False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #2: Why the Swoon Theory Comes Up Short

The Swoon Theory, first proposed in 1828 by naturalist H.E.G Paulus in his work, The Life of Jesus, supposed Jesus Christ did not die on the cross. 1 Instead, proponents believe that He swooned (fainted), was placed in a borrowed tomb in an unconscious state, and was later revived inside the cold, dark tomb. This theory resurfaced in the mid-twentieth century through the writings of two scholars. In The Passover Plot, Hugh Schonfield alleged that Joseph of Arimathea arranged for an unidentified man to give Jesus a drugged drink. As a result, He slipped into a state of unconsciousness, only appearing to be dead. His body was removed from the tomb on Saturday, and He later regained consciousness. He asked the unidentified man to tell His disciples that He had risen, and later died and was reburied. 2 

       In The Jesus Scroll, Donavan Joyce similarly alleged that Jesus had been drugged before His crucifixion. Joyce believed that the Roman soldiers had been bribed and therefore did not examine Jesus’ body closely to ensure His death. As a result, Jesus did not die on the cross. According to Joyce, Jesus was resuscitated in the tomb by a doctor hidden inside the tomb beforehand. 3  The Swoon Theory has serious failing when it comes to an alternate explanation of Jesus’ resurrection. Strong evidence exists that Jesus experienced an actual physical death. The injuries Jesus sustained on the cross, including scourging, made death unavoidable as the nature of crucifixion assured a painful death. 

The scourging produced deep stripe-like lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar to Golgotha” (Edwards 1455-63). This overture to the crucifixion alone would have been grueling and life-draining. 

William Edwards, “On the Physical Death of Jesus,” Journal of the American Medical Association – March 21, 1986.

       Jesus hung on the cross from the “third hour” (Mark 15:22) until the “sixth hour” (Mark 15:33), just before sunset. He bled from gashes in his hands and feet and from the thorns that pierced his scalp. These wounds would have drained away much blood over this time. Besides, crucifixion demands that the condemned constantly pull their bodies up by their hands and push off their injured feet to breathe. “Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.” 4  

       In addition to the medical facts that attest to Jesus’ death, burial customs of the day aid in disproving the Swoon Theory. Once death was established, the corpse was washed, anointed, and wrapped in linen cloths with spices enclosed (John 19:40). The deceased’s arms and legs were tightly bound, and the head covered with a separate piece of fabric. Jesus lay in a tomb with a large stone, likely exceeding one thousand pounds, rolled in front to seal off the entrance (The King James Version Study Bible 1529). The closing off of the tomb was an involved process:

Immediately in front of the doorway (the top of which is more than a foot below the floor of the porch) is a deep trench, commencing a foot or two west of the door, and extending three or four yards along the wall eastward. The bottom of this trench is a short distance below the sill of the door, and is probably an inclined plane. Along this channel a large thick stone disc traverses, fitting very accurately against its western end, which is made concave, to be exactly conformed to the convexity of this large millstone-like disc when rolled to that end—thus closing the doorway most effectively.

James Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible

If it were somehow possible for Jesus to survive Roman crucifixion, the heavy stone in the tomb’s entrance presented a severe obstacle. In His weakened condition, Jesus would have had to move an object that would prove difficult for a healthy man to move, remembering that the stone had to roll uphill. All of this demonstrates that a swoon theory cannot account for the biblical and medical facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 5


1 Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library,  1999. Print.

2 Habermas, Gary R. The Verdict of History; Conclusive Evidence for the Life of Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988. Print.

3 Ibid.

4 Edwards, William D., Gabel, Wesley J. “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association; 255, no. 11, (March 21, 1986), 1455-63.

5 Habermas, Gary R. The Verdict of History; Conclusive Evidence for the Life of Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988. Print.

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