Could the rise of Christianity be explained by a supposed evil twin who had impersonated Jesus following His crucifixion? Is this a viable theory or a disastrous rationale?
I must give credit where credit is due. The Evil Twin hypothesis used to explain the Resurrection of Jesus is rightfully obscure and very few critics have suggested it. It is woefully lacking in practicality, explanatory scope, and most importantly evidence. We’re far removed from the minimal facts at this point, however, we shall still rely on them to address this thesis.
The Evil Twin hypothesis is self-explanatory. Robert Greg Cavin, who is the most well-known proponent of the theory, argues that Jesus was not the son of Mary. Rather, Jesus was the son of an unknown woman who had borne twins. At some point, one of those twins-Jesus- was switched with Mary’s unknown son. Later on this twin, who no one knew about, witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and decided to impersonate Him and claim that He had risen from the dead.
The reasonable response to this summation is that it is rushed and severely lacking a reason to believe it is true, let alone that it is possible or even likely to happen. I would agree and if there was more to it I would have included it. But that’s it. The only source I could find in support is the Gnostic book of Thomas The Contender, but like all Gnostic writings it is dated, at the earliest, to the early to mid-2nd century and written by people far removed from the beginnings of Christianity. And even then, the only word it has to say is that “it has been said that” Thomas’ unknown twin was Jesus Himself. It notes a rumour and runs with it. Hardly a reliable source.
Yet the lack of an evidential basis is the least of the theory’s problems. We’ve already noted how quickly it leaps from one point to the next, always neglecting to raise support or give historical justification for each brief point it makes, so let us ask it a few questions.
- How were the twins switched?
- What motive did the twin have?
- How did he convince the disciples?
- How did he steal the body from the tomb?
For the first question, the only answer we have from critics (again, namely Cavin) is an anachronistic comparison to modern hospitals. In modern hospitals, careless switches can (rarely) occur because infants are sometimes placed together as a group in a special unit, particularly because of a medical problem that needs to be closely watched. This says nothing of the mechanics of Jesus’ day or even gets us close to an explanation of how a switch can happen in ancient times. We’re jumping the gun far too early in an attempt to support a theory that also takes hasty, astronomical leaps. In ancient times, births would take place in the solitude of a home or in Jesus’ case, a stable, not in a public hospital, so there were no situations in which infants from different parents were mixed.
As for the twin’s motive to impersonate Jesus, we’re given no explanation. He’s evil and unethical just because he has to be. Are we really being reduced to using a cartoon villain as a feasible explanation? Why would Jesus’ twin want to impersonate an enemy of the Jews? Did he want to be crucified too? Did he think he could gain riches from a group of fishermen? Did he want to be worshipped by them as a god? Moreover, how did he come to figure that a resurrection would work or be believed when no one was expecting or anticipating it (see link 1 below)? The disciples wanted a messiah who conquered, not one whom became cursed on a tree (Galatians 3:13). The thought would have never crossed his mind.
How did he convince the disciples? We also aren’t given an answer. He would have had to wound himself first so he could convince those like Thomas, which is already a high price to pay. He would have had to appear in a glorified body somehow, thus giving him a numinous quality. Additionally, he would have had to have the wisdom and knowledge Jesus had, in order to not appear as a fool. He had to speak, teach, and act as Jesus had. Impersonating someone as well known to the disciples as Jesus is not the same as the main characters of a film disguising themselves as nameless extras to infiltrate an enemy base.
Finally, we also aren’t given any explanation for how he stole the body and left an empty tomb. Critics assume it was a fairly easy job, which it most definitely wasn’t (see link 2 below).
Needless to say, the Evil Twin Theory does not have a single thing of substance to add to the investigation. It is the definition of ad hoc, leaping to absurd conclusions before any sort of evidential groundwork is laid. It is a theory we can put to rest with a chuckle.
Link 1 on Jewish expectations.