A Scientific Defense of the Swoon Theory
By Edward Dodge
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar,
he said, It is finished:
and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
- John 19:30 (KJV)
The Most Important Question in Western Civilization
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish preacher, prophet, and healer, who is the savior and centerpiece of the Christian religion. According to tradition, Jesus was publicly executed around 33 CE by Jewish and Roman authorities for the crimes of blasphemy and sedition; he was supposedly then seen alive a few days later by numerous witnesses. The supernatural nature of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the flesh are accepted literally by Christian believers.
The reported resurrection of Jesus Christ is arguably the most important moment in the history of Western Civilization. This event transformed world religion and politics, setting off centuries of reformations and revolutions among believers and non-believers. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christian religion, it is the central and most important miracle of Jesus’ life and ministry.
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
- 1 Corinthians 15:14
Ever since the first stories began circulating of a man who rose from death skeptics have dismissed the claims as delusions, lies, and religious fantasies, yet the faithful have always maintained that there were witnesses who saw Jesus alive. The debate over the veracity and symbolism of Jesus’ resurrection has framed the very definition of truth and moral authority ever since.
Many skeptics of the resurrection argue the most likely explanation is that Jesus simply died at his crucifixion and was buried anonymously. Jesus’ followers were then so bereft that their exalted teacher and friend had been executed in such a humiliating fashion that they saw visions of him or simply invented stories of his rising from death. Post-bereavement syndrome is a documented psychological phenomenon and there are many examples of individual and group hallucinations that were sincerely believed to be real by the witnesses. So it is not unreasonable or irrational to argue that Jesus’ followers were delusional when reporting that they had seen Jesus alive.
Yet the claims of the Church and billions of believers in both Christian and Islamic religions is that there were witnesses who saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion. Is this possible? Is there any naturalistic explanation that can explain the seeming miracle of Jesus’ resurrection that confirms the testimony of the original witnesses while maintaining scientific principles and a view of reality grounded in common sense and skepticism?
Just because an event is unlikely does not mean that it is impossible. Strange and unusual things that defy explanation occur all the time.
What really happened on the cross?
Swoon theory is the old notion that Jesus survived the crucifixion, it is not a new idea, it has been suggested from the start but modern commentators generally dismiss it as unlikely. Christians say that Jesus’ wounds were far too severe for him to have survived. While most skeptics say that sightings of Jesus post crucifixion were imaginary or fictional.
In this article we will review the hypothesis that Jesus did in fact survive his crucifixion, though not by supernatural means, and that the first generation of witnesses did have credibility in their claims that they saw Jesus alive after his public execution.
According to the Gospel narratives, Jesus was beaten, whipped, stabbed, and nailed through his wrists and feet onto a cross. He was crucified on Friday morning, declared dead in the afternoon, and placed in a tomb in the evening – Jesus then emerged from the tomb, alive, Sunday morning, a dying-and-rising god in human flesh.
This hypothesis of an Earthly resurrection centers on Jesus’ closest followers, not the 12 male Disciples, but the women who tended to Jesus’ needs, in particular Mary Magdalene. The theory is that the Three Marys who were with Jesus at the crucifixion sedated Jesus with a potent mystery potion that made him appear to be dead, allowing the women and their accomplices, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, to bring the body down from the cross before he actually died, treat and bandage his wounds, and lay him in a private tomb for a day and a half to rest undisturbed. The women then carefully revived Jesus Sunday morning and announced to the male Disciples that a miracle had occurred.
Most commentators discussing the resurrection overlook the women and they completely overlook the drugs, even though there is a clear reference in three of the Gospels of Jesus being given a mysterious drink (vinegar or wine vinegar) immediately before he expired on the cross. Jesus was commonly accused of being a magician, someone who performs tricks and illusions in public, and the theory of the Earthly resurrection is built on that notion; that Jesus and his assistants intentionally performed a magic trick that allowed him to cheat the executioners.
Followers of Jesus
One of the strongest pieces of evidence that something remarkable occurred is that rival groups of followers emerged with wildly disparate views of Jesus, his teachings, and the meaning of his death.
Most of Jesus’ original disciples remained in Jerusalem as practicing Jews under the leadership of Jesus’ brother James the Just. They were awaiting an apocalypse that came in 70 CE when the Romans killed them all, sacked the city, and burned down the temple. There is no evidence from extra-biblical sources that this group of Jewish Christians saw Jesus as anything but human, and their views seem to align with modern-day Muslims who view Jesus as a holy man and prophet but not as divine.
The basic tenets of Orthodox Christianity were originated by the Apostle Paul and were not settled until 300 years after Jesus passed on. Paul invented many core elements of Christian theology, he is the one who claimed that the resurrection was supernatural and divine and that it absolved the believers of their sins. Paul was not a disciple of Jesus and never met him in person, either before or after the resurrection. Paul allied with the Apostle Peter, and he knew James and the original disciples but it is not clear that they got along. In fact there appears to have been quite a bit of conflict between Paul and the others judging from the letters Paul wrote.
The Gnostics were mystics who incorporated Jesus into their beliefs which included some aspects of the Mystery religions centered on the divine Mother and the goddesses. The Gnostic mystics taught that Jesus shows us how to know God directly through self-knowledge and that Sophia (wisdom) was his bride. The Gnostic Trinity was the Father, Son, and Sophia. Mary Magdalene was an early leader according to Gnostics texts, and she was a rival of the Apostle Peter who was jealous of her closeness to Jesus. The Orthodox Church eventually condemned the Gnostics and most of their teachings were lost.
Some pagans simply welcomed Jesus as the latest addition to their pantheons alongside many other deified humans. It was common in that era for heroes to be deified, like various Roman emperors or Alexander the Great, so it is not hard to understand how stories could spread about a remarkable human who became a god.
There were three hundred years of vicious theological disputes about Jesus between these various factions that were followed by harsh authoritarianism when Orthodox Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire. All non-Orthodox forms of Christianity like Arianism and Gnosticism, as well as all pagan religions, were banned and exterminated with violence in the 4th and 5th centuries CE.
Modern Muslims believe in a version of the Swoon Theory, they revere Jesus as a holy prophet but they do not believe that he is divine or that he died on the cross. Jesus either survived the crucifixion or was substituted by another. Muslims say, “if you saw a man crucified and then later saw him alive, doesn’t it make sense that he simply never died?”
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah” - but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.
- Qur’an, 4:157 (Yusuf Ali)
At the heart of this rational, heretical, theory of Jesus’ resurrection lies the mystery potion. Is there a drug that could make a person appear convincingly dead, like in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? With no visible breath or heartbeat, stiff limbs, and pale skin cold to the touch? The answer is yes, and the hypothesis can be tested through modern science and experience.
The mystery potion was likely a potent tincture of cannabis, perhaps in combination with other drugs. Cannabis was readily available in Jerusalem in the first century CE, it has been grown in Lebanon and throughout the Fertile Crescent since Neolithic times. Hemp was a staple fiber and cannabis drugs had a long history of ritual use in pagan traditions.
This author’s interpretation of events builds on earlier works. Hugh Schonfield suggested that Jesus used a sedative to fake his death in his 1965 book, The Passover Plot, but he made no attempt to identify what drug it might have been. Cannabis scholar Chris Bennett, whom I learned this theory from, built on Schonfield’s work by identifying cannabis as the most likely drug based on pharmacological evidence and a long trail of historical literature (Green Gold the Tree of Life, pp 378-406, and elsewhere).
Strong drink is a biblical term for wine or beer mixed with drugs like cannabis, opium, or myrrh, which was a common way for plant medicines to be prepared. The mixing of medicines was women’s business, like weaving and midwifery. Women were the potion makers in the ancient world and the images persisted in the stereotypes of witches in the Middle Ages and modern Disney movies.
Some ancient examples of women and potions include the law codes of Hammurabi from Babylon c. 1750 BCE, where the qedesha priestesses were banned from opening a tavern, or even entering one, due to their mastery of mystery potions (Law 110). In the Eleusinian Mysteries of Greece, a very popular religion at the time of Jesus, women were responsible for mixing up the Kykeon, a psychoactive mystery potion central to their rituals.
Women were at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus broke with social convention by spending so much time with women and teaching them. He had numerous female disciples who supported him financially and were pillars in the early Church. Mary Magdalene is the most prominent, but so was his mother the Virgin Mary, there was also Joanna, Susanna, the sisters Martha and Mary, and other unnamed women. Jesus was always kind and respectful to all women, never belittling or stereotyping them, even women with questionable backgrounds.
Jesus was anointed by a woman, this was a crucial act since the word Christ means Anointed One. An unidentified woman (Mary?) anointed Jesus' head (or feet) with a pound of costly perfume. This angered the male disciples who saw the act as a waste of money but Jesus rebuked the men and praised the woman for the holy act. (Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:6-13, John 12:1-8)
“By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
- Matthew 26:12-13
Is it possible that Jesus could have used a mystery potion to fake his death? Even in the most favorable reading of the evidence, it would have been extremely dangerous and downright crazy. Jesus would have had to survive serious wounds from being beaten, flogged, nailed through the wrists and feet, and stabbed with a spear, but the scripture is ambiguous about the precise details of Jesus’ wounds, and by themselves, none of the wounds are definitively fatal.
People routinely survive major injuries when they are given prompt and effective medical care, and Jesus would have received careful nursing from the Three Marys. They had friends who helped, Nicodemus brought medicines and clean linens. Joseph of Arimathea owned the nearby tomb that was conveniently available to use for nursing and burial. Joseph of Arimathea also approached Roman Governor Pontius Pilate personally to ask that Jesus’s body be brought down from the cross early, which was critical to his survival.
A Tree of Life
Cannabis is a remarkable medicine with unusual qualities. One particularly unusual quality is that massive overdoses of cannabis do not kill, but can knock a person unconscious for a few days. Cannabis is an extremely rare substance in this regard, a true tree of life. After thousands of years of documented usage cannabis drugs have never been known to kill a healthy person.
But cannabis can generate the unusual condition of catalepsy and coma, which creates the appearance of death. Catalepsy is a condition where the limbs are waxy and stiff, as though rigor mortis was setting in. This effect rarely results in death unless the patient suffers from heart failure.
The cataleptic effect from strong doses of cannabis is well documented in modern scientific literature, it is one of four behavioral tetrads associated with the effects of cannabinoids along with hypothermia (cold body temperature), analgesia (painkilling), and hypomotility (reduced physical activity). Each of these tetrads could contribute to the effect of making a person appear dead, while also providing the medicinal, sedative, and painkilling benefits that Jesus would have needed to survive his ordeal.
19th-century medical experiments attempted to determine the fatal dose limits of cannabis by providing massive overdoses to small dogs. Dogs were routinely used to test cannabis medicine in those days and there were established scientific protocols guiding the experiments. Surprisingly, despite their earnest attempts, the scientists never succeeded in actually killing a dog with cannabis drugs. The typical response was that the dog was knocked unconscious for two days and then awoke with no ill effects.
Cannabis has a rich tradition of use in veterinary medicine internationally and scientists have never been able to establish fatal dose limits for large animals after years of studies. In modern science, these experiments are not performed on humans or dogs but are routinely done on mice (which can be killed with potent cannabis injections).
In the second century CE, the famous Chinese surgeon Hua Tuo invented an anesthetic made from cannabis that he reduced to a powder and mixed with wine. He called it mafeisan, cannabis boiling powder, and he used it successfully to perform complicated abdominal surgeries. It is the oldest documented use of surgical anesthetic.
Hindu sadhus in India, ascetic devotees of Shiva known for their devotion to cannabis, have been seen to fake their deaths in demonstrations for British colonialists using a combination of meditation, yoga, and cannabis drugs. The German naturalist, chemist, and travel writer, Ernst Von Bibra documented the feat by multiple sadhus in his famous 1855 book Plant Intoxicants. In these public demonstrations, the sadhus appeared to be dead to witnesses with no visible pulse or breath and stiff limbs. The sadhu’s assistants buried the seemingly dead body in a tomb or coffin which was then interred and revived after a period of days or even weeks.
Dr. William O’Shaughnessy, a Scottish physician working in Calcutta in the 1840s wrote the first western medical papers on cannabis drugs. O’Shaughnessy detailed instances of patients experiencing catalepsy from strong doses of cannabis.
I chanced to lift up my patient’s arm. The professional reader will judge of my astonishment, when I found that it remained in the posture in which I placed it. It required but a brief examination of the limbs to find that the patient had, by the influence of this narcotic, been thrown into that strange and most extraordinary of all nervous conditions, into that state what so few have seen, and the existence of which so many still discredit - the genuine catalepsy of the nosologist.
- Dr. William O’Shaughnessy, Calcutta, India, 1839
There is a rich tradition in literature and legend of people appearing to be dead and being buried. One of the most famous examples comes from Romeo and Juliet (act 4, scene 1), where William Shakespeare has an unidentified potion provided to his tragic heroine Juliet to help her fake her death and avoid an unwanted marriage. Juliet’s apparent death is so convincing that her parents entomb her, and her true love Romeo commits suicide. Shakespeare was known for the accuracy of the medicines depicted in his plays, and could be describing something like Hua Tuo’s cannabis boiling powder.
These historical, literary, and scientific examples demonstrate that it is medically possible that a preparation of cannabis drugs could be used to create a cataleptic condition where a living human body appears dead to onlookers.
Judging from the total lack of extra-biblical literature or other evidence of Jesus from the first century it would appear that Jesus was an obscure figure in his lifetime. By most scholarly accounts, Jesus was an itinerant preacher with a small following before he deliberately caused a scene at the Jerusalem temple and was arrested for blasphemy.
Jesus’ entire public ministry appears to have lasted only one week, beginning Palm Sunday when he staged a little parade for himself entering the city on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19).
On Monday, Jesus went to the Jerusalem temple and cleared out the money changers, overturning their tables, scattering their coins, and generally causing a big ruckus that deliberately angered the Sanhedrin, the Jewish authorities (Matthew 21:12–22, Mark 11:15–19, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-17).
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jesus preached to his disciples while the Jewish authorities debated what to do about him. The disciple Judas Iscariot meanwhile made his deal with the Sanhedrin to turn Jesus over to them. (Matthew 21:23–24:51, Mark 11:20–13:37, Luke 20:1–21:36, and John 12:20–38).
Thursday was the day of the Last Supper. Preparations for the Passover feast were made during the day, and the meal was held in the evening. Later on, Jesus retired to the Garden of Gethsemane where he waited and agonized over his coming arrest. Jesus suffered in anticipation of his coming tribulations and was sweating blood (Luke 22:14), but he made no attempt to flee. In fact, Jesus stayed up late, waiting into the middle of the night for the Jewish authorities to come and arrest him (Matthew 26:17–75, Mark 14:12-72, Luke 22:7-62, and John 13:1-38).
The Passover Plot
In the scripture, Jesus predicted his ordeal many times. This could indicate that he had a plan to survive the execution that he intentionally provoked when he challenged the Jewish authorities. Jesus repeatedly predicted his death and resurrection after three days. His disciples were at a loss to understand what he meant (Matthew 16:21-23, 17:22-23, 20:17-19; Mark 8:31-33, 9:30-32, 10:32-34; Luke 9:21-22, 9:43-45, 18:31-34).
...he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
- Mark 9:31-32
[Jesus] took the Twelve aside and said to them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!"
- Matthew 20:17-19
Jesus was put on trial for a variety of offenses, in particular for blasphemy by claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of God. Jesus was interrogated, subjected to a show trial, and condemned early Friday morning. Jesus was then turned over to the Roman authorities, under command of the governor Pontius Pilate, to be executed for the seditious crime of claiming to be the King of the Jews.
Pontius Pilate had Jesus flogged with a whip, but it is not specified how many lashes Jesus received, or how serious the wounds were. Jesus was beaten and mocked by the Roman soldiers and forced to carry his heavy cross up the hill. They jammed a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head until he bled, asking him, “Where is your almighty Father now?” Though Jesus was clearly beaten and abused, none of the Gospels provide details about the severity of his injuries (Matthew 27:27-31, Mark 15:16-20, Luke 22:63-65, John 19:1-15).
He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
- Matthew 15:15
Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him.
- Matthew 15:19
The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him.
- Luke 22:63
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they slapped him in the face.
- John 19:1-3
Wine of the Condemned
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;
- Proverbs 31:6
On his way to Golgotha, the hill where he was to be crucified, Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, otherwise known as the wine of the condemned. Strong drink was commonly given to prisoners on their way to execution as an act of mercy and anesthetic to calm the condemned prisoner’s nerves and ease their pain. For Jesus, this potion would have interfered with his plan, so he declined to take it.
They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it.
- Mark 15:23
They gave Him wine mixed with gall to drink. But when He tasted it, He would not drink it.
- Matthew 27:34
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar.
- Luke 23:36
The Women Who Loved Jesus
The Three Marys, the women who loved Jesus the most and whom he loved, accompanied him on his way to his execution. The Three Marys are Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary Salome. Mother Mary is the virgin mother of Jesus. Mary of Magdala is the maiden, Jesus’ closest companion. The precise identity of third Mary is not clear, she is called “the wife of Clopas” and she is also called Salome; in some tellings, she is the sister-in-law of Mother Mary, or perhaps her aunt, or the mother of the Beloved Disciple John. The Three Marys are venerated in Catholic traditions and legends are told about them.
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.
- Mark 15:40
Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.
- Matthew 27:55
Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
- John 19:25
Wine Vinegar on the Cross
The Three Marys are the keystone of this theory, they had the mystery potion prepared to save Jesus’s life. The Three Marys kept a watchful eye and at the proper moment, they provided Jesus the powerful sedative that made him appear dead and cheat the execution.
Three of the Gospels detail the moment when Jesus is on the cross and a drink is given to him, just before he expires. This drink is labeled “wine vinegar” or “sour wine,” which is clearly a euphemism for an unknown beverage. It makes little sense that anyone would give Jesus vinegar as that would be stimulating and would not make him swoon. Most biblical commentaries refer to the sour wine as a refreshment given to Jesus to ease his suffering, yet the name does not imply a soothing beverage, but something with a sharp and unpleasant flavor, which makes sense if the beverage was a potent plant drug concoction.
Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
- Mark 15:36
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
- Matthew 27:48
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished,... Jesus said, "I am thirsty." A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
- John 19:28-30
As soon as Jesus consumed the potion, he promptly succumbed and appeared dead. This description fits for a cannabis tincture which only takes a few minutes to take effect, especially since this potion would have been extremely potent and Jesus was in a very weakened state.
Death and Burial
When [the centurions] came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead.
- John 19:33
Jesus “died” after just a few hours on the cross, immediately after consuming the potion. Typically in crucifixions, it took days for someone to expire and Roman soldiers would often break the prisoner’s legs to hasten their death. But the soldiers did not need to break Jesus’ legs since he already appeared dead, though they did stab him in the side with a spear. The stabbing was probably unanticipated and not part of Jesus’ plans, it may have been a serious wound. Once Jesus was declared dead by the guards his body was allowed to be taken down from the cross.
Then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were friends of Jesus but not Disciples, took the body away. Joseph appealed directly to Pontius Pilate to remove the body and the governor was surprised to hear that Jesus had died so quickly.
Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went into Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate was surprised that He was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him whether He had already died. When he found out from the centurion, he gave the corpse to Joseph.
- Mark 15:43-45
After this, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus… asked Pilate that he might remove Jesus' body. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took His body away. Nicodemus (who had previously come to Him at night) also came, bringing a mixture of about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. Then they took Jesus' body and wrapped it in linen cloths with the aromatic spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews.
- John 19:38-40
Joseph and Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes, which is a large quantity and seems unusual for a burial. It makes more sense to imagine the 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes as medicines used to treat Jesus’s many wounds.
Joseph was conveniently in possession of his own private, unused tomb that they had ready nearby for Jesus’s body. Joseph and Nicodemus could have bribed any Roman guards assigned to watch the tomb, though it is not clear from scripture if the tomb was actually guarded.
Joseph and Nicodemus were part of the plan along with the Three Marys, but the male disciples knew nothing of it. It is not clear if Judas, who betrayed Jesus to the authorities, was part of the plan or not; that speculation is left to others. Another speculation is that Jesus did not intend to be crucified and was rescued by the women with the mystery potion, but that alternative would negate Jesus’ prophecies of his coming death and resurrection.
Risen from the Grave
Jesus was crucified on a Friday morning, declared dead in the afternoon, and laid in the tomb. At daybreak, Sunday morning, (on the third day) Mary Magdalene and the other women went to visit the tomb. They reportedly found the heavy stone door removed and the risen Jesus. Jesus would certainly have been unable to remove the stone himself in his condition, someone else would have to have opened the tomb.
In this scenario, the Three Marys didn’t simply discover Jesus alive, they brought more medicines (spices) and carefully revived him. Mary Magdalene then ran to tell the disciples the news, all the while keeping the secret.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome
bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.
- Mark 16:1
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.
- Mark 16:9
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
- Matthew 28:1
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.
- Luke 24:1
It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.
- Luke 24:10
...Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark. She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
- John 20:1
...she turned around and saw Jesus standing there...
- John 20:14
After Jesus was revived he convalesced for forty days while his wounds healed. According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus met with his disciples, his brother James, and more than 500 followers (1 Corinthians 15:1-9). Jesus then either departed for points unknown, some claim that he went to India and lived for years, or maybe he simply succumbed to his injuries and died. In the Bible, it says Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-12). This author proposes that Jesus died after a few weeks from his wounds or infections and was then quietly buried.
After his suffering, [Jesus] presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
- Acts 1:3
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living.
- 1 Corinthians 15:6
The testimony of the witnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after the crucifixion are the keystone of the Christian faith. The entire edifice of Christianity is predicated on the idea that the original witnesses spoke the truth as they saw it, which was that Jesus was publicly executed, and a few days later they saw him alive. Of course the stories were quickly elaborated, exaggerated, and mythologized, but that alone does not mean that the original witnesses were not speaking the truth.
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
- Acts 15:14-15
Critics who maintain that Jesus most likely died at his execution and was buried like a common criminal must present satisfactory evidence for why the original witnesses were deluded since they certainly would have been subject to the exact same arguments people make today. Skepticism of the resurrection is not a new argument, this debate has been litigated for centuries.
The biblical narrative makes it clear that there were followers of Jesus proclaiming that they had seen Jesus alive after his execution, and that most people did not believe them. Yet the claims persisted despite all the common sense arguments that people don’t rise from the dead. There is nothing that the atheist or skeptic of the resurrection can argue in the 21st century that was not already argued in the 1st century.
Skeptical scholars have a high burden to prove that the Apostle Paul himself did not raise all the same objections when he was persecuting the early Christians before his “road to Damascus” moment. One can imagine that there was no shortage of critics when the Christians began declaring the resurrection, yet Paul changed his mind about the risen Jesus for some reason, presumably because the witnesses convinced Paul of their sincerity.
The first generation of witnesses are crucial to this debate, either they saw something remarkable or they were hallucinating. Despite the many logical counter-arguments, belief in the resurrection survived the first century and persisted into the second after all the original witnesses had died.
Swoon theory is the only theory of the resurrection that tracks the Gospel narratives, adheres to science and skepticism, and maintains the integrity of the first generation of witnesses. All the first generation needs to have said is that they saw Jesus alive after being executed, it was Paul and others who were not there that interpreted the event as the divine work of God.
Swoon theory also tracks with the beliefs of all the disparate branches of non-Orthodox Christianity and Islamic traditions. There were many followers of Jesus in the early days who preached everything from him being simply human to being completely divine, such as the Jewish Christians, Arians, and Gnostics. Muslims believe that Jesus was a man and a holy prophet, and they accept that he was seen alive post-crucifixion.
The hypothesis that Jesus faked his death using a potent cannabis tincture is pharmacologically possible. It is a medical reality that extremely strong cannabis tinctures can knock a person unconscious for two days, generating catalepsy that can make the person appear dead. This hypothesis can be scientifically tested today on humans or animals, it can be proven to be correct or not.
A straight reading of the Gospel narrative shows Jesus being sedated with a mystery potion while on the cross. He then immediately expires after having only been on the cross a short time, when crucifixions were meant to be slow and agonizing. Jesus was then quickly brought down from the cross, he was treated with medicines, his wounds were bandaged, and he was laid in a private room to lie undisturbed for a day and a half while under heavy sedation. He was then carefully revived and wounds treated with more medicines upon waking. This is exactly how one should carefully nurse a badly wounded man back to health. There is nothing in this interpretation of events that defies science or skepticism at all.
The theory of the Earthly Resurrection satisfies the convictions of the faithful that the witnesses who claimed to have seen him alive were, in fact, speaking the truth. It is important that the witnesses were speaking the truth as they knew it because their testimony is the basis for the entire Christian faith and has been subject to centuries of cross-examination. This theory also satisfies the skeptics who do not believe in supernatural miracles or divine intervention.
Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
- Matthew 16:14
ps. Gnostic Mystery Jesus
The real beauty of the Earthly Resurrection narrative is that it places the women at the heart of the story and reconnects us to the mythical traditions of the Divine Mother, the mother of all life and the source of wisdom.
The Dying-and-Rising god mythologies are among humanity's oldest religious traditions and they were the religions of the Mother that were led by women. In every one of those myths, the tragic hero who had been sent to the underworld is restored to life and majesty by a goddess. In this Gnostic Mystery myth, Jesus became the Lord after being restored to life by the Three Marys.
The Gnostics were not monotheists and they embraced the divine Mother. The Gnostic trinity is the Father, Son, and Sophia who was the bride of Christ. The Gnostics rejected the patriarchal authority structures of the Orthodox Church and had decentralized communities with female leadership.
Mary Magdalene was the Apostle to the Apostles in Gnostic traditions, she was Jesus’ closest companion and the one who knew his closest secrets, like how he survived the crucifixion. For centuries, people have debated whether Mary Magdalene and the other women could be reliable, trustworthy, witnesses to the resurrection. In the story presented here, the women were not just witnesses, they were fully responsible for the resurrection and the men were too stupid to realize it. Just like the Goddess traditions, the hero is raised from death by the restorative powers of the Goddess.
These Dying-and-Rising god mythologies represent nature, the cycles of life, and the turning of the seasons. They were among the most important and popular religions in the ancient world and there are countless examples of them. There were the Mysteries of Isis from Egypt, Isis restored her husband Osirus from death and he became the ruler of the underworld and judge of the dead. Ishtar raised her husband Tammuz, the Shepherd King, and Inanna raised Dumuzi in an older version of the same story. Likewise, Baal was made Lord for the Canaanites after being raised up by his sister-lover Anat. In the Eleusinian Mysteries, Demeter brings her daughter Persephone back from the underworld.
The Three Marys are symbolic of the Triple Goddess motif. The Triple Goddess - mother, maiden, and death is one of the most common and important symbols of the Goddess as it represents the full cycle of life. The mother who brings us into the world, the maiden who is the vitality of life, and the crone who helps us pass through to the next life. There are many examples of the Triple Goddess; the Hindu Parvati, Durga, and Kali. The Greek Demeter, Persephone, Hecate. The biblical Asherah, Astarte, and Anat. the Egyptian Hathor, Bastet, and Sehkmet, and so on.
Cannabis being used as the mystery potion also fits as cannabis was sacred in the Goddess traditions. The plant was cultivated throughout the Ancient Near East since the dawn of the Neolithic and has a long documented history of use in ritual and magic, and was cooked into foods, beverages, and intoxicating incense. Weaving was women’s sacred work, and hemp fibers from cannabis were a staple fiber. Women were midwives and cannabis is a potent midwifery medicine that aids childbirth and menstruation. The Goddess traditions celebrated women’s sexuality as a source of life and creation and cannabis is an excellent aphrodisiac, especially for women. Cannabis was an ingredient in Moses’ holy anointing oil in Exodus 30:23 and was burned as incense in King Solomon’s temple.
The Abrahamic faiths teach us that the Heavenly Father rules alone, but we know that much of humanity also believes in the Earthly Mother. Mystery Jesus shows us that he has a Divine Mother too.
1. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states that “No deaths from overdose of marijuana have been reported.” in its official fact sheets.
3. For example: Egashira, N. (2017). Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Catalepsy-Like Immobilization. In Handbook of Cannabis and Related Pathologies: Biology, Pharmacology, Diagnosis, and Treatment (pp. 326-334). Elsevier Inc.. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-800756-3.00038-7. In Cannabinoid tetrad tests, catalepsy is one of four primary behaviors exhibited by animals subjected to cannabinoids.
4. “A Pharmacological Study of Cannabis Americana (Cannabis Sativa)” by Parke-Davis researchers E.M. Houghton and H.C. Hamilton, (American Journal of Pharmacy), 1908
5. Bennett, Chris, Cannabis and the Soma Solution, pp 426. Bennett provides a thorough recounting of the tales of 19th-century Hindu Fakirs being buried alive and revived by assistants in demonstrations for British colonialists.
6. Tod H. Mikuriya, Marijuana: Medical Papers, 1839-1972, Blue Dolphin Publishing, Incorporated, 2007
7. Edward Dodge, “A History of the Goddess: from the Ice to the Bible” includes a through discussion of cannabis in the Old Testament.