What if God doesn’t exist? What if Jesus never rose from the dead? Assuming that we accept naturalism as true, how might an accurate historian have explained the events of Acts 2? Here’s my attempt at recreating this story if we assume there was no actual divine intervention:
…Allow me to briefly digress from these important histories to tell you an amusing story about one of the silliest Jewish cults that emerged in those days!
When the ‘day of Pentecost’ came, as this group called it, the discouraged followers of the so-called Messiah Jesus were all together in one place. (This Jesus was a great speaker, but had delusions of being God Himself, and in his arrogance, he provoked conflict with all the authority figures of his day. There was nothing to be done but have him crucified along with some other petty troublemakers).
Anyways, on this day, there was a strong gust of wind at one point, and one of their leaders, Peter, thought it kind of sounded like the voice of Jesus. Peter got all excited about this and started trying to convince everyone else. They were all drinking heavily at this point, and in their stupor, some of the others started to loudly shout that they had seen Jesus too. The more feeble-minded among them got caught up in the act and began to try and outdo one another in describing what they had seen.
Now, truly devout and sensible Jews, from many different backgrounds, happened to observe this embarrassing scene. They noticed the pungent smell of cheap wine and began to laugh at the disheveled disciples. How sad, they remarked to one another, that these fools continue to hang onto the idea that Jesus is the Messiah. ‘After all, didn’t our religious leaders convict him of blasphemy? Didn’t the Romans find him guilty of treason? Wasn’t he killed by ordinary soldiers? Isn’t his body rotting in the tomb?’ What utter nonsense. And as time permitted, they either went on their way or stuck around for some cheap entertainment.
Peter, trying to regain control of his motley crew, started to out-shout everyone else. According to some reports, he was even afraid of servant girls, and so he was widely thought to be very insecure and desperate for approval. (This is probably why he followed Jesus in the first place). Peter’s ‘vision’ was his big chance to show everyone that he was still in charge.
So after shouting at everyone else to shut up, he gave an incoherent, rambling tirade about how God really intended for the Messiah to die without doing anything to make Israel an independent nation. He tried to rationalize that, somehow, a shameful death was actually a glorious honor! He made up a bunch of lies about how Jesus was really alive, though Jesus’ body was rotting in the grave. He twisted the words of King David in ways that could only make sense to a drunkard or an idiot. He even dared to call these devout Jews “crooked murderers” – the same godly men who had rightly supported the execution of Jesus!
The overall sense of Peter’s talk was angry, blaming, confused, and ignorant. Everyone laughed.
Anyways, a few of the beggars, enticed by the promise of free food, joined in with Peter’s crew. There were maybe a half-dozen people, altogether, who decided to take advantage of the free wine and bread that was being offered. Peter insisted on pouring some water over their heads and mumbling some weird phrases beforehand. But everyone just wanted the food and drink.
After this sad spectacle, Peter leveraged this talk to became increasingly important among this little community of thirty or so people. After one of them inherited some land, and sold it, they were able to attract a few more people by giving away even more free stuff. But even then, people looked down on them as a bunch of troublemakers, criminals, and fools. Only the most desperate beggars were willing to participate. And since new members were encouraged to get arrested and executed for their patently ridiculous beliefs, even the lure of free food was usually not enough for most people. And of course, this self-important martyr ideology meant that their leaders soon died off as well.
The limits of human folly are seemingly endless. A dead person alive! Drunkards as leaders! Free food as evidence! It is no wonder that everyone reasonable, successful or honorable avoided these fools like the plague, and the group continued to be widely ignored and marginalized.
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