3. Psychology of Jesus
PSYCHOLOGY OF JESUS
3.1. Nietzsche on Jesus
The first to take on Jesus as a psychologist, though not as a medically trained psychopathologist, was the German scholar and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the greatest critics of Christianity (who ended up suffering an irreversible mental breakdown himself). Like many Christians, he thought that the historical Christ was a very different man from the Christ of theology. Thus, Christ had renounced the law and chosen a life of childlike innocence, whereas the Churches had built an elaborate system of morality on top of his teachings.
However, unlike some softhearted poetic Christians who felt unhappy with dogmatic Christianity and attracted to the �experiential� Christianity of Christ himself, Nietzsche rejected this original religion of Christ. For him, Christ was a décadent. This somewhat technical term in Nietzsche�s philosophy means: someone who has given up worldly ambitions, who is tired of the world with its passion and struggle, who wants to retire to some kind of paradisiacal sphere. Such a prophet may be good for people who are tired of this world, weak and unhappy people, losers.
In Nietzsche�s assessment, Jesus was anti-world, anti-mighty, anti-order, anti-hierarchy, anti-labour, anti-struggle, anti-difference. Total non-struggle, surrender, softness, love. That is the Jesus who is still somewhat popular among those few young dreamers attracted to Christianity. Tolstoy thought this was the real Christ, sharply different from the Church�s Christ created by Saint Paul. For instance, obedience to the worldly authorities is a duty for Church Christians, not for the original Christ. Nietzsche, while agreeing with Tolstoy on the contrast between Jesus and the Church teachings, does not follow him in choosing for the original Jesus. He merely sees two forms of decadence at work, both to be rejected. But he will agree that Jesus� attitude was his own problem, whereas Saint Paul�s attitude (and theology) has sickened an entire civilization.
While Jesus preached a spontaneous and unconcerned life, his posthumous disciple Paul, �the first Christian�, would build a full-fledged theology out of a few elements of Jesus� career and teaching, an ideological system that has very little to do with the actual Jesus. For Jesus, the concepts of Sin and of Law had lost all meaning. He believed in sinlessness, no need to tread any specific path of morality to avoid sin. But in Christianity, sin becomes the raison d�être of religion: Christ has come, suffered and risen in order to save humanity from sin.
And yet, somehow this Salvation is not complete, because on top of it, man must also go under the yoke of a system of morality, adapted with strong simplification (deritualization) from the Mosaic Law, in order to earn his place in Heaven. It is this emphasis on dry morality that has made Pauline Christianity so unpopular among the pleasure-seeking section of humanity. A lot of modern Western literature is about people outgrowing their tense submission to Christian morality. Some Protestant sects have decided that morality is not instrumental in our Salvation (though for the sake of public order they support morality and explain that one�s degree of morality is a sign, but not a factor, of one�s predestination for either Heaven or Hell), but they too stick to the notion of sin as fundamental to the human condition until Jesus saves us.
The question of �salvation� through one�s own �works� or through mere �faith� in Jesus� autonomous act of Salvation is a much-debated one among Christian thinkers including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin etc. The controversy exists, mutatis mutandis, in some other traditions too, e.g. Shaiva Siddhanta. Borrowing a Shaiva metaphor, we might say that Christianity too has advocates of �the way of the kitten�, which is grabbed by its mother and �saved� without effort, and of �the way of the baby monkey�, which clings on to its mother and is �saved� through its own effort. But in Christianity, unlike Shaivism, one is saved not from ignorance about one�s own ever-divine Self (i.e. restored to one�s own intrinsic divinity), but from one�s own ever-sinful self. No one is a Christian if he does not accept that we human beings are all intrinsically sinful, and that Jesus has come to save us from sin. But, all according to Nietzsche, Jesus never cared about sin. Contrary to Jesus, Christianity feeds us an obsession of being profoundly evil and God-alienated.
At this point we must comment that Nietzsche has taken the traditional image of Jesus too much for granted, an image built on those Bible stories that are the most likely to be inserted borrowings from other sects, such as the Sermon on the Mount. In the more reliable Gospel passages, we find that the historical Jesus was not the exalted, ever-innocent pacifist and passivist he is often made out to be.
One thing that Nietzsche has against the Christianity of the Church still dominant in his time, is that it is not religious enough. Religion for Jesus was a revolutionary thing, an extreme thing. And while Jesus� religiosity was bizarre and unintegrated in the world (it was an anticipation of the Kingdom of Heaven expected soon), it has a certain kind of uncomplicatedness and cheerfulness about it which is proper in a healthy religion. But Pauline moralistic Christianity is drab, unhealthy, worrisome, negatively limiting without offering anything positive and great in return. Nietzsche�s own religiosity is a longing for the superhuman which transcends human smallness. It is the antithesis of Pauline Christianity, which to him seems to have nothing great and mentally uplifting to it.
While Christ�s religion is centred on love and surrender, Paul�s Christianity becomes, in Nietzsche�s analysis, the religion of hatred and revenge. Paul was obsessed with the Law, the central topic for the Pharisees. He was painfully aware of man�s (esp. his own) incapability to live up to the letter of the Law. Fortunately, Christ has delivered us from the Law, and replaced it with the �law of love�: a revolution. So far, Paul is in tune with the spirit of Christ, as Nietzsche understood it. But in Paul�s vision, this revolution comes hand in hand with another revolution, in one movement: the abrogation of the Law is the ideological starting-point of Christianity�s mission among the Gentiles. Paul�s life, and with it that of many others, will no longer be burdened with the Law, but will now burden itself with a new task, unprecedented in history. Paul breaks with Judaism and its oppressive Law observance, and starts to win the rest of humanity for Christ. His own frustrated desire to live up to the demands of the Law, now gets transformed into a tremendous ambition to spread his new-found religion of Salvation through Christ.
Nietzsche draws the parallel with Luther, who had aspired so earnestly to live an ascetic life and fulfill the commandments imposed by Church teaching, but had ended up hating the Church and the pope and the monastic rules so bitterly that he became their declared enemy, crusading to spread an alternative. Paul is so tired of the Law, that he turns into a follower of its declared enemy, Jesus, once a psycho-physiological crisis had broken through his resistance. As Dr. Somers has shown, this crisis, befalling Paul on the road to Damascus, was a sunstroke, of which the effects and sensations were afterwards interpreted as a divine revelation. Once this liberating decision to break with the Law has its exalting effect on him, he feels that this solution for him, is also the solution for mankind. He will now become the apostle of the destruction of the Law, which has been replaced by faith in Christ.
Saint Paul was not a prophet, but he was a political genius. He saw the potential of his new doctrine and of the situation in the Roman empire, especially the provincial towns. Away from the worldly turmoil of Rome and from the extremist zealotry of Palestine (two places where the Christians would encounter plenty of martyrdom), Paul found the optimum terrain for the onward march of his new religion. In these towns (in Greece and Asia Minor), he would set up communities that would imitate the social ways of the Jewish communities spread across the Empire, with their honourable inconspicuous lives as craftsmen and traders, with their mutual support and communal solidarity, and with their quiet sense of superiority as the Chosen People. Instead of the unbearable burden of the Mosaic law, he would give them some petty bourgeois morality, but all the same he would promote among them this communal superiority feeling of being the Saved ones in Christ.
The contrast between Jesus and Pauline Christianity, is treated by Nietzsche as a contrast between two doctrines. Nietzsche does not really analyse Jesus� personality, self-perception or public image. He mistrusts the historicity of the Gospels. At the time, the critical method of investigating the historicity of pieces and layers of text was not as refined, and especially the psychological analysis which 20th century psychologists tried out on Jesus, was not yet at his disposal. So, his psychological evaluation of Jesus, and of Saint Paul, the creator of Christianity, concerns more the ideology they represent than their historical personalities. Nietzsche puts their personalities between brackets, and concentrates on the ideologies that their (doubtlessly distorted) Biblical biographies represent.
One might say that Nietzsche�s view of Jesus was very one-sided. The peaceful apostle of love is a popular image of Jesus based on only a few gospel texts: the Sermon on the Mount; �when you get slapped, offer the other cheek also�; �he who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword�; �the lilies of the field don�t toil, yet Solomon in his splendour was not as good-looking as any of them�; �do not judge lest you yourself by judged�. These passages are of disputed historicity, while many reliably historical passages show us a very different Christ. short-tempered, defiant, and a Doomsday prophet. The gentle Jesus, who was in Nietzsche�s view the original Jesus whose teaching and example were later deformed by Pauline Christianity, was himself just as much a creation of his second-generation disciples.
While Nietzsche�s evaluation of Christ is somewhat marred by the immaturity of the historical research on Christ, his understanding of the Old Testament already had the benefit of a Biblical scholarship that has, in great outline, been confirmed by the more recent scholarship. The chronology of the Old Testament had more or less been established, and the political context of the successive stages of editing were already understood.
According to Nietzsche, Yahweh�s support for his people came to be seen as �conditional� and dependent upon the Hebrews� own behaviour, when they had become losers on the international scene. God was no longer seen to be giving them victory, so they tried to regain control over their destiny by assuming God�s support to be dependent upon their own moral behaviour (observance of the Law). Nietzsche considered the Bible�s emphasis on morality as a revenge operation of a defeated people: winners are not burdened with morality, which is the weapon of the losers.
Nietzsche has paid little attention to the next stage in Israel�s religion. During the period of the exile, prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and deutero-Isaiah had again disconnected God�s sovereign decision from man�s degree of obedience to God�s will. Man�s morality and law-abidingness no longer make a difference: God�s judgment has already been determined, his final intervention will come anyway, and our Salvation will be brought about not by our own goodness but by the Messiah. The apocalyptic stage in the doctrinal development in Hebrew religion, which will culminate in the Jewish rebellions of the first and early second centuries AD, was already appearing on the horizon at the time of the exile, when the classical doctrine of the Covenant, the mutual contract between Yahweh and His chosen people, was still being formulated and imposed upon Israel�s history through the final Bible editing.
While Nietzsche�s analysis concerns ideologies or collective mind-sets rather than persons, and while some of his insights have simply become outdated by the newest Bible research, he has the merit of being one of the first to apply human psychology to the supposedly divine revelation embodied in the Bible. He was instrumental in breaking the spell that had been shielding the Bible from critical inquiry. Moreover, unlike the radical atheists and skeptics who simply disregarded the Bible or dismissed it as fable, Nietzsche took the more balanced position of �honouring� it as a highly interesting and psychologically revealing human document.
3.2. Psycho-analyzing Jesus
Shortly after Nietzsche made his psychological analysis of what he understood as Christian doctrine, rightly or wrongly attributed to the historical Jesus by the Gospel editors, professional psychologists tried to get at the historical personality of Jesus. In the beginning and more even at the end of this twentieth century AD, psychology has thrown a mighty new light upon the development of the Abrahamic or prophetic-monotheist lineage of religions.
Since the dawn of modem Western psychology, the Bible has interested psychologists. Freud, the Austrian-Jewish father of psychoanalysis, gave a lot of attention to the character of Moses. For example, in Freudian theory, Moses� lack of a normal father relation (according to the Bible, he was a foundling brought up in the Egyptian court) made him an excellent object of study: this circumstance could have accounted for his sternly authoritarian and patriarchal conception of God. Even more unorthodoxly, Freud claimed that Moses had not been a Jew but a high-placed Egyptian: fearing trouble after committing a murder, he had joined the impending Exodus of the beleaguered Jewish immigrant community.
Freud was very hesitant to publish his work on Moses, because he expected it to shock the Jewish community, and that at a time when Nazi Germany was taking one anti-Jewish measure after another. Freud�s work is in many ways outdated, but remains of great importance in this context because he did, even while expressing his great scruples and hesitation, what many believing Jews and Christians could not intellectually tolerate: he looked at the founder of his religion through the inexorable eyes of scientific analysis. Some other older psychological studies of Bible characters include C.G. Jung�s study of job and K. Jaspers� study of Ezekiel.
Probably the first attempt to analyze Jesus was made in the late 19th century by the French neurologist Jules Soury, also known as the secretary of Ernest Renan. Inspired by remarks by David Friedrich Strauss, who had called Jesus a rabid fanatic, Soury wanted to go beyond scornful rhetoric and apply the budding science of neurology to the case of Jesus. However, it was the heyday of materialism in the human sciences, and with the conceptual instruments at his disposal, he could hardly do justice to psychic phenomena. In his diagnosis, he settled for a highly disputable verdict which we would consider more physiological than psychological: �progressive paralysis�.
The first truly psychopathological diagnosis of Jesus was made separately by three psychiatrists, W. Hirsch, Ch. Binet-Sanglé, and G.L. de Loosten. After thorough examination of the Gospel narratives, they independently reached the same conclusion: Jesus was mentally ill and suffered from paranoia. In E. Kraepelin�s classification of mental diseases, paranoia is defined as �the sneaking development of a persistent and unassailable delusion system, in which clarity of thought, volition and action are nonetheless preserved�.
In his reply, the Christian theologian and famous medical doctor, Albert Schweitzer, admitted: �if it were really to turn out that to a doctor, Jesus� world-view must in some way count as morbid, then this must not - regardless of any implications or the shock to many - remain unspoken, because one must put respect for the truth above all else.� But he rejected the psychiatrists� conclusions.
Schweitzer alleged that from a historical point of view, most texts were dubious or certainly not historical, e.g. the quotations from the Gospel of St John, the most theologically polished and least historical of the four Gospels; and that from a medical point of view, the alleged symptoms were misunderstood. Three objections seemed essential:
- there is no certainty about the historical truth of the texts;
what seems to us to be a symptom, was possibly a normal trait, a cultural feature in that civilization;
there are not enough fully reliable elements in order to base a safe judgment on them; even the pathological symptoms claimed, viz. pathological Ego-delusion and hallucinations, are insufficient to conclude a definite diagnosis.
These objections can be met, as we shall see in subsequent chapters. The last of the three can be met right away: if a psychiatrist notices both hallucinatory crises and an Ego-delusion in a patient, he will most certainly conclude that these are symptoms of a mental affliction, and this all the more certainly if they can be identified as a known syndrome, and are accompanied by a number of coherent typical behavioral features.
Dr. Schweitzer was not a psychiatrist, but his Doctor�s title was already enough to put all doubts to rest. After his reply the Churches felt reassured, and few outsiders made new attempts to psycho-analyze Jesus.
An exception is Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum, with the chapter �The problem of Jesus� in his book Genie, Irrsinn und Ruhm (German: �Genius, Madness and Fame�), of which we have excerpts from the third edition at our disposal: it was still prepared by the author himself in 1942, while the fourth edition of 1956 has been seriously tampered with by outsiders, esp. in this chapter.
Dr. Lange-Eichbaum writes: �The personality during the psychosis (we only know Jesus during this life stage) is characterized by quick-tempered soreness and a remarkable egocentrism. What is not with him, is cursed. He loves everything that is below him and does not diminish his Ego: the simple followers, the children, the weak, the poor in spirit, the sick, the publicans and sinners, the murderers and the prostitutes. By contrast, he utters threats against everyone who is established, powerful and rich, which points to a condition of resentment. In this, all is puerile-autistic, naive, dreamy. In this basic picture of his personality, there is one more trait that is clearly distinguishable: Jesus was a sexually abnormal man. Apart from his entire life-story, what speaks for this is the quotations of Mt. 19:12 (the eunuch ideal), Mk. 12:25 (no sex in heaven, asexuality as ideal) and also Mt. 5:29 (removing the body parts that cause sin: intended are certainly not hand and eye). The cause may have been a certain weakness of libido, as is common among paranoia sufferers�
�There is a lack of joy in reality, extreme seriousness, lack of humour, a predominantly depressed, disturbed, tense condition; coldness towards others insofar as they don�t flatter his ego, towards his mother and siblings, lack of balance: now weak and fearful, now with violent outbursts of anger and affective lack of proportion� According to both modern and ancient standards, he was intellectually undeveloped, as Binet has extensively proven; but he had a good memory and was, as is apparent from the parables, a visual type. Binet also emphasizes the lack of creativity. A certain giftedness in imagination, eloquence and imaginative-symbolic thought and expression cannot be denied. He was certainly not a �genius� in the strict modem sense. The later psychosis is however in no way in contradiction with his original giftedness which was above average: in paranoia this is quite common�
�The entry in Jerusalem is doubtlessly the result of increased excitement: psychically, Jesus is on fire. For laymen as well as for theologians, there is something painful and absurd about this entry. Isn�t the psychotic streak all too obvious here? Hirsch calls the parade on the donkey �absurd and ridiculous� and Schweitzer too finds it painful. It is only enacted to fulfill the Messiah prophecy, secretively and for the eye of his followers. It may be sad or tragic-comical that the buffoon-king is making his entry this way. Nowhere is the purposeless nature of psychotic activity more in evidence than in the entry in Jerusalem: his acts lack any logic. What does Jesus want? He is tossed this way and then that way. Worldly power? Yes and no. Messiah claim? Yes and no. Defiance and death wish? Yes and no�
�The exact diagnosis is not that important for us. A paranoid psychosis: that may be enough. Maybe real paranoia, maybe schizophrenia but without irreversible decay, in the form of a paraphrenia. Or a paranoia based on an earlier slightly schizophrenic shift. Anyone checking with the extant scientific literature is struck by the remarkable similarity of the symptoms.�
Dr. Lange-Eichbaum�s diagnosis belongs to an earlier stage in the development of psychopathology, when all kinds of explanations were read into symptoms, without using strict criteria. Freud�s psycho-analysis is so notoriously full of unfalsifiable statements (i.e. impossible to prove wrong, escaping every cold test) that Karl Popper classifies it among the pseudo-sciences along with astrology. Dr. Lange-Eichbaum stays closer to factual reality in his description of symptoms, but is hazy in the formulation of a final diagnosis. Moreover, his knowledge of the Biblical backgrounds and the Roman-Hellenistic cultural milieu are limited, so that many possibly pertinent facts escape his attention. We would have to wait for Dr. Somers� multidisciplinary competence to formulate a truly comprehensive diagnosis.
There is an element of modem man�s triumphalism, so typical of the Enlightenment, in Lange-Eichbaum�s conclusions: �Can an intelligent and critically disposed person, who has abandoned childish beliefs and childish prejudice, seriously doubt that this is a case of psychosis? For an educated mind this psychosis is so clearly discernible that he would expect even the layman to notice it. Jesus� destiny cannot possibly be understood without the aid of psychopathology. The dark misgiving which historical theology has had for the past 100 years, was on the right track. Anyone who surveys the extant literature, can see it with shocking clarity. The notion that Jesus was a mentally ill person, cannot be removed anymore from the scientific investigation. This notion is triumphant. First, science has brought Jesus down from his divine throne and declared him human; now it will also recognize him as a sick man.�
A confirmation that the dispassionate study of Jesus as a human person leads irrevocably to a psychopathological diagnosis, is given by a Protestant preacher, Hermann Werner. Objecting to �liberal� theology with its historicization and humanization of the divine person Jesus (in the theological line of research known as the Leben Jesu-Forschung, �investigation of Jesus� life�), he shows what becomes of Jesus when he is measured with human standards: �The image of Jesus as [the liberal theologians] want to describe it in ever greater detail, got equipped with traits which made it ever less commendable. This Jesus is, no matter how much one would want to ward off this conclusion, mentally not healthy but sick. Although man�s - and certainly Jesus� - deepest life, is a mystery which we cannot unveil down to its deepest roots, yet certain limits can be agreed upon within which one�s self-consciousness must remain if it is to be sane and human. There are, after all, unassailable standards which are valid for all times, for the ancient oriental as well as for the modem western. Except in completely uncivilized times and nations, no one has ever been declared entirely sane and normal who held himself to be a supernatural being, God or a deity, or who made claims to divine qualities and privileges. A later legend may ascribe such things to this or that revered person, but when someone claims it for himself, his audience has always consisted exclusively of inferior minds incapable of proper judgment��
Perhaps Rev. Hermann underestimates the belief of the ancient civilized Pagans in the possibility of divine incarnation, of having a divine person in their midst, in which the meaning of the word �divine� can be stretched a bit; but then he is right in assuming that this divine status is normally only ascribed to the revered person after his death. That the modem skepsis towards claims of being a divine person were shared by Jesus� contemporaries, can be seen from the Gospel itself. The Jews (for whom this skepsis became indignation for reasons of exclusive monotheism) wanted to kill Jesus �because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God� (John 5:18), and �because you, being a man, make yourself God� (John 10:33). Either Jesus was really God�s only-born son (and by accepting that, you become a believing Christian), or his claim to divine status was absurd and abnormal by the standards of both ancients and moderns. A liberal theology which humanizes Jesus and yet remains Christian, is impossible: it is either the �fundamentalist� belief in Jesus� divinity, or no belief in Jesus Christ at all.
Rev. Hermann concludes: �Everyone knows that the sources on Jesus� life are insufficient for writing his biography. But they are sufficient to reach the conclusion that he was a pathological personality. At any rate, these are the conclusions which liberal theology has reached by thinking and taking into account the findings of modern psychiatry.�
3.3. Jesus the magician
From the Gospel it is amply clear that Jesus was first of all known to his contemporaries and to the audiences of later Christian preachers as a miracle-worker, a magician. He must have had an aura of intensity about him. He impressed the ordinary people with his charismatic airs, and he believed in his own miracle-working act. The role he fulfilled in the eyes of his followers, was that of the exorcist, a well-known type in those days (though the characters filling this role must have been of diverse kinds and dispositions).
The softness and harmlessness which peaceniks have sought in Jesus, was an image possibly based on some historical events in Jesus� life, but certainly not the dominant traits of his character or public image. He would never have become such a public and controversial figure had he been such a simple dove.
In popular preaching and counter-polemic, miracles were the most important topic. As late as the third century, the Pagan polemist Porphyry tried to counter Jesus with the story of Apollonius of Tyana, who was also depicted as a miracle-worker. Jesus was accused by audiences and rival preachers of having an evil spirit himself, thought to be the cause of all kinds of ailments with which people came to miracle-workers. Much in the miracle reports in the Gospels is polemic against such allegations.
While some miracle stories are simply unbelievable, there is a historical core in quite a few of them. Thus, the procedure of demanding that the evil spirit declare its name accurately fits the exorcism procedures then in use.
Moreover, some of the miracle stories convey information which was not useful to the early preachers, much less to the later theologians. For instance, Jesus chasing the evil spirits of the possessed man of Gerasa into the swine, is, in spite of what theologians may say, not very edifying. Those swine who lost their lives had done no harm to anyone; their owner, who lost a source of income, had not done any wrong to anyone. Certainly this story cannot be meant as a symbol for �Jesus defeating the forces of evil�, as some theologians claim. In fact it is quite an authentic report of what was believed to be a miracle (which interested the common people a lot more than the defeat of Evil). But as we have seen in ch.2.2, its details suggest precisely that both Jesus and his followers deluded themselves, mistaking the end of the acute crisis for the end of the chronic disease, and mistaking an ordinary symptom for a miraculous cure. Like the crowds, Jesus saw Jesus as a man of miracles. Like many Pagans, he believed that a divine being could walk on the earth; but unlike them, he (and Paul and the theologians after him) also gave this an interpretation of a unique and exclusive divine status.
If miracles are the only argument for the supposed divinity of Jesus, one must take into account that a number of these are certainly pseudo-miracles. The other miracles, which are unverifiable either way, become equally suspect, if one considers the fact that not Jesus, nor the disciples were able to see the difference between the end of a crisis and the end of a disease. With regard to the exorcisms it is very dear that Jesus, as the Gospel attests, cannot prevent the devil from coming back (Mt 12: 43-45).
We should also study the cases where Jesus refuses to do a miracle: e.g. in Nazareth (where everybody knows him); before the Syro-Phoenician woman; when the Pharisees ask for one. One should understand the difficult position of somebody who has to do miracles and to heal the sick in a village where everybody knows everybody. If there are true recoveries, anybody will know; but pseudo-recoveries will soon be seen for what they are. So Jesus refuses to do miracles before his home community. One could also wonder why the Pharisees had to ask for a sign, if it was true that so many miracles were taking place already. Further, one can suppose that some miracles were simply declarations of Jesus that somebody was healed. Thus, from the ten leper-patients declared cured, only one came back. The nine others, sent to the priests for verification, had obviously not been declared cured. So, the miracles of Jesus cannot seriously be considered as a proof of divinity.
Suppose the Son of God really appeared on earth, would he need miracles of disputable quality to prove his identity? Surely he could do something unmistakably supernatural like, say, actually moving a mountain (which he declares possible for those who have faith)? The whole story of these shaky miracles supports the hypothesis of an ego-delusion which made Jesus really believe in his supernatural powers, combined with a willingness on the part of a gullible and uneducated community of fishermen to be over-awed by the divine airs which Jesus gave himself.
3.4. Sifting out the real Jesus
We know by now that the Gospel is not a 100% authentic report about Jesus� doings and sayings. But it is possible to more or less sift out the authentic core from the theological additions. Some of the recognizable additions are the following.
According to the Gospels, Jesus is tried and sentenced by the Jews, with Pilate a mild and innocent bystander. In reality, Pilate was a cruel governor, and even the central rulers in Rome ended up removing him from office for causing too much trouble by his harshness. As for the �Jews�, it was the priests who tried Jesus, but the crowds (at least in the province) who supported him. But after the defeat of the Jewish rebels at the hands of Titus in 70 AD, it became more rewarding for the Christian missionary strategy to move closer to the Romans and emphasize their separateness from the Jews. These could now be blamed for everything, while an early sympathy for Christ on the part of the Roman governor was also suggested.
That is why Pilate is made to say: �I see no guilt in this man� I wash my hands in innocence.� On the other hand, the Jewish crowd is reported in the Gospel as clamouring for Jesus� death: �His blood may come over us and our descendents�, so that they become morally guilty of �deicide�, god-murder. On the basis of this Gospel story, the Church has considered the Jews as the murderers of Jesus, a stigma it has only removed (and that only on condition that they dis-identify with the Jewish generation contemporary with Jesus) in 1962.
It is possible that Pilate had sympathy for everyone who was a troublemaker to the Jews, whom he hated, but the depiction of his personality is certainly the product of missionary editing. The allotment of guilt in the story of Jesus� trial is in very large measure responsible for centuries of Christian anti-semitism, culminating in Auschwitz. This allotment of guilt, with its far-reaching consequences, was the product of conscious history distortion by the early Christian missionaries, who considered it opportune to identify with the Romans and blame the Jews.
A similar political turn is probably the key to the story of Jesus saying: �Give unto Caesar what is Caesar�s, and unto God what is God�s.� At first the Christians were very uncompromising and they refused to pay taxes: they expected the Second Coming and the destruction of the Empire. When that changed (around 55, probably because at first the new emperor Nero had raised high expectations among the Christians, or because Claudius� persecutions had forced them into compromise), they justified this change to some of their more radical followers, and at the same time assured Roman or pro-Roman listeners about the genuineness of this new policy by invoking Jesus� own authority. So, possibly this well-known episode is not historical, but a motivated insertion.
A lot of the parables and sermons attributed to Jesus may well be common proverbs and insights of the contemporary religio-cultural scene. For instance, the dictum: �To him who hath, shall be given, but from him who doeth not have, even what he hath shall be taken�, may well have been a commonly known observation on life. Most people will feel compelled to give bigger presents to rich friends than to poor friends on a similar occasion: it is the kind of common knowledge that ends up crystallizing into a proverb. Jesus himself may have applied this dictum to a religious topic (the Kingdom of Heaven), but even in its application to a religious context, it may have been borrowed from the Pharisees or from one of the proliferating sects of the time.
It is very common that the miracles of one saint are attributed to another saint by the latter�s followers. In Communist books, I have found Voltaire�s witticisms being attributed to Karl Marx. The pranks attributed to the Turkic wit Mollah Nasruddin (now popular in the People�s Republic as A-fan-ti, i.e. Effendi) have been appropriated in Indian sources for the Indian wit Birbal, and vice versa. So, it is only normal that wise and saintly statements that carried an aura of respected profundity, were put in Jesus� mouth by followers.
An important statement of Christian doctrine that was probably borrowed from sectarian sources, either by Jesus or by the Gospel editors, is the Sermon on the Mount. Another Christian classic, the injunction to �love thy neighbour as thyself�, is typically pharisaic, and in tune with traditional morality expressed here and there in the Old Testament. It can readily be linked with pharisee Hillel�s famous statement that the Jewish law can essentially be summed up as: �What ye do not want done unto you, do not do that unto others�,- the Golden Rule which Hillel had in common with Confucius, among others.
A different type of addition by the Gospel editors is the hardening of miracle stories into fully attested reports. In the Gospel of John, written as the last of the four, we read that the apostle Thomas refused to believe that the man before him was the resurrected Jesus, so he asked to touch his wounds. And yes, they were real, it was the crucified and resurrected Jesus. This detail of the checking of Jesus� wounds is not present in the other Gospels. What happened was that Christian preachers used to relate the story of the resurrected Jesus� meeting with the apostles, and people in the audience would ask: �Did it really happen? Do you know this for sure-?� And so, to anticipate these questions, John fabricated a certificate of empirical proof.
Similarly, in the successive Gospels, the report on the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan becomes ever more �realistic�. Mark reports it as a subjective impression: �Jesus saw the heavens open and a dove descend on Him�. In Matthew this becomes: �And lo! The heavens opened and He saw God�s Spirit descend on Him in the shape of a dove.� The seeing of the dove is still a matter of Jesus� own subjective perception, but the interpretation that it was God�s Spirit has been added. According to Luke, �it happened that the Heavens opened and the Holy Spirit, in the physical shape of a dove, descended on Him�. Now, the whole episode has become an objective fact. Finally, John goes another step further: �And John [the Baptist] gave testimony and said: �I have seen that the Spirit descended as a dove from heaven� I have seen it myself and attested: this is the son of the Lord.�� This time, there is even a witness willing to testify.
What has started as a report of Jesus� subjective experience, recorded from Jesus� own report, has become an objective and even a well-attested fact. A theology as well as a polemical fortification is increasingly being imposed on the original innocent report. Now, all such insertions, suspected omissions, and reworked versions, can more or less be traced and mapped. After that, a solidly historical core remains. Among the reliably historical elements are those which go against the intentions of the Christian preachers, or those which are beyond their capacity of invention.
Therefore, a solidly historical element in the Gospel narrative is the psychopathological syndrome which is clearly present in Jesus� personality. The Gospel writers could not have invented such a coherent description of a well-defined syndrome even if they had wanted to, and secondly they certainly didn�t want to pass on such information about their Saviour. The syndrome so well illustrated in the Gospel is called paraphrenia.
3.5. Jesus the paraphrenic
Paraphrenia is a fairly rare mental affliction in which the patient develops a delusion (mostly genetic, i.e. concerning his parents or ancestry), which is triggered and fed by only rarely occurring hallucinatory crises. Starting from this delusion, he builds up an entire system complete with interpretative delusions (misreading events to make them fit, rather than disturb, the basic delusion). Otherwise he remains well-integrated in his environment. Paraphernia is sometimes classified in the larger category of �paranoia� and opposed to schizophrenia. In contrast to the schizophrenic, the paraphrenic remains adapted to his milieu, has a coherent thinking and a well-organized behaviour. Generally hallucinations are rare, but initiate a delusional state, often with a grandiose genetic theme. The paraphrenic is very sensitive to opposition to his ideas; he is therefore somewhat secretive, and often full of resentment and hate. This is exactly the image the Gospel has painted of Jesus.
If we assume this diagnosis, which is suggested by several striking events in Jesus� life, and extend it to understand his whole life story, the Gospel narrative becomes coherent. One hypothesis will suffice to explain diverse elements for which the exegetes now need a whole string of hypotheses: methodologically, that is a very strong point.
Today, the theologians have caught themselves in a construction of difficult and contradictory hypotheses that is convincing no one. The fundamentalists who refuse to think and therefore just take the whole Bible as God�s own word, ridicule the theologians with all their difficult terminology invented to create a conceptual framework in which the diverse and contradictory Bible narratives might make sense. The real scientist is equally unimpressed by the patchwork of hypotheses to which the theologians resort in order to make sense of the Gospel narrative. The paraphrenia hypothesis takes care of the entire Gospel narrative at once.
Jesus had, on all hands, a problem with the identity of his father. In the apocrypha, he is called �son of a whore�. According to the Jewish tradition, he was the son of the Roman soldier Pandera and the local girl Miriam (Mary), the hairdresser. The existence of a Roman soldier with that name has actually been verified. A few years after the start of the Christian Era, he was transferred to the legion in Germany, where a grave bearing his name has been found: perhaps the only left-over of the Holy Family. At any rate, the Gospel narrative is explicit enough that Jesus� conception was a matter of scandal: his social father Joseph wanted to break off his engagement with Mary when he found she was pregnant. In a village, such a circumstance could not possibly be kept secret from the child Jesus. In the playground he must have been reminded often enough of being an illegitimate child.
The first sign that Jesus is trying to work out his inner problem with his parentage, and at the same time that people think there is mentally something wrong with him, is his visit to the temple at age 12. For lack of a physical father, the only father that was left to him was the Creator, Yahweh. Like many boys of his age, he wanted to know more about his origins, and he looked for information in the Scriptures. When he went to the temple, he went to the house of his Father. There, he expected to learn more from the Scribes. The questions he asked them must have sounded strange to them. Jesus was hanging around for three days, without telling his parents anything. And when he returned home and his family got angry for his causing them so much worry, he replied: �Don�t you know I belong in my Father�s house?� He claimed the right to solve his own identity problem, even if that implied insensitivity to others� feelings. At that age, this behaviour is not abnormal, except that few youngsters would have taken Scriptural imagery so literally as to believe that their personal fatherhood problems could be solved by identifying God as the missing father.
The little bit of information about this childhood episode indicates a prodrome of the later crisis. By itself, the temple episode need not be pathological, it could have been a fairly ordinary event in the difficult puberty process of self-discovery. But it does betray a psychological setting in which a deeper mental disease can develop.
The first real crisis we hear of, is the baptism in the river Jordan. There, Jesus sees a bird coming from the opened sky, and hears a voice bringing an enormous message: �You are my son, in whom I take pleasure.� Seeing light, perceiving a bird (zooscopy), hearing a voice with a short message in the second person and which is absolute and takes away all doubts: that is the description of a typical sensorial hallucination.
The famous Flemish theologian Edward Schillebeeckx sees in the baptism episode �Jesus� vocation meaningfully surrounded by interpretative visions�. This implies that the visions were literary embellishment, meaningful but nonetheless unhistorical and invented by human beings. Progressive theologians like Schillebeeckx abhor the traditionalist more literal interpretation. They dislike supernatural things like �visions� and voices from the sky. But with that, they fail to give a coherent explanation of why this imagery is being created (and why, as we have seen, John tries to make his audience believe that the events were very real). In this case, the literal interpretation is the more scientific one: the bird did appear, the voice did speak from the sky - but only as a subjective experience of the mental patient Jesus, rather than as an objective cosmic revelation directly from God the Creator.
In the Bible numerous texts mention the hearing of voices, especially the voice of God. Current exegesis interprets these texts as metaphorical: �hearing the voice of God� is simply the expression for a vocation by God. Sometimes, this metaphorical interpretation is justified: to take an example from outside the Biblical tradition, when the Greek philosopher Parmenides says that �a god has revealed� his philosophy of Being to him, it is just a manner of speaking, not an actual auditory hallucination. In psychopathology however, �hearing a voice� is a common expression for an auditory hallucination, often accompanied by other sensorial hallucinations, esp. visions (other phenomena include feeling of heat or of being pierced by needles). That the voices heard by Jesus were hallucinatory, is even admitted by Albert Schweitzer.
Important supportive information for the paraphrenia thesis is furnished by the apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews. It relates that Jesus� family thinks he is possessed by a demon, and that they want him to try this baptism as a possible way of exorcising the demon; he is at first unwilling (all accounts mention a preliminary discussion between Jesus and John the Baptist). It seems that Jesus� behaviour had been strange for some time already, and now that there is an exorcist in the neighbourhood, the remedy should be tried: if it doesn�t help, it doesn�t harm either. But the emotionally charged baptism experience triggers a �revelation� that will plunge Jesus completely into a distorted self-image.
Typical for the delusion that gets articulated in such a sensorial hallucination, is the absolute certainty with which the patient believes in it. Jesus will doubt no more: he is the son of the heavenly Father. Later, when a Church theology was developed, this notion of God as the personal Father was made into a central theme in Christianity, setting it apart from the Mosaic �Old Covenant�. In the latter, God was a vengeful ruler, who only stood by His chosen people on condition of its total obedience. Now, God became a loving Father. What this interpretation of the baptism revelation overlooked, is that the vengefulness of Yahweh was now transferred to His Son. Jesus did not have an army, like Mohammed, but he was very intolerant of skepsis and full of hatred against the indifferent world. In his own hallucinations, he himself would be the avenger on the Day of Judgment.
After the baptism crisis, Jesus retires to the desert, where he doesn�t eat for forty days, and gets visions of angels serving him and the devil tempting him. This period of extreme introversion after the shocking hallucination, as if to digest his new self-understanding, is again very typical. He is offered nothing less than the power over the whole world, but he turns down the offer. This is a typical rationalized delusion, with a reasoning which we can imagine along these lines: �To me the power over the world has been given. Then why do I not effectively have the power? Because I spurned it, though it is rightfully mine and I could have taken it.� Still, the subsequent episodes show that he has started ascribing extra-ordinary powers to himself.
Dr. Somers makes the diagnosis: �Psychopathological investigation discovers in Mark, Luke and Matthew, regardless of the fact that Luke especially adapted the original version, a number of well-known symptoms of a hallucinatory state: hearing the voice of the devil, seeing wild beasts (zoopsy), having the desire to fly (vestibular hallucinations, having visions of the �whole world�, suffering from anorexia (fasting). In this light, the vision of the baptism episode is also certainly another manifestation of this hallucinatory state: a well-localized (heavenly) vision, the seeing of light (opening of heaven), of a bird, the hearing of a voice speaking in the second person and communicating a grandiose genetic message (�you are my beloved son�). The whole picture is coherent with regard to the psychopathological symptoms. In the text therefore, one finds the correct description of a delusional hallucinatory state. Moreover, the Gospel also mentions circumstances which are coherent with this pathology.�
After this bewildering revelation, Jesus starts to live up to his new self-image. He becomes a wandering god-man, doing miracles.
The next hallucinatory crisis is on Mount Tabor. He goes up on the mountain with his disciples Peter, James and John. There, in a sea of white light, he meets with Elijah and Moses. Again, a voice from the clouds speaks: �This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to Him.� According to Luke (9:28-36), Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah about �his going-out which he would perform in Jerusalem. Then, the scene stops and Jesus is alone with his disciples, who have not seen Moses and Elijah: they merely wake up when they hear Jesus talk to somebody. In the testimony of Mark (9:2-10) there is the same revealing contradiction: while it is contended that Elijah and Moses appeared, only Jesus is described and it is said that finally the apostles saw nobody but Jesus.
This crisis marks the beginning of the predictions of Jesus� suffering and death, which had been the topic of his conversation with Moses and Elijah. Taking inspiration from a description of the �Servant of Yahweh� in Isaiah (53:7), he understands he will be led unto his slaughter like a lamb. He reads into Scripture the indication that the Son of Man will go into his glory through suffering and meek submission to this expiatory sacrifice. According to the logic of the delusion, he must now go to Jerusalem and provoke his death by entering as king. He predicts he will rise on the third day and thus enter his Kingdom.
A third report of a hallucinatory crisis is only given by John (12:20-36). During the entry in Jerusalem he hears the voice of the Father saying: �I have glorified him and will glorify him again.� The people said it had thundered, some said an angel had spoken to him, i.e. to Jesus. So it was only Jesus who had heard the words.
Contemporary theologians like E. Schillebeeckx ascribe these stories to the imagination of the primitive Church, which wanted to glorify Jesus. But, asks Dr. Somers: �Why should the Church invent a number of stories which caused nothing but difficulties? Why should the son of God be baptized? Why should he be tempted by the devil, and that with such extravagant temptations? Why should he fast during 40 days? Why should he see wild beasts? It is quite inconceivable that the primitive Church invented these strange stories for the glorification of Jesus. On the contrary, the primitive Church leaders tried to interpret and to adapt the existing story in order to demonstrate the divine origin of these phenomena. Of a hallucinatory visionary state, they made objective supernatural events. But they were sufficiently ignorant so that they could not mask the pathological background of the events they recounted.�
These hallucinations, few in number but elaborating the same theme, together with the testimonies of people thinking he is �possessed� or mentally disturbed, point to the paraphrenia syndrome. What confirms this tentative diagnosis and makes it into the first coherent explanation of the entire Jesus narrative, is Jesus� behaviour.
The paraphrenic patient has some marked characteristics, other than the rare hallucinations and the delusional state, e.g.: a great hostility against those who contradict him, often also a familial rage, as the family usually contradicts him; autistic behaviour, in the sense that the criterion for judgment and action is not reality, but his subjective will; an interpretative delirium, i.e. interpreting events and utterances as pointing to him and to his delusion; concealing his conviction and temporizing as long as circumstances seem unfriendly. All these typical features can be found in the Gospel.
Jesus threatens Bethsaida, Kapharnaum, Jerusalem, because they did not believe him. If the Son of Man comes with heavenly power, all those who did not believe will be killed, along with all kings and mighty men. Jesus insults the Pharisees, because they disbelieve and criticize him. Jesus is especially angry with his family which tried to prevent his preaching. A number of logia (= sayings of Jesus) are directed against the family, and in the Gospel one cannot find any friendly word to the family and especially to his mother. Spurning his mother and brothers who are waiting at the door, he points to his disciples: �These are my mother and my brothers, who accomplish the will of God� (Mk 3:35). The disciples of Jesus should hate their fathers and their mothers (Lk 14:26) because the true enemies of man are his family members (Mt 10:35; see also Mk 11:30; Mt 10:35; Mk 13:11).
A highly irrational act is Jesus� cursing of the fig tree when, out of season, it is not bearing fruit (Mk 16:20-25; Mt 21:18-22). The tree is behaving normally, but Jesus punishes it: never again will it bear fruit.
Jesus is also violently sensitive to things relating to his supposed Father. The violent scene he makes against the traders in the temple (Mk 11:15-17; Mt 21:12-13; Lk 19:45-46), where he objects against the transportation of any object, is motivated by what he perceives as their dishonouring his Father�s house. Modem preachers say that Jesus was protesting against materialism, that he was making an important ethical and religious statement. But in fact, Jesus� behaviour vis-a-vis the traders in the temple premises was highly unadapted to reality. Those traders were not doing anything unethical or irreligious. They had an important function in temple life, where sacrifices were the normal and statutory practice. Even if their activities had been misplaced, so was Jesus� tirade that they were making �his Father�s house� into a �robbers� den�: traders are not necessarily robbers, theirs is an honourable profession, and eventhough God may be our Father, we shouldn�t take disrespect for God�s house so personally.
Another, more specific detail is that he attempts to keep his status as Son of Man secret: �Do not talk about this with anyone�, he says several times. Only when his di