9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2006
In his book, the late Jack Kent weaves a hypothesis to explain the "myth" of the resurrection story. Many of the same topics, contra resurrection are addressed. The main focus of the book, however, revolves around the disciples hallucinations as a normal psychological symptom of grief and Paul's hallucination due to conversion disorder.
Hallucinations due to grief cannot be denied. Kent's view is that the disciples and Mary Magdalene did in fact experience grief-related hallucinations of the resurrected Jesus. Examples of grief-related hallucinations are presented with a survey noting that 47% of widowed spouses have experienced hallucinations due to grief, with a small percentage hallucinating being touched by the deceased.
The second main point made by Kent concerns Paul's experiencing the resurrected Jesus by conversion disorder. Conversion disorder is a psychological disorder that involves the "loss of physical functioning...due to an expression of psychological conflict or need (p.50)." Examples are also given by Kent of individuals who seemed to have experienced conversion disorder type symptoms.
According to Kent, Paul experienced his Jesus-hallucination due to his conflict on whether or not he should persecute Christians. Paul's respected teacher Gamaliel advised the Jewish leaders to be cautious about the treatment of Christians (Acts 5:17-42). Gamaliel is contrasted with his student Paul, who is approving persecution to the point of death. From Kent's perspective, Paul's emotional conflict came to a head during his trip to Damascus, thereby causing temporary blindness and experiencing a hallucination of Jesus (Acts 9:1-31). Thus, with Paul's hallucination due to conversion disorder and the disciples' grief-related hallucinations, the myth of the resurrected Jesus was born.
Big problems surface in Kent's hypothesis myth due to hallucination. Concerning point one, grief-related hallucinations, many questions are never answered. For example, no explanation is given concerning the empty tomb. Only a footnote is offered from the Anglican Bishop Barnes that states that Jesus' body was "possibly flung into a common grave (120)." Many of the critical scholars accept the tomb as being both known and empty after the third day. Secondly, according to Mark, Jesus makes reference to his eventual death and bodily resurrection. In Mark 8:31-32; 9:9,31; 10:34; and 14:28, we find detailed information by Jesus predicting his judgment, torture, death and resurrection. Kent makes no mention of these verses as being added texts, and, in fact, fails to mention the Markan evidence altogether. Perhaps the biggest unanswered question revolves around I Corinthians 15. Here we have the earliest creedal evidence of the physical resurrection of Jesus. Kent even concedes that this creed "could be dated very close to the actual crucifixion (p. 17)."
The hallucination-hypothesis of the disciples and Mary has other flaws. Kent's own listing of grief-related hallucinations further discredits his hypothesis. According to the survey (p. 29), only 39% felt the presence of the dead spouse, auditory and visual hallucinations were around 14%, and a mere 2.7% had the feeling of being touched by a deceased loved one. Additionally, grief-related hallucinations were always recognized as hallucinations, whereas the disciples actually believed they had physical contact with the resurrected Jesus. Kent even wildly asserts that the disciples could have mistaken mist for the apparition of Jesus (p. 38-39).
If we are to believe Kent's grief-related hallucination myth, then we must believe 100% of the disciples simultaneously shared the same physical encounters of Jesus as a hallucination experience. Hallucinations, however, are individual and not cooperate experiences. Finally, why would the hallucinations suddenly stop after a 40-day time period?
Kent's second point about Paul's conversion disorder is unsubstantiated by evidence and contradictory. Paul clearly had no conflict of interest prior to his Damascus trip. In fact, he fully intended to continue his persecution of Christians by going to Damascus (Acts 9: 1,2). Ananias was even aware of Paul's intentions, questioning the Lord's instruction in meeting with Paul (Acts 9:13,14). Conversion disorder calls for an individual to have psychological conflict. Paul was intent on causing harm to Christians and had absolutely no psychological conflict. Paul also believed he had physically encountered the risen Jesus. In I Corinthians 15: 42-44, Paul uses the Greek word sôma for body, which always indicates a material body.
In summary, Kent falls short in The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth. He provides no evidence of hallucination due to grief for the disciples or hallucinations due to conversion disorder for Paul. The disciples and Paul believed they had physically encountered the resurrected Jesus. Not one first century source even insinuates the possibility of the disciples hallucinating. The end result of Kent's book becomes that which he was trying to prove concerning the resurrection of Jesus - an invented myth.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2007
Written in 1999, this slim book is an easy enough read to get through in one or two days, but beyond this the book does not offer anything to the debate over the resurrection. A reworking of the classic hallucination theory, this book attempts to explain the resurrection away by pointing to a supposed conversion disorder of Paul and the bereavement process of the disciples. Fraught with contradictory and unsubstantiated claims this book is a poor attempt at a naturalistic swipe against the resurrection of Jesus.
First, Kent, who incidentally has no formal psychology training, uses psychological data on widows to try to explain what happened to the disciples. Claiming that the disciples were so overcome with grief over the death of their spiritual leader whom they had been with for three years, they imagined that they saw Jesus to satisfy their inner grief. Kent uses a study by Rees as his evidence. However, this study when examined, actually would not support Kent's claim. In the study, Rees points out that hallucinations among widowed were significantly higher the longer the widow was married, thus if the couple had been married 50+ years as compared to less than 10 years the chance of seeing a hallucination jumps from 30% (10 years) to more than 60% chance. Thus a correlation between spending time with someone and seeing a hallucination points to a longer period. The disciples were only with Jesus less than three years, not enough time to create a bond like that of a married couple, especially among a younger crowd (as compared to those in their 60's and 70's). In addition, even Jesus' own brother who grew up with Him initially doubted and thought them to be crazy. Only when he saw the risen Christ was it only than that he changed his mind. Add this to the fact that psychologists agree that hallucinations are a private event brought on by certain environmental factors, we cannot explain how these "hallucinations" occurred in multiple settings, to a large number of people, and they all agreed with what they saw. If this were truly a large hallucination event, there would be multiple contradictory accounts and they would have to continue to occur for the faith to continue. Kent also believes that hallucinations are a normal event and thus can account for Jesus' appearance. However, most psychologists and therapist also point out that while those who grieve do see things, they know that what they are seeing is not the real thing and they snap out of it. In addition, these hallucinations do more for the individual to cope than to transform their lives or those around them.
Kent goes on to claim that Paul's conversion account can be explained away by the extreme stress he was under forcing him to a decision point of either stopping his killing spree or give into the wishes of his teacher Gamaliel. There is a major problem with this theory though, one that other critics have yet to point out. While it may be argued that Gamaliel was opposed to the killings of the Christians, Paul, if he was to succumbed to the wishes of his teacher, would not have joined this fringe group as his teacher saw them as. If he felt so awful about defying the wishes of his teacher, why, after stopping the killings, would he join the very group that his teacher labeled as a fringe group not worthy of significance? If he was so adamant about being loyal to his teacher as Kent proposes, he would have ceased the killing and returned home to his beloved teacher, not join the very group that his teacher opposed! This disorder also does not explain Paul's companions either. The various accounts clearly show that those present with Paul also experienced something as well. They claimed to here something or saw something. An inner personal trauma cannot be manifested into an experience that others can attest to.
Kent clearly does not understand the nature of a hallucination event in relation to trauma and group experiences. Hallucinations do not account for what happened to the disciples or to Paul. Hallucinations would not account for the physical appearance of Jesus in a Platonic world view. The disciples who lived in a Platonic world would have never imagined a physical body coming back to life. The body was something to be shed and to be done away with in that time. To be released from the body was the goal of mankind. To claim a physical body would have been ludicrous and religiously suicidal. Kent grossly extrapolates a few anecdotal accounts in a medical journal and conjures up a fanciful theory that in no way deals with the facts at hand. After reading this book I am convinced that the only one who is delusional is Kent himself.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2010
(Personal bias disclosure: I was a life-long Christian who has become a reluctant doubter of the Faith)
The only book of its kind that I'm aware of, it is a shame that it was written by someone with no scholarly credentials, the fact of which is borne out in significant gaps in awareness of the evidence which has been presented by Christian apologists, both popular and scholarly. (It's also borne out by an amateurish arrogance in the characterization of positions -- Rather than write "the evidence seems to indicate" or "most scholars believe," for example, he characterizes many statements as indisputable facts, when they are far from being so.) These gaps in awareness of rebutting arguments have been identified by other reviewers: dismissal of problem of group hallucination; failure to address 1st Century cultural recognition of the difference between a resurrection and a vision or apparition; dismissal of problem of empty tomb; failure to address the distinction between insisting on beliefs for a lifetime even in the face of torture and martyrdom and the typical grief-induced hallucinations.
Kent makes an interesting analogy to reactions to the death of MLK, which begs the question: How many MLK disciples were convinced throughout their lives that MLK had appeared to them after his death?
I do, however, find grief- and guilt-induced hallucinations to be strong alternative explanations for the belief in resurrection of Jesus; emphasis on the influence of Paul in almost single-handedly making Christianity a world-wide phenomenon a strong argument. Even the gospel accounts provide hints at alternative explanations of resurrection appearances (mistaking Jesus for someone else; some disbelieving appearances, etc.).
I think Kent makes a pretty strong argument to explain the appeal of Paul's theology: mitigates anxiety about an afterlife and emphasizes a beautiful moral system built around the concepts of grace, love, and internalized values.
In sum, this is a book with a subject I truly want to explore more deeply. I only wish the author had been better equipped to address it.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2007
The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth by Jack A. Kent is a thorough disappointment. I purchased and read this book expecting to find an attempt at a plausible, naturalistic explanation for the events described in the Bible regarding the resurrection of Jesus. This, however, does not describe the project undertaken by Kent. Kent is a retired Unitarian minister and considers himself a Christian but his book denies that the resurrection ever took place. This is contrary to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile . . . we are to be pitied more than all men". Why would he consider himself a Christian if he denies Christianity's major claim?
Curiously, Kent does not evaluate whether or not the resurrection might have taken place. Rather, he attempts to account for why it so strongly seemed to have taken place. This might be useful if he used accounts accepted by most mainstream critics of the resurrection. But that is something he is unable to do. Conversely, he begins by removing much of what mainstream critical scholars readily allow by relying on fringe interpreters such as Norman Perrin, Tom Harpur and Hans Kung. The common thread in the bulk of the removed material is that they are verses which Christian scholars rely upon to demonstrate that Jesus' appearances were bodily as opposed to spirit, Kent claims these verses were added later.
However, even granting Kent's claims of doctoring, his theory fails coherence. He opines that the testimonies to Jesus post-crucifixion appearances were really hallucinations: "I will argue that Mary Magdalene and the disciples did see what they believed were `appearances of Jesus but those `appearances' were grief-related hallucinations or illusions" (20). Kent appeals to psychological accounts of modern grief-related hallucinations based on works by Paul Rosenblatt, W. Dewi Rees and Steven Schuchter. I'm no psychologist, but I found much of what they said regarding modern hallucinations to be reasonable.
The biggest problems arise when Kent attempts to compare these modern hallucinations with the historic, biblical appearances. In chapter 3 Kent cites cases of grieving widows and widowers which report things like: "Amelia frequently felt her husband's presence: `I feel him covering me.' At night she was frightened and her children slept in her bedroom." "A lot of times if I am watching the crowds at a football game or a baseball game, a person looks like her and the crowd is passing by pretty swiftly, but I know it isn't her, but it looks like her." "It was like someone was touching my head and patting me on the shoulder. I opened my eyes and there was nobody there." "I can picture him in any given circumstances . . . I can almost feel his skin and touch his hands . . .(both ellipses in original)". On page 35 he adds, "She told me that if she had not known that her mother was dead she would have believed that her mother was alive and walking with her."
I have no doubt that such cases occur, but accounts such as: `picturing', `almost feeling', `seeing someone in a crowd who looks like, but knowing it's not them', and `being like someone patting you on the shoulder, but opening your eyes and finding that no one was there' are nothing like the biblical appearances. In almost every resurrection appearance account which Kent himself allows, but tries to explain as a hallucinations, there was more than one person who experienced the appearance. This issue is not addressed by Kent and for good reason. It can't happen! For two or more people to experience a hallucination of the same object at the same time, each person would have to manufacture distinct and mutually coinciding spatial perspectives of the object. In philosophy this is known as intersubjective agreement. Without getting fancy, it just means that if you and I were facing each other with someone in between us, we would not both at the same time see a frontal view of this person. So in a `shared hallucination', which `hallucinator' gets to decide who sees Jesus from the front and how does he get the other person to hallucinate Jesus from a side view? Kent really should have thought this through better. In short, hallucinations are individual experiences that cannot be shared.
Toward the end of his book, Kent addresses Paul's ministry and Christology, but it's more of a reflection of Kent's own unusual beliefs than it is a reflection of any scholarly research. He also addresses the debate between Gary Habermas and Antony Flew which resulted in a seven-to-two decision in favor of Habermas, again trying to align aspects of the debate to his unique perspective. However, if you are interested you should try to track down Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate by Gary Habermas and Antony Flew. Meanwhile, video of an informal debate between these two can be found on Gary Habermas' website, [...].
In conclusion, if you are looking for a plausible naturalistic account of the evidence for Jesus' resurrection, it won't be found here. Far from answering the question of Jesus' resurrection, Kent's book only dilutes the extensive amount of authentic scholarly work in the field.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2006
Jack Kent described his book as "psychological insights which might be gleaned by those who are not afraid to look at the old stories from a new and different point of view." He was referring to the old Resurrection stories in the Bible. I expected interesting insights combined with sufficient research citing numerous scholars and studies to bolster his arguments. However, this book was greatly found wanting of evidence and research to support Kent's claims.
The Main Arguments
The two major arguments presented in Kent's book were 1) The disciples had typical grief-related hallucinations and that 2) Paul suffered from "conversion disorder," with a side note that Paul also denied a physical resurrection. Kent concluded that these two arguments lay the foundation for why the Resurrection myth arose and that modern psychology can now offer the explanation.
Argument from Hallucination
First, Kent employed modern psychology to show how hallucinations of the deceased are normal to those who are grieving. Kent backed his theory with research done in 1971 of 293 widows/widowers by Dr. W. Dewi Rees. Other than the stories from this study and a few statistics, all we know about it is that "it is not necessary for us to go into the details of this study." (pg.29) I must strongly disagree with his assessment of the importance of the details. I would like to know why I should accept a cultural transference of the results from twentieth century people of western civilization to first century people of middle-eastern civilization. Where is the evidence that our cultural expectations in dealing with grief would transfer to other cultures in ancient history? Kent briefly mentions that he believes it is the same across cultures but provides only one study by Dr. Paul G. Rosenblatt as evidence (pgs. 27-28).
Throughout the examples given of grief-related hallucinations, we see people who "just know" that they have seen, touched, heard, or been in the presence of their loved one. If I try to apply this idea to the first of the Resurrection appearances in the Bible, I find that the disciples and women who claimed to see Jesus didn't always recognize him. Why would this be different from normal grief-related hallucinations? Wouldn't their expectation be to see their deceased leader? Kent has extrapolated one aspect of the entire historical account of the Resurrection and used it as the definitive material for discrediting the historicity of the New Testament Resurrection.
Argument from "Conversion Disorder"
Secondly, there is the problem of Paul's "conversion disorder," which was given as a partial explanation for Paul's unbelief in bodily resurrection. Though Kent argued for a psychological hypothesis as to Paul's conversion experience, he failed to note the arguments for other views expressed by critical Bible scholars concerning the character of Paul; much of which is based on textual criticism and cultural analysis of the Jewish people. Kent took the apostle Paul out of scriptural context and created an image that would fit into his psychological paradigm. An example of this can be seen on page 86 in Kent's refutation of Gary Habermas' historical evidences for the resurrection. Point three states:
"(3) In order to be a true Christian one must accept the literal and physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Once again the first person who objected to this point of view was Paul."
This analysis of Paul was completely out of context. As N.T. Wright discussed in "The Resurrection of the Son of God" page 372, "the idea of a non-bodily resurrection would have been as much an oxymoron to him [Paul] as it would to both Jews and pagans of his day; whether or not you believed in resurrection or not, the word meant bodies." The word Wright referenced was Paul's use of "soma" to describe the resurrection of the body. The word was used by Paul in many different instances with different applications (I Cor. 15:44, 2 Cor. 4:10, I Cor. 15:38, Gal. 6:17, Phil 1:20 are a few examples). Kent attempted to argue that Paul, realizing he didn't see the physical Jesus, didn't believe in a physical, bodily resurrection. However, Paul used the term "soma" to describe that very event. Kent's book gave a speculation, instead of a study, on the character of Paul.
On page 9, Kent attempts to discredit the resurrection through the argument of "there was no witness to the actual physical resurrection." But this argument quickly unravels in light of our current criminal justice process. Certainly, very few crimes would ever have been solved if eyewitnesses were always required to have actually seen the event take place. But, on the other hand, we do have eyewitness testimony that they saw a man dead and then later they saw the same man alive again and the witnesses even gave their lives for this testimony. In deciding whether a man is guilty of murder, when there are no witnesses, does the court not use the available historical information? They go back over the evidence that is available, not dismissing the case due to a lack of eyewitnesses. The same process has been ongoing for years with the resurrection in the area of textual and historical criticism.
In summary, Kent has written an unsubstantiated hypothesis based on his own speculation of Biblical primary source documents. He citied some scholarship, but not enough, and not any from the opposing view. I would suggest a more proper title, "Psychological Ruminations of the Resurrection Myth."
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2006
Since there is currently no table of contents available online, let me provide one (chapter title, page).
1 - Resurrection as the Basis of Christian Faith, 1
2 - The New Testament Evidence for the Resurrection, 5
3 - Bereavement and the Myth of the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Pentecost, 21
4 - Conversion Disorder and Paul's Belief in the Resurrected Jesus Christ, 49
5 - The Life and Theology of the Apostle Paul, 62
6 - The Habermas-Flew Debate: Arguments for and against the Resurrection of Jesus, 82
7 - The Religious Dimension of Paul's Jesus Christ, 95
8 - The Human Response to Death, 105
Mr. Kent starts where any respectable book on the resurrection should when he states, "The Christian faith is grounded in the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried, and on the third day was resurrected from the dead by a unilateral act of God" (2). Without the resurrection, Christianity collapses as the apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:17a (NKJV) "And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile."
Accepted Data and Theory
Chapter 6 reviews the 1985 Habermas-Flew debate, in which Gary Habermas presents the 12 historical facts admitted by virtually every critical scholar (84, abbreviated):
1. Jesus died by crucifixion
2. He was buried
3. Disciples lost hope
4. Tomb was empty a few days later
5. Disciples had real experiences they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus
6. Disciples were transformed to bold witnesses, willing to die for their beliefs
7. The resurrection was central in early church preaching
8. It was proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus had died (and the tomb could be checked)
9. Church was born and grew
10. Primary day of worship changed to Sunday
11. James, the skeptic and half brother of Jesus, converted after seeing what he believed was the resurrected Jesus
12. Paul, the skeptic and persecutor of Christians, converted after a similar encounter
Given this collection of historically verifiable facts from the Bible (which includes eyewitness testimony and early Christian creeds dating back to within 0-2 years of the resurrection), the inference to the best explanation is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead with a glorified, physical body.
The panel of "five distinguished philosophers" and "five professional debate judges" called the debate "'seven-to-two (with one draw) in favour of the historicity of the Resurrection as argued by Habermas' " (82).
Habermas has since researched 1400 scholarly texts published between 1975 - 2003 in English, French and German and remains with the same list of historical facts (see the Introduction to his book The Risen Jesus & Future Hope, vii).
Mr. Kent's Data and Hypotheses
Through some contortions, which one might call special pleading, he limits himself to a small subset of the Biblical data - Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and Paul all believed that they saw appearances of the resurrected Jesus. He suggests the following hypotheses:
1. Mary Magdalene and the disciples "experienced grief-related hallucinations or illusions following the traumatic death of their leader." He claims his new contribution to the hallucination hypothesis is the focus on grief (21).
2. "I believe that Paul experienced what is called in psychiatry an episode of conversion disorder" (49). In his own words, conversion disorder "occurs when the unconscious disables a person physically and sometimes psychologically in order to resolve an unresolved emotional conflict" (50).
Although new to me, Mr. Kent's idea of Paul's `conversion disorder' is plagued with problems:
1. He posits four hypotheses occurring simultaneously (conversion disorder, two hallucinations and a messiah complex) to account for all of Paul's symptoms, "The conversion disorder experienced by Paul contained visual and auditory hallucinations, [and] the receipt of messages he attributed to Jesus Christ" (58).
2. It is rife with speculation such as - Paul being educated under Gamaliel (55), or Ananias pleading with Paul to leave the Christians alone (59).
3. Paul believed he was doing God's will by persecuting the Christians. He would not have changed his religious beliefs lightly - for fear of his eternal soul.
He also tries to revive the 19th century hallucinations theory through contemporary grief studies and positing five different types of hallucinations. Unfortunately, he fails to highlight the problems stemming from his hypotheses:
1. In his minimal data alone, he must account for hallucinations in 14 of Jesus' disciples - Mary Magdalene, the remaining 11 of the initial 12 disciples, and the two on the road to Emmaus.
2. There is great variety in the disciples' experiences: walking, sitting, talking, eating, men, women, indoors, outdoors, morning, evening, etc.
3. Hallucinations are subjective experiences, like dreams. They cannot be shared. Yet there were several encounters by groups of disciples!
The number of theories suggested in order to account for his minimal data is glaringly ad hoc. Furthermore, he still has not accounted for other known facts such as James conversion, the empty tomb, etc.
This book has a very unscholarly feel with much speculation, bad analogies, no extra-Biblical sources and very few footnotes (16 for 116 pages). Mr. Kent seems like a boy at Christmas - he only skimmed the card (addressed the Biblical data) because he had to, then quickly opened the present (presented his new hypotheses). He needed to spend more time addressing the critically accepted data.
As a parting comment, let me offer up this oddity...
Mr. Kent concludes a paragraph about death rate statistics in the 1st century (without stating any sources or whether they were particular to Palestine or not) with, "Today, however, death is not such an ever-present dark cloud over every person's life" (97-98). I laughed aloud. The last time I checked, the death rate over the centuries was and is 100%.
Without the resurrection, death is an "ever-present dark cloud" whether you choose to think about it or not.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2006
Kent combines two naturalistic theories to explain away the resurrection appearances of Jesus.
The first hypothesis is that the followers of Jesus experienced grief-related hallucinations after the traumatic death of their leader. Hallucinations are sensory experiences of something that does not exist outside the mind and can be manifested as visual, auditory, or illusory experiences (21).
While the hallucination hypothesis is not new (first popularized by David Strauss in 1879), Kent fails to pursue his proposed thesis in detail. The main issue that should have been discussed by Kent is whether a group of individuals can witness the same hallucinations.
Consider the following regarding collective hallucinations:
* Most psychologists assert that hallucinations are private, individual events and are manifestations of mental and emotional illness (which even Kent admits on page 30). Hallucinations have no extra-mental correlate but are projections of the recipient's own brain. So, how could groups of people share exactly the same subjective visual perception? The problems with this thesis are so serious that Kent has to ignore current psychiatric and psychological data about the nature of hallucinations.
* The diversity of the resurrection appearances is not well-explained by means of such visions. These appearances were experienced many different times, by different individuals, by groups, at various locales and under various circumstances, by believers, and also by unbelievers like Jesus' brother James who became a leader of the church in Jerusalem and Josephus tells us was later stoned by the Sanhedrin. This diversity is very hard to explain by recourse to hallucinations. The fact remains that there is no single instance in the casebooks exhibiting the diversity involved in the post-mortem appearances of Jesus.
* These hallucinations and the subsequent preaching of Christ's resurrection by the disciples could have been easily disproved by producing Jesus' body. But the hallucination hypothesis does not address the historical arguments for the empty tomb and another naturalistic thesis is required in order to do so. The early Christians did not invent the empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Jesus in order to explain a faith they already had. They developed that faith because of the occurrence, and convergence, of these two phenomena.
Kent's second hypothesis is that Paul experienced what psychiatrists call an episode of Conversion Disorder (49). The disorder occurs when the unconscious disables a person physically in order to resolve an unresolved emotional conflict (50). The agonizing death of Stephen and the subsequent persecution of the followers of Jesus carried out by Paul, against the wishes of his former teacher Gamaliel, were surely active in Paul's conscious mind as he set off for Damascus. The conflict between his very conscious persecutions and the now unconscious desires of his former teacher led to his subsequent psychological trauma on the road to Damascus (65). Kent assumed that Paul studied in Jerusalem under the liberal Pharisee Gamaliel (78).
But, again, known facts present multiple problems with Kent's interpretation:
* The psychological profile provided for conversion disorder strongly opposes an application to Paul. It occurs most frequently in women (up to five times more often), adolescents and young adults, less-educated persons, people with low IQ's or low socioeconomic status, and combat personnel. None of these characteristics applies to Paul.
* The major problem with this thesis is that there is no evidence to propose the preconditions for such a disorder from any ancient document. Paul's persecution of the early Christians is known (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13, 23). We do not know of any guilt on Paul's part, for he considered his actions to have been both zealous and faultless (Phil. 3:4-6). Paul is thus an exceptionally poor candidate for this disorder.
* This is a case of speculation apart from the data, a theory not anchored to reality. Like the charge of mass hallucinations, it spawns more difficulties than it tries to solve.
The belief that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead was held by virtually all the early Christians. What caused this belief in the resurrection of Jesus? One NT scholar has concluded the following: "We are left with the secure historical conclusion: the tomb was empty, and various `meetings' took place not only between Jesus and his followers (including at least one initial skeptic) but also, in at least one case (that of Paul; possibly, too, that of James), between Jesus and people who had not been among his followers. I regard this conclusion as coming in the same sort of category, of historical probability so high as to be virtually certain, as the death of Augustus in AD 14 or as the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70." (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 710).
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2006
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ORIGINS OF THE RESURRECTION MYTH
Jack Kent endeavors to lead his readers on an excursion inside the minds of important New Testament figures to reveal, he claims, a set of symptoms that cast doubt on the keystone belief of Christianity. In attempting to debunk the resurrection of Jesus, Kent presents an argument that may seem eminently plausible to those who don't believe in Divine agency (that God acts in the world)--and especially appealing to those who don't want to believe it. Yet, his methods betray his motives. He indulges in questionable leaps of logic, misrepresentation of history, obvious contradictions and, most of all, overreaching his own expertise to support his preconceived conclusions. In the end, we are asked to accept fantastic propositions that are more dubious than the "myth" they purport to expose.
A retired Unitarian minister, Kent represents a "faith" that advocates religious pluralism and holds that the ultimate arbiter in matters religious is not a document, church, or system, but the personal choice of the individual. Not surprisingly then, Kent's interest in the resurrection is not so much to explain (as in, "to render understandable") but rather to explaining away (that is, "to dismiss as if by explaining"). A quick focus on just two of Kent's highly contestable assertions will reveal how susceptible they are to informed challenge:
1. Jesus' resurrection appearances to the disciples were hallucinations.
Kent relies on anecdotal data from psychiatrists who cite hallucination as a common element of spousal bereavement wherein the grieving partner has claimed to hear, see, and touch the deceased mate. For Kent, what Mary Magdalene and the disciples experienced were similar phenomena--visual and auditory illusions brought on by the sudden death of their charismatic leader. So he claims: "The experiences of Mary Magdalene and the disciples now appear to be very normal grief-related illusions...(that) cannot be used as evidence for resurrection. They constitute evidence for grief." (p.43-45)
This hypothesis may be interesting to some, but it has been advanced before and found to be fraught with problems. Hallucinations are private events peculiar to individuals, but Kent treats them as if they are somehow contagious among Jesus' followers. He never really reconciles his notion with the appearances to a number of people in different settings at different times, even to groups of people. He also fails to offer a good explanation for why the apostles were willing to give their lives for their belief that they had seen the risen Jesus. He suggests simply that most people, after grieving over the death of a loved one, ultimately summon renewed resolve to press on with their lives. But this hardly rises to the level of the apostles' "faith-to-die-for". He posits, too, that the apostles were not martyred for their beliefs but because they were deemed a political threat. But what positioned them to be a political threat? Clearly, it was the message they were preaching--based precisely on their belief in a risen Jesus!
2. Paul's Damascus road experience was "conversion disorder", a psychological affliction. Here, Kent resorts to Sigmund Freud and to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to hypothesize that Paul had a problem called "conversion disorder". Not meant as conversion to another religion, this label attaches to a psychological affliction wherein a loss of physical functioning (e.g., sight) is brought on by the unconscious in order to settle an unresolved emotional conflict. Kent portrays Paul as conflicted over participating in the murder of Stephen while his revered teacher, Gamaliel, warned that Jesus' followers should not be persecuted. The resulting emotional disorder manifested itself on the road to Damascus, blinding Paul and causing him to believe he had seen and heard the resurrected Jesus. Again, Kent cites anecdotes of modern patients with conversion disorders, then paints Paul with the same brush. I must call Kent's ideas here contradictory and spurious. Think of this: Earlier, he had denied the resurrection on grounds that no one actually saw Jesus rising from the dead. This reflects an empiricist view of the world that claims we cannot know anything that is not perceived by our five senses. Yet he feels perfectly justified--and qualified!--from a perspective of 2000 years later, to pronounce a diagnosis of a psychological disorder on a person he has never seen nor interviewed. Wouldn't you think that competent professional attention in a clinical setting is a minimum requirement for a confident assessment of such a complex malady? If you were Paul (or his advocate), wouldn't you at least want to seek a second opinion?
Setting aside Kent's many other debatable positions throughout this book, to agree with him on just these two is tantamount to giving assent to the following notions:
* The gospel writers exaggerated their stories to serve their purposes (as Kent alleges), but Kent has not stretched the application of psychological theories to serve his.
* The entire foundation of the Christian faith--the most influential religious movement in the history of the world--is based on a pathological delusion experienced by one man in the throes of a singular episode of a mental and emotional disorder.
* The credibility of the Gospel writers and Paul--affirmed by learned and astute biblical scholars and corroborated even by secular sources--is essentially trumped by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Throughout its pages, Kent's book comes off as an exercise in leveraging misguided and fanciful conjecture to advance unwarranted positions that he wishes to present as conclusive. The book's primary usefulness resides in its depiction of the desperate lengths to which an unbeliever will resort to dismiss the central concept of Christianity for causing him discomfort. Readers who fall in line behind Kent's imaginative but flawed propositions betray a similar desperation.
10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 1999
Althought Hugh Schoenfield's Passover plot went some way towards explaining the events of Ca. 30 CE and other authors have exposed the huge discrepancies of the gospel accouts there has always been something missing in these revisions; namely an explanation for the core experiences which led to belief in a physical resurrectin of Jesus. Jack Kent's book triumphantly fills that gap by showing that the pattern and timing of those first Easter experiences exactly fits the pattern of modern day bereavement hallucinations. Did you know that 50% of the bereaved report some kind of hallucination of the lost loved one? Including all the types of 'appearance reported in the Gospels and Acts. Paul of Tarsus' Damascus road experience was a prototypical conversion reaction. So after 2000 years of an illusion we finally get the real answer. Well done Jack!