Jesus is Alive, Elvis is Alive What’s the Difference?
A DARE BOOKLET
Jesus is Alive, Elvis is Alive
Copyright © John Bowen 1997 All rights reserved Second printing 1998 Third printing 2001
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What’s the Difference?
Published by Digory Designs #2–5311 Lackner Crescent Richmond, BC Canada V7E 6B7 Printed by Lulu Island Printing Ltd, Richmond BC
On a hot Friday afternoon outside Jerusalem in AD33, a 33-year old peasant-teacher named Jesus of Nazareth was executed by Roman soldiers. 1,944 years later, on August IVCF is a learning community seeking to understand and follow Jesus today. The views expressed here are part of an ongoing dialogue in pursuit of this purpose and do not necessarily reflect the official position of IVCF.
16th, 1977, a 42-year old entertainer named Elvis Presley was found dead in his palatial bathroom at Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee. On the surface, there should be no connection. Yet there is. Both are now reputed to be alive. Many claim to have seen, or to have been directly influenced by both. Controversy surrounds their lives, their deaths, and their present whereabouts. And literature continues to appear on both subjects. Some regard the claims with equal skepticism. Others think
both might be true. Yet others see a radical diff e re n c e between the two stories. I want to pursue this third option by
* TM of/MC de Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of Canada
asking a series of questions about the two cases:
1. Was their death unexpected? A. Elvis
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They cite, for example, the fact that samples were sent from the body of Elvis to Dr Norman Weissman at a top lab— Bio-Science—in California, where they were asked to
Elvis gave hints that he expected to die soon. His fans did not
comment, without knowing the true identity of the subject—
understand them at the time, although his close friends saw it
he was simply known as ‘Ethel Moore’. Bio-Science responded
that the subject took prescription drugs like a kid in a candy
Fans ask now: why did he say ‘Adios’ at his last concert? Towards the end he began to sing the Sinatra song, ‘My
store and that the number and concentration of drugs in the system was dangerously high.
Way’, with its line, ‘And now the end is near.’ He told his
A second outside expert concluded that the codeine in the
stepbrother, ‘I may not look good tonight...but I’ll look good
system alone could have killed him, but in combination
in my coffin.’ In fact, his step-brother, David Stanley, said
with the other drugs, death was inevitable. The lab found
people were guessing what day Elvis would die because they
realized how sick he was: ‘We knew he was going to die,’ he commented.
• the codeine was ten times the therapeutic level in his blood; twenty-three times in his kidneys, and sixteen times in his liver
B. Jesus Jesus had predicted both his death and his return to life on at least three recorded occasions. His followers, however, either could not or would not believe him.1
• there were toxic levels of Quaaludes, a sedative/hypnotic drug • the upper limits of therapeutic level of Valium existed • higher than recommended levels of Valmid and Placidyl existed • there were nearly toxic levels of pentobarbitol (a barbiturate which treats anxiety and stress by depressing the
2. Did they really die? A. Elvis
central nervous system). Thompson and Cole discovered that 12,000 pills were prescribed in the last twenty months of Elvis’ life; and 600 on
Elvis’ death was private and the cause confused. Murder,
August 15th, 1977 alone. It comes as no surprise to learn that
suicide, a weak heart and drugs have all been suggested. The
late in 1979, Dr Nicopoulos, Elvis’ personal physician and
mystery has been compounded by administrative ineptitude
friend, was examined by the Tennessee Board of Medical
similar to that surrounding the death of President Kennedy.
Examiners. They found him guilty on ten counts of over-
The most systematic research is documented in a book
prescribing for his patients including Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis
entitled The Death of Elvis by Charles Thompson and James
Presley. He received three months’ suspension and three years’
Linda Thompson was Elvis’ live-in girl-friend from 1972 till 1976. She testified that ‘he took so many drugs, he would fall
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3. What evidence is there that they are alive?
asleep in the middle of eating, and I would have to clean food out of his mouth and out of his throat and turn him on his side
Instinctively, we do not want our heroes to die. According to
and make sure that he was breathing.’
English legend, King Arthur is not dead, but sleeping, and he
Her departure probably hastened his death because she was very conscientious in caring for him.
will awake and lead England in her hour of greatest need. We go into denial when heroes die, and build legends around them to protect ourselves. We can also build cases on flimsy
evidence simply to buttress our prejudices. There has to be a
Jesus’ death was very public, conducted by professional
scrutiny for any sign of wish-fulfilment.
hard-nosed approach to the question of evidence, and close
executioners. Everybody knew what to do and did it efficiently. Jesus’ biographer John draws attention to the fact that when a soldier’s spear was thrust into Jesus’ side, ‘blood and water’ gushed out, a sign of certain death.
A. Elvis Strangely enough, the evidence for Elvis’ continuing life is
There are theories that he did not die, but they are hardly
softer than that for Jesus, even though the events are so much
plausible. The swoon hypothesis in particular has gained noto-
more recent. On the whole, Elvis’ fans and the tabloids do not
riety: Jesus did not die on the cross, but only swooned. Later,
make the most reliable of witnesses. Whereas Jesus’ fans won
in the cool of the tomb, he recovered, returned to his follow-
only ridicule and death for championing his cause, Elvis’ fans
ers, and convinced them that he had risen again.2
have big bucks to look forward to for their stories.
The problems with this view are many and powerful.
But there are some exceptions, and to be fair, their stories
A Roman officer had to certify a criminal’s death to the gover-
also have to be told. The most elaborate story is that of Gail
nor: his own life was forfeit if he made a mistake. He was
Bre w e r- G i o rgio, in her book, Is Elvis alive? She calls the
strongly motivated to be sure. Then all the records agree that
supposed death of Elvis ‘one of the most elaborate, shocking
Jesus was flogged before being crucified. A Roman flogging
cover-ups of this century…a musical Watergate.’
alone had been known to kill strong men. The records also say
Her story is this. Three days after Elvis’ death, she started
that 75 pounds of spices were wound in among Jesus’ grave-
writing a novel to be called Orion. Orion would be the name
clothes: a crushing weight for a desperately wounded man to
of a highly successful singer who becomes disillusioned with
sustain, let alone to throw off. And lastly, could an almost-
the weight of fame, and decides to fake his own death and
dead man have given his followers the impression that he was
escape to a new life in Hawaii.
the eternal victor over death? If he had survived, it would have
In 1979, when she had signed a contract with a publisher
been as a man broken in body and in spirit. There would have
for the hardback edition of the book, a singer appeared named
been little to celebrate.
Orion, wearing a mask and singing like Elvis. Some thought he
was Elvis. His record covers used details taken directly from her manuscript. Publication of the book had to be delayed.
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Was this a sign that Vernon Presley knew that it was not his son in the tomb?
The book was finally published in August 1981, but by
• Col. Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, said later in the week after
January it was unobtainable. One distributor confessed that he
Elvis’ death: ‘Elvis didn’t die. The body did. We’re keeping
had been told to pull the book, ostensibly because it was not
up the good spirits. We’re keeping Elvis alive. I talked to
him this morning and he told me to carry on.’ Is it possible
Then Brewer-Giorgio discovered that the William Morris
that there was a double entendre to those words: that they
Agency which handled Orion was closely linked to Elvis and his
had a literal truth to them that no-one suspected at the
manager Colonel Tom Parker. This raised questions in her
mind: did they pressure Simon and Schuster (the publisher) to pull the book? Did they set up Orion the singer to confuse the issue? Maybe the Colonel got someone at William Morris to threaten Simon and Schuster with litigation if they didn’t pull the book. And then the punch-line, which would explain everything: her fictional story was too close to the truth. Elvis didn’t die
• Brewer-Giorgio is struck by the evidence of numerology, a great interest of Elvis’. So, for instance, August 16th, 1977, has numerical significance: 8 + 16 + 1977 = 2001. Thus Spake Zarathustra, the theme music from the movie 2001, was Elvis’ theme song. Brewer-Giorgio also believes that he may have chosen the 16th for his ‘death’ because he wanted 3 x 24 in it (a lucky combination).
but faked his death in order to cover his starting a new life, maybe even in Hawaii. As a result, those who knew the truth
1 + 9 + 7 + 7 = 24
closed ranks and did what they could to destroy the book.
2001 – 1977 = 24
Brewer-Giorgio looks at the evidence for such a cover-up: • The National Enquirer paid a third cousin of Elvis to smuggle a mini-camera in to the viewing of Elvis’ body. The resulting picture was published in the Enquirer, and caused shock waves among fans around the world. The eyebrows, chin, and fingers all looked unlike Elvis. • The coffin weighed 900 pounds: Elvis is known to have been overweight at the time of his death...but not that much. Fans deduce that the body was a wax dummy and that the weight is accounted for by an air conditioner
16 + 8 = 24
She thinks it significant that it is in the washroom where the hero of 2001 ‘executed his plans for immortality...’ • The circumstances of death are described in conflicting ways. Witnesses disagree as to how the body was found and what Elvis was wearing, when the body was found, whether it was dead already, when death was declared, and whether AR was tried. • The book he is supposed to have been reading (about the Shroud of Turin) was not published until a year later.
inside the coffin to keep the wax dummy from melting. • There seems to be evidence that Elvis was preparing for • Elvis’ father, Vernon, misspelled Elvis’ middle name on the grave—Aaron instead of Aron, as his mother named him.
—Why, for instance, did he order no new costumes for a new tour due to start on August 16th, 1977?
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Overall, it is difficult to avoid the feeling that the author is trying to force the facts to fit her theory.
—Why did he fire several old friends shortly before his death? —During his last tour he sang ‘Blue Christmas’ although it was summer: was he warning his fans? —Five months beforehand, family members were suddenly cut out of his will. Did he realize he would need that money for his new life? • A ticket to Buenos Aires was bought at Memphis airport the
B. Jesus The evidence for Jesus’ life beyond death is surprisingly strong:
1. No one claims to have seen the actual resurrection If one were concocting such a story, one would want to have the most reliable witnesses present at the event.
day after Elvis’ death by a man looking like Elvis and using the name John Burrows, a code name used by Elvis’ friends
2. The testimony of Paul
(including then President Richard Nixon).
In one of the earliest Christian documents, Paul writes to doubters that if they doubt the resurrection, there are over
However, there seem to be many flaws in Brewer-Giorgio’s
500 witnesses available for interv i e w. I know an Anglican
argument. Most fundamentally, for a man who care f u l l y
c l e rgyman in England who climbed into his pulpit one
planned his own ‘death’ and had endless money to spend,
Easter Sunday morning, and, before beginning his sermon,
there were a lot of careless slips. Circumstances could have
slowly and calmly ate a daffodil from the flower arrange-
been much more convincing. For instance, if the body in the
ment in front of him. Then he commented, ‘If one person
coffin was a wax dummy, why not a more accurate one? If
goes out of this church this morning and says, ‘I saw the
that was Elvis at the airport, why wouldn’t he have paid for the
Reverend John Collins eat a daffodil in church this morning,’
ticket ahead of time to avoid recognition? Why use a name
the average passer-by is likely to be skeptical. But if 500
that someone might recognize? She herself says elsewhere
witnesses come out and all, apparently sane and sober, tell the
that Memphis was full of Elvis look-alikes.
same story, it becomes difficult to doubt it, unlikely though it
Brewer-Giorgio is unaware of the fact that Elvis had his
middle name legally changed to the more conventional spelling of Aaron. Two witnesses who saw Elvis on the bath-
3. The testimony of the women
room floor say that the book he was reading was actually Sex
According to the earliest sources, the first witnesses of Jesus’
and Psychic Energy, about astrology and sex. I made a point of
resurrection were women from among his followers. In those
viewing 2001 to see if there might be any parallels with the
days, the evidence of a woman would not be accepted in a
Elvis story. The only significance of the washroom in 2001 is
court of law. Again, if one were inventing the story, this would
that it provides a silent gag: isn’t it a problem to use a gravity-
be a disastrous detail to invent, and would throw one’s whole
free toilet in space?
case into jeopardy.
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4. The testimony of the empty tomb
had taken the body, either they would have taken the grave-
Everyone agreed that Jesus’ body had disappeared. The point
clothes too, or they would have ripped them off and left them
of contention was: Who took it?
lying around. Only re s u rrection would account for the
Jesus’ enemies could have taken it, knowing perhaps that he had foretold his rising again. But in that case they could have produced the body once the rumours started and nipped the Christian movement in the bud.
bandages as John describes them, as if the body had simply passed through them, and they had collapsed still intact.
7. The seven-week gap
What about Jesus’ disciples? Clearly, they were not in any
It is a strange fact that there is a gap of seven weeks between
fit state even to think about resurrection: they were frightened
the supposed resurrection of Jesus and the disciples going out
and demoralized. They hardly seem like people calmly plan-
and preaching that he was alive. This does not make good
ning to confront Roman guards and steal a body. They were
dramatic sense. Far better, if you are writing a story, to have
only concerned to save their own skins.
the disciples immediately excited at their Lord’s resurrection.
There is also the problem of the guards. According to the
The seven weeks’ delay (in the records, a time when Jesus
records, they reported an earthquake and the disappearance
reassured and instructed his followers) has a strangeness that
of the body to their employers, and were told to spread the
smacks of the truth.
rumour that they had fallen asleep at their posts. If this is Christian propaganda, it is not very useful. For the sake of the
8. Physical resurrection
supernatural explanation, it would have been better to have
New Testament scholar Dr N T Wright points out that Jews
the guards stay awake.
at the time of Jesus believed in the possibility of resurrection,
5. People will give their lives for a cause they genuinely believe in
but in a physical resurrection; the concept of a merely ‘spiritual’ or ‘inspirational’ Jesus after death would not have occurred to them. They also believed in a universal resurrec-
Of course, they may have been deceived; but it is next to
tion at the end of time; something very striking must have
impossible that they would be willing to die for a fraud they
happened for them to begin believing in the resurrection of
have deliberately invented. Yet the followers of Jesus, sup-
just one man.3
posedly responsible for stealing his body, were willing to die for their belief that he had risen from the dead.
6. The testimony of the graveclothes
9. A last question What transformed the disciples? Something turned them from a bunch of frightened sheep into a force that turned the
John’s account of these events mentions the fact that when
Roman world upside down and radically altered the course of
the empty tomb was discovered the cloth that had been
history. The memory of a good man would hardly do that. A
around Jesus’ head lay separate from those that had bound his
Jesus who barely survived crucifixion would not inspire people
body. The significance of this detail is that if grave-robbers
to face death. And of course, through the centuries, millions
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have claimed the same as those early Christians: that their lives
had been transformed by a powerful, loving, death-defeating
Jesus is reported to have commissioned his followers to go and
Jesus. Is there a more rational explanation than the traditional
spread his message and to continue doing his work in the
one of resurrection?
world. And millions of people would claim that Jesus contin-
In 1948 a journalist named Frank Morison wrote a book
ues to affect their lives now just as he did when he was on
called Who Moved the Stone? The first chapter is entitled ‘The
earth in a visible way—bringing healing, forgiveness, new life,
book that refused to be written,’ because this is not the book
meaning and purpose.
that Morison originally had in mind. His interest was in showing that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.
There are two other differences between Elvis and Jesus worth noting:
However, as he painstakingly went through the evidence piece by piece, he came to the unexpected conclusion that it
must have taken place. The resulting book sets out the
Those who claim that Elvis is alive assume that he never really
evidence as he understood it.
died; those who argue that he did die say he is still dead.
Which leads to the question:
Nobody is saying he died and then came back to life again. The two views can be summarized as: Supporters say:
4. What did they (supposedly) do then?
He didn’t die then…and is now alive. Skeptics say: He did die…and is still dead. Claims that Jesus is alive, however, are based on the belief
that he really did die. Opponents of this story are those who
The stories are many. He variously goes to Hawaii, gets a job,
say he didn’t die then but, naturally enough, is dead now! In
gets married, helps the poor, lives in privacy and avoids the
crowds he knew before.
Cartoonists have suggested other possibilities. According to
He did die...and is now alive.
one cartoon in The New Yorker, he becomes a monk—Brother
Elvis. According to a Far Side cartoon, he joins Salman Rushdie
He didn’t die then...but is dead now.
in hiding. My personal favorite is the suggestion that Elvis has become an Elvis impersonator. The Dallas Morning News has
calculated that there are currently 8,029 Elvis impersonators in
Even if Elvis were alive, so what? The greatest change would
the world, and that at the present rate of increase, by the year
be that the tabloids would have to look for new stories.
2037 one in five of the world’s population will be Elvis imper-
It would be a nine-day wonder, nothing more. In fact, the
sonators. What better way for the king to remain incognito?
number of Elvis stories seems to be decreasing month by
month. Not long ago, the Weekly World News took the story to its logical conclusion, announcing ‘ELVIS DEAD AT 58’. On the other hand, if Jesus is alive, the world takes on a completely new look:
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Notes 1. Luke 9:18f, 9:44, 18:31-34. 2. This hypothesis has recently been revived by Barbara Thiering in her book, Jesus the Man: a New Interpretation from
• Jesus’ teaching that he was sent by God would appear to be completely authenticated. The resurrection is God’s seal of approval on all Jesus said and did. • His claim that he would return at the end of time to judge
the Dead Sea Scrolls. For a thorough refutation of this view, see Who was Jesus? by NT Wright (cited below). 3. Wright, NT, Who was Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), pp 61-62.
the world seems a little less far-fetched—now that he has fulfilled the other impossible claim he made. • For many, Jesus’ re s u rrection provides the most solid evidence of life after death: if Jesus rose by the power of God then the enemy death has been conquered, and Jesus is our only reliable guide through death.
Bibliography Brewer-Giorgio. Gail, Is Elvis Alive? New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1988. Morison, Frank. Who Moved the Stone? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987.
• Jesus’ promise to be with us always makes sense; it is not just wishful thinking. He is available anywhere, any time, to be experienced, known, loved and followed. Part of the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is the countless multitudes who claim to have been touched by him, and as a result
Thompson Charles and James Cole. The Death of Elvis. New York: Dell Publishing, 1991.* Wright, NT. Who was Jesus? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.
call themselves his followers today. * Every effort has been made to locate the copyright owners of material quoted in this book. Any omissions are sincerely regret ted, and will be corrected in subsequent editions if brought to the publisher’s attention.