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The Psychological Make-up of Jesus

With the limited authentic information available to us, it is impossible to draw up a psychological profile of Jesus. But it is interesting to note that an uncritical appreciation of the reliability of the gospel accounts can lead to some rather bewildering (to Christians) conclusions about Jesus' inner psychology.

In the early years of the twentieth century some psychologists and psychiatrists such as Dr. Charles Binet-Sangle, Professor of Psychology at the University of Paris, Dr. J. Dagonet, a physician at St. Anne's Hospital in Paris and Dr. B. Ball, Professor of Mental Pathology in the Faculty of Medicine in Paris made various diagnosis about Jesus. Given below is a summary of their findings: [1]

  • Jesus suffered from theomania (excessive religious devotion) inherited through his parents' devoutness. Theomaniacs studied at the mental hospital at Charenton believe that they are called by God, and that they cannot be harmed and that they will live forever. Mystic visions are also very common among theomaniacs. Jesus seeing the dove coming down on him during his baptism (Mark 1:10-11) is the classic example of the type mystic vision experienced by theomaniacs. Dr. Dagonet noted that theomaniacs get very easily irritated and will not permit contradiction of their utterances, as Jesus was in Mark 3:5. They often speak in tones of authority. Dr. Ball pointed out that the great religious innovators of history, such as Martin Luther and Muhammad, have always been psychologically abnormal.
  • Coupled with his theomania is his megalomania. After all, it is quite incompatible with a sound mind that Jesus would announce himself the future judge of the universe (John 5:27).
  • Jesus suffered from the hallucinatory syndrome. This is proven by the numerous visions he experienced throughout his ministry: on his baptism where he saw the Holy Spirit and heard the voice of God (Mark 1:10-11); during his fact in the desert where he saw Satan himself (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12); and in Gethsemane where he saw angels (Luke 22:43). Surely if anyone today tells us he has heard the voice of God, spoken to the devil and has seen angels, we would be hard put not to pronounce him deranged.
  • He also suffered from dromomania (irrepressible wanderlust). This is evident from his frequent journeyings, from Nazareth to the banks of the Jordan, from there to the wilderness, then back to Nazareth, to Cana, to Capernaum, to Phoenicia, to Caesarea, to Samaria, to Judea etc.
  • A detailed analysis by the psychologists and psychiatrists of the sayings of Jesus showed that he was an egocentric maniac devoid of profundity of thought, incoherent and often amoral.
  • They also noted various physiological symptoms that point to an abnormal condition:
    • The sweat of blood at Gethsemane (Luke 22:44) shows a defect in his vaso-motor system and is in reality a facial hematidrosis.
    • The forty day fast in the desert (Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2) shows that Jesus had problems with his digestive system. The forty day fast was actually an attack of sitiophobia.
    • The fact that Jesus was incapable of carrying the cross himself (Mark 15:21; Matthew 27:32; Luke 23:26) and the pleuro-tubercular effusion revealed by the lance-thrust (John 19:34) shows that Jesus had problems with his respiratory organs as well.
    • Jesus probably had problems with his genital organs as well. We get psychological hints from Jesus' encouragement of castration (Matthew 19:12) and his glorification of sterility (Luke 23:29).
  • Jesus also suffered from Oedipism or a tendency to engage self-mutilation. This is evidenced from his advise to his to his followers to pluck their eyes and cut their hands to avoid sinning. (Matthew 5:29-30)
  • And finally we have the testimony from his family, his mother and brothers (Mark 3:21) and his enemies (Mark 3:22), who all thought that he was mad.
In short the psychologists and psychiatrists thought Jesus as a typical psychotic, a visionary, a paranoid and a megalomaniac. With diseases of the digestive system, the lungs and the genitals, he wasn't too healthy either!

It would be wrong to criticize the competence of these esteemed thinkers in the field of psychopathology. Their diagnosis of Jesus is invalid for a different reason: their lack of appreciation of source criticism. That is to say, they do not understand that most of the actions and sayings attributed to Jesus by the gospels are not historical and were actually supplied by the early Christian tradition.

It should be mentioned that my disagreement with their diagnosis is no consolation to believers, especially those who accept everything spoken in the Bible as literally true; for then the psychopathological diagnosis cannot be so easily dismissed. It goes to show that a fundamentalist's acceptance of the complete veracity of the gospels accounts lead men trained in the field of psychopathology to conclude that Jesus was a sick madman!

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1.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p167-168
Guignebert, Jesus: p170-171

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