The swoon theory is, simply put, an attempt to explain the evidence used to support Jesus’ resurrection (empty tomb, appearances, etc.) by saying that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but only appeared to have died. He later revived and his disciples either believed him to be resurrected or lied about his resurrection. There was no actual resurrection because no one can resurrect if they were never dead.
Rautakyy (I keep fighting the urge to spell his name with two k’s) suggested this in our recent conversation. He used the following as support
1. Jesus stayed on the cross for a relatively short amount of time and crucifixion was supposed to be a slow death
Rebuttal: People say he was beaten before the crucifixion but
i. There’s no eyewitnesses evidence for this
ii. It might suggest that he did die does not rule out the possibility that he did not die
2. We have historical records of people who were taken down and survived.
3. When Jesus stabbed in the side, he bled and dead men don’t bleed. Ergo, he wasn’t dead
The above summary of his argument is mine and I believe it to be charitable and accurate.
Here’s some reasons why this argument is unconvincing to me.
1. Jesus didn’t accidentally survive the crucifixion: The Roman soldiers knew how to kill people; it was their job. If a roman soldier allowed a convicted prisoner to live, he got killed. This was a good motive to make sure your prisoners were actually dead when removed from the cross. If your prisoner was still alive when you wanted him dead, you broke his knees (as was done to the other two prisoners). If you weren’t sure he was dead, you could pierce his hearts through with a spear (as was done to Jesus). If he was still alive at this point, that would do it. When Jesus was stabbed in his side, blood and water came out, not just blood and Rautakyy seems to suggest. It was not mere bleeding. So, the idea that dead men don’t bleed does not work here. Alexander Metherell (look him up) suggested that the spear went into his lung, where some fluid had collected as a result of heart failure and this was the blood and water reported by John1. Either way, Jesus was dead.
Given the fact that (1) the Roman official could have made sure that Jesus was dead, (2) should have made sure that Jesus was dead (for his own sake), (3) was competent enough to tell a dead man from a living one and (4) according to the record, actually made sure that Jesus was dead, I am quite certain that Jesus was dead. And if he wasn’t, it was not because of incompetence, but because the soldier did not intend for him to die. If you want to argue for such a conspiracy, be my guest. Whose word should I take, anyway, a roman soldier whose life depended on making sure his prisoners were dead and was trained at it, or Rautakyy?
2. If Jesus survived the cross, what then?
Jesus was subsequently embalmed with 75 pounds of spices, laid in the tomb and the stone was put over it. Then, after lying there without food or water for three days, suffocating, after the torture he had gone through and all the blood loss, he doesn’t die. He revives, frees himself of the burial clothes, rolls away the two-ton stone from the tomb and walks into the city on his injured feet. He then tells his disciples that he had been victorious over death (while looking like death itself!). Rather than get medical attention for him, the disciples begin to worship him as the risen savior.
No. Even if Jesus had survived the cross, he would have died in the tomb from the injuries he had sustained. If he survived those, he could never have convinced his disciples that he was risen. In his half-dead state, they would not have mistaken Jesus for a victorious conqueror of death as opposed to a lucky guy who managed to escape death by crucifixion. Rather, they would have felt sorry for him and tried to nurse him back to health. That leads us to my final point.
3. Josephus told of how he had three of his companions who had been crucified removed from their crosses and given the best medical care but two of the three died anyway. Yes, Rautakyy, it was possible that people removed from the cross could survive, when they had not already been stabbed through the heart, declared dead and embalmed, then left without food, water or air in a tomb – one in three under the best medical care. (edit: 12|1|2012 : It turns out the third guy died later). This does not give me much optimism about Jesus’ chances at survival.
A Conversation with a Skeptic
Me: So, do you see why I have difficulty buying the swoon theory now?
Skeptic: Not really. I still think it is a good theory and your objections don’t work. For one, it is still possible that Jesus did not die on the cross. It is possible that the Romans conspired to let him live like Rautakyy suggested. It might have served their purposes. That way, the guard would have no fear of being punished for letting Jesus live.
Me: Now, I noticed that you did not actually provide any evidence to show that the Romans had such a conspiracy. You simply assert that it is possible. I do not deny its possibility, but in the absence of evidence for it, I have to reject it. I’m sure Rautakyy would agree.
Skeptic: There is evidence for it. But even if there wasn’t, it’s still more plausible than the resurrection.
Me: More plausible to whom? You or me? I can believe that you find it more plausible. You probably have some background belief (my English professor called them ‘warrants’) that makes it more plausible to you than the resurrection. For example, some skeptics reject miracles a priori so that almost anything seems more plausible to them if the alternative involves miracles. I myself probably have background beliefs that make the resurrection more plausible than any conspiracy theory (e.g. I believe conspiracies are by nature wildly speculative and I accept the possibility of miracles). Unless we wish to stop here and explore our warrants (which I think is bound to be more productive), I believe that we should just follow the evidence for the time being. The Resurrection has the empty tomb and the appearances as its evidence. Your theory tries to explain all that away but has nary a scrap of evidence in its favor. Surely, you must see why I have to reject it unless I shared your warrant?
Skeptic: No, I don’t want to go into warrants right now. Like I said, it has evidence. The romans were not too keen on killing Jesus. They used a strategy of divide and conquer. They set political and religious rivals in their territories against each other. They could have been doing that here, fueling the myth of Jesus’ resurrection in order to bring up a new faction that would help destroy the Jews.
Me: That’s not evidence. You’re simply saying that the Romans could have conspired to do this. I have never contested that. I simply argue that you have provided no evidence to show that they actually did it. That they could have does not mean that they did. Where’s the evidence that they actually did it?
This is a very bad skeptic. It must be because I’m hungry. I’m going to have dinner and then come up with a better skeptic in my next post.
For more on this topic:
On Guard: Defending your faith with reason and precision by William Lane Craig
I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
Just search the internet