Jesus’ Resurrection And Collective Hallucinations -- By: Jake O’Connell

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 60:1 (NA 2009)
Article: Jesus’ Resurrection And Collective Hallucinations
Author: Jake O’Connell

Jesus’ Resurrection And Collective Hallucinations

Jake O’Connell


This study is divided into two parts. Part I examines modern accounts of collective religious visions. Five factors make it very likely that such visions are collective hallucinations. Part II examines whether the same is true of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. The evidence indicates that if the resurrection appearances were collective hallucinations, hallucinations of glorious appearances of Jesus would have occurred alongside hallucinations of non-glorious appearances. Since the Gospels relate only non-glorious appearances of Jesus, hallucinations can only be maintained as an explanation if the original tradition of glorious/non-glorious appearances was changed to a tradition of purely non-glorious appearances. However, there are strong reasons to believe that the early church would have preserved, not eliminated, traditions of glorious appearances, had such existed. The lack of glorious appearances in the Gospels is therefore an indicator that the appearances were originally non-glorious and thus not hallucinations. Thus, collective hallucinations provide an inadequate explanation for the resurrection appearances.

1. Collective Religious Visions

It has long been argued that Jesus’ resurrection appearances can be explained as hallucinations (or subjective visions). This suggestion was popularised in the critical era by David Strauss1 and has won an

increasing number of adherents in recent years.2 However, the hypothesis has not gone uncriticised, with the strongest argument against it being that the fact of group resurrection appearances is incompatible with hallucinations because group hallucinations are impossible.3 This argument carries a considerable amount of weight, as

both of its premises appear well-supported. That group resurrection appearances did occur is firmly established by the pre-Pauline formula of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, and the suggestion that an entire group of people could suddenly burst into a fit of simultaneous hallucinations seems, on the face of it, psychologically unfeasible. Yet, when accounts of modern-day religious visions are examined, it becomes clear that there actually are well-documented cases of group religious visions which possess characteristics indicating that these visions are very likely hallucinatory. Recognising that religiously inspired group hallucina...

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