The Curious Case of Alireza M… Thoughts on Resurrection and Being “Mostly Dead”

nooseAn astonishing news story was posted by CNN this morning, with the following highlights:

Convicted by an Iranian court of possessing a kilogram of crystal meth, the 37-year-old man was sentenced to death by hanging at Bojnurd Prison in northeastern Iran, according to Jam-E-Jam, an official newspaper that offered this wince-inducing account:

On the morning of October 9, Alireza M. was taken from his cell to the gallows, where the judge who had issued the order read his sentence aloud and official papers were signed.

Then, a rope was placed around his neck and he was hanged for 12 minutes, after which his body was lowered and a doctor declared he was dead. The doctor, the judge and the prison head then signed the death certificate, and the body of Alireza M. was taken to a morgue for delivery the following day to his relatives.

But the next day, a worker at the morgue noticed that plastic encasing one of the bodies had steam in front of the mouth.

Consider the tally:

  • Executed by suffocation…
  • By professionals that carry out such executions for a living…
  • Death witnessed by multiple people…
  • Dead body lowered and inspected…
  • Carried away, wrapped, and laid on a flat surface

I can think of one notable case where this sort of thing happened before.

Silly Old Swoon Theory

Now there are those who dismiss the long-standing “swoon theory” of Jesus’ reappearance as being infeasible. The Romans, you see, knew how to execute people. They didn’t make mistakes like that. Arguing the certainty of death is a necessary precursor to arguing a subsequent resurrection. But I do consider what evidences for death we actually lack regarding Jesus’ case…

Alireza’s execution may well have been video taped. His body was very likely photographed. And in this modern case, medical vitals signs were checked by the doctor. And a death certificate was issued, with day, time, etc. There is documentation of conviction, sentence, and execution.

It is worth noting that we have never had anything remotely like these evidences regarding Jesus. All arguments are simply based on the inference: the Romans did not make mistakes in executing people. I’m certain that the Romans – and the Iranians as well – knew precisely what they were doing. But I’m equally certain that Jesus could very well have been an “Alireza case”, and that we cannot disprove that possibility. And if the gospels are correct, the Romans were pressed somewhat for time, as they had to get the bodies buried by sunset. Yes, people can be professionally executed – by suffocation – and then wake up. It doesn’t happen very often, but we cannot say it doesn’t happen.

…the doctors at the morgue… took Alireza M. to Imam Ali hospital in the town of Bojnurd, where he was reported to be feeling better.

Double Checking that Spear

Allow me to digress ever so briefly to dismiss the natural mind leap – what of the spear in the side? Sadly, our testimony is poor on this point, as it is attested only by one gospel… the last one written, and the one with the most historical problems (John 19:34). The prior three gospel writers mention nothing of the kind. In fact, even in Luke 24, when he shows his wounds to the disciples, there is no mention of his side… Hands, feet, that’s it. Historically, the best we can claim is that Jesus died by suffocation, just like everyone that was crucified.

Christian Apologetics for Alireza

The final reflection is quite necessary… If Alireza had only had the opportunity to crawl away – perhaps with another day or two to recover his strength – what might be claimed? He is an air-tight candidate for bodily resurrection, for victory over death, and for immortality. Definitive proof of death. Absolute evidence of being seen alive. Consider the typical Christian apologetic bullet points and change out the name.

Here I will pull the following argument points from Christian superstar William Lane Craig, as given in a debate against Bart Ehrman (site):

There are four historical facts which must be explained by any adequate  historical hypothesis:

Fact #1: After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of  Arimathea in a tomb.

Fact #2: On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found  empty by a group of his women followers.

Fact #3: On different occasions and under various circumstances  different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus  alive from the dead.

Fact #4: The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to  believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every  predisposition to the contrary.

The best explanation for these facts, argues Craig, is that Jesus really did rise from the dead. All other explanations are less plausible than a return from the dead. Nothing is more likely than resurrection. But let us recalibrate our expectations…

We cannot even demonstrate the historical “fact” of Jesus being dead.

The basic hypothesis of Jesus as an Alireza case fully satisfies all of the four facts given by Craig. The apologetic reasoning is just not strong, and our data about the past is just not strong. Now, I am not a proponent of the swoon theory per se. But I think we must reject any casual attempts to dismiss it. It is certainly plausible. To argue that a resurrection is the “best explanation” simply does not work. This kind of thing does happen, and has happened, and will happen again. It tends to impress the illiterate & the charismatic when it does. But I’m doubting in this modern case that anyone will credit Alireza as representing a legitimate resurrection. I don’t suspect we’ll find any takers on that one.

The resurrection of Jesus is not the best historical explanation of the facts. We do not believe the resurrection based on evidence. What we have is testimony: evidence of belief from those that came before us. And so, if we believe it today, we do so only on faith, believing based on their belief, and not upon evidence. For the evidence, such as it is, can be readily handled by a number of quite ordinary explanations. To this, I give you Hitchens:

…let the advocates and partisans of religion rely on faith alone, and let them be brave enough to admit that this is what they are doing.

~ Hitchens, Christopher (2007)

But back to the humanity of the present. I find it very sad indeed that for Alireza’s situation, the Iranian government intends to carry out the execution again. He probably learned his lesson the first time. And the second time, somehow, I think they’ll succeed.


  1. Excellent piece! One of the soundest debunking’s of the resurrection i’ve ever read.


  2. archaeopteryx1 says:

    “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
    Alireza M.


    • LOL!

      I like the line about how he was “feeling much better” now.

      But what happens to the hangman? Does he get hanged now, for his failure?


      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Clearly, “double jeopardy” has no meaning for them, except possibly watching Alex Trabek twice.


        • And a serious bummer is that he doesn’t get to haunt anyone Eastwood style —

          “When you hang a man you better look at em”.

          This guy actually pulls it off and… Nothing. Anticlimactic.


  3. Great Hitchens quote…I can’t believe they are going to hang him again. That stinks.


  4. Man, this was a great post! I especially loved your closing paragraph:

    The resurrection of Jesus is not the best historical explanation of the facts. We do not believe the resurrection based on evidence. What we have is testimony: evidence of belief from those that came before us. And so, if we believe it today, we do so only on faith, believing based on their belief, and not upon evidence. For the evidence, such as it is, can be readily handled by a number of quite ordinary explanations.


  5. This is wishful thinking at it’s best. Physical death and resurrection is the only best explanation that is consistent with the whole narrative and the evidences available. Why the author “think they’ll succeed” the second time in Alireza’s, but biased to not consider Jesus’ death as a reasonable explanation? The whole article is heavily biased in my view against the Christian claim.


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