Ever heard of the swoon theory? It’s a good one. Well, not really—it’s more useful for comedic value than anything else, cuz the mental images it brings up are pretty hilarious.
Picture the scene: late in the day as Jesus is being crucified, Pilate orders his men to speed up the death of everyone on the crucifixion-docket that day. It’s the holiest weekend of the Jewish year coming up, and having a lot of Jews hanging on crosses outside their holiest city? That would be bad.
So the Romans begin breaking the legs of everyone left alive. When they get to Jesus, they notice he’s already dead. They stick a spear into him just to make sure. He gets taken off the cross, wrapped in burial cloths and spices and placed in the tomb.
Sunday morning rolls around seeing the disciples cowering together in a room in Jerusalem. Dejected and bewildered, they suddenly hear a feeble, rasping knock at the door. Somebody opens the door, and one of the most pathetic figures you’ve ever seen stumbles into the room and collapses at your feet. It’s Jesus! He’s not dead!
He sure is messed up though. Practically his entire body is black and blue from being beaten. His back is flayed open from being flogged. Puncture wounds from the crown of thorns adorn his head. His hands and feet are caked in blood oozing from the holes where the nails were driven. The wounds which cover most of his body are probably all starting to get infected. The odor emanating from him is absolutely foul—blood, sweat, infections (and probably urine too) mixed with the sweet smell of burial spices. It’s enough to knock a man unconscious from ten feet away.
And oh yeah. He’s naked too.
You see, he didn’t really die at all! After he regains consciousness and can speak just loudly enough to be heard by someone leaning in close, he tells you the story of what really went down. See, what happened was that, in their haste, the Romans mistook him for dead, but in reality he had merely ‘swooned’. After being interred, the coolness of the tomb and the reviving smell of the spices brought him back to consciousness. And now here he is, he’s back! Yay!
The absurdities of this situation are obvious and numerous. First of all, there is no way he could have survived the crucifixion. He had already been beaten and flogged to near death earlier in the day. Not even the most hearty of men survived crucifixions—in the state Jesus was in, there’s no way it could’ve happened. Crucifixion was expertly designed by the Romans to ensure death, in as painful a manner as possible (in fact our word ‘excruciating’ means literally ‘out of crucifixion’ or ‘from the cross’). There’s no need to go into the grisly details of what it entailed, but they are easily found and studied if you’re interested.
The short end of it is, if you were crucified, you didn’t survive (if you did survive, your crucifiers didn’t—they were executed themselves for failing at their job). But then to top it all off, they also shoved a spear into his chest, likely penetrating the lung and into the heart (as evidenced by the mixture of clear fluid and blood described by John). And when he was taken down from the cross, there were no signs of life whatsoever, not even involuntary signs.
But OK, let’s just say for kicks and giggles that he was the one dude out of all the men ever crucified who somehow lived. The fun doesn’t end there! You see, the Jewish burial custom involved wrapping the body very tightly in linens, and each layer of wrapping was covered in spices, which mixed together to form a sort of paste. When dried, it all hardened together to form a rigid cast of the body. Oh yeah, they also wrapped his head, so he somehow had to avoid being suffocated too.
So Jesus wakes up Sunday morning, wounded so badly that every single person around him thought he was dead. He’s had no food or water to sustain him, no medical attention to treat his grievous wounds, he’s in total darkness—and now he somehow has to wriggle his way out of a hard-shell full body cast. It’s about now that the whole situation starts becoming morbidly comical. I don’t even know how he would do it, but maybe he maneuvered himself into a standing position and hopped over to the rock wall where he jerked his body back and forth a few hundred times to tear apart the fabric covering his body. Hey, it could happen!
So now he’s alive, barely, and out of his grave clothes. His next problem is how to get out of the tomb. Between him and freedom sits a gigantic round stone weighing a ton or two. And it’s locked in place by being set into a deep groove in the ground. Hey no problem, I’m sure he just kind of nudged it with his dislocated shoulder and it fell over! He did it vewwy, vewwy quietly though, because none of the guards keeping watch even noticed this massive rock falling over and the very man they were there to keep watch over limping away.
Ridiculous to the extreme, but I’ll even give that to you and say sure, let’s say it happened like that. In order for the ‘swoon theory’ to still be true, this Jesus—now a wretched, shambling corpse of a man leaking blood and pus—had to somehow convince his followers that he had triumphed over the grave. This Jesus, who apparently remained in hiding for the rest of his natural life letting the apostles do all his dirty work for him, was the Lord of Life and the conqueror of death! Triumphant and victorious!
Once he convinced his (apparently enormously stupid) followers of this and allowed them to believe it, he immediately becomes a depraved liar and monster. That’s assuming he was still alive 40 days later when Peter stood before a crowd and gave the first testimony of the Resurrection. Three thousand people became believers that day, and if the swoon theory is to be believed, Jesus was kicking back in the shadows letting Peter tell this lie. If Jesus eventually succumbed to his wounds in the 40 days between Passover and Pentecost, then Peter and the rest of the disciples become the deceivers.
What’s interesting is that none of the contemporary opposition to the message of the Resurrection tried to refute it by saying he had merely swooned. Only after more than 1700 years had passed did anyone think to propose that maybe he hadn’t really died (shades of the wild dogs hypothesis).
You can obviously see why this theory is more or less extinct. In the last 20 years or so, about the only person of note to hold to it was an influential Muslim apologist, who called the story a “Cruci-fiction”. But it is fair to say that the swoon theory has been roundly and thoroughly discredited. The fact that it was apparently the favorite alternate-explanation theory during the Age of Enlightenment makes me wonder just how enlightened those rationalists really were.
As one of his followers, I believe that Jesus really, really loves you more than you can even imagine.
He just hasn’t swooned over you…
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not it’s falsity.