Over the past year or so I have received numerous queries about 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, specifically as to the statement in 1 Cor15:6 where Paul reports that Jesus had “appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive though some have fallen asleep.” The issue seems to be that appearances to single individuals (like Cephas, James, Mary, Paul, etc.) might seem less convincing than appearances to groups since one person is more prone to hallucinations, or simply being mistaken (as Mary initially was, John 20:14-15). The appearance to multiple individuals at one and the same time, my questioners felt, increased the probability that there was actually something out there to be seen because groups of people would be less subject to the charge of hallucination (“perceptions of objects with no reality”). As one person put it: an appearance by Jesus “to groups of people at once makes it more real, since hallucination is a private event.”1
This raises the question of what exactly was seen by those who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus—if anything. An appearance of Jesus is not unique; for example, through the years many have also claimed to have seen an “apparition” (appearance) of Mary, Jesus’ Mother.2 One reasonable way to think about these posthumous appearances is as follows. If something registers upon the retina of the eye then one is seeing something “physical.” Hence, it is not a hallucination. There was something “there.” It would have been something like what occurred in Matt 28:9, where the women took hold of Jesus’ feet—they not only saw but they physically grasped his feet.
If there is no impression on the retina of the eye at the moment of the putative “seeing,” then it is a hallucination. One might argue, however, that it was a “spirit body” (whatever that might be; see 1 Cor 15:44, 50). If it was a “spirit,” however, then there was no actual “thing” out there to be seen, since spirits are invisible (God is spirit [John 4:24] and is represented as an invisible deity in the Christian Scriptures [Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17; Heb 11:27]). Yet if there was no actual physical “thing” out there, how does that differ from a hallucination? In that case it must be a mental event. I suppose one might think of it as a vision (something seen in a dream, trance, or experienced during ecstasy), but that is also a mental event. I personally would say the same thing about ghosts or phantoms, which at the very least are not physical, and since they do not physically exist how could they register on the retina?
Ophthalmologists recognize two kinds of afterimages. “An afterimage is an image that continues to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased.”3 The two types are: physiological, or pathological. A physiological afterimage refers to an afterimage that continues after exposure to the original physical image has ceased. Pathological afterimages are of two types: illusory and hallucinatory. An illusory afterimage is “the distorted perception of a real external stimulus.”4 A hallucinatory afterimage is “the projection of an already-encoded visual memory and is similar to a complex visual hallucination: the creation of a formed visual image where none exists.”5
The difficulty with thinking that groups are not subject to the charge of “hallucination” is that hallucinations are also group events. Such an event is called “mass hysteria.”6
So what can reasonably be said about the posthumous resurrection appearances of Jesus: Depending on your point of view, they are as likely or unlikely as the reported apparitions of Mary.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1For reported group appearances see: Matt 28:16-20; Luke 24:13-53; John 20:19-23, 26-29; 21:1-14; Acts 1:6-11.
6For past events that are referred to as “mass hysteria” see: https://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/5-strange-cases-mass-hysteria; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_hysteria_cases; https://www.csicop.org/si/show/mass_delusions_and_hysterias_highlights_from_the_past_millennium
Thanks for this honest appraisal of hallucination, vision, etc. etc. We talked about this verse briefly in an intro class on Tuesday evening. What I cannot get over is why we don't have the story of this apparition. Did no one bother to tell the story? Was it not memorable enough to be remembered? Did Paul make up the apparition, and this was all there ever was about it? Wouldn't it be nice to have some answers?
I would question the claims. Ancient Greco-Roman letters were a genre, much of the time used for propagandic and moral instruction, not necessarily to relate events. 1 Cor. 15: 3-11 is probably propagandic. The purpose of vss. 3 – 8 is two-fold: It affiliates Paul with Cephas, James, apostles, the 12, and a large group, the large group being a great propagandic tool, because many can also testify (if one can find and ship them from Judea to Greece). In other words, they might as well not exist (except possibly in a fictional Acts-like setting.) At the same time this associates Paul with these named apostles (“one of them”) and even, in vss. 9 – 11, establishes Paul’s ”superiority as “the hardest worker,” while being similar to the Galatians claim that God worked through directly through him. Beginning it with a negative statement about himself (vss. 8-9) is a way the ancients boosted their image... He was the “least,” but because the favor of God is now with him, he is the greatest (cf. the “rags to riches” theme of biblical heroes, as well as Herodotus’ story of Cyrus, tales of Romulus, Sargon, etc.). One also finds, in v. 11 a mild version of “us or them” language, hinting at Paul’s group versus the apostles’ group, hearkening Galatians 1:7-9. This sets up the next section, giving Paul the authority to argue for his views regarding the resurrection of the dead. That, to me, is what the singly attested “list” looks like as literature. One finds a similar, though far more acerbic, example of that in the “puffing” of Galatians 1 and 2 aimed at promoting Paul at the expense of other apostles. One finds yet another example of Paul promoting himself with his sarcasm against the “super-apostles” in 2 Cor. 11.1-15 and 12.1-13. It seems to be a common thread between these letters. I see no reason to consider 1 Cor. 15.3-12 a historical list. To me it is a combination of two propagandic techniques (as they are known today), affiliation and personal testimony, giving Paul the authority to promote his instruction. I have wondered what criteria reckons it historical.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
HI Bob and Dennis,
I see no reason to doubt Paul's veracity in this report. In my view he believes these reports that were part of the oral tradition that was handed on to him and that he is now delivering on to the Corinthians. He doesn't know if they are true, but he trusts they are. We cannot, however, cite him as a historical source for the truthfulness of the claims that he is passing on for they are only "hearsay." He does make a claim to be an eyewitness to an posthumous appearance of Jesus in 15:8, but he gives us no details. Luke fills in that gap with the three contradictory reports in Acts (9:1-9; 22:4-16; 26:9-18), but these are surely Luke's literary creations.
I've never heard of a group hallucination... Do you have any examples? Also- do you have an opinion about the leagalization of hallucinogenic drugs such as marijauana? Do think halucinating can be dangerous? I do- that is why I do not support legalizing pot. Many thanks, Elizabeth
Good Morning Elizabeth,
Did you check out the three sets of examples of group hallucinations on the internet that I listed under footnote 6?
In your second question are you referring to the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes? If so, I do support that. I would never recommend that anyone take mind-altering drugs for recreational purposes.
Observation: Religious literature is surely a strange set of eyes on reality!
A very interesting review and evaluation of the research on I Cor 15:3-8 can be found here: Komarnitsky, Kris D. Doubting Jesus Resurrection: An Inquiry into an Alternative Explanation of Christian Origins (The Appearance Traditions, 83-110).
1. Rather than being liars, the early Christians no doubt held an initial sincere belief in Jesus' resurrection. It was a natural outgrowth to designate the earliest visions to authority figures, "to the twelve and then to all the apostles". Such a truth attribution process is seen elsewhere in religious circles, for example:
"In the front of the Book of Mormon are two testimonies signed in 1830 by a total of eleven people asserting that they saw the physical gold plates that Joseph Smith claimed he translated the Book of Mormon from. Eight years later, when pressed, one of them changed his story...(that he and the others saw the plates in a vision), but his belief in the Book of Mormon was steadfast." 101
2. Why does the claim of appearance to the 500 appear no where else? One possibility is that it is a "fringe legend" (based on a collective ecstatic spiritual experience) that Paul picked up in some more obscure corner of the Christian community 105
Why is 12 used instead of 11 for the post-Judas core number???
If these descriptions of Paul's experience aren't beyond confusing within the entire rez context I don't know what would be:
Acts 9:7 light, voice, saw no one
Acts 22:7, 11 light, voice, saw no one
Acts 26:13-14, 16 light...voice...I have appeared to you for this purpose to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me, and to those in which I will appear to you." (say what?) (NRSV)
In the letters of Paul there has obviously been a huge transformation in his life from law controlling flesh as God's preferred method of motivation to trust and spirit as God's preferred method of motivation. I wonder how this internal experience is tied into the "sight" claim - "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord (1 Cor 9:1)?" (implication: just as the other apostles have). In modern terms could Paul have been speaking of a personal experience of "in-sight" which was so real and transforming that he could also speak of it confidently as "external-sight."
The reason for the number 12 being given rather than 11 is the tradition in Acts 1:21-26 in which the disciples elect Matthias to replace Judas thus restoring the disciples to number 12.
Thank you Charlie- but in all the the articles to which you linked, I found only one example of a "mass hallucination." Even then, I don't really consider it to be a full blown mass hallucination because if I read it correctly, it took place at different times. It wasn't a situation where you had several people looking at the same apparition at the same time. The example to which I am referring is the one where multiple children saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary.
I also don't really count that as an example because of the fact that it involved children. (You know how children are with their vivid imaginations) So any example involving children doesn't count with me, particularly the Salem Witch trials. That was not a mass hallucination but mass hysteria, which is different in nature. All of the articles referenced involved women and children- both of which are known to be hysterical. (I can say that because I'm a woman and I know it's true.) I don't recall seeing an article involving men which I find interesting.
I would be most interested if someone could provide a documented account of a group of people all witnessing the same hallucination at the same time- and not just women and children but men as well.
Regarding marijuana, I was referring to recreational use. Some people find it harmless to go into an altered state and hallucinate. However, I believe it to be very harmful indeed... It surprises me that Christians are against marijuana but support having hallucinations. Do you find it odd that Christians see a difference between having prophetic "visions" and having hallucinations? I knew many Christians who would tell me in great detail about a vision they had of angels, demons, and even Jesus.... Do you think Christianity supports the practice of having hallucinations? Elizabeth
Ah, the memories of my physiological psychology class come back! Hallucinations can occur during migraines, epilepsy and & high fever. If induced by alcohol (withdrawal or severe abuse) or certain drugs (but generally not marijuana), they are not true hallucinations, because they are due to the effects of the substance. A true hallucination is an altered view of reality that one is creating cognitively. True hallucinations sometimes have a social component, which is a reason a group can experience them during religious events, though they wouldn't be classified by the group as "hallucinations" or reported, because it wouldn’t be considered that. And, not everyone experiences exactly the same thing at the same time, because each brain is separate. I remember lurking outside a tent revival as a tent and seeing such phenomenon. That would be probably described by those experiencing them as the tent being “filled with the spirit.” It is difficult if not impossible to quantify them because this is seen by the group as normal, as proof God is working within them. Some cultures and religious accept this state, which is a heightened arousal state, as normal. Hallucinations can be terrifying, can be a component of an illness, or can be precious, if part of a religious experience. As for the third example, one can look to various mystics like Hildegard, the followers of Zevi Sabbati (I’m sure I misspelled the name) & certain “charismatic” Christian groups.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Hi Charlie, do you agree with the following analysis?
The post-Judas twelve-tradition does not seem to show up in the gospels, even in their extended form, except in a somewhat strange way at Luke 22:21-23, 28-30, where Jesus first predicts his betrayer and casts a woe upon that one's fate, and then a few verses later we read, as if there will always be the-twelve, "I confer on you, as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom...and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." This saying also appears at Matthew 19:28 and is considered to be part of the Q-Gospel(50's C.E.?) (We recall that many think that Luke and Acts were written by the same author, perhaps a decade or so apart).
There are apparently only four places that the post-Judas tradition exists outside the gospels: 1 Corinthians (50's CE.) 15:5, received by Paul second-hand; Acts (115 C.E. according to Tyson) 1:26 and 6:2, the Matthias and meals for widows vs. evangelism duties passages; and Revelation (usually dated 90's C.E.) 21:14 where the names of "the twelve apostles of the lamb" are written on "the twelve foundations" of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven.
Apparently, from the earliest times the thinking of a group of Christians which interpreted Jesus' work as the new Israel (12 tribes = 12 disciples) was predominant, even if there was not originally exactly 12 core disciples, and had won the day long before the gospels were written, or probably even the Pauline letters. In this regard the number 12 had incredible historical even "magical" importance and could in no way have been relinquished by the early belief-structure as part of God's factual plan, whether or not Judas was actually replaced.
Good Morning Elizabeth,
You are correct that there are not many group visual "hallucinations" in the three lists I gave. In going through all of them I counted three that involved mass sightings and one audio: visuals "miracle in Puerto 1953," Zeitoun, Egypt 1968, 1971," "miracle of the sun 1917"; audio "Hispanic goat seeker 1975-present." The examples of mass hysteria are similar phenomena.
Good Morning Gene,
You have covered the situation pretty well for the canonical literature. I would, however, hesitate to give an early date to the appearance of your Group of Christians with the "twelve fixation." They could as easily have been contemporary with Paul. If you wish to pursue this line of thought you might take a look at the non-canonical literature where one does find additional evidence for an appreciation of the number twelve in the Christian tradition.
I know what you mean, Dennis, when you said that hallucinations could be either terrifying or precious... I can assure you that I would be terrified!! Even if it was religious. However, I do have a question that you and Charlie may or may not be able to answer: Why do people sometimes have hallucinations in between sleep and wakefulness state- the state of being half-asleep? I have woken up groggy sometimes and seen things crawling on the wall or ceiling and thought they were real until my eyes adjusted to it. Has that ever happened to you and do you know why it happens? I cannot imagine it happening being fully awake- then would freak me out.
Many thanks!! Elizabeth
It could be that one is awakened sharply from REM sleep (like by the sound of an alarm), which is a form of sleep in which brainwaves the person are in a state that is similar to being awake. (It is the part of the cycle of sleep most associated with dreams, often vivid.) It seems like that could briefly cause something like you described. It takes a minute to focus, to “wake up.”
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Elizabeth and Dennis,
Look on the net under hypnagogia and hypnopompic.
Good afternoon Elizabeth,
This is not my area but my guess is that a number of things may cause a person to hallucinate. One's state of mind is most important--one may have a subliminal wish to see what they imagine they see for a brief moment. The quality of a person's eyesight may interfere with their seeing correctly--that and their state of mind may lead them to see something that isn't there. The same kind of thing can happen with hearing. A person may hear an unintelligible sound and because their hearing is poor the mind is misled into thinking it hears what it doesn't hear but wants to hear. But like I said it is not my area and I am guessing.
One probably should realize that a hallucination is the reality of that person, not always a terrifying situation. I remember a student, later labeled as paranoid schizophrenic, coming up to me because she perceived her finger was bleeding. She was not overwrought, just matter of fact in affect. On another note, this conversation got me off on another tangent and I noticed that "epiphany" seems to have come late to the writings in the New Testament.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Thank you all... I think I know what an epiphany is, and I have had sudden realizations (revelations if you will) hit me "out of the blue." I don't mind that experience. But seeing something that isn't there is unnerving to me. I've heard it explained that people with illnesses such as schizophrenia actually see their thoughts with their eyes, instead of in their minds. I can't imagine how tumultuous it would be to live with that everyday- but I guess they get used to it. Gene, thank you for those terms. The one that applies to my situation is hypnopompic. It doesn't happen all that frequently. However, in looking up that term on Wikipedia, I found another term that does happen to me more frequently and that is "false awakening." I had no idea that was an actual phenomenon. It's where you think you've woken up and are walking around, even talking to people, and you're not really awake yet. Sometimes you can't move freely or speak freely- and the surroundings may or may not be familiar... but familiar enough that you think you're at home and awake and functioning. You can ask my husband- it just happened the other morning and I said "Didn't you hear me calling your name out?" And he said, no you were sound asleep. So thank you for that- now I don't think I'm crazy!
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