Swoon Theory Revisited

Posted by David Mirsch on March 20th, 2012

Since no one witnessed it, no one knows exactly how Jesus rose from the dead.

Christian apologists (and Christians in general) are convinced that the resurrection of Jesus was a miraculous event that can only be explained by supernatural intervention. They discredit, out of hand, any attempt at explaining it through natural or human intervention. What they don’t tell you or want you to know is that the actual resurrection was unobserved and if supernatural intervention was involved, ANYTHING can be claimed to explain it. Since no one saw it, no one knows exactly how Jesus supposedly rose from the dead.


For example, if the supernatural is granted, God could have made Jesus appear dead on the cross, though still alive and God could have healed a half dead Jesus while in the tomb, restoring him to life with no sign of the physical trauma he had endured. Also, God miraculously could have rolled the stone from the tomb entrance and blinded the guards temporarily to allow Jesus to walk free and on and on. Which brings up the question, was Jesus supposedly resurrected inside the tomb or outside? If he was resurrected inside the tomb, presumably, he still had to open the tomb and walk past the guards. Not an easy thing to do, even for a healthy individual, if you believe the apologists, because it was a very heavy stone with no way to grab it from inside. So how did a resurrected Jesus make it out of the tomb and past the guards?


And if Jesus was resurrected outside the tomb, why wasn’t he resurrected in the midst of the disciples? Surely a God that can resurrect a corporeal body outside a tomb can choose the time and place of that resurrection. Why not just materialize Jesus wherever the disciples were? Why was the tomb left open and why did the women have to discover it? Jesus could have been resurrected anywhere at anytime yet he did not appear directly to his closest followers immediately upon resurrection. The disciples (other than Mary) had to meet him elsewhere. Why?


There are so many holes and miscues in the supernatural argument that it is surprising that in this day and age of greater skepticism and access to information anyone still takes it seriously. Yet the Gospel accounts are representative of what actually happened. They are historical accounts of what Jesus and his followers wanted the people of their time to believe, but they represent a naturalistic explanation for what happened, not a supernatural one.


Jesus was not dead on the cross. He had been drugged with the  drink of gall to induce a deathlike state. The drugs most likely to achieve such a state (and that were readily available in that time and place) were derivatives of either mandrake or belladonna from the solanaceae plant family. Such drugs are transdermal or transcutaneous, much like the modern nicotine patch(tobacco is a member of the solanaceae plant family). In other words, their active ingredients are absorbed quickly through the skin and enter the bloodstream very quickly. By touching the gall soaked sponge to Jesus’ lips, he would have been reduced to a death-like state regardless of whether or not he was conscious enough to drink it himself. The death-like coma was deep enough that even the Roman guards mistakenly declared him dead. Christian apologists are fond of declaring that the Roman soldiers were so expert at determining death that they were more skilled than modern EKG and EEG machines used by modern professionals. Near Death Experiences or NDEs have been recorded across the centuries, even into modern times. These are cases where particular individuals are declared dead but come back to life at some later time. Modern MDs and healthcare professionals, using the most advanced medical equipment, have mistakenly declared patients dead only to discover later that they were still alive. Granting Roman soldiers of the First Century a greater ability to determine the death of an individual than modern medical professionals is both disingenuous and purposefully misleading and needs to stop. And besides, if the Roman army declared the death penalty for any soldier mistakenly allowing a crucified victim to live, it means that that mistake was sometimes made. You don’t mandate a punishment for something that never happens.


Jesus was not buried. Although he was taken down from the cross and carried to the tomb, he was only in the tomb for a short period of time, long enough to clean him, shave him and treat his wounds with aloe and myrrh, which were brought to the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. He was revived from his coma-like state with the use of vinegar as an inhalant and dressed in clean clothes matching those of the men who had carried him to the tomb. Once he was conscious enough, the men helped him exit the tomb, and, surrounding him, they half carried him away to a place of safety where he could spend the next three days recovering more fully. It would have been very late in the day when all this took place, the light fading and visibility poor. The witnesses to the burial were at some distance from the tomb and would have been in no state to determine just how many men went into the tomb and how many came out. The tomb was shut and sealed.


Jesus returned to the tomb after nearly three full days, somewhat healed (except for the nail wounds) and looking healthy, if altered, in appearance due to the shave and haircut he received in the tomb (in the post ‘resurrection’ appearances, Jesus is not immediately recognized). Apologists often fudge the three days into parts of three days in order to account for another of their mistakes which is that the crucifixion took place on Friday. This requires that the explanation for the three days becomes part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday. This fanciful reworking of the truth circumvents two things: the crucifixion took place on Thursday and the three days that Jesus spoke of ‘being in the ground’ were full days in accordance with the cultural imperative of the time required to ascertain the death of the individual. In that time and place, it was accepted that three nearly full days were required for the body to begin decomposition. When decomposition began, the facial features of the deceased began to change to the point where loved ones could see the difference and accept that the deceased were in fact dead. The Christian view of part of Friday, all of Saturday and part of Sunday does not account for this cultural imperative. People in the First Century were just as afraid of being buried alive or of having their loved ones buried alive as we are today. They wanted to be absolutely certain that the deceased was truly deceased. Three days was required to determine death. Also, a close study of the Gospel accounts makes it clear that Jesus was arrested on Wednesday and crucified on Thursday because they mention two separate Sabbaths and two separate days of preparation; one for the Passover Sabbath and one for the weekly Sabbath.


Jesus could not resurrect or materialize in the midst of the disciples because he was not actually dead. He was still alive. He needed time to recover before he could let the disciples see him again, so that they would not question the resurrection. As Gary Habermas, a prominent Christian apologist, is fond of saying in regards to how the disciples would have viewed Jesus at that point, quoting the 19th Century theologian David Strauss, “Alive, yes. Resurrected, no.” Jesus could not appear until he had recovered sufficiently to look healthy and very much alive. Three days under the care of close friends was enough to do the job. And for those who argue that he could not have walked on feet that had been nailed to a cross, the human body is capable of many things that stretch the imagination. The history books and newspapers are full of them. Note most recently the story of the young hiker in Utah who had to cut off his own arm after it was pinned between boulders in order to escape and reach help.


In the earliest Gospels, Jesus’ tomb was found OPEN by the first responders. This was to make certain that anyone checking the grave would find it EMPTY. A closed grave and a resurrected Jesus would lead to questions about his actual death or the possibility that he had a twin and that Jesus was still in the tomb. It had to be open and empty for people to believe that he had resurrected.


The spear thrust administered by the Roman soldier into Jesus’ side was not a deathblow meant to kill him but rather a slight piercing to determine his state of consciousness. Apologists love to fabricate the scenario that the spear thrust was a coup d’grace meant to finish off Jesus and so they point to the medical evidence that the spear thrust was deep enough to go through Jesus’ lung and pierce his heart allowing pericardial fluid (the clear fluid that surrounds the heart in the pericardium) to flow forth like blood and water. There is a problem with this scenario, however. The amount of pericardial fluid that surrounds the heart is very small; from 5ml to 15ml or 1/3 of a tablespoon to 1 tablespoon. The size of a normal heart is about the size of an average fist. Take a tablespoon of water and pour it on a clenched fist to get some idea of the amount of pericardial fluid. It’s hardly enough to cover the fist let alone flow out in ‘a sudden gush’ of blood and water, especially through the 5 or 6 inches of dissected lung that acts like a sponge. It isn’t going to happen that way. This has left apologists the uncomfortable task of inventing some unrecorded heart trauma (like falling on his chest while carrying the cross) so that Jesus would have been suffering from pericardial effusion (which would increase the amount of fluid in the pericardium) but it is pure speculation and it takes some time after trauma to the heart for the pericardial fluid to build up. Take it from me personally. Several years ago I had open heart surgery to replace a defective valve. As a result of that surgery, I developed pericardial effusion, but it took several days for it to become severe enough for me to return to the ER. Ultimately, the doctors drained nearly 900ml from my pericardium, twice what they normally see in such cases. For Jesus, pericardial effusion would have taken many, many hours if not days to reach a level consistent with a ‘sudden gush’. The blood and water can be more easily explained by noting that Jesus was suffering from hemolytic anemia, which would cause the red blood cells to break down and leave the blood looking like watery blood. Hemolytic anemia is a component of Favism, a Middle Eastern genetic malady of the blood which can be exacerbated by some of the drugs that Jesus may have ingested and would have explained his near catatonic state when being interrogated by Pilate and Herod. Hemolytic anemia would certainly account for a flow of blood and water from even the slightest of spear thrusts. It is highly unlikely that the spear thrust killed Jesus.


Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Mike Licona and others delight in mocking the swoon theory as untenable and unrealistic because, as they point out, a revived Jesus in the tomb hardly could be expected to move the stone, slip past the guards and appear to his followers in a fit state. What they don’t address, however, is how a ‘resurrected’ Jesus accomplished the same things.


How did a resurrected Jesus move the stone?

How did a resurrected Jesus slip past the guards?

How did a resurrected Jesus appear bodily before his disciples strong and healthy yet still carrying the wounds of his crucifixion?


The same arguments these apologists use to refute the swoon theory must be addressed and answered in response to the resurrection theory. It is disingenuous, if not outright dishonest, to apply one set of criteria to one theory and not to another.


Then too, it is important to note that the only affirmation of Jesus’ resurrection comes from Jesus himself, or the young men sent by Jesus to inform the disciples. There is no independent and unbiased affirmation of the resurrection other than that coming from the one person who stood to benefit the most from the miracle: Jesus. The disciples avowed the event soon enough, but their assertions were based solely on the word of Jesus. Not one of them witnessed the actual event. In a court of law, the disciples’ testimony would be called ‘hearsay’ evidence because they heard it from Jesus, but didn’t witness it themselves. It is the least credible evidence and is often disregarded in court. Yet the apologists will claim that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection was a life altering event for the disciples, that it changed them from cowards to brave and committed advocates, willing to be tortured and die for their beliefs. What goes unremarked about the disciples, however, is that they were Jews and as Josephus and other First Century historians make clear, the Jews were a tough minded bunch, unwilling to alter their views, even unto torture and death for anyone, especially the Romans and Herodian authorities. The disciples were men from a culture that demanded stoicism in the face of overwhelming odds. Their theology required them to submit to torture and death with a smile, long before Jesus came on the scene. The stoicism and determination showed by Jesus’ disciples was more a product of their Jewish upbringing than it was a result of their belief in his resurrection. They were stiff-necked Jews and no-one was going to tell them what to believe regardless of the consequences.


These are just some of the reasons that it is more likely that Jesus’ death and resurrection were faked and were of human agency, not supernatural intervention. Supernaturalism or divine miracles should only be accepted as a default explanation once all natural and human explanations have been thoroughly examined and found impossible—not just unbelievable or inexplicable or improbable—but completely impossible. Faith should not be the absence of skepticism but the end result of a thorough and intense skepticism.




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