The facts as presented in the Bible appear to be clear. Jesus Christ died on the cross on Good Friday, was taken down and entombed, but when the tomb was visited in the next couple of days it was found to be miraculously empty.
Then, as if to confirm Jesus had been brought back to life by divine power, he appeared to his disciples before finally ascending to heaven. And for those who have faith in the teachings of Christianity, this is sufficient to understand the miracle of the Resurrection.
However in today’s pragmatic and secular world, for many this explanation falls short. There are many speculations and debates that reach for the most straightforward explanation: Jesus never really died during the crucifixion process.
The two main hypotheses that explain the appearance of Jesus after crucifixion are the Swoon Hypothesis and the Substitute Hypothesis. Through this article, we will explore the foundations of the two hypotheses and how they explain the sighting of a risen Jesus after the crucifixion.
The Swoon Hypothesis
The Swoon Hypothesis is an explanation of the events that happened after the crucifixion of Jesus. According to this hypothesis, Jesus was never killed at the crucifixion. He only swooned from the pain and fatigue of being crucified.
The unconscious Jesus was later revived in the tomb, where he had been placed to recover after the crucifixion. This would require a conspiracy to make Jesus appear to have died amongst his friends and followers (else why hide his comatose body in a tomb?) and this has been a popular theory since the 18th and 19th centuries.
Many famous people and believers supported this hypothesis. According to the theories that revolve around the hypothesis, Jesus might have knowingly faked his death to survive. Many people believe that Jesus Christ used some drugs given by his physician (often named as Luke, who is believed to have been a doctor) to fake his death.
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His swooned body was indeed buried in his tomb. However, he was alive and was revived by Joseph of Arimathea, who was specially chosen for the task. The theory goes that, as well as saving Jesus’s life, this would also allow him to disappear from an increasingly political role.
If not drugs, it is also possible that Jesus simply collapsed from the torture he was enduring and was genuinely considered dead. This would require no conspiracy, but instead he would need to have been heard groaning from his tomb by the people who were his supporters.
These followers, so the theory goes, would have only then realized that Jesus was not dead and immediately rescued him by frightening the guards of the tomb away so that no one knew that Jesus was, in fact, alive. Because of Jesus’s revival in secret, people would then believe that he was resurrected.
These theories also date as far back as 1802 with the suggestion that Jesus hadn’t died but slipped into a coma, out of which he recovered on his own and then escaped from the tomb. Because of his miraculous recovery from a coma, his disciples believed that he was indeed dead and was resurrected by God, which led to the idea of Resurrection.
The problem with this is that this requires a ultimately resting place for the mortal body of Jesus. This has led to people who believed in the Swoon Hypothesis believed that after surviving the effects of the crucifixion, Jesus escaped to India, or Japan, or France.
The Swoon Hypothesis is supported by some of the events of the crucifixion. It was reported that Jesus had died too soon and too suddenly from the ordeal. Generally, victims of crucifixion die within two to four days of the process.
Jesus, however, survived merely six hours of the torture which was unusual for a healthy functioning adult. Many scholars also question whether Jesus was truly nailed to the cross or he was simply tied to it. The level of torture and wounds that was inflicted on Jesus and his death, as a result, are highly questioned.
There are also oddities in the treatment of his body compared to normal crucifixions. For example, once Jesus was declared dead, his body was not put up for public viewing. No one in public saw the body before burial.
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The condition of his body after his death is also not reported. Only two people saw and handled Jesus’s body after his death, and it was given a very quick burial. The lack of public eyewitnesses and a quick burial for Jesus lend support to the Swoon Hypotheses. Maybe, after all, Jesus just fainted.
The Substitution Hypothesis
The Substitution Hypothesis, the other great attempt to rationalize the resurrection of Jesus, requires a little more planning. According to this theory, the crucifixion happened and someone died on the cross, but it was not Jesus.
In fact, it is said by people who believe in the Substitute Hypothesis that it was a lookalike of Jesus who died on the cross while the real Jesus escaped from Jerusalem (to India, or Japan, or France). Some take this theory even further, believing that there was a twin of Jesus who survived, and after Jesus was crucified, this twin was either projected as Jesus or was mistaken for him.
People believe that this twin of Jesus was most likely Thomas the Apostle. It might have been Thomas the Apostle because, in Gnostic texts, Jesus has been quoted saying Thomas the Apostle was his twin and true companion.
Taking their cue from this, some scholars believe that Thomas the Apostle was Jesus’s brother and died on the cross instead of Jesus. With Thomas dead but Jesus alive, it would seem to outsiders that Jesus had been resurrected, but this would require a conspiracy of silence among the disciples and Jesus’s other companions, who knew Thomas.
Even if Thomas the Apostle was the twin of Jesus, this allows for an interesting alternative assumption within the Substitution Theory. There is also the possibility that the real Jesus died and Thomas the Apostle or some other twin of his took his place as the Messiah.
Many Gnostic texts, treated as heresy by the later Catholic church, suggest that Jesus was not the one crucified. However, the substitute for Jesus keeps changing identity in the texts, with some believing it was Simon of Cyrene, while in other texts, the name of Judas Iscariot is mentioned as the one crucified instead of Jesus. No matter who took the place of Jesus at the crucifixion, there is a possibility that Jesus had a twin who took his place.
Ultimately, while both hypothesis is plausible neither of these theories is provable. Those looking for a rational explanation for the events surrounding the Resurrection are left guessing to this day.
Top Image: Many have searched for a rational explanation for the Resurrection of Jesus. Source: Vatican Museums / CC BY-SA 3.0.
By Bipin Dimri