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Jesus' resurrection:

Five more non-miraculous explanations

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About resurrection:

These four paragraphs are copied another essay giving an overview of the resurrection:

The Bible teaches that Jesus was executed by the occupying Roman Army at the time of a Passover in Jerusalem. Most theologians believe that this happened during the springtime of either 30 or 33 CE. A common belief is that he died on a Friday afternoon and was resurrected sometime before sunrise on the following Sunday morning, perhaps a day or a day and a half later. This was when, according to the Gospels, Mary Magdalene (alone or in the company of other women; the gospels differ) visited the tomb. Most, but not all, Christians believe that he was resurrected (either under his own power or as a result of God's intervention) in his original body.

When normal people die, their heart stops pumping blood through their brain. Brain death occurs, and various degenerative processes soon begin; the body starts to rot; rigor mortis sets in. The processes are irreversible; they never come back to life. According to the gospels, Jesus remained dead for perhaps 33 hours or more -- from Friday afternoon until early on Sunday morning. This would have been a sufficient interval to "leave no doubt as to the reality of His death." 1 Yet, he was described as having returned to life, leaving the tomb, and subsequently appearing before various groups of his followers. This, of course, would be a miracle.

Ever since the first century CE, alternative explanations have been offered to account for the stories in the Gospels. Muslims, for example, believe that Jesus' crucifixion never happened. Rather, another person was executed in Jesus' place.

Alternative explanations have been promoted by individuals who deny that the resurrection happened. They believe that most, but not all, of the components of the gospel stories are correct: that Jesus was actually hung on a stake or cross, and was believed to have died. He was removed and taken away by his supporters. But other components are believed to be myth, fiction, and perhaps a pious fraud.

Some alternative scenarios are:

Modernist View:

In the early 20th century, some Catholic modernists suggested that:

"the entrance into life immortal of one risen from the dead is not subject to observation; it is a supernatural, hyper-historical fact, not capable of historical proof. The proofs alleged for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are inadequate; the empty sepulchre is only an indirect argument, while the apparitions of the risen Christ are open to suspicion on a priori grounds, being sensible impressions of a supernatural reality; and they are doubtful evidence from a critical point of view, on account of the discrepancies in the various Scriptural narratives and the mixed character of the detail connected with the apparitions." 1
In 1907, Pope Pius X issued his Decree Lamentabili (a.k.a. the Syllabus of Pius X). In it, he condemned 65 beliefs promoted by modernists, including this one. Three years later, he required all Catholic clergy to take an "Oath Against Modernism" which remained in force until 1967.

The Reserpine theory:

Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Sudbury, ON Canada, developed another miracle-free explanation of the resurrection story. While experimenting on rats, he noted that when the animals were physically restrained and injected with reserpine -- or similar drugs -- their body temperature would decrease rapidly and they would be appear to have died. Three days later, they revived on their own. Presumably, a similar reaction would probably happen in other mammals. Of course, it would be impossible on ethical grounds to conduct a similar experiment on humans.

Persinger speculates that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) may have consumed reserpine or a similar drug. This might have happened at the Last Supper, or when he was offered a sponge containing a liquid while on the cross. It is generally acknowledged, at least by some mainline and most liberal theologians, that John the Baptist had been a member of the Essene religious group. There is some evidence that the Essenes used psychoactive drugs in their rituals. Perhaps they had found reserpine, a drug which is has a plant origin. Yeshua certainly was restrained on the cross. The soldiers could have believed that he had died, and released the body, only to have Yeshua spontaneously recover a day and a half later in the tomb. 2,3

  • One problem with this theory is that Yeshua is said to have returned to life within something like 33 hours after his apparent death. But the rat experiment showed a three day period between apparent death and apparent resurrection. However, this difference could merely be due to the difference between the physiology of rats and humans.
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia's suggestion would make Yeshua's recovery unlikely. They speculate that hundreds of pounds of spices would have so poisoned the atmosphere that it would have killed Yeshua, even as he was still unconscious.

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The myth theory:

Jay Ingram, host of the Daily Planet program on the Canadian Discovery Channel suggests a much simpler possibility: Referring to the research by Persinger, he said:

 "This article is another in a long tradition of seeking natural explanations for the supernatural: The Star of Bethlehem was a conjunction of planets; a tidal wave accompanying a volcanic eruption in the Mediterranean explains the parting of the Red sea...Just argue that the [resurrection] story was made up by the creative authors of the Gospels and leave it at that."

As for the Imposition Theory, described elsewhere, critics of the myth theory have suggested that his disciples appeared to be discouraged and disillusioned at the time of Jesus' arrest and death. Something changed them so that they quickly became vigorous proselytizers, totally committed to the spreading the gospel message, in spite of the personal hazards involved. The critics suggest that this change could not have happened as the result of a fictional story of a resurrection.

However, many Pagan religions in the Mediterranean and Middle East regions taught a risen god-man as savior,, and the followers of those religions totally believed in the story.

Belief in resurrection is a recycled earlier Jewish belief:

There is some archeological evidence that at least some ancient Jews before the birth of Jesus expected the arrival of a great Jewish leader who would die and be resurrected three days later.

A stone tablet believed to have been written sometime in the first century BCE is now called "Gabriel's Vision of Revelations" or "Gabriel's Revelation" or "The Vision of Gabriel."

Israel Knohl, professor of biblical studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem believes that one line on the tablet describes the Archangel Gabriel telling a "Prince of Princes" that "In three days you shall live: I, Gabriel, command you."

Knohl suggests that the tablet could: "... overturn the vision we have of the historic personality of Jesus. ... This text could be the missing link between Judaism and Christianity in so far as it roots the Christian belief in the resurrection of the Messiah in Jewish tradition." 4 More information

Midrash interpretation:

In his book "Resurrection, Myth or Reality? A Bishops Search for the Origins of Christianity," Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong suggests that the resurrection story should not be interpreted literally. Rather, it become meaningful when interpreted using midrash -- a Jewish literary analysis technique in which supernatural events are explained symbolically and gain meaning by being tied to ancient Jewish historical events. 5 For example, many liberal Christians believe that the mass killing of Bethlehem infants by Herod circa 4 BCE is unrelated to a real event. If it were, it would have been recorded in the secular literature of the time. However, when the story is interpreted with Midrash, it reflects the earlier story in the Hebrew Scriptures in which the Pharaoh attempted to murder Moses and all of the male Hebrew newborns. Similarly, Mary and Joseph's flight to Egypt never actually happened; the story is an attempt to link an event Jesus' life to Moses' Exodus from Egypt.  According to Bishop Spong, the story of the resurrection was not a supernatural incident in which Yeshua of Nazareth was bodily restored to life  in 1st century CE Palestine. Derek Miller, in reviewing Bishop Spong's book explained that Jesus' disciples:

"...understood that the spirit of Jesus transcended death because the way Jesus died was exactly like they way he lived. He gave his life to others and for others. He loved wastefully and selflessly. In that living and dying, the disciples concluded that Jesus revealed the meaning of God....God is the meaning that is present in the face of fate, tragedy, and undeserved pain. God cannot be seen in Jesus' escape from death at Easter until God is first seen in the crucified one who gives life as he dies, who offers forgiveness as he is victimized, who shows love as he is hated." 6

It was this understanding that converted Jesus' followers from a hopelessly demoralized group into a committed, dedicated religious movement who proclaimed "He is risen!" and "Death cannot contain him!" In a very real sense, interpreted with Midrash, the stories explain that even physical death could not confine Jesus' message.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. &"Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Catholic Encylopedia, New Advent, at:

  2. MMichael Persinger  "Science and the Resurrection: Christ's Alleged Resurrection: Experimental Evidence for an Alternative Hypothesis to Being Raised From the Dead by God." Skeptic magazine, Volume 9, #4,

  3. Jay Ingram, "Resurrection skeptic goes to baroque extremes," The Toronto Star, 2003-APR-13, Page A18

  4. "Tablet stirs resurrection debate," BBC, 2008-JUL-08, at:

  5. J.S. Spong, "Resurrection, Myth or Reality? A Bishops Search for the Origins of Christianity", Harper San Francisco, CA, (Reprinted, 1995) Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

  6. Derek Miller, "What Easter is All About: A Review of John Shelby Spong's "Resurrection: Myth or Reality?" at:

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Copyright © 2003 to 2008 by Ontario Consultant on Religious Tolerance
Essay originally written: 2003-APR-13
Essay last updated: 2008-SEP-30
Written by: B.A. Robinson

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