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What is the first recorded description of a Christian claiming to have what we would today call a near death experience? Did perhaps any of the early church fathers describe such an event that happened to themselves or others?

While near death experiences have become more common with modern resuscitation techniques, they were described in ancient times, such as with Plato describing Er (c. 380 BC) and Plutarch describing Aridaeus of Soli (c. 560 AD). Both describe non-Christians claiming to have near-death experiences.

Note that I am interested in someone who nearly died and came back to life and then told their tale, thus I wouldn't count the Biblical accounts of Lazarus (the one Jesus resurrected) or the rich man associated with another Lazarus (the one of whom Jesus described his post-death experiences in one of his parables).

If there is an obvious one in the New Testament that I am forgetting, let me know so I can edit my question. I am interested in post-Biblical times.

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    Why the downvote? Is there something I can do to improve my question? – Thunderforge Nov 13 '17 at 5:48
  • I didn't downvote, but perhaps because most Christians think NDEs are fake they don't like the question. Maybe if you phrased it in terms who was the first Christian to claim to have experienced an NDE it would feel more neutral. – curiousdannii Nov 13 '17 at 10:54
  • Keep in mind also that until about two or three hundred years ago there was no such thing as a "near-death experience". Technology and methods to revive someone from a state of apparent death were virtually nonexistent. – Matt Gutting Nov 13 '17 at 13:12
  • @curiousdannii Thanks; I didn't realize that NDEs were so controversial. I thought that it was accepted that people experienced them (although whether they were considered accurate depictions of the afterlife was up for debate). I've changed the question to say that they claimed to have it. – Thunderforge Nov 13 '17 at 16:20
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    There's nothing wrong with your question. It is a good and valid one. You are not asking about the truth or falsity of such accounts, but rather about the historicity of the accounts themselves. You ask, "What is the first recorded description of a Christian claiming to have" had such an experience. This point seems to have been missed by some. It would be interesting to see how accounts in antiquity, if they exist, compare to the more sensational modern-day accounts (e.g. John Piper). – guest37 Nov 22 '17 at 16:43
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The earliest such account I am aware of can be found in the Gerontikon, sayings and stories of the so-called Desert Fathers of Egypt, compiled - it is thought - sometime in the 2nd or 3rd centuries. There is a summary of the story from the Gerontikon in the Evergetinos about a careless monk who became ill and approached death:

In the midst of his illness, he lost consciousness and his soul left his body and was taken off to be judged. There among the damned he found his mother. On seeing him, she said with astonishment, "My child, are you, too, condemned to this place of the damned? For what reason are you, who said to me, 'I wish to save my soul,' here?" The brother, shamed by all that he had heard, was struck with gloom, unable to answer anything his mother had said. Afterwards, he heard a voice that said: "At once, Out of here." He immediately woke from this ecstasy and unconsciousness and related with fear to those around him all that he had seen and heard, glorifying God, Who in every way seeks the salvation of sinners.1

As I said, there are probably accounts that date earlier than this, but this is earliest one I can find. There are many more such accounts in the Gerontikon and in the Orthodox Synaxaria.


1. Book I, Hypothesis VIII.F (from an English translation by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2008; p.72)

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