None of them, e.g., has left us a written record — let alone a group of them)

    • godspell  March 15, 2017

      They happened in the sense that people had a powerful experience together that shaped the rest of their lives.

      You ever see Shaw’s “Saint Joan”?

      JOAN: “I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.”
      ROBERT: “They come from your imagination.”
      JOAN: “Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us.”

      A true religious vision can neither be proven nor disproven. If they believed in Jesus so much that they could not accept his death, raised him in their own minds, turned the teachings of an itinerant barefoot penniless and quite possibly only semi-literate rabbi into the most influential belief system in human history–how is that not a miracle? Okay, not in the literal sense.

      Literalism makes me tired, sometimes. 😉

  7. Todd  March 12, 2017

    I have a question about another NT vision. I have asked this question to numerous scholars and theologians and pastors, and have yet to receive an answer that I consider a thoughtful response.

    The apostle Paul says that he saw the risen Christ, which resulted in his conversion, and strongly implies that “his” gospel was given to him directly by Christ in what I assume were numerous vision.

    That vision(s) was a turning point in the direction Christianity would take seeing how great the influence Paul had on the developing church.

    My question is simple: there are three possibilities. First, his vision was absolutely authentic. The risen Christ appeared to him and Paul was asked by Christ …”why are you persecuting me?” Second, Paul invented the vision story to gain a foothold for his version of the Jesus event and to gain power in the growing church, or for other less than noble personal reason. Third, Paul was mentally ill, possibly guilt due to his persecution activities, and continued to have hallucinations in that regard.

    The answer to that question is critical. If number one is true I’ll return to the Christian fold today. If either 2 or 3 are correct, the church is a fraud.

    What do you think about this.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2017

      Yes, I think those are three of the options. But there are others. Lots of people have visions who are not mentally ill. I discuss all this in my book How Jesus Became God. My own view is that Paul really had a vision and that he was not mentally ill.

      • Todd  March 13, 2017

        Bart…I will buy your book to explore your thoughts more thoroughly on visions.

        I would think that a vision has two possible origins: either coming from within one’s own mind generated by our brain or coming from an external source that one perceives with the mind. I would think that we could refer to the external vision as a “supernatural” event, unless we consider visions to be in the realm of what is a “natural” experience.

        In a recent previous post you indicated that our this life is all there is, and that led me to conclude that such would exclude what we often refer to as supernatural.

        You also indicated that you have concluded that there is no God. I would think that God would be among what we would consider supernatural and a vision of God would not be something we would expect to be a natural occurance. A vision of Jesus, such as Paul had, would, to my thinking, be on the order of a supernatural experience.

        I am open to the “supernatural” but I am agnostic regarding many things, such as the existence and nature of God…ONLY because I do not *know* that there is a God by either personal experience or through verification using scientific tools.

        I am very much interested in this issue of visions, of the supernatural, of the possibility of a life after this life, miracles and such.

        I would suggest that you write more regarding these issues. Personally, I wish to become more open to such possibilities and less doubtful regarding the supernatural.

        Thank you for your reply, and I will buy your book today (How Jesus Became God) with special interest in your discussion of visions.

        Ps…I study and practice Buddhist methods and concepts for personal growth, and sometimes in meditation internal visionary experiences occur (unexpected insights), and I would think that the same would be true when one is in deep prayer.

        As always, you are doing great work and I look forward to your daily blog.

        Blessings to you and your family. Todd

      • jhague  March 13, 2017

        When you say that you think that Paul had visions, do you think he had non-veridical visions? He saw things that weren’t there? He had hallucinations?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 14, 2017

          Yes, that’s my personal view.

          • jhague  March 14, 2017

            Are there any scholars who believe that Paul perhaps was wanting to state that he had visions because he knew the original Jesus followers said that they had visions? That Paul believed in order to be accepted as an apostle, that he needed to claim that he saw and received instructions from Jesus (in his case, from Christ)?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 14, 2017

            Yes, that would be the most skeptical read of what happened. The problem is that it is hard to explain why Paul had such a radical conversion away from persecuting Christians to promoting their cause if he had *not* had some kind of bizarre experience like that.

          • jhague  March 14, 2017

            Right. In previous posts, you and I have discussed that Paul’s persecution of Jewish Christians was likely Paul being in agreement with the synagogue leaders that the Jewish Christians should be flogged. Paul was not actually doing the flogging and the flogging would have occurred even if Paul had not been involved. I think this somewhat downplays Paul’s part in “persecuting Jewish Christians.” (A lot of Christians today think that Paul was murdering Jewish Christians using Stephen as an example).
            My thought on Paul promoting their cause, he definitely went in his own direction. I am thinking that he was friends with people in the diaspora that perhaps had accepted the message. These people had put their spin on it, and the right friend that could convince Paul was able to bring him in. Then Paul added his own spin to the message, added visions of the Christ, added Christ teaching him, added trips to the third heaven and paradise, etc.
            I know that these comments are not supported by any writings and it is a skeptical view, but much of our information about Paul does seem bizarre. It seems like there is a more “normal” explanation for how Paul decided to promote the cause.
            Do any scholars go in this direction with Paul?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 16, 2017

            Scholars tend to prefer to base their views on whatever (scant though it be) evidence survives.

          • jhague  March 15, 2017

            Another thought…What if the references in Paul’s letters that refer to persecution of Jewish Christians were added by scribes? Perhaps scribes knew of the stories from Luke/Acts that refer to persecutions and they added the reference to persecutions to Paul’s letters. Is there any better way to show that God was involved than to state that Paul persecuted the very group that he then joined due to a vision of the risen Christ who instructed him with the proper message not received from any man?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 16, 2017

            Two responses: there are no manuscripts that indicate any textual variation in these places; and scribes who make these kinds of insertions typically do them by repeating the parallels (in this case, verses in Acts) using the same or very similar words. That’s not the case here.

          • jhague  March 16, 2017

            This is of course in my very unscholarly way but the passage of Galatians 1:12-24 seems to flow nicely without verses 13-14 & 22-24:

            Galatians 1:12-24

            12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

            13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.

            15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
            18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia,

            22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

  8. TWood
    TWood  March 12, 2017

    I haven’t asked a lot of questions recently so hopefully you’ll forgive my three recent ones coming in at once… but I have to ask here… this is the very subject I’m most interested in…

    I agree the disciples believed they were living in the end, hence it does explain how they could reconcile Jesus’ resurrection and the general one that was to happen “in the last day.” But that was ad hoc wasn’t it? In other words, are you suggesting the first disciples (e.g. Peter) expected Jesus to be uniquely raised so quickly after he was crucified? Or are you saying once they believed they saw him alive, *then* they were able to reconcile this because they also thought they were in the last days? I believe you think the former (because you don’t believe there’s evidence suggesting Jesus predicted his resurrection as such). But your answer here, it seems to me at least, could be interpreted as support for the latter (e.g. Jesus did predict his resurrection and therefore Peter was expecting it). This matters because if the former is right, then the questioner’s point is still not completely answered, because their visions of Jesus happened *UNexpectedly*. I think the same thing can be said of Paul’s later vision. I don’t know of a reason to think Paul expected (or desired) Jesus to appear to him. In short, it seems to me that the unexpected nature of the disciple’s visions stands in contrast to the Catholic ones where people do expect to see a vision (which makes such visions less credible for obvious reasons). Where am I going wrong on this?!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2017

      Yes, it was ad hoc. They “knew” that the resurrection was coming at the end of time; and they “knew” that Jesus had been raised; they concluded then that the resurrection had already begun.

      • SidDhartha1953  March 15, 2017

        But to clarify (I got lost in the ad hoc) you don’t think they were expecting Jesus to be raised before the general Resurrection at the end of the age, even after he was crucified?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 16, 2017

          More than that. I don’t think his followers expected him to die at all.

  9. Gary  March 12, 2017

    I would be careful about making the assertion that evangelical Protestants believe that Roman Catholics have “group hallucinations” about seeing the Virgin Mary. I do not believe that this is their claim.

    As a former evangelical Protestant we believed that Roman Catholics who claim to see the Virgin Mary as a group are in a state of emotional hysteria and seeing an illusion not experiencing a group hallucination. An illusion is a distorted perception of something that really is present, such seeing a stain on a wall or a cloud formation in a photograph and seeing the Virgin Mary or Jesus in it. Many thousands of Roman Catholics claimed to have experienced a visitation of the Virgin Mary in Fatima Portugal not due to seeing and hearing a woman in flowing robes speak the same words to them and perform the same actions but because many of them came to the conclusion that the sun had moved in an unusual pattern. This is not a group hallucination but an example of mass hysteria regarding an illusion. What we really need to know about Fatima is how the three young children who originally reported the appearances of the Virgin speaking to them occurred. Did the children have time alone to speak to one another after “the appearance” to agree on what happened and what was said or were they immediately wisked into separate interrogation rooms? If they had been immediately wisked into separate interrogation rooms and each gave the exact same testimony about the Virgin saying the exact same words, then maybe we should believe in group hallucinations (or real appearances by dead people), but until then, there is no evidence of true group hallucinations in which each member has the same, detailed hallucination.

    Group hallucinations of the exact same hallucination are medically impossible. Groups of people can hallucinate at the same time about the same general subject but the content of those hallucinations will not be identical. For anyone to claim that all Eleven disciples hallucinated the appearance in the Upper Room or the appearance on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius is ridiculous. These appearances did not happen.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2017

      See today’s post! (I’m not sure why you think group hallucinations are impossible when they are reported. I recount a couple, e.g., in my book How Jesus Became God)

  10. James Chalmers  March 12, 2017

    Important and well worth dedicating a scholarly career to?
    Yes,, no doubt.

    “The most massive and influential institution?””
    Hardly.
    Justinian and Basil were emperors, not priests, and can their motives are hard to distinguish from other emperors’.
    The Roman :Church reached the height of its influence (let’s say) when Innocent III reigned in Rome. But Phililp Augustus bested him, and John resisted him for a couple of years, and in the end gave little ground.
    And in later years the papacy will be longer on bluster than influence, and never more than just another player in the European state system. Domestic law and policy in Britain France, the Germanies and Italies, was set by their various (secular) rulers, not by priests subordinate to them, let alone by the pope.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2017

      I can’t think of another institution that comes even close in terms of long range power and influence in the West over the past 2000 years.

    • Petter Häggholm  March 13, 2017

      Sure, the Church was “just another player”, but it was a major player that persisted as an institution with historical continuity through the whole historical period, and remains today. Maybe at the time the concept of “the Church” was no more important than the concept of the Visigoths, or the Franks, or the Merovingians, or the Hanseatic League, and so on and so forth…but it outlasted them all and continued to wield influence, more or less as the times dictated and permitted. It’s easy to overstate its power (as do, e.g., some of my fellow atheists who blame the Catholic Church for the Dark Ages and just about every bad thing that ever happened to a proto-scientist), but I think it’s also silly to deny that it was immensely influential over a very, very long period.

  11. jwesenbe  March 12, 2017

    It only takes a person or two to start a tale saying lots of people saw it. We have no way of knowing who saw it or if anyone did.

    I would think it very difficult to pursue something believed wholeheartedly by so many yet is so false. I commend you Dr. Ehrman for pursuing this scholarly endeavor when basically it is mostly all made up. I often wonder how different it would be if agnostics went door to door preaching their message.

    “…. he ‘doesn’t know’ with finality—not because he is indifferent, but because he sees too much.“
    —Robert Midler, Exiled Royalties: Melville and the Life We Imagine (2006).

  12. Jana  March 12, 2017

    During a recent phone call with my Godmother who is a Trappist Monastery Abbess, she asked the same question. ( I had mentioned how generous you are and also your books during our conversation). I was ready with this answer. Thank you.

  13. Rick
    Rick  March 12, 2017

    I had a vision the other night that Duke pretty well beat up UNC in the ACC semi’s… Do you think it was true?

  14. Blackwell  March 12, 2017

    Regarding group visions:
    Are there any records of the Virgin Mary or any other apparition doing the sort of activity (walking, talking, eating) attributed to post-crucifixion Jesus? In the case of group visions, wouldn’t this require everyone involved to imagine the same thought simultaneously to get agreement on what happened? As far as I know, group visions are passive affairs, where the apparition does not do anything memorable so this question does not arise.
    Is it common for there to be doubt about the identity of the person appearing in a vision? In gospel accounts of Jesus’s appearances, the only time there was no doubt about his identity was when he was with the disciples on the Sunday evening after his crucifixion. Was this a group vision? If this account results from embellishment of an initial simple vision, what could be the original version? Alternatively, could these accounts derive from entirely different sources such as hindsight, mistaken identity, false memory or illusions?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2017

      I’m differentiating between what groups might have seen (some vision of Jesus, theoretically) and the reports from decades later about what had happened (eating and drinking together)

  15. Hume  March 13, 2017

    Do you know who invented Purgatory?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2017

      I don’t think we can name a name. But the logic of purgatory is pretty clear: after a while Christians started thinkng that it didn’t make sense for God to punish 30 years of sin with gazillions of years of torment with no hope of an end.

      • Petter Häggholm  March 13, 2017

        A bit ironic: Doesn’t the Christian Hell historically owe a debt to the Zoroastrian ideas that the Jews would have been exposed to (especially) during the Babylonian Exile? But the Zoroastrian Hell was reformative, not eternal. Purgatory might (if this is true) represent a partial return to the earlier roots of the idea.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 14, 2017

          Possiby — but Jews did not develop a concept of hell until centuries after the exile, so it’s a bit hard to show that the contact with Zoroastrianism is what led to it.

  16. jmmarine1  March 13, 2017

    I saw it stated in Jesus Interrupted, as in many other places, that you lost faith in God due to the irreconcilable problem of an all-loving God and a world full of random violence and evil. The textual, theological, etc…problems/discrepancies (brought to light by you in many places) were not what led you to skepticism/atheism. In discussion with another member of the blog just last night, he raised a very interesting question: if it could be proven to you, without a shadow of a doubt, that an all-loving God could indeed be reconciled with a random, evil world (we understood that this is quite a stretch, though theoretically possible), would you consider a return to (Christian) faith, or theism, at minimum?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2017

      Yes, of course. But I don’t think there is going to be any new explanations to come along, other than the ones so many people have come up with over the past 3000 years….

      • Hormiga  March 14, 2017

        But wouldn’t an actual return need an additional element, namely some positive indication of the existence of a loving god? That is, under the hypothesis that a proof that evil is consistent with the existence of a loving god, then the presence of evil would say nothing one way or the other. More would be needed to reach any conclusions.

        (Seriousness aside, http://www.angryflower.com/507.html )

        • Bart
          Bart  March 16, 2017

          Yes, probably. But I should think the goodness we all experience in the world (well, many of us) would be proof enough…

  17. gmdave449
    gmdave449  March 13, 2017

    Regarding group vision of Mary, one argument I’ve heard is that this is different from the disciples’ encounters with Jesus because people seeing Mary are expecting to have visions of her. Often you have people going to partricular places where there have already been visions of Mary. So a group of people might go a particular place expecting and wanting to see Mary and end up reporting what they had gone hoping to see. However, I don’t know if this is a good description of typical group vision of Mary.

  18. jhague  March 13, 2017

    “Since these apologists do not think Mary really appears to these groups, they must (necessarily) think that these groups are “just seein’ things.” I.e., they are having some kind of false visionary experience. In other words, they are having a group hallucination. In other words, these evangelical apologists think not only that group visions are possible, but that they happen all the time. ”

    My thought is that the evangelical apologists do not think that the groups are seeing things. I think the evangelical apologists think that the groups are lying. They think they are lying whether it is one person having the vision or a group having the vision.

  19. SidDhartha1953  March 15, 2017

    You say group visions/hallucinations are very well documented. This brings to mind what may be a false memory on my part, but I don’t think so. I did a good bit of reading on the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917 at Fatima, Portugal, some years ago and remember an image of a newspaper account of the Miracle of the Sun (Oct. 13, 1917) in which 70,000 pilgrims were said to have witnessed the Sun spinning like a top, then falling to the earth. Witnesses reported being able to stare directly at the Sun without any discomfort or damage to their eyes. The odd thing that I noticed about the newspaper facsimile was that it was dated April 1st! Did newspapers sometimes print fake news on April Fools Day that long ago? I know they have in more recent history.
    Another question about the documentation of group visions/hallucinations: have any of the witnesses to the hallucinations (if that is what they are) been people who witnessed other people hallucinating but were not hallucinaiting themselves?
    I actually worked with a woman who claimed to witness a common rosary turning to gold at Medjugorje, but I have no idea if that was just how she remembered it after the fact, or if she perceived it thus at the moment. My uncle claimed that he saw a goiter vanish at an Oral Roberts crusade in the 1930s, but again, who knows?

  20. webo112
    webo112  March 22, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I am in process of reading ‘How Jesus Became God’ for second time, now that I am very much more knowledgeable after reading many more of your other books and listening to your debates and lectures.
    I understand your reasoning that that someone would not conclude a body has been resurrected simply because of an empty tomb…BUT have you ever considered (or has it been brought up in a debate etc) that perhaps the Gospel authors may have had the women (and followers) make that conclusion because of the predictions Jesus was saying (predicting his resurrection etc) in the gospel stories (I know his predictions are not historical).

    Therefore in that context; to Mark etc, it made sense that the woman were afraid, and that inner followers thought that he was in fact raised because of the empty tomb (before or excluding any resurrection appearances).
    In particular with Gospel of Mark, and it’s short (original) ending with no resurrection narratives/appearances….making this short ending more reasonable. Thus even without the resurrection appearances, (in Mark’s view) the empty tomb was enough for them to believe in Jesus’s resurrection and exaltation- due to his predictions earlier in the story.

    I do understand that historically speaking (no miracles/predictions), they would not have thought that immediately because the tomb was empty- which in itself (the empty tomb story) is historically doubtful anyway.

    Regards,

  21. webo112
    webo112  March 22, 2017

    …and let me add “more knowledgeable” from also reading the posts, comments and your replies on this blog – its hard to find an unanswered question to even ask here.
    Great blog, this site is an excellent compliment to your books/media.

    Regards,

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