The history of rock-and-roll abounds with legends regarding its biggest stars. The best known is the story that Elvis is alive, having faked his death in 1977 to escape the limelight. Another myth suggests that the real Paul McCartney died in 1966, and the man we now see as the iconic Beatle is actually an impersonator.
The general gist of these stories echoes two popular myths about another “celebrity” of his day, Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus’ case, however, the myths arose centuries after his death, when validation of the facts would be more difficult. Nevertheless, that validation can still be reasonably and adequately accomplished.
The “Swoon” Hypothesis
Some skeptics suggest that Jesus did not actually die on the cross, but simply passed out. However, medical details included in the Gospel accounts provide significant indicators that death did occur. When the soldiers speared Jesus’ side, the executioners saw that his body’s blood and water had separated. He had already expired; so there was no need to break Jesus’ legs to hasten death. Furthermore, given the abuse Christ suffered from the earlier floggings it’s amazing he lasted as long as he did. The idea that he could have recovered fully and quickly enough to move a massive stone, overcome a contingent of Roman guards, and fool his followers is utterly preposterous on all counts.
The “Impersonator” Hypothesis
Another proposed resurrection alternative is that Jesus was impersonated by an unknown twin or other person. Huge credibility issues arise from the notion that an exact look-alike, with precisely studied words, voice, and gestures, could have pulled off a convincing deception—and only after, rather than during, Jesus’ years of ministry and growing popularity. If a fake were good enough to fool the disciples, he would have fooled those who wanted Christ dead, as well. And it seems doubtful they would have refrained from finishing him off once and for all.
Both these myths represent ad hoc hypotheses emerging from anti-supernatural presuppositions. No historian of Jesus’ era, Jewish, Roman or other, denied or even questioned his death. Yet when people insist that the natural realm is the sum total of reality, any natural explanation, no matter how strange or implausible, is preferable to acknowledging a miracle. Look for discussions of the last two resurrection alternatives in future issues of Reasons.