Could the resurrection appearances be a case of GROUP Hallucination?

Last revision: 5/31/96

I found your website via a reference in an online debate, and I find it interesting.

I'm forwarding an essay "in progress", i.e., no smooth lead in and no real summary so its something of a rough draft, yet all the essential information is there. What is lacking, from my view, is any feedback from a critic. I've posted it to different newsgroups and within other discussions with believers, and received noting back. Perhaps you'll find it interesting enough to respond to.

I will try to help out with giving you feedback...hope it helps...

I've no idea how this is going to work on the feedback form, but here it is, from the good ole' clipboard:

From "Anomalous Psychology", pp. 149-152, 'Memory systems':

"When the material to be remembered is more complex than digits or nonsense syllables, repeated reproduction of the material, Bartlett showed, leads to certain predictable changes, such as simplification, condensation, increased symmetry, increased familiarity, in general something better than what it was before. This tendency applied to all kinds of materials, not just the reproduction of drawings. Stories are notorious for getting better in the retelling, better in the sense of being more entertaining, having a "better" form, not in the sense of being closer to truth. Bartlett's work has been replicated since by other researchers, and his view of memory as an active, creative process of remembering prevails among psychologists today.

" Bartlett also stressed the role of attitudes in remembering. In remembering, attitudes play the same role as attention and expectation do in perception: They filter and color the information that is being put together. The information is not arriving from outside, but is found in long-term memory storage. Because attitudes reflect a person's values, it is clear that reconstructed memories will not give unbiased, objective records of the past, but will be tinted (and tainted) by the subject's attitudes. As the psychologist Graham Reed (1972) puts it in writing about anomalies of recall: "what we remember is to some extent what we think we ought to remember. [p.72]."


Faulty Memory

"The general term applied to faulty memory and memory distortions is paramnesia. .Expectations, sets, attitudes, prejudices, and values in general color our memories to such an extent that black can quite literally become white in remembering. . . .There is a human need for ego enhancement, to feel important, to do important things, or to be part of important events, even as only an eye witness. This need is so strong that a person may assert that he or she was a witness to an important or historic event that took place near where they live even though they may not have known at the time that the event was happening. A field study was once conducted by a journalist who fabricated a story about a naked woman, inhabitant of a small town, who got stuck to a freshly painted toilet seat. The journalist distributed the story through a newspaper wire service. On visiting the town and interviewing its citizens about the incident, the journalist found many who claimed to have witnessed or played part in it. There were refusals to accept the truth even after the true origin of the story was made public. Similar incidents are reported in connection with UFOs--that is, witnesses are found to UFOs that exist only in the rumors spread by the perpetrators of a hoax. NEVERTHELESS, THE REPORTS OF THE WITNESSES ARE NOT NECESSARILY LIES OR FABRICATION; THEY MAY ACTUALLY "REMEMBER" THAT THE EVENTS THEY DESCRIBE DID TAKE PLACE." {Emphasis added }


So we can accept the idea that there was a Jesus who was crucified and buried in a tomb--the details in the bible are probably not accurate however.

Well, not sure I can agree with that last clause, but...

Now remember, apparently the only person who appears to have been a witness to the burial place of Jesus is Mary of Magdala, the "madwoman". So we have a superstitious middle eastern woman of low social status who has just lost the one man who has perhaps ever shown her any kindness. I think we can assume some stress. And we know that she was none too stable, based on the record we have.

We have a problem here--the sources in the gospels you are using here mention SEVERAL more witnesses than just MM...

  1. Joseph of Arimathea, a rich member of the ruling council--the Sanhedrin (Mt 27.57ff)
  2. (maybe some of his servants as well)
  3. MM (Mt 27.61)
  4. Mary the mother of Joses (Mt 27.61 ; Mrk 15.47)
  5. "other women who had come with Him from Galilee" (Luk 23.55) [probably Joanna and maybe Susanna]
  6. Nicodemus, a Pharisee (Jn 19.39)
(There was a much larger crowd of His associates at the Cross (e.g. John, His mother, His brothers, other acquaintances), but we do not know how many of them accompanied this group to the tomb.)

With this larger crowd than just MM, you get a wider cross-section of 'superstition':

What emerges from this 'roll call' is just about EVERY FLAVOR along a spectrum of 'superstitiousness'! From the cautious and well-educated Nicodemus to the well-heeled and influential Joseph, to the noble and well-traveled Joanna, to the relatives of Jesus, to the 'normal' folk of MM and Susanna...we certainly don't get a unified personality profile for this group!

So now a couple of (probably miserable) days later, she goes back in the morning to the cemetery last seen late in the day for the first time.

She goes to the tomb she thought he had been buried in, and lo, it's empty. Psychotic break? Maybe not that bad, but:

Remember, there were more than her who were at the burial, and we KNOW there were more than her at the first sighting of the empty tomb--at least:

And the time element is a little off...from Friday evening to Sunday morning would have only been a day and a half (still miserable though)...


From ANOMALOUS PSYCHOLOGY, by Zuzne and Jones. pp. 133, 135-136:

"Hallucinations may be visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, haptic, kinesthetic, or organic. Visual hallucinations range from simple light phenomena to the seeing of life-sized, life-like persons engaged in various activities. Objects usually appear to be three dimensional and solid. They cast shadows, people do not walk through walls and furniture, but around them, and the entire vision may not appear any less detailed, vivid, or substantial than ordinary perceptions. Sometimes, however, the hallucination may be less substantial and may appear to be larger or smaller than natural size. Micropsia and macropsia--the seeing of objects as of being of a size smaller or larger than their natural size--in hallucinations may have given rise to stories about diminutive people, such as fairies or leprechauns, or of giants.

"Auditory hallucinations most often include the hearing of voices, usually single, but sometimes multiple. . . ." (pg. 133)

"Collective Hallucinations

"The same hallucination may be experienced by two or more persons. If the event is entirely subjective, as all hallucinations are, how do two or 200 people manage to coordinate and synchronize their subjective lives? Recall our discussion of the role of expectation and misperception in the preceding chapter. It is expectation that plays the coordinating role in collective hallucination. Although the subject matter of individual hallucinations has virtually no limits, the topics of collective hallucinations are limited to certain categories. ?These categories are determined, first, by the kinds of ideas that a group of people may get excited about as a group, for emotional excitement is a prerequisite of collective hallucinations. The most common causes of emotional excitement in groups are religious, and indeed, phenomena related to religion are most often the subject of collective hallucinations. Second, the categories are limited by the fact that all participants in the hallucination must be informed beforehand, at least concerning the broad outlines of the phenomenon that will constitute the collective hallucination. This may take the form of a publicly announced prophecy, for example, or someone suddenly looking up and saying, "Lo, in the sky!" or words to that effect. Things in the sky, or at least overhead, are the most commonly seen collective hallucinations: radiant crosses, saints, religious symbols, flying objects, sometimes all these in combination. Once the general type of hallucination is established, it is easy to harmonize individual differences in the accounts. This may take place during the hallucination or in subsequent conversations.

"Collective hallucinations have always occurred, perhaps more frequently in the past than now because of the interrelated factors that more people used to be uneducated, scientific thinking did not exist or had not yet spread widely enough, and there was a greater readiness to attribute anything inexplicable to supernatural, occult, paranormal, or divine causes. . . . " (pp 135-136)


So M of M goes to the wrong tomb, her beloved rabbi is not there, and in accordance with her default superstitious mindset and preexisting mental illness, she has an appropriate hallucination.

She reports this to some combination of the disciples (the gospels differ), who are also under stress and of the same superstitious mindset--and the rest as they say is history.

There is one MAJOR, MAJOR problem with this--the mindset of the women at the tomb (remember, it was more than just MofM) and the mindset of the disciples DO NOT FIT the description given of the pre-conditions required for a 'collective hallucination'.

The emphases in the passage you cite above are on three pre-conditions:

  1. "expectation plays the coordinating role in collective hallucinations"
  2. "emotional excitement is a prerequisite"
  3. "must be informed beforehand, at least concerning the broad outlines of the phenomenon that will constitute the collective hallucination"

It is VERY clear from the gospel narratives that NONE of these conditions held true before the first appearances! Consider the data:

  1. "expectation plays the coordinating role in collective hallucinations"

    The apostles abject lack of expectation (read 'faith'!) that Jesus would rise from the dead has been a source of embarrassment to the Church for centuries! Consider just a few of the verses that document their abysmal LACK of expectations:

    This condition OBVIOUSLY wasn't in place!

  2. "emotional excitement is a prerequisite"

    How emotionally "excited" were the apostles after the miserable execution of their leader, in front of the entire nation?!!! EXCITED? Frenzied? or just TOTALLY filled with grief (Lk 22.62), despair, dejection, disillusionment (Luke 24.19ff), depression (Luke 24.17), numbness and skepticism (John 20.25; Mt 28.17; Luke 24:37-43), paralyzing fear (Mt 26.56; John 20.19)!!!

    There is literally nothing in the narratives to even remotely suggest that these dejected, embarrassed souls had ANY 'excitement' coursing around in their veins---and the data that we DO have indicates a rather dark and despondent state for them (predictably so).

    So this condition doesn't seem to be in place either.

  3. "must be informed beforehand, at least concerning the broad outlines of the phenomenon that will constitute the collective hallucination"

    This is the crowning blow! Not only have we already seen above that they NEITHER understood NOR expected the resurrection, but when they were confronted with the appearances they couldn't even 'process them' correctly!


    In other words, the very description of the experiences demonstrate further that they had NO expectation of a resurrection of Christ MUCH LESS some 'broad outlines' of what to expect in terms of experiences! Their actual responses are almost embarrassing.[And not the sort of descriptions one later goes back into the document to add, to enhance one's status, let's say!]

    So, this final condition doesn't seem to match either.

The net of this is simply that a 'collective hallucination' theory cannot mesh with the only data we have about the participants, their backgrounds, their varied mindsets, their mental state (or lack thereof!), their lack of expectations--both general and detailed, and their actual responses to those phenomena.

The nicest part about this account is that I do not need to assume any additional facts beyond what I can find in the bible. I simply apply modern psychology and subtract supernatural speculation, and I get a simple consistent picture that is consistent with the bible.

No conspiracies, no deliberate lies, no cover-ups.

Well, actually, you probably need to re-swizzle the data.

What I pointed out above, is that you need to :

To get the entire resurrection account from that simple picture, all you need to do is add a little time, and as Jesus obviously was not the earthly Jewish Messiah, with a few "visions", and several surrounding religions with dying and arising savior gods, and it was but a short step to change the failed secular revolution into a new savior god cult,--and the stories had about 40 years to grow and adapt before they were written down. And each story was written by a different author to different audience for different purposes and from slightly divergent accounts--thus the differences between the gospels.

I don't need to go into much of the above stuff, since it is positioned by you as an 'add on' to the core you developed above. In other words, if the CORE needs re-working, then you may not be able to add-on the above (if you come up with a different CORE). But let me make some summary observations to orient you to the next set of issues you are likely to face in coming up with the next version of your hypothesis:

Well, that's enough issues for starters...let's see where you go from here...

thanks for the opportunity to feedback...

glenn miller, 5/31/96

The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)