Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Was the Resurrection a Hallucination?
This is a review of a book titled, "The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth." I wrote the review on Amazon under the pen name of Alberto. Alberto was my name to the Mexican people, while our family was living in Mexico.
In his book, the late Jack Kent weaves a hypothesis to explain the "myth" of the resurrection story. Many of the same topics, contra resurrection are addressed. The main focus of the book, however, revolves around the disciples hallucinations as a normal psychological symptom of grief and Paul's hallucination due to conversion disorder.
Hallucinations due to grief cannot be denied. Kent's view is that the disciples and Mary Magdalene did in fact experience grief-related hallucinations of the resurrected Jesus. Examples of grief-related hallucinations are presented with a survey noting that 47% of widowed spouses have experienced hallucinations due to grief, with a small percentage hallucinating being touched by the deceased.
The second main point made by Kent concerns Paul's experiencing the resurrected Jesus by conversion disorder. Conversion disorder is a psychological disorder that involves the "loss of physical functioning...due to an expression of psychological conflict or need (p.50)." Examples are also given by Kent of individuals who seemed to have experienced conversion disorder type symptoms.
According to Kent, Paul experienced his Jesus-hallucination due to his conflict on whether or not he should persecute Christians. Paul's respected teacher Gamaliel advised the Jewish leaders to be cautious about the treatment of Christians (Acts 5:17-42). Gamaliel is contrasted with his student Paul, who is approving persecution to the point of death. From Kent's perspective, Paul's emotional conflict came to a head during his trip to Damascus, thereby causing temporary blindness and experiencing a hallucination of Jesus (Acts 9:1-31). Thus, with Paul's hallucination due to conversion disorder and the disciples' grief-related hallucinations, the myth of the resurrected Jesus was born.
Big problems surface in Kent's hypothesis myth due to hallucination. Concerning point one, grief-related hallucinations, many questions are never answered. For example, no explanation is given concerning the empty tomb. Only a footnote is offered from the Anglican Bishop Barnes that states that Jesus' body was "possibly flung into a common grave (120)." Many of the critical scholars accept the tomb as being both known and empty after the third day. Secondly, according to Mark, Jesus makes reference to his eventual death and bodily resurrection. In Mark 8:31-32; 9:9,31; 10:34; and 14:28, we find detailed information by Jesus predicting his judgment, torture, death and resurrection. Kent makes no mention of these verses as being added texts, and, in fact, fails to mention the Markan evidence altogether. Perhaps the biggest unanswered question revolves around I Corinthians 15. Here we have the earliest creedal evidence of the physical resurrection of Jesus. Kent even concedes that this creed "could be dated very close to the actual crucifixion (p. 17)."
The hallucination-hypothesis of the disciples and Mary has other flaws. Kent's own listing of grief-related hallucinations further discredits his hypothesis. According to the survey (p. 29), only 39% felt the presence of the dead spouse, auditory and visual hallucinations were around 14%, and a mere 2.7% had the feeling of being touched by a deceased loved one. Additionally, grief-related hallucinations were always recognized as hallucinations, whereas the disciples actually believed they had physical contact with the resurrected Jesus. Kent even wildly asserts that the disciples could have mistaken mist for the apparition of Jesus (p. 38-39).
If we are to believe Kent's grief-related hallucination myth, then we must believe 100% of the disciples simultaneously shared the same physical encounters of Jesus as a hallucination experience. Hallucinations, however, are individual and not cooperate experiences. Finally, why would the hallucinations suddenly stop after a 40-day time period?
Kent's second point about Paul's conversion disorder is unsubstantiated by evidence and contradictory. Paul clearly had no conflict of interest prior to his Damascus trip. In fact, he fully intended to continue his persecution of Christians by going to Damascus (Acts 9: 1,2). Ananias was even aware of Paul's intentions, questioning the Lord's instruction in meeting with Paul (Acts 9:13,14). Conversion disorder calls for an individual to have psychological conflict. Paul was intent on causing harm to Christians and had absolutely no psychological conflict. Paul also believed he had physically encountered the risen Jesus. In I Corinthians 15: 42-44, Paul uses the Greek word sôma for body, which always indicates a material body.
In summary, Kent falls short in The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth. He provides no evidence of hallucination due to grief for the disciples or hallucinations due to conversion disorder for Paul. The disciples and Paul believed they had physically encountered the resurrected Jesus. Not one first century source even insinuates the possibility of the disciples hallucinating. The end result of Kent's book becomes that which he was trying to prove concerning the resurrection of Jesus - an invented myth.