Was Jesus Resurrected in Jerusalem?

Photo credit: Andrew Senay / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: Andrew Senay / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Ask Christians why they believe Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem and they will tell you because it says so in the Bible. Ask them why it says so in the Bible and they will tell you because Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. This circular argument doesn’t bother Christians because they believe the Gospels are historically accurate, eye witness accounts written shortly after the crucifixion. This message is constantly drummed home by the Christian establishment and constantly reinforced by Christian apologist authors all of which have personal emotional agendas that cloud their judgement and personal emotional baggage that corrupts their objectivity.

A typical example of corrupted objectivity can be found on page 165 of Jim Wallace’s book Cold Case Christianity. To prove that Luke’s Gospel is a very early eye witness account Wallace compares two almost identical accounts of the Eucharist [Lord’s Supper] one in Luke’s Gospel the other in 1-Corinthians and then claims that Paul copied an earlier Luke. Wallace totally ignores mainstream secular opinion that Paul was dead when Luke was written, and therefore, it was Luke who copied Paul. Apologist authors get away with this sort of thing all the time, because their readers don’t know enough about early Christianity to realise when they are being duped. Religion and politics have always been fertile stomping grounds when it comes to applying the theory of misinformation.

But if the Gospels are historically accurate as claimed, where is the independent evidence corroborating what was allegedly the greatest single event in the history of mankind? Jesus was supposedly resurrected at the beginning of the Jewish Passover in the middle of a Jerusalem teeming with Jews. News of that spectacular event should have gone viral and it should have been noted by both Jewish and Roman authorities. But there are no reliable independent records of any sort. For centuries the Jewish historian Josephus appeared to offer independent proof that the resurrection really happened but these days most scholars now accept that the relevant passage in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews was altered by the early Christian church to rectify the embarrassing absence of independent evidence.

Many secular scholars now deny the Gospels are historically accurate eye witness accounts and claim instead that the Gospels were written by unknown authors well after the death of all concerned. In which case these unknown Gospel authors simply passed on in the Gospels what Paul told them when he first established his early Christian communities. And Paul in turn simply passed on what Peter told him when they first met in Jerusalem. Therefore, if the Gospels were in fact written by unknown authors after the death of all concerned, then effectively, the Gospels just propagate what Peter told Paul as summarized by Paul in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9.

This probably explains why the ensuing Gospels portray the Jerusalem resurrection as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews but it does not explain why there is no independent evidence to corroborate this alleged resurrection. This lack of independent evidence can best be explained by suggesting there never was any resurrection to corroborate. Shock horror I hear Christians say However this suggestion implies that Peter lied to Paul about the Jerusalem resurrection when they first met in Jerusalem. Shock horror yet again I hear Christians say. You can’t say Peter lied. His credentials are impeccable and beyond reproach. Well yes, he is the patron saint of the Holy Roman Catholic Church now. But back then, he was just a simple, unsophisticated, illiterate, peasant fisherman from Galilee who happened to be enjoying the perks of his newly acquired elevated status as one of the senior patriarchs of the early Jerusalem Church.

Peter would not have been pleased when Paul turned up claiming he had met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. This implied that Paul had been specially chosen by God to do God’s work and this possibility automatically threatened Peter’s new found authority. I think Peter eliminated this potential threat by simply trumping Paul’s story with a better story. I think Peter simply claimed that he and many others had already seen the resurrected Jesus in Jerusalem well before Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus. This simple lie would have relegated Paul’s position from that of specially chosen one to that of junior partner and left Peter’s authority intact. And those claiming that Peter would never do such a thing should remember that in the Gospels Peter did lie when it suited him.

Of course, this is all pure speculation on my part, but saying Peter lied to Paul about the Jerusalem resurrection does lead to a better explanation of the known facts, and it does so without affecting the final outcome of the story. Paul still visits Peter three years after his experience on the road to Damascus. Paul still leaves Jerusalem believing that Jesus is the son of God and with this belief now turbo-charged by Peter’s news that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Paul still passes on the good news to his early Christian communities. The unknown Gospel authors still propagate the good news in the ensuing Gospels, and we still end up with Christianity and a New Testament. The only noticeable difference is there was no resurrection in Jerusalem.

That just leaves Paul’s divine encounter on the road to Damascus. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus is portrayed in the New Testament as a divine revelation which leaves Paul believing he had met with the resurrected Jesus. In 1872 J C Howden pointed out that Paul’s symptoms as described in the New Testament are very similar to the symptoms of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy or TLE for short. Howden therefore suggested that Paul may have just hallucinated on the road to Damascus following an attack of TLE. Today we know far more about this fairly common form of epilepsy which is caused by localised seizures occurring in the temporal lobe region of the brain and in the scientific literature you can now find many reported experiences similar to that experienced by Paul on the road to Damascus. Those experiencing these temporal lobe aberrations are always totally convinced that their hallucinations are real.

2000 years ago Paul lived in a pantheistic pagan world that was totally oblivious of TLE. Miracles and supernaturalism were part of Paul’s everyday life and it was perfectly natural for Paul to rationalise his experience on the road to Damascus as best he could in terms that were then culturally acceptable. Today however we can explain Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus in simple medical terms and having looked in detail at the evidence supporting this hallucination idea I personally think it offers a plausible explanation of what really happened to Paul on the road to Damascus. So much so I now think we could also think about extending this hallucination idea to include Mohammed’s many similar experiences in 7th century Arabia. Shock horror yet again!

Christians and Muslims will obviously have great difficulty coming to terms with the implications of this radical hallucination idea, and I know that expecting them to educate themselves about TLE, is a bit like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas. However the scientific evidence is pretty conclusive and I personally think we can now be fairly confident that both Christianity and Islam are nothing more than very extreme examples of what can happen when simple hallucinations triggered by TLE are wrongly interpreted as divine revelations. If a simple TLE induced hallucination hadn’t converted Paul on the road to Damascus then he would never have visited Peter in Jerusalem and Christianity would never have seen the light of day.

All very interesting you might say, but why should anyone take these ideas seriously? Well in a nutshell, because this version of events is much simpler and because it better explains the facts. The orthodox version of events requires two divine interventions one in Jerusalem and one on the road to Damascus. This version requires no super-naturalism of any sort. The orthodox version of events does not explain the total absence of independent corroboration. This version of events does. The orthodox version of events does not explain why the resurrection is portrayed in the Gospels as a virtually invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews. This version of events does. The orthodox version of events does not even attempt to explain why the Jews rejected Jesus. This version of events does. The orthodox version of events does not explain the forged entry in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. This version of events does.  The orthodox version of events downplays Paul’s role and overplays the role of the 12 Apostles. This version of events emphasizes Paul pivotal role as the true father of Christianity .

This simpler more pragmatic scenario has Paul hallucinating on the road to Damascus, Peter knowingly duping Paul when they first meet in Jerusalem, Paul then unknowingly duping his early Christian communities and finally the unknown Gospel authors unknowingly duping the world. The world still ends up with Christianity and a New Testament but it does so without any need to resurrect Jesus in Jerusalem.

However, this revised version of events does have a noticeable downside. There is no Christianity comfort blanket to shelter under. There’s just the stark reality that you are born, you live and then you die, just like any other living organism. If you can’t look your own mortality in the eye without blinking, then perhaps you should stick with the orthodox version of events.

Personally I prefer the intellectual satisfaction of knowing that all it took, to launch Christianity onto an unsuspecting world, was a simple hallucination on the road to Damascus and a simple lie told in Jerusalem. And if true, then it definitely follows, that Christianity is just an extreme example of what can happen, when simple hallucinations triggered by Temporal Lobe Epilepsy are wrongly interpreted as divine revelations from God.

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3 thoughts on “Was Jesus Resurrected in Jerusalem?

  1. Interesting, yet not completely accurate.

    1) Over-simplified Christian apologetic’s into a circular argument to fit your agenda.

    2) The need for “independence evidence to corroborate” as you’ve narrowly defined, would mean to corroborate that I celebrated my daughters 3rd Birthday yesterday; that I would need people outside of my immediate family to bear witness to seeing us celebrate it in my home.

    3) Antiquity of Jews by Josephus: While the majority of scholars agree that part of the passages has been altered. They also agree that the majority of the text has been unaltered. Not to mention that there are at least 3 known passages that bear witness to Jesus’ existence and crucifixion under Pontius Pilot.

    4) Gospels vs. Paul – need citation to support your argument. As some of Paul’s writings are believed to be written before some of the Gospels but not all and vice versa. Not to mention, that there are believed to be earlier versions of the Gospels that were used to write the Gospels. And that the Gospels were originally orated shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection before they were written down.

    5) TLE – Forensic diagnoses of Paul’s condition has many interpretations. TLE is one that appears reasonable as you’ve pointed out. But even if we accept your hypothesis, can you show that Paul’s TLE hallucination was NOT a divine revelation? While this may come as a “shock” to you, you assume that hallucinations cannot be divine. I’m asking for you to show proof that Paul’s did not have a divine “hallucination” on the road to Demascus.

    Otherwise, good post!

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    1. Hi and thanks for your comments. I’ll try to answer them in the same order you used.

      1). Over-simplified: Sorry but we will have to disagree. I’ve read enough apologetics stuff and I stand by my claim that their objectivity leaves a lot to be desired.

      2). Need for “independence evidence to corroborate”: You seem to imply that independent corroboration from people outside of your family is necessary to confirm the fact that your daughter’s birthday was celebrated. If the significance of this celebration was on a par with that of the alleged resurrection then I would agree with you. The need for corroboration is entirely commensurate with the significance of the event.

      3) Antiquity of Jews by Josephus: I agree that most of relevant passage in paragraph 3, chapter 3 of Book 18 is thought to be authentic, including Josephus’ reference to the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem. I also agree that Suetonius, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger bear witness to the existence and crucifixion of Jesus. But I’m not disputing the existence of Jesus nor his crucifixion in Jerusalem. I’m only questioning the RESURRECTION of Jesus in Jerusalem The alteration in Antiquity of Jews that I alluded to in this post is the all important inserted statement “for he appeared to them alive again on the 3rd day” which most scholars now accept is a forgery.

      4) Gospels vs. Paul: There were many written Gospels but only four of them were eventually canonised. Mainstream scholastic opinion maintains that all seven genuine Pauline epistles were written before the appearance of the four canonised Gospels. Claiming that the Gospels were originally orated prior to being written down is Christianity’s way of explaining the awkward 30-40 year delay before any written Gospels appeared. There is nothing to substantiate these claims only traditional dogma that has become entrenched in Christian folklore over the centuries. The only earlier Gospel I’m aware of is the dubious oral Q Gospel that some Christian scholars claim pre dates Mark.

      5) TLE: Nobody can prove the true nature of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. It happened 2000 years ago and we only have what we find in New Testament to play with. It’s just a question of relative probabilities. We now have a perfectly rational way of explaining what happened to Paul and I personally consider it to be a no brainer but then I’m not hampered by emotional baggage forcing me to cling to irrational alternatives.

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      1. I appreciate your responses. If you don’t mind a continuation of discussion I’ll do my best to keep things short and on point.

        1) While you disagree, the reason you disagree is far different than showing that you did not over-simplify Christian apologetics in your post. While you might feel the objectivity of Christians leaves much to be desired, you seem content with the objectivity of atheists, why is that? Personally, I find many atheist objections fail to satisfy logical conclusions and are often filled with assumptions and attempts at rationalizatizing complex issues for them individually.

        2) I hope you are not saying that you feel extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. While it’s easier for you to believe that I celebrated my daughter birthday on Saturday than had I claimed I was abducted by aliens, as one fits our common everyday experiences and the other does not. The reality is, neither needs additional corroboration from outside sources to be true IF the events in question did in fact occur.

        3) That is good. So we agree that Jesus was crucified and died in Jeruselem. Which would mean that IF Jesus did raise himself from the dead, then he WAS resurrected in Jeruselem. This then makes the title of your post a bit misleading as it is unclear if you are asking if Jesus did in fact raise from the dead OR if the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred in Jeruselem. As far as your citation in question, we can agree. However, the passage of Joephus about Jesus’ crucifixion in Jeruselem we agree is authentic.

        4) A few things to consider:

        A) The Alexander the great we read about in our history books was first written around 300 years after Alexander’s death by 1 individual. Yet, there is little dispute over all of the claims made historically about Alexander. Whereas, with Jesus, you have 4 separate Gospel accounts and a handful of epistles all written within 30-40 years of his death and the only thing really disputed is his divinity or the miracles that he performed. I’ll reference you back to #2 regarding evidence for claims.

        B) You cite Josephus. Who wrote his Antiquity of the Jews for the Roman Empire 60 years after Jesus death. How is it a 60 year gap is more acceptable than a 30-40 year gap? Not to mention, how is a work written by the Roman Empire and it’s objectivity more credible than the Gospel accounts written by their objectivity?

        C) The Q Document is the best known, but others pre-Gospel documents are assumed. As far as Paul’s epistles, they are generally credited between 55-67 A.D. Whereas Mark, Luke and Matthew are assumed somewhere between early 50’s to as late as 85 A.D. (from the most liberal to the most conservative estimates).

        5) Yes, we agreed that TLE is an acceptable rationale based on present day interpretations by medical doctors. However, there has never been a case of TLE where the symptoms included “something like scales” falling from the patients eyes as they received their sight back after a TLE episode. This is generally over-looked in the diagnosis as it does not fit. I’m glad to hear you have no emotional baggage, as neither do I. You’ve assumed that hallucinations cannot be divinely inspired. This is based off of the assumption that there is no god(s) [or no divine beings]. But you have not shown evidence for your claim, which is what begged my question.

        I’ll add the following for context. Almost everyone has experience moments referred to as Deja Vu. This phenomenon is quite interesting and attributed to Temporal lobe activity. Now, the feeling and sensation of a Deja Vu moment, is true for each individual. If you have ever experienced one you understand what I am referring to. Personally, I believe that the Deja Vu phenomenon results from dreams we have while sleeping but don’t recall when we wake up. We do however “recall” them when we “re-live” them in our Deja Vu moments. Besides that, the most interesting thing is the link to the Temporal Lobe. I suggest that what are referred to as dreams, visions, revelations, etc. in the Old and New Testaments all stemmed from Temporal Lobe activity. Simply calling Paul’s revelation a hallucination doesn’t change what Paul experienced or how it affected his life from that point. And as stated, calling it a hallucination simply makes the unproven assumption that it cannot be inspired by a divine being.

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