Jesus & Near-Death Experiences
DID NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES PLAY A ROLE IN THE BIRTH OF CHRISTIANITY
Jesus & Near-Death ExperiencesDec 18
By David Sunfellow
The article that follows was written by Robert Perry and posted yesterday on NHNE’s Near-Death Experience Network.
But before I share Robert’s article with you, I need to set the stage.
First of all, Robert is a closet Jesus scholar. While not credentialed, he has read more books on Jesus — especially books that pertain to modern Jesus scholarship — than anyone else I know. Robert has also developed personal relationships with many of today’s most well-known Jesus scholars and has been instrumental in bringing some of these scholars to Sedona so they could share their research, discoveries, and ideas with our local community.
While Robert is interested in many different aspects of modern Jesus research, one of his primary interests is the Sayings Gospel Q.
The Sayings Gospel Q, for those of you who may not know, is a hypothetical gospel that has not yet been discovered. Previous to 1838, Jesus scholars believed that Mark was the first Gospel that was written and that Matthew and Luke got most of their material from Mark. In 1838, after all the text from Mark had been extracted from Matthew and Luke, it was discovered that Matthew and Luke drew material from another source, separate from Mark. Matthew and Luke not only use many of the same exact words and sentences, but these words and sentences appear in sequential order. Where did these words and phrases come from? And how did Matthew and Luke manage to put them together in the same sequence? Most scholars now believe that there was an as yet undiscovered source that pre-dates Mark. This other source is called “Q”, which comes from the German Quelle, which means “source”.
But here’s the important point: Scholars who are familiar with the origins of the New Testament know that it has been massively doctored. Who Jesus really was and what he really said and did is literally buried amid layers of mud. The mud that obscures Jesus includes fragmentary understandings of his words and life, misinterpretations, and personal and political agendas on the part of the scribes who recorded the gospels as well as those who chose which gospels to include in the New Testament and which ones to leave out.
Q, therefore, is of great interest because it not only washes much of the mud away, but it reveals a Jesus strikingly different from the one the New Testament presents. Instead of a virgin-born, miracle-working son of God who rails against Jews and threatens non-believers with hell and damnation, the Jesus of Q is primarily interested in the Kingdom of God — and love. He is a champion of the poor and disenfranchised who apparently believed that the royal path to experiencing the Kingdom of God lay in loving one’s enemies. The Jesus of Q also championed a personal, loving God who was not only aware of every minute detail of ours lives, but was actively involved in meeting our day-to-day needs.
Robert has written a dazzling paper that makes the case for the Q version of Jesus. This paper is called “Loving Our Enemies: The Core of Jesus’ Vision in the Sayings Gospel Q.” It is the best, most carefully researched and masterfully presented anything I have ever read about the historical Jesus. I will share this paper with you in a future update.
That’s a little background information about Jesus and the Sayings Gospel Q.
In order to make sense of the article I am about to share with you, you also need to know that Robert has spent a lot of time investigating near-death experiences. And if you are someone who is familiar with Jesus (especially the Q version of Jesus) it is only a matter of time before you start to notice something quite remarkable: “Hey, there sure are a lot of parallels between what Jesus said and did and what a growing number of NDErs are reporting today.” There are, in fact, so many common threads that I personally believe there is no other spiritual leader, teacher, master that embodies the core elements of NDEs more fully than Jesus.
How is this possible? And what does it mean for humankind?
Did Jesus have a near-death experience? Is this why he reportedly spoke “with authority” when the scribes and Pharisees fell flat? Is this the source of the healing power Jesus was apparently tapped into? Is this why Jesus, and his message, as abused and obscured as it has been through the ages, has survived so long, inspired so many people, and been the rock upon which so much of western civilization has been built?
Curious minds want to know.
One last thing.
No doubt all of you have experienced synchronistic events in your life. If so, you know that there is a Force in life that occasionally conspires to make things happen in such a way that we stop, take notice, and wonder: Is God speaking to us? Is the universe trying to tell us something?
Reading signs happens to be another one of Robert’s passions. He has even written a book about this phenomena called “Signs: A New Approach to Coincidence, Synchronicity, Guidance, Life Purpose, and God’s Plan.”
So signs also figure prominently in the article that follows: Jesus, as presented by Q; near-death experiences, and signs. These are the three main tools that Robert uses to take a fresh look at Christianity, including how Christianity was born. It’s kind of a Christmas present for those of us who want to understand, more deeply, how Jesus (and Christianity) may have managed to generate so many tidal waves.
While I don’t know how clearly I have set the stage for Robert, or how much sense Robert’s paper is going to make to you, I can tell you that I personally think this line of investigation is immensely important. Titanic forces, in the form of the historical legacy of Jesus, coupled with the emerging global phenomenon of near-death experiences, appear to be on the verge of joining forces. I will do my best to follow this and keep all of you posted…
NHNE has investigated, and reported on, a wide variety of issues pertaining to Jesus. To learn more about Q and some of the other Jesus-related topics we have covered, go here:
And to find out more about why I think near-death experiences are such a big deal, go here:
DID NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES PLAY A ROLE IN THE BIRTH OF CHRISTIANITY
By Robert Perry
December 17, 2010
On my Sign Posts blog I recount the story of what I felt was an extremely interesting sign about the possibility of NDEs playing a role in the birth of Christianity. For those of you who don’t know about my signs (my more technical term is CMPEs, Conjunctions of Meaningfully Parallel Events), they are a phenomenon I’ve studied for over thirty years, and involve the “happenstance” conjunction of at least two events that share a long list of similarities (or parallels). I see these conjunctions as imparting meaningful messages to us. I’ll paste in what I wrote here:
I’ve had a really odd run recently of CMPEs making clear historical claims, specifically about the Sayings Gospel Q and Christian origins (see here and here). After the last one, Judy Robb responded and said, “Can’t wait to find out the next installment.” Sure enough, I had one the other night. It wasn’t about Q, but it was about Christian origins. And the claim it makes is very interesting indeed.
Nicola and I were watching a new documentary on the Biography channel called I Survived…Beyond and Back. It is a series that interviews and documents the near-death experiences of various people. The episode we saw, Episode 6 (the only currently available online), tracked three individuals whose hearts stopped beating during life-threatening circumstances (two were vehicle accidents and one was a heart attack), and who then reported leaving their bodies and entering another dimension in which they interacted with deceased relatives and friends. One entered ”the light” (usually equated with God) with the friend who had just died beside her in the car, saying, ”There really are no words to completely describe where I was.”
We found the stories riveting, so much so that when the episode was done, and previews of other episodes automatically started playing, we watched them, too. One in particular grabbed my attention, from a man named Matthew. The trigger for his NDE was being shot in the head:
“I felt an excruciating pain. It was as if somebody took a poker, or a very long needle, heated it in fire, and just jabbed it straight through my skull.”
He then said, “I was dead instantly. I was transferred from one dimension to another dimension in a split second.”
The reason that got my attention was that I had read the same exact image in a book earlier that day. I am reading The First Paul by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Its premise is that we have seriously misunderstood how socially progressive Paul was and how close his thought was to that of Jesus, largely because many of the New Testament letters attributed to him were in fact not written by him. Whereas the authentic letters of Paul show us the “radical Paul,” these pseudonymous letters present the “conservative Paul” and even the “reactionary Paul.” Unlike our image of Paul, the real Paul (the radical Paul) advocated that slaves be set free and that women hold authority equal to men in church.
At one point, the authors treat Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh,” a chronic physical condition that he never names. They speculate (based on the work of William Mitchell Ramsay) that it was “chronic malaria fever.” Whenever the sufferer of this overtaxed himself, he would undergo “absolutely incapacitating” (p. 64) paroxysms, able only to lie there, shaking and helpless. The headaches that accompanied these violent attacks were so painful that sufferers have described them as “like a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead” (p. 64). Borg and Crossan speculated that this stabbing pain was the source of Paul’s term “thorn in the flesh,” which can also be translated as “stake in the flesh.”
This was an incredibly specific parallel — both events have a red-hot metal rod thrust through the skull, causing excruciating pain. In my experience, you rarely get a parallel this good without it being surrounded by other parallels. So I took out the book and read the material right around that reference, looking for those parallels.
That’s where it got really interesting, for those other parallels were quite obviously there. On the preceding page, Borg and Crossan say that “Paul makes a connection between his ecstatic (literally, ‘standing out of the body’) experiences and that ‘thorn/stake in the flesh.’ He begins by describing ‘visions and revelations of the Lord’ when he was ‘caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body’ and was permitted to hear ‘things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat’” (p. 63). Earlier, the authors had said they believe this referred to things that in principle are “impossible to put into words…beyond words” (p. 25).
Then came this claim: “We think, therefore, that Paul had some recurrent illness that may have precipitated or accompanied ecstatic experience” (p. 63).
Suddenly, the parallels between the show we watched and the authors’ claims about Paul looked very good.
1. A man has a physical condition that feels like a red-hot metal rod thrust through his skull, causing excruciating pain.
2. This condition is incapacitating.
3. It precipitates a spiritual experience.
4. The experience involves “standing out of the body.”
5. It involves traveling to a heavenly dimension.
6. It is in some way of God (Paul used the phrase “revelations of the Lord”).
7. It cannot be described in words.
8. This experience is profoundly transformative. (The TV show had emphasized the changes in the lives of the NDErs brought on by their experience. The book emphasized that Paul’s mystical experiences were decisive for him, imparting to him “a transformed way of seeing” that remained after the experience.)
The interpretation is so obvious that I will spare you a description of its mechanics. This CMPE is claiming that Paul had a near-death experience (or near-death experiences). Many people, in fact, have speculated about this. I think even Raymond Moody did in his seminal Life After Life (can’t find my copy right now). It’s not hard to find such speculations all over the Internet. There is even an article written by Edward Hunter for The Christian Parapsychologist, called “The Apostle Paul and the Near-Death Experience.”
What I find so interesting about this CMPE is that a) it provides a physical trigger for Paul’s experiences (chronic malarial fever), and b), being the claim of a CMPE, it carries an authority for me personally that mere historical speculations do not.
What is also of interest to me is that I have recently written a paper in which I trace Jesus’ own radical vision to him very likely having spiritual experiences that were at least NDE-like, given that his vision (as I interpret it) so closely mirrors that coming out of NDEs.
As I said with the previous two CMPEs about Christian origins, I find this fascinating. It claims that there at the beginning of Christianity, Paul was having near-death experiences, which imparted to him a transformed way of seeing, and which possibly account for whatever strong harmony there was between his own thought and that of Jesus. In an indirect way, it strengthens my suspicions that NDEs were at the very font of what became Christianity.
Yet there is another side to this for me. As with the previous sign, this one is stretching me. I have never really liked Paul, as I have seen him as too disconnected from the actual historical Jesus in his overwhelming focus on the risen Christ. It goes without saying that I will read the rest of the book with my mind wide open.