Mental health of Jesus

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The question of whether the historical Jesus was in good mental health has been explored by multiple psychologists, philosophers, historians, and writers. The first to openly question Jesus' sanity was French psychologist Charles Binet-Sanglé, the chief physician of Paris and author of the book La Folie de Jésus.[1][2] This view finds both supporters and opponents.

Opinions challenging the sanity of Jesus[edit]

The topic of the assessment of the psyche of Jesus was taken already in the nineteenth century. David Friedrich Strauss (″Das Leben Jesu″, second edition, 1864) claimed that Jesus was a fanatic.[3][2] Friedrich Nietzsche (″Thus Spoke Zarathustra″, ″The Antichrist″) suggested his mental immaturity.[4][5] Georg Lomer (as George de Loosten, ″Jesus Christus vom Standtpunkte des Psychiaters″, 1905) described Jesus as a man with a ″fixed delusional system″[6]. However, it was not until Charles Binet-Sanglé, in his four-volume work ″La folie de Jésus″, discussed the topic extensively and visibly.

Binet-Sanglé diagnosed Jesus as suffering from religious paranoia:[7]

In short, the nature of the hallucinations of Jesus, as they are described in the orthodox Gospels, permits us to conclude that the founder of Christian religion was afflicted with religious paranoia. (vol. 2, p. 393)

His view was shared by the New York psychiatrist William Hirsch who, in 1912, published his study "Religion and civilization; the conclusions of a psychiatrist",[8] enumerating a number of Jesus' mentally aberrant behaviours. Hirsch agreed with Binet-Sanglé in that Jesus had been afflicted with hallucinations, and pointed to his "megalomania, which mounted ceaselessly and immeasurably".[2] Hirsch concluded that Jesus was "paranoid" – pure and simple, adding that:

But Christ offers in every respect an absolutely typical picture of a wellknown mental disease. All that we know of him corresponds so exactly to the clinical aspect of paranoia, that it is hardly conceivable how anybody at all acquainted with mental disorders, can entertain the slightest doubt as to the correctness of the diagnosis. (p. 103)

Soviet psychiatrist Y. V. Mints (1927) also diagnosed Jesus as suffering from paranoia.[9][10] The literature of the USSR in the 1920s, following the tradition of the demythologization of Jesus, created in the works Strauss, Renan, Nietzsche and Binet-Sanglé, put forward two main themes – mental illness and deception. This was reflected in the novel by Mikhail BulgakovThe Master and Margarita″, in which Jesus is depicted (articulated by Pilate) as a harmless madman. It was only at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s that in the Soviet Union′s propaganda won the mythological option, namely the denial of the existence of Jesus.[11]

Jesus' mental health was also questioned by the British psychiatrists William Sargant[12] and Raj Persaud,[13] a number of psychologists of the psychoanalytic orientation, e.g., Georges Berguer in his study "Quelques traits de la vie de Jésus au point de vue psychologique et psychanalytique".[14]

The Gospel of Mark (Mark 3:21) reports the opinion of members of Jesus' family who believe that Jesus "is beside himself". Some psychiatrists and writers explain that they saw Jesus as mad, insane.[15][16][17][2]

And when his friends heard [of it], they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.[18]

The accusation contained in the Gospel of John (John 10:19-20) is more literal.

Therefore, again, there came a division among the Jews, because of these words, and many of them said ″He hath a demon, and is mad, why do ye hear him?″[19]

There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a demon, and is insane; why hear ye him?[18]

Władysław Witwicki, a rationalist philosopher and psychologist, in the comments to his own translation of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark ("Dobra Nowina według Mateusza i Marka [pl]")[20] attributed to Jesus subjectivism, increased sense of his own power and superiority over others, egocentrism and the tendency to subjugate other people,[21] as well as difficulties communicating with the outside world and multiple personality disorder, which made him a schizothymic or even schizophrenic type (according to the Ernst Kretschmer typology).[22][23]

In 1998–2000 Pole Leszek Nowak (born 1962)[24] from Poznań authored a study in which, based on his own history of religious delusion of mission and overvalued ideas, and information communicated in the Gospels, made an attempt at reconstructing Jesus' psyche[25] with the view of Jesus as apocalyptic prophet,[26] taking into account the hypothesis of "suicide by proxy".[27] He does so in chapters containing, in sequence, an analysis of character traits of the "savior of mankind", a description of the possible course of events from the period of Jesus' public activity, and a naturalistic explanation of miracles.

In 2011, a team of psychiatrists, behavioral psychologists, neurologists and neuropsychiatrists from the Harvard Medical School published research which suggested the development of a new diagnostic category of psychiatric disorders related to religious delusion and hyperreligiosity.[28] They compared the thought and behavior of the most important figures in the Bible (Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ and Paul)[28] with patients affected by mental disorders related to the psychotic spectrum using different clusters of disorders and diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV-TR),[28] and concluded that these Biblical figures "may have had psychotic symptoms that contributed inspiration for their revelations",[28] such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, manic depression, delusional disorder, delusions of grandeur, auditory-visual hallucinations, paranoia, Geschwind syndrome and abnormal experiences associated with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). The authors suggest that Jesus sought to condemn himself to death ("suicide by proxy").[28]

Opinions defending the sanity of Jesus[edit]

Opinions and publications questioning the sanity of Jesus, especially Charles Binet-Sanglé and William Hirsch, triggered polemical reactions. They were first challenged by Albert Schweitzer in his doctoral thesis entitled The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: Exposition and Criticism[29][2] (Die psychiatrische Beurteilung Jesu: Darstellung und Kritik, 1913)[30][7] and by psychiatrist Walter Bundy in his 1922 book The psychic health of Jesus.[31][2]

The mental health of Jesus is defended by psychiatrists Olivier Quentin Hyder,[32] also by Pablo Martinez and Andrew Sims in their book Mad or God? Jesus: The healthiest mind of all (2018).[33][34]

Also, Christian apologists, such as Josh McDowell[35] and Lee Strobel,[36] take up the subject of Jesus' sanity defense.

The agnostic atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman wrote on his own blog:

And he may well have thought (I think he did think) that he would be made the messiah in the future kingdom. That may have been a rather exalted view of himself, but I don’t think it makes Jesus crazy. It makes him an unusually confident apocalyptic prophet. There were others with visions of grandeur at the time. I don’t think that makes him mentally ill. It makes him a first-century apocalyptic Jew.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Binet-Sanglé, Charles (1908–1915). La folie de Jésus [The Madness of Jesus] (in French). 1–4. Paris: A. Maloine. LCCN 08019439. OCLC 4560820.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Havis, Don (April–June 2001). "An Inquiry into the Mental Health of Jesus: Was He Crazy?". Secular Nation. Minneapolis: Atheist Alliance Inc. ISSN 1530-308X. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
  3. ^ Bundy, Walter E. (1922). The Psychic Health of Jesus. New York: The Macmillan Company. p. 4. LCCN 22005555. OCLC 644667928.
  4. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Antichrist, § 31, 32
  5. ^ Bundy, Walter E. (1922). The Psychic Health of Jesus. New York: The Macmillan Company. p. 19. LCCN 22005555. OCLC 644667928.
  6. ^ Lomer, Georg (1905). Jesus Christus vom Standtpunkte des Psychiaters [Jesus Christ from the Standpoint of a Psychiatrist]. Bamberg: Handels-Druckerei. p. 90. OCLC 31247627.
  7. ^ a b Gettis, Alan (June 1987). "The Jesus delusion: A theoretical and phenomenological look". Journal of Religion and Health. Springer. 26 (2): 131–136. doi:10.1007/BF01533683. ISSN 1573-6571. JSTOR 27505915. PMID 24301876.
  8. ^ Hirsch, William (1912). Religion and civilization; the conclusions of a psychiatrist. New York: Truth Seeker. LCCN 12002696. OCLC 39864035.
  9. ^ Sirotkina, I. (2003). Diagnosing Literary Genius: A Cultural History of Psychiatry in Russia, 1880—1930. JHU Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-8018-7689-9.
  10. ^ Минц, Я. В. (1927). "Иисус Христос — как тип душевнобольного" [Jesus Christ: A Sample of Mentally Ill]. Клинический архив гениальности и одарённости (эвропатологии) (in Russian). Vol. 3, Iss. 3. Leningrad. pp. 243–252.
  11. ^ Дождикова, Надежда (2009). "Чем был недоволен Берлиоз? О романе М. А. Булгакова ″Мастер и Маргарита″ и ″проблеме Христа″". Нева (in Russian) (7). ISSN 0130-741X. Retrieved 2019-05-11.
  12. ^ Sargant, William (22 August 1974). "The movement in psychiatry away from the philosophical". The Times: 14. ISSN 0140-0460.  Perhaps, even earlier, Jesus Christ might simply have returned to his carpentry following the use of modern [psychiatric] treatments. 
  13. ^ Persaud, Raj (27 April 1993). "Health: A madman can look a lot like a messiah: There is no easy way for cult followers to tell if their leader is sane, says Raj Persaud". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-10-25.  Two thousand years ago Jesus received a crown of thorns. Today the Messianic have electro-convulsive therapy. 
  14. ^ Berguer, Georges (1920). Quelques traits de la vie de Jésus: au point de vue psychologique et psychanalytique [Some features of Jesus′ life: from a psychological and psychoanalytic point of view]. Genève–Paris: Edition Atar. OCLC 417009760.
  15. ^ Murray, Evan D.; Cunningham, Miles G.; Price, Bruce H. (September 2011). "The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered". Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. American Psychiatric Association. 24 (4): 410–426. doi:10.1176/appi.neuropsych.11090214. ISSN 1545-7222. PMID 23224447. Mark 3:21 confirms a occasion where Jesus' friends and family viewed him as mad or "beside himself."
  16. ^ Hirsch, William (1912). Religion and civilization; the conclusions of a psychiatrist. New York: Truth Seeker. p. 135. LCCN 12002696. OCLC 39864035. That the other members of his own family considered him insane, is said quite plainly, for the openly declare, "He is beside himself."
  17. ^ Kashmar, Gene (1995). All the obscenities in the Bible. Brooklyn Center, MN: Kas-Mark Publishing Co. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-9645-9950-5. He was thought to be insane by his own family and neighbors in 'when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself ... (Mark 3:21-22 – The Greek existemi translated beside himself, actually means insane and witless), The Greek word ho para translated friends, also means family.
  18. ^ a b Webster Bible
  19. ^ Young's Literal Translation
  20. ^ Witwicki, Władysław (1958). Dobra Nowina według Mateusza i Marka [The Good News according to Matthew and Mark] (in Polish). Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe. OCLC 681830910.
  21. ^ Szmyd, Jan (1996). Psychologiczny obraz religijności i mistyki: z badań psychologów polskich [Psychological picture of religiousness and mysticism: from the research of the Polish psychologists] (in Polish). Kraków: Wydawn. Naukowe WSP. p. 197. ISBN 978-8-3868-4154-7.
  22. ^ Citlak, Amadeusz (2015). "Psychobiography of Jesus Christ in view of Władysław Witwicki's theory of cratism". Journal for Perspectives of Economic Political and Social Integration. Scientific Society KUL. 21 (1–2): 155–184. doi:10.2478/pepsi-2015-0007. ISSN 2300-0945.
  23. ^ Jarzyńska, Karina (2008-04-10). "Jezus jako egocentryczny schizotymik". Racjonalista (in Polish). Fundacja Wolnej Myśli. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  24. ^ Not to be confused with Polish philosopher and lawyer Leszek Nowak (1943–2009) also from Poznań.
  25. ^ Leszek Nowak, Prywatna Witryna Internetowa Leszka Nowaka at Internet Archive (in Polish)
  26. ^ Analysis of fragments of the New Testament books for Jesus as apocalyptic prophet: Leszek Nowak, "A great mistake and disappointment of early Christianity" at Internet Archive (in Polish)
  27. ^ Leszek Nowak, "Prowokator" ("Instigator") at Internet Archive (in Polish)
  28. ^ a b c d e Murray, Evan D.; Cunningham, Miles G.; Price, Bruce H. (September 2011). "The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered". Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. American Psychiatric Association. 24 (4): 410–426. doi:10.1176/appi.neuropsych.11090214. ISSN 1545-7222. PMID 23224447.
  29. ^ Schweitzer, Albert (1975). The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: Exposition and Criticism. Translated by Joy, Charles R. Gloucester, Mass: Peter Smith. ISBN 978-0844628943.
  30. ^ Schweitzer, Albert (1913). Die psychiatrische Beurteilung Jesu: Darstellung und Kritik (in German). Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck). LCCN 13021072. OCLC 5903262.
  31. ^ Bundy, Walter E. (1922). The Psychic Health of Jesus. New York: The Macmillan Company. LCCN 22005555. OCLC 644667928.
  32. ^ Hyder, Olivier Quentin (1977-12-01). "On the Mental Health of Jesus Christ". Journal of Psychology and Theology. Biola University. 5 (1): 3–12. doi:10.1177/009164717700500101. ISSN 0091-6471.
  33. ^ Martinez, Pablo; Sims, Andrew (2018). Mad or God? Jesus: The healthiest mind of all. Westmont: InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-1-783-59606-5.
  34. ^ Sims, Andrew (2018-07-17). "Mad or God? A senior psychiatrist on the mental health of Jesus". Christian News on Christian Today. Christian Today. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  35. ^ McDowell, Josh (1977). "Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?". More Than a Carpenter. Wheaton, Illinois: Living Books. pp. 22–32. ISBN 978-0-8423-4552-1.
  36. ^ Strobel, Lee (2013). "The Psychological Evidence". The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. pp. 154–166. ISBN 978-0-3103-3930-4.
  37. ^ Ehrman, Bart D. "Were Jesus' Followers Crazy? Was He? Mailbag June 4, 2016". The Bart Ehrman Blog. Retrieved 5 February 2019.

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