Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

Patrick H
Gormley


500+ WITNESSES TO THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS?

The gospels say that a miracle healing man called Jesus Christ lived. They say he died by crucifixion and three days later he rose again. Jesus was supposedly buried after his crucifixion in a tomb on Friday which was found empty on Sunday morning. The tomb he was placed in was found wide open with the stone that had been across the entrance moved back and the tomb was mysteriously empty. His body was gone. Certain witnesses claimed that Jesus appeared to them as a resurrected being.

The earliest mention of the resurrection of Jesus is in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. It says nothing about when Jesus lived or died and does not say if the witnesses to the risen Jesus were sure if it was a resurrected man or just a vision. It does not even hint if it could be verified that the body was missing because it was raised.

Paul in his First Corinthians 15v6 asserts that Jesus appeared to more than five hundred believers at the one time after his resurrection and that most of them are still alive. How could Paul know that all 500 became believers?  The New Testament is clear that like Judas seeing miracles or whatever was no guarantee that the witnesses would believe.   Jesus told a story about a damned rich man that shows that if anybody has Moses and the Prophets they have no excuse for not believing and they easily disbelieve.

 

The Book of Acts talks as if the only witnesses that matter were the apostles see Acts 1:2–3.  Why does Acts which covers Paul a lot not mention the appearance?  Not only is it not mentioned but there is no way it fits in in the plot anywhere.

 

The claim that the 500 were believers is a hint that the 500 could be a copyist error.  Even the worst fundamentalist claims there can be copyist errors with numbers in the Bible.  Paul used a secretary who took dictation and who could easily have put 500 in or misheard. It does not matter too much as the account insists that the apostles were the only witnesses that count so that is important.

 

The Christians want to believe that First Corinthians starts off with a creed about Jesus' death and resurrection and appearances.  Do you really think anybody writes a creed that has a line that 500+ believers saw Jesus and are still alive though some have fallen asleep?  If it is a creed then the line is added by a faker. 

 

What if Paul did write it?  How could Paul really know how many of them were still alive? Did he keep a record? Did he have the internet? What did he mean by most? Maybe most for him meant only ten people! Plus Paul talks as if the testimony of the apostles is what matters and that remark about the 500+ is just thrown in but has no importance.

You need to be very sure before you can take anything as evidence and we cannot be sure that this text was not tampered with for other parts of the chapter were.

When Paul argued that the resurrection of Christ must be true for we will be lost forever if it is not it shows that the five hundred is an interpolation for this stupid argument was the best he could come up with. If it had not been we would be reading more about the five hundred. Why did he not mention the book of testimonies that they were compiling? Why didn't he have a few of their testimonies at least for there is no point in saying there are hundreds of witnesses and most of them are still alive as if anybody in Corinth could go and check up on the tale? Telling people they can believe a story for they can check it out when they cannot is a cheat. There had to have been testimonies written down if he was telling the truth or if they saw Jesus. Perhaps he was the only one saying they saw Jesus whereas they thought they saw an angel. Perhaps they saw something in the sky like a vision or perhaps they even saw a weird cloud. The Bible says that Moses saw God in the appearance of a cloud (Exodus 34:5).


Matthew says that people rose from the dead at the time Jesus died and after his resurrection they appeared to people. What if one of these entities was mistaken for Jesus? What one pretended to be Jesus? What if people lied it was Jesus they saw?  If these entities had been going about, it would be easy for believers to get worked up and think they had a vision of the risen Jesus even if he had not risen at all!

It could be that Paul who spent little time in the Holy Land after his conversion and who was only interested in persecuting Christians and not in talking to them before that was told by somebody that 500 + had seen Jesus and he believed that person without checking it out. We are not told if Paul met any of them or not.

Christians think that Paul mentions most of them being alive so that doubters could meet them and have their doubts dispelled. But one must remember that when Paul was a scoffer he was not impressed by this alleged apparition. He was even on his way to Damascus to persecute when he was converted instead of staying in Judea and going after them to silence the witnesses of the apparition permanently.

It may be that this is speculation for the witnesses would remain anonymous and hide for the times were dangerous for Christians and there were plenty of spies.  They would not take interviews. The Corinthian sceptics would not have travelled to meet them but might have contacted them by letter through Paul. They probably would have for it was more convenient. But anybody could have been writing the replies. And at least some of the replies would have been preserved. There was also the language barrier.

The witnesses could not be blamed for not answering the queries by mail or it would have been expensive. Some who wrote and got no reply would have thought they had too many letters to answer.

And Paul had no time to tell them who to write to and when. And mail could have been intercepted to track down Christian promoters.

No would-be detectives from Corinth would have gone to Palestine to check it out for travel was slow and arduous and hazardous and they might find the witnesses were wanted people and wanted people move about a lot.

Only a few of the living witnesses would speak of the vision. Some would have been too scared to speak and some or most might not have believed in what they saw and some might not have joined the Church but went on as if they seen nothing.

Some would have decided to say they saw nothing.

Those who openly spoke of the vision would all have been exiled or put in jail for when the Church and resurrection story was suppressed by the Jews and Romans they would have been the biggest targets (Acts 8:1,3). They would have been even more dangerous than the apostles for they would have been more influential. There were more of them and so they would have been more credible.

Christians were not allowed to protect themselves by keeping silent as is obvious from the New Testament where people get stoned and jailed for being true to Christ. That would have led to the rapid silencing of the witnesses.

The detectives would have been frowned upon for doubting Christianity. Doubt was made a sin.

If Paul lied and was caught out he would have gotten away with it by claiming that it must have had something to do with that conspiracy against him (2 Corinthians 11; 2 Thessalonians 2:2). Communication was slow in his day which made it easer for him to come through it weaker but essentially unharmed. Look what Joseph Smith got away with in the 1800’s.

The verse is not evidence for the resurrection because Jesus appeared to Paul in the form of a light (Acts 22). Jesus had a spiritual body that could take any visible form. Was Jesus simply one of those strange lights that people have been seeing since the dawn of time? Or did they see a look-alike? Magic tricks could have been used to make the man seem to be supernatural.

 

In the book of Acts, when Paul meets the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus he sees nothing but a light and is blind after for a while.  Never did he say or does it say that he saw the form of Jesus as a man.  Paul is not really a witness to the risen Jesus.  Were Paul’s eyes damaged which caused his vision?  Did he look at the sun or something and hallucinate or see an illusion?  Its virtually a refutation of the resurrection when the only real witness we know has something as poor as that to present.  Is Paul conscious of that and is that why he calls his experience an abortion and denies it belongs much in the pecking order?
 

A big number of people, possibly hundreds, reported seeing the prophet Elijah walk about in Smyrna. They were followers of the fake messiah Zevi who was active in the seventeenth century. (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, pages 417, 446). There are cases as well of people reporting seeing a vision and they all see something different. This happened with the miracle of the sun at Fatima where one sees Joseph in the sky and the other does not.  An apparition of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple to many worshippers was written about soon after the event by Joseph Smith and it is known to be nonsense for Mormonism was rife with religious lies.

 

Not one line in Paul’s writings suggest that Jesus was seen on earth as such. Jesus is in Heaven according to Philippians 2:9. Stephen saw Jesus in Heaven in Acts 7:56. Paul suggests that he had to be taken up to a Heaven himself to get revelations. It is very serious if the oldest and most reliable accounts leave us open to think that they saw visions remotely in the sky. Paul even refers to Christ appearing to Israel as a cloud.

The author of Luke wrote a gospel to prove the Christian faith and he was a close friend to Paul. If the story of the five hundred had been true it would have been inserted into the gospel or Acts for it was one of the main proofs. Luke repeated things that had already been written about Jesus so even if Paul had mentioned it in a letter he would have written about it and elaborated on it. Paul’s allusion was too brief and the author knew that if he had all the letters of Paul. Luke wrote about all that Jesus did meaning all that had to do with showing he was from God (Luke 1:1-4). Luke shows that either Paul was wrong about or never wrote about the five hundred.

If Paul wrote about the 500+ then the earliest he wrote was in 54 AD and the latest 57 AD. The group could have had their vision as early as 33 AD the year of the crucifixion. He said many of the group was still alive though some have fallen asleep. He doesn’t say if most are still alive but many. He writes as if the group had their vision longer than from 21 to 24 years previously. If they had then clearly this doesn’t fit the gospel chronology and we can question their account of the timing of the resurrection.


The apocryphal tradition is all we have if we hope for some possible nugget about the 500 tradition.  It says in the Gospel of Nicodemus that the 500 only saw Jesus depart for Heaven and largely comprised the soldiers who attended Jesus's tomb in case the body would be stolen.  Nobody accepts this.  Why is tradition and myth no help?  The only tradition we have about it is a clear lie which shows there is no smoke and no fire here.
 

There are parallels that are in fact better than Paul's paltry claim though they are spurious too.

 

Take the dubious vision of Knock 1879 to about 15 people!

 

A writer tells us, "O’Connell provides us with an excellent and thought-provoking survey of well-documented collective visions in the (relatively) recent past, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. After an analysis of six such collective apparitions he demonstrates how the nature of collective visions cannot fully explain the post-resurrection appearances. Here we will comment upon a few of his pertinent findings.  The collective visions that O’Connell surveys have several aspects in common:

 

Expectation plays a key role.

 

In some cases “extreme stress” is present.

 

Visions are not seen by everybody present.

 

Visions are seen differently.

 

The vision never carries on a conversation.

 

In one of the interesting cases O’Connell studied, there was an event that occurred at San Martin de Manzaneda on April 20, 1903. While the priest addressed the congregation with a message of the forgiveness of Christ, a Eucharist that had been placed on display, as a symbol of Christ’s forgiveness, were seen by different people to transform in some way: Some saw the Eucharist disappear, to be replaced by the child Jesus with his arms outstretched. Others saw Jesus’ heart bleeding. Some saw him holding his hand to stop the bleeding. One person saw the arms outstretched as if on a cross. Others saw the monstrance mysteriously illuminated. As with the other cases, some present saw nothing at all.

 

A Marian apparition that O’Connell discusses that took place on March 22nd, 1888 in Bojano, Italy is similar. Two women looking for lost sheep were terrified by the sight of light emerging from fissures in rocks, subsequently having seen “the image of the ‘Addolorata, a lady, young, very beautiful, pale, with disheveled hair, and bleeding from the wounds received from seven swords’.”

 

With time and similar apparitions having been reported in the same area, by the next year large crowds had visited the place. The bishop of Bojano, who was investigating the matter, claimed to see the Virgin Mary with the vicar general of the diocese. He also claimed that many others, whose names were recorded in an official report, saw apparitions. Interestingly, many that saw the Virgin Mary saw her in some traditional form, such as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady, the Queen of the Holy Rosary, the Mother of Sorrows, Our Lady of Dolores, and Our Lady of Loreto…while others had visions of St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Michael, St. Sebastian, and some saw the face of Jesus. As with the other case, not everyone that attended actually saw the apparition.

 

Returning to the list formulated by O’Connell, the following conclusion is drawn: It is clear that in their present form the resurrection narratives do not characterize the appearances in these ways. In the resurrection narratives, Jesus’ appearances are not typically expected, there is little to indicate extreme stress, there is no indication that not everyone saw Jesus nor that different people saw him differently, and Jesus often conducts group conversations.

 

End of quote.

 

By the way, not one line of the New Testament actually says the visions to the proper witnesses were not expected.  And they were extremely stressed!  They had lost Jesus the worst way possible and were in fear for their lives.  No comment is made on whether or not Jesus always looked the same to each person when he appeared to a group.  The other thing that happens with group visions is if ten see a vision and two accounts can be reconciled and made out to be the real vision while the others are illusions then the vision is counted as being real but seen by only two.  There has to be at least two seeing much the same thing or thinking they do though they do not.

Paul taught the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the heart of the Christian gospel and the truths on which all the Christian doctrines depend. Paul taught in scripture in Galatians 1 that even if he and the apostles and angels from Heaven changed the gospel in any way they were to be treated as anathema or accursed (shunned) plainly admitting that he was more concerned about dogma than anything and even God wasn’t allowed to contradict him! For Paul the resurrection was not important but believing in it was! Is he and the other apostles who tolerated this nonsense really worth believing when they said Jesus rose?

We conclude that the mention of the 500 is no good for Paul does not say anything about the appearance and what if it was a case of mistaken identity? Why does he not elaborate when he is trying to persuade the people of Corinth to stop questioning that people can rise from the dead?  He needed to say more than just give a bare statement when his problem was people who did not see the resurrection of the dead as having anything to do with a physical body.  Saying 500 have seen Jesus is no good for seeing does not mean they actually see a body.

 

Reason says that if five hundred people say they had a vision then that is what they say but somebody else saying they had the vision is no good.  It is too easy to write a lie.  It is wiser to assume it was a lie than that it really was true that a miracle vision happened.  This is not bias against miracles it is about respect for miracles and the evidence they are and need.

 

When Christianity got some level of popularity it was too late.  Freeman, A New Early History of Christianity at 22 (“it would certainly be unusual to find living eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life after AD 60 and it would be a matter of chance as to whether any of these survivors could provide accurate and valuable information”).

 

The vision to the 500 might just, like that to Paul, have been a vision of a light.  Paul is telling us they saw Jesus but would they have interpreted it thus?  Paul does not treat them as being on the same level as the apostles - the essential witnesses so that is the most important thing to remember.

 

The verse about the 500 + need not unsettle the sceptic.  It is the believer it should unsettle.