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  1. Avatar
    Mikail78  April 28, 2012

    Bart, you want to know what makes me pretty sure that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? I think I once told this to you in an email, so I’m sure this is nothing new, and I know I’m not the only person to take this approach, but here it goes. The New Testament clearly associates Jesus’s resurrection with the apocalypse. 1 Corinthians 15 says that Jesus’s resurrection is the first fruits of the general resurrection. Bart, you make it very clear in your books that this farming language clearly implies that the second coming is supposed to be VERY soon and right around the corner. Acts 17 and 1 Thessalonians 4 are also two other bible verses that link the resurrection of Jesus to the general resurrection at the end of the age. Anyway, if Jesus really rose from the dead, where the hell is he? How come he didn’t come back when he (at least according to the synoptic gospels) and his followers said he would? The scenario that has Jesus rising from the dead but not coming back to earth within the time period he said he would makes NO sense to me. I know that within evangelical Christianity, people try to get out of this by adopting the preterist viewpoint, but after studying this for a while, it’s just a complete mess and has so many fatal flaws.

    On a related note, I ask evangelical/fundamentalist Christians where Jesus went after he physically ascended to the sky. If he PHYSICALLY rose to the sky, where did he go? Did he go to live on a cloud? Another planet? A Star? Is he just floating around somewhere? You see, what many bible thumpers don’t realize is the very story that a man escaped the universe by physically rising to the sky reveals how scientifically ignorant the writers of the Bible were.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2012

      Interesting questions. I’ve wondered myself: if Jesus ascended, where did he go? What to your Christian friends say in reply to your question? Do they think that as soon as he went out of sight he was transported to the real realm of God, but that for the sake of the disciples — who did not have a 21st century cosmology — he ascended so they would understand that he was going to God (i.e. that he was accomodating to their first century world view?)? Or something else?

      • Avatar
        Mikail78  April 28, 2012

        The replies that I’ve gotten are obviously less than satisfying. One answer I’ve gotten is that the “we shouldn’t focus on Jesus’s physical destination because God is everywhere.” This answer assumes Jesus is God in human flesh, of course. Then another answer I’ve gotten is, “Where’s God? Where’s Jesus? Just because we can’t see or hear something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” I know it may be hard to believe but these are actual responses I’ve received to the question concerning Jesus’s location after the ascension. How people can be satisfied with such bullshit explanations is beyond me, but I guess they need to do what they need to do to hold on to their cherished belief system. Just recently, I asked a Christian apologist friend of mine this same question through email. I didn’t hear from him for a while. He then responds to me by asking if I’m interested in going to a play of “The Screwtape Letters” By C.S. Lewis! Bart, I’m serious about this. I’m not lying. This really happened! Perhaps the question was too uncomfortable for him, so the only way he could respond is by changing the subject. If he actually does attempt to answer my question, I’ll let you know.

        • Avatar
          TomJull  May 10, 2012

          I have been a lay reader of physics for the last couple of decades. If Jesus was raised “devine” or even something close to it, I would expect that he had access to other dimensions. If the theoritical physicists are not all full of shit, there may be an additional 7+ dimensions to which Jesus could have “ascended”. Over the last 20 years of my casual following this branch of math/science, my sense is that there are continually more physics “believers” in 10+ dimensions.

          I am co-opting another religion (theoritical physics) to provide a possible explanation. Floating on clouds? C’mon. No. But watch out for those scientists. They may provide an easily digestible possiblity for Christians like me.

        • Avatar
          TomJull  May 10, 2012

          Two more comments:
          a) It is unfortunate that your Christian apologist friend was more interested in going with you to a play than engaging your questions. If you had not heard from him in a while, he might have merely lost the context of the conversation. It happens. Or perhaps is a prick. Who knows. Seems like you assumed the latter.
          b) I believe Paul was fully convinced he would see the returning Jesus during his lifetime, and he may have been confused/doubting at his last breath. What is curious to me is that if that entire generation had this expectation, odds should have been that the movement dies a quick death. If our interpretations of these writings are that the earliest followers had this belief, how much more their own? Somehow it not only limped along, but it grew in the face of persecution. This is fascinating, and I look forward to further learning about this. Dr. Earman has used David Koresh as an analogy in his latest book. What has become of the Branch Davidians? Are they growing? Perhaps and I have merely not heard much about it.

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        aigbusted  April 28, 2012

        ” if Jesus ascended, where did he go?” That reminds me of John Shelby Spong’s reminisciences of the late astronomer Carl Sagan. Apparently Sagan had calculated that if Jesus had left Earth in 30 AD traveling at the speed of light, he would not yet be out of our solar system!! And our solar system is one of many trillions of solar systems. Anyway, I think one thing that is often missed out on in these debates is that the ascension of Jesus really gives the whole story away as a myth. It might not be a knockout punch for the resurrection theory, but it is clearly a good point in favor of psychological/sociological explanations for the origin of Christianity.

      • Avatar
        SJB  April 29, 2012

        My Elementary School friends and I, after considered discusion on the issue, decided that after his ascension Jesus went to the dark side of the moon. One of my friends even drew a crayon picture of Jesus sitting on a throne on the moon guarded by two angels (with spears). Made perfect sense at the time.

      • Avatar
        JordanDay  April 29, 2012

        The ascension was actually a major doubting point for me and quite a stumbling block. I didn’t see a need for him to float up into outer space before fading into a different dimension. It caused me think the whole story was surely a human invention by someone who thought that Heaven was “up there”. If Jesus truly did ascend up into the sky to accommodate the world view and cosmological understanding of a first century fisherman, he had to think to himself “Damn the rest”.

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          Xeronimo74  April 29, 2012

          > It caused me think the whole story was surely a human invention by someone who thought that Heaven was “up there”.

          Exactly. It’s expressions/concepts like that which make it very obvious that fallible, and quite ignorant, humans have written these stories and interpreted these ‘events’ according to their (limited) worldview.

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  April 29, 2012

        Maybe Jesus used the same ‘chariot’ to get to ‘Heaven’ that Elijah took at the time?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2012

          Well, it was available at the time….

    • Avatar
      zakiechan  April 28, 2012

      To quote Carl Sagan, “If Jesus ascended literally and traveled the speed of light, he hasn’t yet gotten out of our galaxy.”

      William Lane Craig was asked a similar question in his debate on the resurrection with Gerd Ludemann. Craig stated that “I believe that Jesus, yes, left this four-dimensional space-time universe, and that is a perfectly comprehensible and coherent notion, scientifically speaking. Jesus’ body ceased to exist in this four-dimensional space-time manifold that is described by the equations of general relativity and special relativity and all the rest. Jesus exited this four-dimensional space-time. I don’t see any difficulty with that.”

      I find this response fairly amusing, simply because “crypotzoologists” say the same thing about chupacabras. That is, the reason we have never found one is because they are “multi-dimensional beings” who can enter and exit our space-time dimension. Makes sense.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2012


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          fred  May 8, 2012

          I surprised that you’re surprised. Craig believes there is a heaven, and if there is a heaven – it is probably not on another planet (as the Mormons believe; it’s called Kolob) – therefore it makes sense (given the premise) that it is apart from our space-time.

          This still begs the question of why Jesus went up in the sky. I think the best answer to that is: it was necessary to exit in this manner because it conformed with the disciples world view – heaven was “up there.” Vanishing like Samantha the witch, might have been misunderstood.

          • Avatar
            ntuser  May 9, 2012

            Or maybe the disciple’s worldview shaped and limited how they “saw” or related events. We don’t “see” with our eyes at all but with our minds in a very real sense. Eyewitness accounts demonstrate this and the Flight 800 disaster is a great example. In the CIA report of that incident the eyewitness accounts are striking:
            Read the accounts on page 4 – boating people tended to see flares, many saw a meteor, most saw something going up like a missile. These were honest people just trying to help out. They “saw” what they saw because that was the context in which their minds put the visual information, information of something that never happened before and was never imagined, an airliner full of fuel blowing up and burning pieces falling trailing smoke.
            What would first century Jews “see” if there really was an extraordinary event out of any context? I think they would place it in their worldview. A storyteller would create for the same context however.
            Of course we now have multidimensional universes. Just watch The Avengers!

  2. Avatar
    Adam  April 28, 2012

    This very much answers the question I put in your Q&A post, so thank you. Does anyone think the resurrection story which resulted from the belief that the disciples “saw” Jesus was embellished by the result of oral tradition being shaped by time and speculation, etc. or crafted by the gospel authors as a metaphorical narrative (Borg I think says this) or as a parable (Crossan) based on the tradition of the appearances. This craft would not then be a deception of sorts but an attempt to convey truth in unhistorical narrative. I’m not closed to this, but I’m not sure if this is how people wrote/a literary method in the ancient world.

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    rbrtbaumgardner  April 28, 2012

    This isn’t a historical point of view, perhaps, so much as a sociological one, so I hope it is not too far off the point. The Resurrection story doesn’t have to carry the burden of belief on its own. Although the Resurrection story is compelling in itself, believers, who are a network of family and friends, are likely to accept and believe it on the basis of their relationships as much as on the “facts” of the matter. We are much more disposed to believe the stories and take the attitudes and points of view of people we love and like than those of other people.

    As I understand the conversion process, the sense of belonging is primary to developing loyalty to a group or movement and, although they are important, beliefs are secondary. You accept the teachings because you belong to the group, but you become willing to die for them because of the strong emotional ties you develop.

    I experienced a conversion process when I became a Mormon at age 19. (I haven’t been a Mormon for many years now and am agnostic.) The teachings offered hope and were novel enough to capture my interest without being so weird as to repel me; but what was the most compelling was the sense of belong, structure, and purpose I felt as a Mormon family included me in their activities. While the teaching and claims were attractive, being included in “the story” was the most compelling aspect. What I am trying to say is while the Resurrection is the pivotal claim of the early Christian story, there were other factors at work that carried the movement, also. I am wondering if there were other groups in the same period that claimed resurrection of a leader and how they fared. If they existed, how would they have compared to the Christians.

    • Avatar
      Adam  April 28, 2012

      You make some very good points. As one who was very loyal and involved in my church most of my life and who experienced many of the same positive things you did while a Christian, I am unwilling to criticise or mock believers or call them stupid as many nonbelievers do. As a result of my positive experience, I found it very difficult and painful process to leave that community and those beliefs. I tried very hard to maintain faith, but in light of my studies and research I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to and tried to defend it.

    • Avatar
      Scott F  April 29, 2012

      Good point. Although many Christians claim that the resurrection story is central to their belief, personal religious experiences seem to the the number one reason given becoming one in the first place. Then the passion narrative is added on.

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    ApostateAbe  April 28, 2012

    I think we can be certain well beyond agnosticism that Jesus was not raised from the dead, since it reaches the peak of implausibility and it is instead powerfully explained instead as myth motivated by wishful thinking, starting as either an illusion, a lie, a misunderstanding, a hope, or a combination of those things. The early Christians did not think much like the way we do, nor even much like members of their own society. They instead belonged to a strong cult of personality, and they thought like members of a cult. They invested very heavily in the belief that Jesus would lead them to participate and rule in a new kingdom of God after the existing world order would be dismembered. The untimely permanent death of Jesus was therefore absolutely unacceptable to them, and they would believe almost any alternative claim. So, they believed the first person who seemed to claim that Jesus came back from the dead. We can’t know what was going through the mind of the person who made that claim, but it hardly matters. The disciples’ belief in the resurrection is strongly expected regardless of what motivated the initial claim.

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    nichael  April 28, 2012

    Sticking with the terminology above, if we assume that some number of early disciples may have had an experience of the risen Jesus, do you have any thoughts as to how common this might have been?

    Of course, as time passed and the stories about Jesus developed, accounts of such incidents would no doubt tend to become self-propagating (e.g. “No, I’ve not seen Him myself. But there were plenty of folks who did”). And it’s probably reasonable to assume that by the time of much later accounts –e.g. the appearance to the 500– we are getting into the realm of legend. But if such experiences occurred, it would certainly be interesting to know how many folks (500?, 12?, 3? 1?) actually had them.

    Needless to say, I realize that, historically, there’s no way to give a specific number here, but I would be interested in your thoughts on this issue. (Or, as we might have phrased this back in physics class, is there any way in which we could place an upper –or lower– bound on this number?)

  6. Avatar
    aigbusted  April 28, 2012

    Skeptic magazine published an article about the hallucination hypothesis that is available here:

    The article demonstrates that given several dozen (perhaps over one hundred) original followers of Jesus, it is completely plausible for one or two dozen of them to hallucinate the risen Jesus, and that so-called group hallucinations can and do occur.

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    Joannebooth  April 29, 2012

    I think this beautiful passage from Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Housekeeping” captures the Ressurection in the way you imagine and that makes sense to the modern mind:

    Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes. And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest Him—a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail. Yet this was no more than tinkering. Being a man He felt the pull of death, and being God He must have wondered more than we do what it would be like. He is known to have walked upon water, but He was not born to drown. And when He did die it was sad—such a young man, so full of promise, and His mother wept and His friends could not believe the loss, and the story spread everywhere and the mourning would not be comforted, until He was so sharply lacked and so powerfully remembered that his friends felt Him beside them as they walked along the road, and saw someone cooking fish on the shore and knew it to be Him, and sat down to supper with Him, all wounded as He was. There is so little to remember of anyone—an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.
    — Marilynne Robinson’s “Housekeeping”

  8. Avatar
    JordanDay  April 29, 2012

    Something else you might like to mention (and make available in text format) is what you said in a radio debate with Licona. Apologist have tried to make the assertion that the majority of scholars believe not only that Jesus was “seen” by individuals in private but appeared “in group settings” (which makes a hallucination less plausible, but still possible). You said that this is not necessarily true, and I would like for you to elaborate on it a bit.
    Thank you.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2012

      I’m trying to remember the specific debate! I think what I had in mind is that the later accounts of group appearances (Gospels; Paul) may well have been later legendary expansions of what really may have happened, that individuals thought they saw Jesus (visions) and started spreading the word, leading to the accounts being amplified and exagerrated. What we really would like is some first-hand testimony from, say, Peter and Mary!!

  9. Avatar
    SJB  April 29, 2012

    Prof Ehrman, are you familiar with a book called WHEN PROPHECY FAILS written in the 50s by a social psychologist named Leon Festinger? (The reason I ask is that even though it is quite a famous case study the book itself has been out of print for years and only recently became available again.) It might shed some light on the issue of the resurrection.


    As part of a field study Festinger and a colleague infiltrated a UFO cult whose members had made a prediction about the coming end of the world. They wanted to see what would happen to the group when the prophecy failed. Counter-intuitively when the time passed with no destruction, while several members on the fringe of the group did drop away the core group remained intact and became even more energized and convinced than ever. it took several failed prophecies before the group began to be seriously impacted in its beliefs.

    We’ve seen this type of thing in our own day when someone sets dates for the second coming.

    Could we have a hint here of the psychology of the early Christian believers? Instead of being devastated and demoralized by the death of Jesus the core group of his followers were in fact even more convinced of his divine status. And of course the development of the early church involved moving away from the apocalyptic expectation as the first generation of believers died out.

    Too pat perhaps? The explanation does not require speculation about hypothetical “visionary experiences” on the part of the disciples of course.


    A personal note on the idea of after-death “experiences” A few days after the death of my brother I had an extraordinarily vivid dream in which he appeared to me and talked to me. I touched him. He spoke words of comfort to me assuring me that while he was dead he was never far from me. I’m shaking now as I write this.

    I do not offer this as proof for life after death or to compare this to a resurrection experience…but…if I lived in a culture where dreams were interpreted as messages from God?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2012

      Thanks for both of your interesting comments. Yes, I am very familiar with Festinger’s work, and have used it in my classes on occasion. There have been scholars who have applied “cognitive dissonance” to the study of early Christianity. For example, John Gager, in his important book From Kingdom to Community argued that the phenomenon could be used to explain why Christianity continued to thrive even after its belief in the imminent appearance of Christ from heaven came to be radically disconfirmed by the ongoing history of the world.

      On your own experience: was it a dream (at night, while sleeping), or more of a vision (while awake)? Just curious

      • Avatar
        SJB  April 29, 2012

        Prof Ehrman,

        My experience was a dream at night while asleep although I did awaken at the end of the dream. It did have a “visionary” quality about it in that it was visceral in a way my dreams ordinarily aren’t ( I touched him) and I definitely felt I was being given a message.

        I’m comfortable with a rational explanation. I had this experience because I needed to have it. It was a way of saying goodbye that had been denied me in reality since he lived in Atlanta and I live in Washington DC. He was a bit younger than I am and we were extrmemely close. I have not dreamed about him since.


      • Avatar
        Christian  October 17, 2012

        I also had a similar dream just after the death of my grand father. I knew a young woman who died of cancer. A couple of days later, while awaken, her grieving mother “saw” her dead daughter coming to her and telling her that she was alright now. There was a paper published in a medical journal, in the last decade, about this phenomenon, but I can’t find the reference now. In it, the authors mentioned that this was not news for the nurses, but medical doctors were reluctant to analyse it.

      • Jesse80025
        Jesse80025  October 26, 2012

        I participated in one of those 10 day Vipassana meditation courses a few weeks ago and experienced some pretty interesting things along the lines of religious visions and hallucinations. Many times, while I was trying to meditate, I was bombarded with both random images, images that formed a movie like story, and sounds, including some of the best music I’ve ever written thus far in my life. I would compare these sensations to imaginations but they were more vivid, and seemed almost objective, since I was in no way, shape, or form, consciously trying to form or summon them. I kept comparing these experiences, all the time, to what the disciples might have experienced after the death of Jesus. It was quite easy for me to imagine someone interpretting comparable visions as coming from outside of themselves.

        One morning, I got up at the 4:30 bell, did an hour and a half of meditation, and after leaving my room, found I could read people’s emotions based off of an multicolored aura that seemed to slightly emanate out of people. Now, of course, being the huge skeptic that I am, I didn’t believe for a second that I was actually doing this and just chalked it up to a part of my imagination that I must have become overactive or disassociated from. I wasn’t the only one. I talked to other people who experienced hallucinations and many of them MUCH more visceral than mine. I thought perhaps I’d hallucinated more than is common simply because I dialogue often with apologists and it would be convenient for me to have experienced, first hand, hallucinations and visions induced in a non hippy way. But many of my friends who also attended the course, unbeknown to me until afterwards, experienced very intense visions and hallucinations. I’m not exactly what good literature there is on this but I have a feeling that there are very good material out there on non drug induced hallucinations. This experience further convinced me that the disciples could easily have been hallucinating.

        • Avatar
          osman  November 1, 2017

          what excatly where you doing? just meditation? fasting?

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      Joannebooth  May 4, 2012

      SJB, your dream about your brother may have been a hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucination, which are fairly common especially during periods of extreme stress such as after the death of a loved one. These hallucinations are unusually vivid dreams that often have a tactile or other intense sensory component. I’ve had them myself during difficult times. They can be upsetting or comforting (or both!) depending on the content. Perhaps the scattered disciples experienced them after the shock of the crucifixion.

      • Avatar
        TomJull  May 8, 2012


        The “scattered disciples” somehow regrouped and formed a movement that spread. Did several of them experience hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations at or about the same time? I have had one myself. The experience went nowhere beyond my personal testimony of its reality. It was akin to SJB’s experience, except that the contact was with something I deemed pure evil during the experience.

        This is clearly different from a group of people having the same experience at nearly the same time, if one believes Paul or his personal contacts, Cephas and James.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 8, 2012

          Great question. I don’t know, personally, whether there were “group” experiences, or only later *stories* of group experiences…..

          • Avatar
            TomJull  May 9, 2012

            Thank you, Dr. Ehrman, for the reply.

            Paul’s own experience, assuming the author of Acts relays it as Paul might have himself, seems clearly different from what Paul learned from Peter and James during those 15 days he spent in their company. Paul never saw a physical, risen Christ. I assume he learned about the reports of physicall appearances to multiple persons (if not large groups) from Peter and James. Perhaps he encountered others who claimed to have seen Christ resurrected, as 1 Chor 15:6 could imply. I firmly believe Paul was neither naive nor stupid. He would have “sanity checked” the things he learned from Peter and James with other followers with whom he had contact, even if merely in an indirect way as opposed to a direct, investigative way.

            Group experiences? I get your point. Multiple, independent experiences is perhaps what I was trying to convey. The accounts of to whom Christ appeared and the order of appearance are definitely contra-synoptic. But there are multiple sources, and they are dissimilar accounts which all emphatically purport to involve multiple witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

            Christian, agnostic, or atheist…I think we can all agree with Paul when he writes to the followers in Corinth: “If Christ is not risen [physically], your faith is futile.”

          • Avatar
            LM  April 25, 2020

            This is an old thread, but I’m curious: Full disclosure: I’m a Christian philosopher & apologist. I’m critical of the “minimal facts” method of defending the resurrection. I’ve seen Dr. Craig assert recently that Dr. Ehrman has acknowledged (in the Teaching Company lectures) that the disciples had “group appearances.” All of the evidence I’ve seen indicates that Dr. Ehrman questions group appearance experiences. I think that the majority of mainstream scholars probably do *not* grant “group appearances.”

            Dr. Ehrman, if you see this and don’t mind answering: You say that you aren’t sure whether there were group *experiences* or not. If there were, can you give a sketch of what the most would be that you would acknowledge they could plausibly have been like? I know that you regard the actual resurrection accounts as highly embellished. Perhaps that gives us a clue that you do *not* think that the disciples had group experiences such as those recorded in the resurrection accounts (e.g., of conversations with Jesus as a group or Jesus eating with them). But I don’t want to put words in your mouth and would be genuinely interested in how much you would actually grant here.

            Lydia McGrew

          • Bart
            Bart  April 26, 2020

            I think three could have been group visions of Jesus. I talk about it in my book How Jesus Became God. After all, we have masses of reports of them setill going on today. Not to mention even more group visions of Mary. Do they happen? Yes, of course they do. Are the people *really* seeing Jesus or Mary. I don’t think so for a second.

          • Avatar
            LM  April 26, 2020

            Right, I get that, but if you don’t mind my pushing a little more: What would be the most detail that you would think such experiences remotely plausibly could have had? The whole group having long conversations with the person? The person appearing to eat with them? The person being tangible to the group? I don’t think these are typically features of alleged Marian apparitions. In fact (tho’ I’d have to research it) my impression is that groups of people don’t normally claim to hear the person saying any lengthy message. To put it bluntly: Do you think it remotely plausible that the group of disciples had experiences that seemed to them like what is reported in the Gospel resurrection accounts with Jesus where they are having conversations, hearing long sermons, eating with him together, and being invited to touch him?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 27, 2020

            Most group experiences involve seeing the person from a distance. But over time, the stories about hose appearances get embellished and amplified over time. The stories in teh Gospels are not eyewitness accounts, written by people who were claiming to be there, but the embellished versions from decades later. But that doesn’t mean that they weren’t rooted in an experience that a group of people claimed to have.

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    rbrtbaumgardner  April 30, 2012

    Several years ago I read Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens by Susan Clancy, a Harvard psychologist at the time, and it strikes me as having a significant bearing on conversion experiences. Her subjects were selected to eliminate those with a history of mental illness.

    Just like most religious people are not mentally ill, these were simply people who had an unusual experience and who found an explanation in UFO abduction. Clancy chose people who claimed this experience because she felt safe she would not have to discriminate between people who in reality were abducted and those who were not.
    I am giving the barebones of process of “conversion” Clancy discusses, so it is greatly simplified.

    People who experience difficult or unusual things sometimes try to explain them using whatever information is available in their environment. They may continue to “try on” explanations until one “feels right” to them.
    Once they find a good fit, they begin to filter and bias information to strengthen their interpretation. Some people are willing to lose friends and endure terrible “memories” to hold on their interpretation of events and will not accept more plausible and less painful explanations.

    Although scientists don’t accept anecdotal experience, it is nonetheless given great importance by most people because it *feels* real and fits their daily experience of reality.

    Imaginative people, especially those with strong visual imagination, are prone to memory errors and under the right conditions can come to believe imaginary events are real. This is particularly true when people are encouraged over a sustained period to describe visual events in the presence of an authority figure and others who validate the imaginary events. Authority figures can consciously or unconsciously manipulate or reinforce certain interpretations when a person is in a susceptible state.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2012

      Very interesting. Thakns for passing this along. I’ll look into it!

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    zlemm  May 2, 2012

    Prof. Ehrman you said that the origins of the belief that Jesus was raised was visions of him among his followers. You also said this is a pretty common phenomenon. If so why haven’t we heard of any traditions about other OT prophets being raised from the dead. Among thousands of prophets (if we count all the prophets the Jews killed (according to the NT and the OT), there are no widespread traditions about them being raised. I admit I’m biased but the only sensible explanation is that Jesus wasn’t killed and the visions of him were in reality real sightings of Jesus. If I’m not mistaken Josephus mentions a messiah claimant who faked his own death and got away.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2012

      Great question! I suppose there are two reasons. One is that these prophets were most often “loners,” without deeply committed groups of followers; the other is that the apocalyptic worldview that advocated and promoted the notion of “resurrection” was not in place during the days of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. It’s probalby not an accident that some of John the Baptist’s followrs thought he too was raised from the dead. He like Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, and he like Jesus had very committed followers.

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        zlemm  May 2, 2012

        Thanks! Interesting, I wasn’t aware of the belief that John the Baptist rose from the dead. I would appreciate it if you could point me to the sources that mention this. I know that it is narrated in the NT that some people thought Jesus was John the Baptist incarnated (if I remember correctly). Is this what you mean?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2012

          Yes, some people thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead — showing that the idea of a great prophet being raised was “in the air,” so to speak.

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          ntuser  May 3, 2012

          In the NT, both Jesus and John the Baptist are thought to be Elijah come again. This is not quite the same though as they may not have thought Elijah died at all.

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    TomJull  May 8, 2012

    Dr. Ehrman,

    What do scholars say about how a guy like Paul understood “history”? Any sense of how close he was to:
    – causal explanation
    – reason-action explanation
    – contextual explanation
    – the narrative mode of explanation

    Pual does not seem to separate the physical resurrection of Jesus when he writes about Jesus from his crucifixion. Indeed, in 1 Chor 15, the two seem inseparable. The mythicist would ask why you give so much credence to Paul’s witness to Christ’s crucifixion, and little to Paul’s claim of Christ’s resurrection.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 8, 2012

      I’m not sure Paul had a clearly thought out view of history; it probably was not a “category of thought” for him (i.e, he would not have known that there are different views of historiography). I haven’t thought through what his view actually was, but it would be an interesitng exercise.

      I would have a lot to say if a mythicists objected to my views along the lines you indicate — too long for this brief reply. But among other things I would say that Paul would not have thought that Jesus was raised from the dead if he didn’t think that he existed. And that he really died.

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    amorfati  September 12, 2012

    Something else that strikes me as an obvious contributing factor—and yet it rarely seems to be addressed—is that sightings of *famous* individuals frequently occur after their deaths, especially by those who don’t want to accept their end. (I use the term ‘famous’ relatively here. In our day, fame is accompanied by media coverage and widespread knowledge; fame for a given individual at a given time might be extreme popularity within a group or subgroup of people.)

    In our own day, with well-documented physical characteristics, photographic evidence, and other telling features, how many sightings of Elvis, Jim Morrison, and Tupac have there been? I think the case of Jim Morrison is especially telling, since he was somewhat of a cultic figure, leading a group of close associates, apocalyptic at his core, and legendary as a basis for widespread gossip (storytelling). The conditions of his death are still hotly debated, and many people *want* it to be true that he faked his death and disappeared.

    I think we can see some parallels here to the inception of the risen Jesus myth: after his death at the hands of the Romans, his followers must have been shocked. Of course, not *all* of his followers were in attendance, and stories of the events spread like wildfire (and rapidly changed, just like any other legend).

    Some probably did have visions of Jesus as they attempted to make sense of the tragedy with respect to their own apocalyptic expectations; others, no doubt, *saw* Jesus alive—just like I *saw* Elvis at a Burger King once—and hurried to tell others. Now I imagine Elvis based on widely publicized images of Elvis from famous photographs, so my experience of seeing Elvis was real based on visual accuracy, even though it was not the *real* Elvis (as impersonating Elvis is a long-held tradition). Without photographs in the ancient world, it would have been easy to mistake any individual for a lost loved one.

    As you have reasoned in your TTC/TGC lectures, Bart, these followers begin to reason *backward* (just like most uncritical historiographers):

    (1) If Jesus is alive, then God must have raised him from the dead, since we know he died on the cross.
    (2) But if Jesus was raised from the dead, then that means that the final resurrection is at hand and Jesus is a first-fruit of it (since, as the apocalyptic Jew would have known, the resurrection of Jewish saints like Moses, David, and Elijah would precede the arrival of the Kingdom of God).
    (3) Then that means that Jesus was telling the truth and that God is finally going to intervene and re-establish Israel as the head of all nations.
    (4) And if God is about to intervene, then the last times are here and Jesus was the true messiah of God.
    (5) But if he was the true Messiah, then why did he have to die?
    (6) It must not have been for anything he did, but rather for something else… etc. etc. etc.

    Here are the seed plots of the entire Proto-Orthodox position.

    The motivation for the stories of the resurrection of Jesus is not at all difficult to imagine, nor is the willingness of some of his original followers to die for this belief, given the way it had been made to fit with their apocalyptic expectations. The details of the post-resurrection sightings as found in the various gospels may make for good reading, but they certainly don’t bring us any closer to the truth of the situation… and it is no coincidence that these were first published *after* Jesus’s first followers had passed on.

    The real question is: how do people *today* honestly believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead, (especially with the claim being divorced from the original apocalyptic context)??? Paul’s cosmic override of a strictly Jewish fable has turned into the greatest sales pitch in history—talk about world historical irony!!!

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    Human  January 7, 2018

    This is a terribly old post for me to be commenting on, but if you happen to have links documenting the post-death visions you mentioned I’d appreciate having them.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2018

      I discuss a number of them in my book How Jesus Became God.

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