I’ve been monitoring a heated discussion at TitusOneNine about exhausted New Orleans doctors and nurses supposedly engaging in mercy-killing in the chaos after Hurricane Katrina. Commenter “Clueless,” apparently a physician, noted that after about 72 hours without sleep, people start to have “fairly fixed hallucinations (which are micro intrusions of REM sleep into wakefulness).”
Hmm — I wonder if that might provide an explanation for the Resurrection appearances after Jesus’ death.
- We know from the Gospel accounts that Jesus’ disciples were already craving sleep on the night before his crucifixion: They were nodding off in Gethsemane while Jesus was praying for the cup to be removed from him (Mk 14.37-42). We don’t know why that was; they might have not gotten much sleep on the previous night (Wednesday), or perhaps they had too much wine at the Last Supper, which of course was a Passover dinner.
- After the jarring events of Jesus’ capture that night, it’s hard to imagine the disciples got much sleep the rest of the night — especially Peter, who is recorded as having followed at a distance to the court of the high priest (Mk 14.54).
- It may be that the disciples didn’t sleep much after Jesus’ execution. Sleeplessness is apparently a very common reaction after the unexpected death of a loved one (I’ve seen that in my own family). It seems plausible that the disciples, certainly shocked and grief-stricken, and quite likely terrified for their own lives, had trouble sleeping on the Friday- and Saturday night after the crucifixion.
Christian scholars have long dismissively rejected conjectures that the post-Resurrection Jesus sightings were hallucinations, often on grounds that too many people supposedly saw Jesus for that to have been the explanation.
Still, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to imagine that by Sunday morning, the disciples were starting to experience the effects of sleep deprivation, including hallucinations.
And then the stories of Jesus’ “appearances” mutated and became distorted in the retelling, as stories so often do.