Swoon Theory: Did Jesus pretend to die and resurrect?

“No, after all…
  • Jesus would look half-dead

      A severely injured Jesus would not have seemed to witnesses like he had been “resurrected.” This is relevant because, as noted by David Strauss:

      “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at least yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, and impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which he had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.”1, 2

      1. A New Life of Jesus vol. 1 (Williams and Norgate, 1879), 412.
      2. Bernard Weiss comically remarks on the swoon theory and Strauss's famous critique: “At present day, it is not worth while to dissolve this phantasy, destitute of all historical meaning, in the destruction of which Strauss earned his laurels as a critic.” Many since Strauss have echoed the argument:
        Karl Theodor Keim: “Then there is the most impossible thing of all; the poor, weak, sick Jesus, with difficulty holding himself erect, in hiding, disguised, and finally dying--this Jesus an object of faith, of exalted emotion, of the triumph of his adherents, a risen conqueror, the Son of God! Here, in fact, the theory begins to grow paltry, absurd, worthy only of rejection.” [Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 6, 327-328.]
        J. N. D. Anderson (Inst. of Advanced Legal Studies director, dean at London U.) “instead of proving the inevitable end to His flickering life, that he would have been able to loose Himself from yards of grave-clothes weighted with pounds of spices, roll away a stone that three women felt incapable of tackling, and walk miles on wounded feet?” [“The Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Christianity Today (March 29, 1968), 7.] (Cited by McDowell)
        Gary Habermas (NT scholar at Liberty): “A crucified but still-living Jesus would have been in horrible physical shape: bloodied, bruised, pale, limping, unwashed, and in obvious need of medical assistance. Such a condition would have hopelessly contradicted the disciples’ belief that Jesus had appeared to them in a resurrected body. True, Jesus would have been alive, but not raised! Additionally, the frequently repeated New Testament teaching that believers would someday be gloriously raised just like Jesus would be groundless. Such a sickly body would hardly be an inspiration for theology.” [The Risen Jesus (Rowman & Littlefied, 2003), 16.]
  • Jesus wouldn't try

      Jesus would not even try to convince the apostles that he had resurrected.1

      1. We know this for four reasons:
        • Jesus was not a horrifically immoral human being. This is relevant because, if Jesus swooned, then he had chosen to systematically deceive almost everyone he loved (friends, and family) into believing he was God's son, leading them to endure a life of sufferings and untimely deaths in his name. Moreover, Jesus would have been wittingly waging war on God's truth (i.e. he “testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise” [1 Cor 15:15]), and wittingly brought others against God's cause with him.
        Ernest Hermitage Day (c. 1946): “For if Christ had appeared to the disciples as One recovered from a swoon He would have explained the circumstances. They believed Him to be risen from the dead: if they were self-deceived, or the prey of illusions, he must needs have undeceived them, or be Himself account such a deceiver as the Jews had accused him of being. …if the swoon-theory be accepted, it is necessary to eliminate from the Gospels and Acts the whole of the Ascension-narrative, and to account for the sudden cessation of Christ's appearances by the supposition that He withdrew Himself from them completely, to live and die in absolute seclusion, leaving them with a whole series of false impressions concerning His Own Person, and their mission from Him to the world.” [On the Evidence for the Resurrection (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1906), 50.]

        • Jesus at most would try to convince the apostles that God had miraculously brought him back to life—a resuscitation. This is very different from the “resurrection” (ανάστασις; anástasis) that the apostles attributed to Jesus. The latter was a technical term in Jewish eschatology, and it was understood to apply to all men[Forthcoming] and at the end of history[Forthcoming].
        • Jesus would have appeared half-dead, needing medical attention, and he would have known that the apostles would consequently see exactly what had happened: Jesus had merely, and not supernaturally, survived crucifixion. God did nothing. Jesus would know the apostles could no longer take seriously the idea that God was with him.
        • One can very plausibly think that Jesus would not risk being seen again. At the very least, a swooned Jesus would tread carefully. That is to say, even if a swooned Jesus looked healthy (as if divinely revived) etc. and was willing to re-appear in public (very questionable), he would not choose to announce the time/location of any such appearances in the way reported in the gospels (e.g. resulting in a crowd waiting for him at Galilee [Mt 28:16-19]). After all, Jesus would know both (a) the obvious fact that his survival would be considered by Jews as a miraculous/divine vindication of Jesus's messiahship, and (b) that Romans, being aware of this, would re-double their efforts to find and have Jesus executed (Jesus would be judged many times more threatening than he was originally).
  • Jesus couldn't escape the tomb
  • Jesus really died on the cross
      1. Bruce Chilton (NT professor at Yale): “These executioners knew what they were doing, and theories that Jesus somehow physically survived the cross represent a combination of fantasy, revisionism, and half-baked science.” [Mary Magdalene: A Biography (Doubleday, 2005), 75.]
  • SHOW/HIDE MENU