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Post Info TOPIC: PSYCHOLOGY OF PROPHETISM- KOENRAAD ELST


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PSYCHOLOGY OF PROPHETISM- KOENRAAD ELST
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PSYCHOLOGY OF PROPHETISM

A Secular Look at the Bible 
 

KOENRAAD ELST 
 

Voice of India, New Delhi

 


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Contents

Introduction 
 

1. Bringing Scripture Down to Earth

2. The Psychology of Prophetism

3. Psychology of Jesus

4. Reactions to Psycho-Christology 
 



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INTRODUCTION

 

This book will deal with items of faith central to the Christian tradition.  It may therefore be in order to clarify where I stand vis-a-vis this tradition.  For most practical purposes, I belong to the Catholic community in my country: schooling, membership of cultural organizations, trade-union etc. I confess (therewith upholding a Christian ritual) that several times, I have voted for the Christian-Democratic Party, a non-confessional party that vaguely adheres to �values� upheld by the Christian tradition.

 

Moreover, in my youth I was a genuine believer, more than most of my class-mates and my generation as a whole.  My father was one of the last polemizing Catholics in Belgium, and a sharp critic of the degenerative secularizing tendencies within the modem Church.  I have always respected this wholehearted acceptance of the authentic doctrine and tradition more than the wishy-washy approach currently taken by our bishops and taught in our Theology faculty.

 

All this may be worth mentioning to clarify that I do not belong to that category of people, fairly widespread in my country, who have a deep-seated hatred against the Catholic Church and traditions, either because they were brought up as militant atheists or because they slammed the church door behind them during adolescence, never to look back again except to pour contempt.  There is quite a literature by writers who in adult life continue to react against the frustrations, mostly sexual, which they associate with their years in the Jesuit college.  Today, it is no exaggeration to say that the anti-Christian people in countries like mine are more fanatical and intolerant than the dwindling number of churchgoers.  My motive in writing this book has nothing to do with that type of anti-Christian reaction.

 

The point is simply that we, European Christians of many generations, have outgrown Christianity.  Most people who left the Church have found that they are not missing anything, and that the beliefs which once provided a framework for interpreting and shaping life, were but a bizarre and unnecessary construction after all.  We now know that Jesus was not God�s Only-begotten Son, that he did not save humanity from eternal sin, and that our happiness in this world or the next does not depend on believing these or any other dogmas.

 

When staying in India, I find it sad and sometimes comical to see how these outdated beliefs are being foisted upon backward sections of the Indian population by fanatical missionaries.  In their aggressive campaign to sell their product, the missionaries are helped a lot by sentimental expressions of admiration for Christianity on the part of leading Hindus.  Many Hindus project their own religious categories on the few Jesus episodes they have heard, and they base their whole attitude to Christianity on what I know to be a selective, incoherent and unhistorical version of the available information on Jesus� life and teachings.  That is why I have written the present introduction to one of the most revealing lines of proper scientific research into the origins of Christianity, viz. the psychological analysis of Jesus and of several other Biblical characters.

 

As Jawaharlal Nehru said, we do injustice to the Vedas by treating them as divine revelations rather than as milestones of human understanding.  Glad that for once I can agree with Nehru, I affirm that we should take a secular, historicizing look at the factual human basis of religious scriptures.  In the case of religions, which describe their own basis as God-given, directly revealed by God�s word, such a secular approach will imply an analysis of the consciousness, which claims to receive direct revelations from God.  That is the line of research to which this book offers a brief introduction.

Delhi, 24 January 1993



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CHAPTER TWO

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PROPHETISM

 

The main part of this book is intended as an introduction to important findings in Bible research from the angle of psychology, with the emphasis on the work of the Flemish Bible scholar and psychologist Dr. Somers (parts of chapters 3.6 to 3.10 are little more than a re-wording of his original writings).

2.1. A Jesuit breaks free

 

Dr. Herman H. Somers, born in Antwerp on 3 October 1921, is an accomplished scholar with acclaimed contributions in many fields of learning.  He studied in Leuven and Rome, and is an M.A. in Philosophy, Ph.D. in Classical Philology (i.e. Latin and Greek), Ph.D. in Theology, and Ph.D. in Psychology.  For forty years he was in the Jesuit order.  He had worked as a schoolteacher, journalist for the Jesuit-led paper De Linie, lecturer in Classical Philology and in Psychology, practising psychopathologist in a mental asylum, before he went on to devote 25 years to scientific research.  He has been active in a variety of research projects, from noise ecology and experimental psychology to pioneering work in computer-aided mathematical text analysis of the Bible.

 

As he studied the Bible more closely, he developed doubts about its divine character.  In the face of unexpected findings inconvenient to the faith, he refused to renounce scientific standards, and drew his conclusions. In what he describes as a painful process, he grew away from the Christian faith, and left the Jesuit order.  Pro-Jesuit sources claim that it is only because of his unwillingness to comply with his vow of poverty (concretely: renouncing the family property in favour of the order after his mother died) that he has left the order.

 

In 1986, he published the book: Jezus de Messias: was het Christendom een Vergissing? (�Jesus the Messiah: was Christianity a Mistake?�).1 Written in Dutch, it is an abridged version of a more technical study in French, which he sent to a number of experts and interested parties, among them the Vatican.  It is a ground-breaking exploration of the psychopathological syndromes accurately described in the New Testament, especially of Jesus� mental condition.

 

In June 1990, he published a more voluminous sequel, this time also dealing with the Old Testament prophets.  It is called: Toen God sliep, schreef de mens de Bijbel.  De Bilbet belicht door een psycholoog (Dutch: �When God slept, man wrote the Bible.  The Bible explained by a psychologist�).2 We hope that it will soon be translated into all major languages, and meanwhile we will offer a summary of the book�s most striking points.

 

Since then, dr.  Somers has also written a history of the Jesuit order, a psychological study of Mohammed, and a study of the Jehovah�s Witnesses.

2.2. Methodology

 

A psychological investigation of the Bible starts from the premise that the Bible text is based on real events.  Of course, in the centuries of writing and rewriting, distortions may have crept in (deliberately or by mistake), stories from other traditions may have been added, historical facts embellished, blown up to mythical proportions, or on the contrary, concealed.  But nonetheless, the very tradition of which the text is a part, could not have existed if the founders of that tradition, whose life and times are described in the text, had not existed. The core of the actual texts must be function of real words and deeds by real people.

 

That this premises, evident though it seems, is not automatically accepted, may be seen from two trends in modern Bible studies.  Firstly, there are people who flatly deny that Jesus ever existed.  According to the Marxist-leaning scholar P. Krijbolder, Jesus was merely a character invented as a literary device in the presentation of a new ideology, and the four Gospels were designed to present four aspects of this ideology.3 In that case, if at all there is scope for psychological analysis, it is of the psychological motives and attitudes of the writers, not of the text�s characters, since these are fictional.

 

Secondly, there are a lot of theologians who follow the German theologian Bultmann in his Entmythologisierung (demythologization) of the Bible stories.  This means that the stories are not to be taken literally, since they are in fact merely myths.  They are stories made up by the community of believers in order to express their faith.  If we want to read the Bible correctly, we have to relinquish the idea that it describes what really happened, and interpret it as a collection of expressions of the faith, moulded in literary genres developed for that very purpose.  This approach does usually not imply that Jesus� existence is doubted, merely that the miracle stories, the virgin birth, the resurrection are �not to be taken literally�.

 

The skepsis regarding the existence of Biblical characters may be more reasonable in the case of persons situated in the distant past, like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, but from Moses onward the stories start looking too much like they are essentially historical.  However, the �demythologizing� skepsis regarding the reality of Jesus� divine vocation and miracles may well be extended to characters like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and Solomon: while their life and times may have been real enough, the postulated divine intervention in them is considered, by the demythologizers, as just a figure of speech.

 

There are reasons for giving in only minimally to the extreme skepsis regarding the basis in reality of the Bible narrative, and for sticking to the essentially historical character of the Bible�s stories.  Firstly, there is a logical contradiction in postulating that the core text of a religious tradition is unhistorical, �mere� narrative.  A religious tradition can only be created by people, in fact by people who have managed to attract the loyalty of a number of followers. If the first Christians made myths in order to �express their faith�, then someone must have generated or inspired this new faith among them.  Saying that Jesus never existed, implies that the Gospel-writers did write about someone who did not exist and did not found their religion, but failed to write about the man who did create their religion and therefore must necessarily have existed.  This is not strictly impossible, but it is also like saying that the Shakespeare to whom the famous plays and poems have been attributed, never existed, but that his plays and poems were written by someone else whose name may also have been Shakespeare.

 

Secondly, there is quite a bit of external evidence.  There are several references to Jesus in non-Christian sources, just like there are external references to the Hebrew migration from Egypt.  Of course, philologists have taken great pains to find forgeries and interpolations in these texts, but by now this explaining-away has been superseded by a willingness to take sources seriously as long as there are no solid independent grounds for suspecting forgery.  For instance, the historical authenticity of the passage on Jesus in Flavius Josephus� work (late first century AD) is now accepted by many scholars: though it has been tampered with, it was not inserted.

 

Thirdly, there is a lot of internal evidence in the Bible text.  That is to say, there are passages that could not have been there except as references to reality or (often as polemical replies) to historical outside comments on Jesus.  While theologians of theEntmythologisierung school say that many passages are edifying fables, a number of Gospel passages are not edifying at all.  For instance, Jesus cursing an innocent fig tree when, out of season, it isn�t bearing fruit.  Or Jesus not being able to do miracles in some places, and not being believed by his own townsfolk, even being considered insane by his own family.  These things are mentioned because people in the audience of Christian preachers remembered them, and they had to be acknowledged and, if possible, explained in consonance with the preachers� doctrines. If these things hadn�t really happened, there would not have been any reason for Christian writers to mention them.  Other criteria of internal evidence, esp. to separate genuine testimony from made-up stories, are provided by modem methods of forensic psychology to evaluate courtroom testimonies.

 

Fourthly, the psychological investigation of the Bible comes up with a new internal criterion.  We can safely assume that the Bible writers were not aware of the findings of modem psychopathology, i.e. the study of mental diseases.  They did not know the psychopathological conditions that modem psychologists have studied and organized into categories of coherent syndromes.  Yet, in some places they do give accurate descriptions of such psychopathological syndromes.  The stamp of realness is that in these descriptions, no symptoms of different conditions get mixed up.  Anyone can name a few acts and attitudes that he associates with the term �madness�.  But realistically describing a condition of catatonic schizophrenia, or querulous paranoia, can only be done by someone who knows psychopathology - or by someone who merely describes what he sees in a particular real case of such a condition.

 

It is not out of place to look for psychopathological conditions in the Bible.  After all, then as now, a certain category of mentally afflicted people would be attracted to religion, and become the most ardent students of Scripture.  Certain mental conditions do not lead to a total personality disintegration, to a loss of intellectual capacities, or to an unbearably antisocial behaviour.  In fact, highly talented and literate people can be afflicted by psychopathological conditions.  In the old days, some of them could set themselves up as teachers and prophets, and their eccentric behaviour would only add to their aura of godmen.  And though many religious madmen would be recognized for what they were, a few would not (at least not by the final editors of the Bible), and it is these few that interest us here.

 

For a first example of a pathological description, we can take a very clear and simple case from the Gospel.  It does not concern Jesus or another prophet, but a �possessed� child, cured by Jesus according to Luke 9:37-43, Mark 9:14-29, Mathew 17:14-21.  The Gospel relates how a child is brought to Jesus, because it is possessed by a deaf-and-dumb demon which it has had since birth.  When it sees Jesus, it gets a crisis, shakes and with foaming lips falls to the ground.  Jesus raises it up and the crisis is over, �the demon has gone out�.  Remark that the text doesn�t say that henceforth the child can hear and speak.

 

Even a layman can recognize this as an epileptic crisis which, as is normal, subsides after a few minutes.  But the story gives two important details that complete the syndrome.  Firstly, the child gets the crisis when it is confronted with Jesus.  Typically, these crises erupt after sudden emotions, such as a child may feel when confronted with this strange man with his charismatic airs, probably accompanied by a number of followers.  Here, the story does not say that the child was already having a crisis before Jesus came in.  It was the other way round: apparently, Jesus� entry was causally related to the crisis.

 

Secondly, the child has been deaf (and therefore it can also not speak) since birth.  Now, one typical physiological cause of epilepsy can be a trombophlebitis occurring around the time of birth, which leaves a scar on the brain, thus indirectly causing epilepsy while directly causing deafness.

 

This simple story thus gives us important conclusions.  Firstly, this �possessed child� must have existed.  It is so completely improbable that a writer who knew nothing about these subtler points of the epileptic condition, would have invented this story.  It could only be an account of a real case.

 

Secondly, from the fact that the story is told as a report of a miracle wrought by Jesus, it is clear that the writer did believe that a cure took place, and that Jesus� extraordinary powers had been demonstrated.  In fact, from the details of the story, it seems that Jesus himself believed this.  Yet, both the writer and Jesus were wrong: epileptic crises always subside, and that is no indication of cure at all.  This shows how easily people in those days could be made to believe in the miraculous power of anyone who had the guts to style himself a miracle-worker; and how some people, notably Jesus, could erroneously believe such a thing about themselves.

 

As Dr. Somers writes: �The features, found in the text, are all coherent with the syndrome of epilepsy and especially with an infantile form: perinatal infection of the ears with inflammatory complications, causing thrombo-phlebitis in the brain with the consequence of epileptic seizures and deaf muteness.  In the text of Mark 9, all symptoms are described with precision: the child is mute, falls in the water and the fire (a loss of consciousness), utters a cry and is agitated, has foam on his mouth, becomes like dead and after a while is �cured�.  Obviously, 2000 years ago nobody was aware of the true nature of epilepsy and the typical features of this illness in young children.  If a witness describes so correctly the phenomena of an epileptic seizure in a child with all concomitant circumstances, this fact has precedence over all philological arguments and constitutes proof of authenticity and historicity.  If moreover, the witness mentions all these features in order to prove his incorrect view on the facts (viz. that Jesus effected a miracle cure), it is clear that the testimony is beyond suspicion. If anything here depends on culture, it is the interpretation, in this case: that it is the devil who causes the seizure.�

 

Another example is the �exorcism� related in Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20.  A man was possessed by a host of demons, and dangerous.  He had broken the chain in which people had put him, and now lived in caves and on burial-grounds, and the people were afraid of him.  Jesus asked the �demon� in this man for his name, as was customary in exorcisms.  The name was �Legion�, since there were many demons at once.  Then he drove the demons out, into a flock of pigs, who became mad, threw themselves into the lake, and drowned.  The man became calm and asked to stay with Jesus, but was not allowed to.  The people of the area asked Jesus to go away.

 

This man apparently suffered from schizophrenia with catatonic agitation. In a fit of rage, such people can develop an unbelievable strength, enough to break handcuffs.  Even Jesus, after �curing� him, is apprehensive about having him around, and consequently sends him away.  Such people�s personalities totally disintegrate, they eat their own excrement and live worse than animals.  Jesus speaks to the man, and the next thing we read is that the pigs become mad and run away, into the lake.  Unless you believe in miracles, this seems to mean that the man went into a rage and didn�t take on Jesus but went after the pigs.4 Seeing the madman in his rage, the pigs naturally ran away, and afraid as pigs can be, some of them even ran into the lake.  But then, as always, the rage subsides and the afflicted man becomes quiet.  Jesus sends the man away, and a proof that this indeed was a lasting cure is not even attempted.

 

In this story we have a smaller number of elements, so the improbability of the writer just making it up is not as striking as in the first story.  Still, the picture of the sick man here is realistic, as is the impression that mere passers-by, such as Jesus� followers (who don�t get to see his regular crises followed by equally regular periods of calm), would think that after a fit of rage everything has come back to �normal�, and that a cure has been effected.

From these examples a method can be derived:

  1. the search in the text for certain symptoms should precede any other consideration;

  2. if a well-known syndrome can be identified, all other elements should be coherent with this syndrome (if no syndrome can be identified, then psycho-pathology considers its job finished. it is nobody�s intention to force a psycho-pathological explanation where there is no solid ground for one);

  3. the fact that the witness is unaware of the scientific significance of the elements he mentions, will be considered as decisive.

Therefore, this psychopathological control of old texts can decide the questions about the historicity of the facts almost with certainty.  As the syndrome described is culture-neutral and independent, all textual and philological criticism has to take this fact into account.  Some methods of judicial expertise can subsidiarily be applied (such as the criteria of U. Undeutsch)5 in order to decide about the truthfulness of a testimony according to internal criteria.

 



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As a consequence of this methodological solution some earlier philological conclusions are to be re-examined.  It can be shown that a number of hypotheses intended to solve ununderstood texts of the Gospel and the Apocalypse, are defective. If one reads that in the story of the epileptic child two devils were mentioned: a mute one and an epileptic one, and that therefore one can suspect that two different stories were joined, it is clear that this clumsy construction is only rendered necessary by ignorance of the infantile epileptic syndrome.6

 

According to Somers: �Similarly, the attempts by some philologists to explain the story of the possessed man of Gerasa (Mark 5) as a synthesis of two or three others, mixed with folklore, is now superseded by a realistic understanding of the story through psychopathological examination.  The possessed of Gerasa shows all symptoms of schizophrenia with catatonic agitation.  The story is quite realistic, including the delusion that he was possessed by a legion of devils.  Mark�s text is rather precise: the man was subject to a grandiose delusion; he was agitated esp. during the night, he roamed amidst the graves, howling, and he mortified himself with stones.  Nobody could control him, he broke all chains.  It is not very strange that such a lunatic chases a herd of pigs while uttering loud shrieks, sending his devils into them.  All these elements confirm the diagnosis of catatonic schizophrenia.

 

�The probability that such description could be put together by accident is infinitesimal.  In practice, there can be no more doubt about the historicity of the facts.  There is only one story, no folklore, nothing but a rather precise report of a real encounter of Jesus with a schizophrenic patient, written with the intention to show how Jesus had power over the devils.  The witness intended to prove a very different thesis from what he actually did prove.  Indeed, in our two examples: the epileptic child and the schizophrenic of Gerasa, Mark has shown that Jesus did not have power over the devils because there were none, but that he thought he did.  From these two examples it is clear how the psychopathological examination of these texts is able to explain them and to show directly their historical truth.�

 

These were two examples of accurate descriptions of psychopathological conditions in the Gospel.  Now, after many years of Bible analysis, dr.  Somers realized that the descriptions of some prominent Bible characters also show coherent descriptions of psychopathological syndromes.

2.3. The Patriarchs

 

The first Old Testament character who deserves a closer psychological investigation, is Abraham.  His story is that of a man who has no children, but hears a voice promising him a numerous progeny.

 

Dr. Somers takes the trouble of demonstrating that everything in the story of Abraham regarding marriage customs is authentic: the fact that children born by a slave girl were legitimate, that the official wife could adopt such a child (e.g. if she was sterile, as Sarah is said to be), that the nomads lent out or sold their sisters and daughters to visitors or in exchange for food supplies, and so on.  Some of these customs were not in vogue anymore in the time the Bible was committed to writing, so if they figure in this story, this indicates its historical authenticity. The report of Abraham�s visit of Egypt completely fits the social facts that we know from Egyptian historiography.  Modernist theologians are mistaken if they say that the patriarch�s story is just an edifying narrative concocted by priests in order to express the Israelites� faith in their God.

 

The theological dimension of the story seems to be more recent, but the skeleton of actual events related is no doubt about real people, living in the 16th and 15th century BC.  The personal data about Abraham also bear the stamp of authenticity.  Dr. Somers lists the following remarkable data which the Bible narrative gives us about Abraham:

  1. He hears Yahweh�s voice, giving him orders, and claims Yahweh visits him.

  2. He thinks he is the progenitor of a numerous progeny, though at first he cannot have children with Sarah.

  3. He offers his wife for the pleasure of the Pharaoh and of chieftain Abimelek.

  4. He considers himself Yahweh�s chosen one, elevated above all other tribes.

  5. He institutes male circumcision, and gives it the symbolical meaning of the Covenant with Yahweh.

  6. He sends his eldest son Ismael, together with the latter�s mother, the slave girl Hagar, into the desert.

  7. He wants to kill his and Sarah�s son Isaac.

This is not a normal behaviour pattern.  Yet, it is not entirely inconsistent.  In fact, the psychopathologist recognizes a typical pattern: the syndrome called paranoia.  In this mental disease, the patient suffers from persistent thoughts that are in conflict with reality.  Typical delusions are: being persecuted by an enemy, being endowed with a special mission or special powers, belonging to a family of otherworldly descent.  These delusions can be accompanied by hallucinations, usually the well-known phenomenon of �hearing voices�.  Often these voices command him to commit very specific symbolical acts, sometimes specific crimes.  The refusal of one�s own sexuality, as well as sexual impotence, often accompany this condition.

 

The limited mutilation called (male) circumcision, is not something invented by (or prescribed by God to) Abraham.  The Egyptians and other peoples knew the practice.  The rationale was that everyone has both a male and a female soul.  In the male, the left-over female resides in the prepuce, the skin covering the top of the penis; in the female, the leftover male resides in the clitoris.  Incidentally, this primitive insight corresponds with certain findings of modern embryology: the same tissue that becomes the glans (top of the penis) in a male embryo, becomes the clitoris in the female embryo; and the same tissue that becomes the labia, the visible part of the girl�s genitals, becomes the boy�s prepuce.  So, in order to achieve full sexual differentiation, the part which corresponds to the outermost part of the opposite sex�s genitals is removed.  In order to make real men, the left-over �labia� is cut off, and in order to make real women, the left-over �glans� is removed.

 

Since womanhood is more taken for granted, whereas a �real man� is something one has to become, the practice of female circumcision is fortunately not that widespread.  Today, it is confined to North and East Africa, where its defendants often invoke Islamic sanction for the practice.  In fact, Mohammed never prescribed it, but according to a tradition, when seeing a girl�s circumcision, he told the people to �diminish but not destroy�, which is generally understood as an acceptance of the minor circumcision (removal of the clitoris), but a rejection of the major circumcision (removal of the labia, followed by sewing up the vaginal opening until the day of defloration).  The practice is extremely painful and destructive, and the World Health Organization and many social activists are trying to eradicate it.  Male circumcision, on the other hand, is fairly harmless and is found among many peoples in different continents.  The Bible only mentions circumcision as applicable to males.

 

The fact that circumcision is so widespread, invalidates the Bible�s claim that it was the token of the exclusive covenant between Yahweh and His chosen people.  If Abraham perforce wanted to circumcise his son, there must have been a different reason: perhaps the paranoia syndrome.  Attempts at mutilation of one�s own or a child�s genitals are not uncommon among paranoid patients.  They are a violent expression of their refusal of their own sexuality.

 

But probably the story of Abraham instituting circumcision does not warrant any inferences about the historical Abraham�s personality.  It is quite possible that the priestly Bible editors during the Babylonian exile (6th century BC) retroactively made circumcision into the sign of the Covenant.  In Palestine and Egypt, it could not have been a distinctive custom, because it was widespread, but in Babylon the Hebrews distinguished themselves from the Babylonians by this custom, so it got emphasized and sanctified as a factor of the Hebrews� identity.  To give the practice full sanction, it was attributed to God�s own will as expressed in the Covenant with Abraham.

 

On the other hand, while circumcision may not originally have been introduced as a sign of the Covenant, it may well have been started, as far as Abraham�s own clan was concerned, by Abraham himself.  At least, if we accept that Abraham was an immigrant to Kanaan from �Ur of the Chaldees� in Mesopotamia, it is logical that he was the first in his clan to have his son circumcised, as a matter of cultural adaptation to his new environment.  All in all, it is safer to subtract the introduction of circumcision from the list of peculiar behaviour traits in the historical Abraham.  The aforementioned six facts that remain are still peculiar enough.

 

It is possible that Abraham at first had a healthy sex life, and that he got no children due to purely physical causes (impotentia generandi rather than impotentia coeundi).  The frustration and inferiority feeling that would naturally follow from being a married man without children, might then have been a typical starting-point for the progressive development of a paranoid delusion.  The inferiority feeling gets transformed into delusions of greatness and divine favour.  The typical construction you find among many paranoid patients is: my present misfortune (including the fact that people consider me mad and put me in a mental hospital) is merely a stage of testing, after which my true mission will become clear to all and I will be glorified.

 

Abraham lent Sarah to other men (Genesis 12:10-20, 20:118).  Doing this with your own wife (rather than with your sister or daughter) was very unusual, because the laws against adultery were very strict.  In fact, both the pharoah and Abimelek were very unhappy and indignant when they found out this woman they had hired was already someone�s wife.  Is this practice of making a childless wife available to the inseminative potential of other men not an indication that her ultimate pregnancy was brought about by one of those other men?

 

In Genesis 18:1-15 it is related that a visitor, called Yahweh (but otherwise a perfectly human fellow who washes his feet and eats flour cakes), wants to see Sarah, and afterwards tells Abraham that next year he will have a son.  Although the story may have been censored a bit in the final editing, there can be no doubt about what had happened in between.  It would explain the oral tradition mentioned in the Talmud, that Isaac didn�t resemble Abraham at all.  Similarly, the son that Hagar is said to have given Abraham, may well have been another man�s offspring: nobody keeps check on what exactly a simple maid is doing at night.

 

At any rate, Abraham does not behave like a man who, after years of fruitless trying, has been blessed with two sons. He sends the eldest, Ismael, together with his mother Hagar, away into the desert.  The youngest, Isaac, will be sacrificed at Yahweh�s command.  Did Abraham suffer at the thought that these children, who had restored his manhood in the eyes of his tribesmen, were in fact not his children at all?  Did he suffer from a conflict between his delusion of a God-given promise of numerous progeny, of which the sons were the fulfillment, and the sneaking realization that they were not his own sons?  At any rate, in a completely pathological development, he hears a voice telling him to sacrifice his son.

 

This is one of the great religious founding moments of the Judeo-Christian tradition: Abraham obeying Yahweh all the way, even past the limits of absurdity.  But in the Bible narrative (Genesis 22:1-19), this great and profound act is conducted without any religious pomp, even secretively.  He doesn�t tell his family he is going to obey Yahweh�s glorious command.  He makes his son believe they are going for an ordinary animal slaughter, until Isaac himself notices that they have everything for a proper slaughter except an animal.  He expressly tells his servants that he and his son will both come back soon.  He knows his family will prevent him from obeying Yahweh�s command, and rightly so.

 

The narrative goes on to relate that Abraham is prevented from striking and killing his son. it says that an angel of the Lord intervened.  If we discount the hypothesis that angels exist and intervene in human actions, we simply read that someone stopped him.  Perhaps the voice (�Yahweh�) has changed its mind, and now tells him not to go all the way.  It tells him that he has already passed the test of obedience, and resumes the older tune that he will be the ancestor of a numerous people.  But more probably, it is the people in his surroundings who stop him, and the explanation that they have really been Yahwah�s agents ripens later in Abraham�s brain.

 

We may suppose that his family was kind enough not to start arguing when he gave his own paranoid explanations for his behaviour.  In fact, it is not uncommon that the patient�s surroundings, after they have come to know the line of his delusion, start playing along.  Perhaps, when Sarah gave her favours to the visitor, hoping he might get her pregnant after all, she and the other family members told Abraham, in consonance with the things he himself usually said, that this man was Yahweh, who had come to fulfill his promise.  And when Abraham had been prevented by the servants from killing Isaac, they joined him in ascribing it to divine intervention.  This way, a family tradition was started that interpreted the family saga in the terms of Abraham�s delusion.  And because it was such an unusual story, it was preserved and came down to the time of the Bible�s codification, to become the well-known foundation narrative of prophetic monotheism.

 

In handing down the story, it is the unusual, not the ordinary, that gets most attention.  That is why the faithful report of Abraham�s strange behaviour has reached us.  It is also why any report of a normal religious man, who does his daily devotions but doesn�t pretend anything weird like being Yahweh�s chosen one, would never have become so well-known and influential (for better or for worse).

 

Readers who fear that we are going to declare all the prominent Bible characters madmen, need not worry.  The next two patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, were not crazy at all.  There are some interesting non-pathological psychological aspects to their adventures, but we will not go into that here.  It will suffice to remark that Jacob was a very sly and unscrupulous man.  He and his sons shared an amazing harshness and lack of fellow-feeling.  But in this world, that may be an advantage: Jacob, also called Israel, is one of the few people (next to Bolivar, Columbus, and Bharata) who have a country named after them.  When his sons went to Egypt, they remembered Kanaan as �the land of Israel� (in Hebrew: Eretz Ishrael).  This expression was later understood as �the land Israel�, so that Jacob�s new name got eternalized as the name of the land which is also known, after the inhabitants from whom the Israelites wrested it, as Kanaan or Philistine/Palestine.

2.4. Moses

 

The Bible report about Moses is spread over no less than four Bible books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.  In these books, exegetes distinguish four layers.  The first is the Yahwist tradition, written in the time of Israel�s kings, in the early first millennium BC, and in which �Yahweh� is consistently used as God�s name.  The second is the Elohist tradition, written in the time of the great prophets, and in which �Elohim� is used as God�s name.  The third is the Priestly tradition, from the time of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC, and immediately after.  The fourth is the Deuteronomist tradition, the codification of the �Mosaic� law, which was largely created in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, and attributed to Moses for the sake of sanctity.  So, the original narrative has gone through many hands, and the historical Moses lies buried under many layers.

 

Yet, in tradition-oriented cultures, stories were often preserved in full detail for many centuries.  Especially typical and unusual facts about people and their remarkable feats were accurately preserved.  To test the reliability of the Moses narrative, we dispose of two types of criteria: external criteria, viz. some few possible references in Egyptian sources; and internal criteria.  These latter comprise the coherence between the different stages in the story: is the Moses of the time before the Exodus depicted as having the same personality as the Moses of the wanderings in the desert?  This is the so-called split-half reliability.  The other important internal criterion is whether the narrative gives us an unambiguous and typical character description, or a mere collection of commonplaces and stereotypes.  Moreover, does such a character description reveal negative traits which were certainly not concocted for glorifying the �founder of monotheism�, or perhaps even pathological traits which the writers couldn�t have thought up even if they had wanted to?

 

Moses in Egypt is depict d as a man of violent temper, who did not shy away from terrorism.  When a Hebrew worker is whipped by an Egyptian officer, which was a rather common practice in those days, Moses goes as far as killing the Egyptian.  If historical, the �tenth plague of Egypt�, the killing of the first-born son of every house, was clearly brought about by a terrorist campaign.  Why else were the Hebrews ordered to make a sign on their doors?  Surely God didn�t need such a sign to avoid killing the wrong people: but the terrorists did.  The other plagues of Egypt (locusts, mosquitoes, hail storms, the colouring of the Nile water) were all natural phenomena, which Moses or the narrators may have played up as divine signs.  Moses was a panic monger, who knew how to impress and fool the crowds.  He was very cunning and even beat the court magicians at snake tricks.  Considering the Biblical information on his court education, he may have been trained by one of the fabled magicians of Egypt, and had shown himself a gifted and creative pupil.

 

The Moses of the desert years is definitely the same impulsive man.  According to Ex. 32:19-25, when he came down from Mount Sinai and saw the golden calf, he was enraged and destroyed the idol; he gathered a band of Levites and ordered them to go around the camp and make a slaughter; they killed 3000 people.  Trespassers of Moses� Law are punished with death, the one and only penalty Moses knows: �Someone who had cursed Yahweh�s name was stoned to death, as Yahweh had ordered Moses to do� (Lev. 24:23). A man who was caught in the act of chopping wood on a Sabbath day was brought before Moses, who ordered the people to stone him (Num. 15:32-36).

 

And Moses still played his magic tricks.  Once when the people uttered their discontent, Yahweh sent snakes to bite the people (Num. 21:4-9): if we remember Moses� dexterity with snakes displayed before the pharaoh, we can guess who was behind this act of Yahweh�s.  Several times, Moses asserts his authority by invoking miracles from Yahweh.  Thus, he plants his brother Aaron�s staff in the ground, and it starts to blossom (Num. 17:16-28). The most famous occasion is of course his stay on top of Mount Sinai, where he receives the Ten Commandments: the hilltop gets covered with a cloud of smoke, and mighty trumpet calls are heard.  It was a simple kind of show, enough to impress the credulous people.  Like any juggler, he never allowed people to peep behind the curtain: in Ex. 19:21-24, Yahweh orders Moses not to allow the people to come near the mountain, �for many would die�, and Moses assures Him that the mountain has been sealed off safely.

 

Like in Egypt, but on a far larger scale, he practised terrorism against other peoples who came in the way of his own people�s expansion.  Yahweh ordered him to destroy the altars and sacred symbols of the peoples of Kanaan (Ex. 34:12-13). �Thus ye shall do unto them: ye shall strike down their altars, smash their sacred stones to pieces, fell their sacred trees and bum their idols.  Nobody will resist you until ye have exterminated them� (Deut. 7:2-24). Indeed, Yahweh is not satisfied with idol-breaking, he wants skulls to be broken as well, many thousands of them: �[of the peoples who are remote neighbours] ye shall slaughter all the males.  But in the cities that Yahweh puts in your possession, ye shall not let anyone survive� (Deut. 20:13-16). Perhaps killing the males and abducting the females can be somewhat excused as a common practice in every kind of war.  But even by those standards, Yahweh goes too far when he orders all living beings killed.

 

Moses put these divine orders into practice.  He flew into a rage when his men had killed all the adult males of the Midianite people (which, incidentally, had given Moses shelter years before, see Ex. 2:11-18) but had left the females and children alive.  He had all the boys and non-virgin women also killed, but the virgins they could keep for their pleasure (Num. 31:7-18). After Moses� death, his successor Joshua followed in his footsteps.  The gruesome treatment of the 31 cities he conquered, is described in detail in Joshua 8-12: �He destroyed all the living beings in the city and did not let anyone escape� (10:28).  Joshua merely carried out the commandments inherent in Moses� deal with Yahweh.

 

In all this slaughter, Moses styled himself as merely the hand of Yahweh.  It was not he but Yahweh who did the killing, as is clear from Deut. 19:1: �When Yahweh your God hath exterminated all the people of the land that He hath given you�� From the theological viewpoint, the importance of this is that he introduced the concept of Holy War, which in principle meant that God engaged in warfare for(actually also through) His people.  From the viewpoint of the inquiry into the historicity of the Moses narrative, the importance is that Holy War talk is perfectly consistent with Moses� style of action in Egypt (where he also portrayed the killing of the first-born Egyptians as God�s intervention).

 

It is remotely possible that this consistency (the split-half reliability) is due to a systematic imposing of this Holy War doctrine on the entire Moses narrative by the editors.  The tirade against other gods and the repeated induction to kill apostates, in Deut.13, may be such a later priestly interpolation.  Perhaps Moses was much too busy with actual warfare to carry out religious inquisition and purification campaigns, which was more a task for. the later scribes and prophets.  But the Holy War doctrine is probably not a later addition, for it does fit the military situation well.  Even if it were a later addition, this would only weaken but still not contradict the case for the historicity of Moses� personality description as the Bible has preserved it.

 

External evidence has been claimed to exist, confirming Moses� historicity and the essentials of his religious outlook.7 Egyptian sources give a lot of information on a character whose career is contemporary with and entirely similar to that of Moses: the Egyptian dignitary Beya.  The name already points to the Semitic Yahwist tradition: Be-Yah means �on/by/in Yah�, as in �by Yah (I swear)� or �in Yah (I trust)�.  He also had a long Egyptian name of which �moses� (child of) was a part, as was very common in Egyptian names.  So, it is possible that Moshe/Moses was a Hebraized abbreviation of the Egyptian name of this Beya.

 

This dignitary Beya was a very powerful man at the Egyptian court, and several depictions of him have been preserved.  It is striking that he apparently refused to be depicted as bowing before any of the Egyptian gods.  He disappears from the Egyptian sources after the unsuccessful palace revolution of the regent princess Tausret against the legitimate young king Siptah.  Probably he was part of the conspiracy, and had to flee after its failure.  As he is called �the Syrian� in one source, he may have joined hands with the numerous Semitic immigrant community (which may have been held guilty, rightly or wrongly, for the political trouble, just like the Hyksos earlier), and led it into exodus.

 

Without using those sources, and merely relying on the (not obviously interpolated) data in the Bible narrative, dr. Somers claims to discern some not exactly pathological but still rather extreme traits in Moses.  Thus, the �burning bush� need not be understood as a hallucination, but can be explained by natural causes: certain plants in the desert secrete etheric oils which can inflame spontaneously under the sun�s heat.  This might have made a big impression on someone not familiar with it, and the desert heat may have helped in making Moses sense a divine presence.

 

Moses may have suffered from what is called a �reactive psychosis�, caused by guilt feelings about the murder of an Egyptian in anger against his punishing a Hebrew slave (or about other, unrecorded crimes).  That is also the line followed by Freud in his analysis of Moses.  What sometimes happens in such cases, is that a murderer afterwards develops the conviction that God had wanted this murder, that it was God�s will overruling human morality, so that the murder was justified.  This would then have led to Moses� remarkable and self-righteous proneness to murder, terror and the death penalty.

 

Dr. Somers rejects the thesis put forward by Hirsch that Moses suffered from paranoia.  Contrary to the objections of some religious people, the psychological interpretation of the Bible narrative is not an arbitrary projection of modem prejudices, with �paranoia� as a catch-all for everything that does not live up to our standards of irreligious conventionalism.  It is a precise scientific analysis, in which a precise syndrome has to be discerned and checked against all the reliable data in the narrative.

 

Of course, not everyone who has committed a crime develops this same psychosis.  A certain temperamental disposition should be present.  Psychology knows of a specific condition called the ixoid (= viscous, sticky) personality, with these characteristics:

  1. domineering and vindictive behaviour;
  2. impulsive, inclined to violence;
  3. intolerant of disagreement;
  4. waves of bad temper, explosions;
  5. yet, over-social, wants to serve, has a sense of fairness (so that their angry explosions are occasioned by perceived injustice);

  6. meticulous, order-loving, pedantic;
  7. persistent and tough;
  8. speech disturbances may occur (certain similarity, on a less physical level, with epilepsy).

While this syndrome may perhaps lack in precision, so that a firm conclusion about its application to Moses may seem like overstretching the method a bit, it is correct that this �syndrome� is in evidence in Moses� behaviour.  It is indeed in reaction to a perceived injustice against the Hebrew labourer that Moses kills the Egyptian.  And it is mentioned explicitly that he complains of not being a good speaker, so that Yahweh allows his brother Aaron to speak for him.

 

Since man makes God after his own image and likeness, it is legitimate to trace some of Moses� personal character traits in the God-image which Moses has impressed upon scores of generations of Jewish, Christian and Muslim monotheists.  The sometimes morbid character of revealed monotheism is partly traceable to Moses� personal psychological condition.

2.5. The great prophets

 

For some really pathological cases, we should read the stories of the prophets.  Let us briefly relate dr. Somers� diagnosis of the greatest of them.

 

Of course, not all prophets were mentally disturbed people, many just practised a kind of clairvoyance but remained balanced people, some even with a healthy critical intellect.  Others are fanatics, but are not described as personalities which we would now recognize as mentally disturbed.

 

The prophet Elijah was not at all crazy, just clever.  When he engages in a competition with the Baal priests, the poor fellows try to get a fire burning on their alter by singing invocations of Baal, while he has sprinkled �water� on his altar and claims the honour for Yahweh once it catches fire (1 Kings 18:20-40).  The story smacks of propaganda, but may nonetheless be a true report of a Yahwist prophet�s unscrupulous deceitfulness.  The nature of the �water� sprinkled by Elijah becomes clear when we read of a similar feat in the book of the maccabees (2 Macc. 1:20): the Levites have to get fire in a cave, they only find drab water, they bring it nonetheless, and yes, it brings forth fire.  A subsequent verse calls the water �nephtai�: petroleum was already known to some insiders, and priests used it as a trick to impress people.  The Romans also used it, as is clear from the allegation by the writer of the Apocalypse (who appears not to have known the trick) that they had the power to �make fire come down from heaven� (Ap.13:13).

 

After this episode, Elijah also manages to do what other prophets only rant about and promise to make Yahweh do: some large-scale killing.  After cunningly assembling them, he has hundreds of Baal priests massacred.  On the whole, Elijah too believed he had a private telephone line with God, but he had retained a firm grip on social and strategic realities, and acquired a much more honourable positions than some of his colleagues.

 

For a more tragic example, we turn to Isaiah, the �man of sorrow�.  He had a schizophreniform accident, a vision with schizophrenic contents, which deeply influenced his further thought, but did not form a chronic condition of schizophrenia.  In this vision, he has sensory hallucinations, catastrophic revelations, and a strong delusion of being chosen by God to serve a mission.  This will condition his self-image and his �prophetic� style of logorrhea, emotional exaggeration, and making predictions.

 

Taking into account that some of Isaiah�s successful �predictions� are in fact later interpolations, we find that the remaining authentic predictions are little more than expressions of the prophet�s own vengefulness and wishful thinking.  Liberation theologians get a kick out of Isaiah�s tirades against the mighty and the successful (who will be wiped away when the Lord cometh), thinking that he was a kind of social revolutionary; in fact, he was just another typical unhappy man who developed both an intense vengefulness against the successful and a, delusion of being special in a supernatural way.  Unhappy and vengeful people are keen observers and critics of others� faults.  And who will believe that Isaiah�s walking barefoot and naked for three years (Is.12) is not abnormal behaviour but a deliberate sign of warning?

 

Isaiah�s hymn on the newborn son (�For a child is born unto us, a son is given��, 9:5-6), interpreted as referring to Christ by Christians and probably by Christ himself, is more realistically about the prince Manasse, born in 699 BC.  Of course, some of the imagery in Isaiah is of great and lasting beauty (especially when put to music by Haendel in his Messiah), in spite of the morbid element in the prophet.  We should realize that the man, and more so his final editors, integrated his delusion into a genuine religious vision.  A mere copy of his authentic tirades and �predictions� would not have enthused many followers, but a suitably enlarged and edited version endowed with a literate religious doctrine and style became genuinely powerful.

 

Jeremiah, the prophet of doom par excellence, is a clear case of paranoia querulans.  Israel has fallen and will be punished.  The king of Babylon who subdues Israel is merely God�s punishing arm; which will not save him, the idolater, from equally being punished in the end.  Jeremiah is against everyone, including rivalling godmen and prophets, and God�s revenge will be total.  His immense hatred for everyone who disagrees and his hammering on always the same allegations and promises of doom, and a secondary delusion of being persecuted, are typical signs of querulous paranoia.

 

As Dr. Somers writes: �The book Jeremiah teaches us nothing about God, it illustrates how a sick mind pictures God in terms of his own delusion� Jeremiah shows a characteristic trait of the paranoia patient: a deadly hatred against everyone who disagrees with him, a totally disproportionate reaction to the �other opinion�, inspired by hurt narcissism.  The inflated ego is invested with divine dignity and power.  Whoever speaks up against God, must die.� In a sense, this is a diagnosis of not only Jeremiah, but of prophethood itself.

 

Ezekiel, who lived in the Babylonian exile, reiterated the condemnation of unfaithful Jerusalem by his contemporary Jeremiah.  But he is of a different psychological type: he is not aggressive towards his audience, rather he is indifferent.  The evil has been done, the catastrophe is sure to follow, whether people listen or not.  Ezekiel is an unmistakable case of schizophrenia.  In the 22 years (592-570) covered by the book Ezekiel, we see a typical development of this condition: he gets hallucinatory visions, develops an increasingly bizarre behaviour, isolates himself.  In moments of calm, he relates his visions to others and gives detailed descriptions.

 

Not every schizophrenia patient makes it to the status of prophethood.  Ezekiel was not an extreme case, and he was a literate man who could somehow make his visions relevant through religion, which made them interesting for the Bible editors.  It was also his initial deep religiosity that made him vulnerable to emotional collapse when Jerusalem fell, its temple usurped by Baal priests, and the people (at least, the elite) forced into exile in Babel.  Unlike many fellow Hebrews, he could not adapt to this Pagan city full of opportunity, and his emotional collapse developed into a permanent mental affliction.

2.6. Henoch

 

The last Old Testament prophet we must mention in this brief survey, is Henoch.  His book (mid-second century BC) is classed as apocryphal, but it is an integral part of the prophetic tradition.  Henoch was a staunch pharisee8 and leader of the Essene sect.  Probably he was the sect�s �teacher of righteousness�, mentioned in the so-called Death Sea Scrolls unearthed at Qumran.  It is he who first applied the notion of the �Son of Man� (developed by Daniel as pertaining to the Israelite nation as a whole) to himself, which personalized notion Jesus in turn was to interpret as applying to himself.  There can be no doubt that Jesus borrowed from Henoch: the New Testament contains 64 almost literal quotes from Henoch, plus other types of, references.

 

The book Henoch contains the writings of someone suffering from paranoid schizophrenia (with all the typical features of schizophrenia as Karl Jaspers described them).9 And it is these Henochian visions which constitute an essential component of the belief system of Jesus and his disciples.

 

Once more, it should not surprise us that someone with such an affliction could be the recognized leader of a sect.  Among other factors, people with a distorted consciousness are often capable of feats of asceticism which require tremendous will-power in ordinary mortals.  And the common people of those days would naturally associate the abnormal with the supernatural, especially if it came clothed in the language of religion.  But remarkably, in the case of Henoch at least the guardians of the official religious tradition were suspicious of the divine character of Henoch�s book, mostly because of its very open self-centredness.  The typical thing with all people suffering from delusions, is that these delusions are very self-centred and allot special importance to the sufferer.  But in the case of Henoch, it was conspicuous even to not very discriminating people that Henoch was glorifying more himself than Yahweh.

 

Henoch claims that he had been given a divine job by God Himself, to reprimand the angels who, sometime before the Flood, had fallen in love with human females and begotten, on them the giants (remark the element of jealousy).  Then, he is taken on a trip through heaven: �And I, Henoch, I alone have seen the vision, the end of everything, and no man will see the way I have seen� (19:3).  In heaven, he sees someone called the �Head of Days�, who comes to him and says: �You, you are the Son of Man, who was born for righteousness and righteousness remains with you and the righteousness of the Head of Days will not abandon you� (71:17).  In a vision of a terrible Day of Judgment, he refers to himself as the Chosen One.

 

The concept of the �Son of Man� had already been introduced in the book of Daniel, written at most a few decades earlier.  But there, it explicitly refers to the Chosen People, the nation of Israel which will inherit the rule over the earth after four successive great empires have gone down.  But Henoch and later Jesus mistakenly identify the �Son of Man� with their own individual selves.

 

The common trait in �prophets� is that they give themselves a very central place in history.  Being the spokesman of the omnipresent Creator is not a very modest claim. it belongs to the realm of psychopathology.

2.7. The first century

 

The next important god-sent is none other than Jesus, whose case will be presented in the ch.3. He lived in an age when prophets or at least messianic and millennarist characters flourished.  One of his younger contemporaries was the real founder of Christianity, Saint Paul, who taught and believed that the Second Coming of Christ, inaugurating the final days of the world before the judgment, was just around the corner.

 

The big turn in Paul�s life came when, on the road to Damascus, he fell from his horse and had an experience which he later understood as Jesus calling him.  But this experience was completely different in nature from the prophetic revelations and conversations with God which we have mentioned above (except for Moses� awe before the burning bush, which is a close parallel).  The event on the road to Damascus, which triggered Paul�s conversion, was not a crisis in a developing mental disease, but a simple and typical sunstroke.  Paul (then still called Saul) hears a voice but doesn�t recognize the speaker: this confusion is the opposite of the intense clarity typical of a hallucination.

 

Paul suffers a natural blindness for a few days, and under the care of a Christian convert, he gets well again.  His inner stress because of his frustrated desire for perfection in the observance of the Law, and more acutely his guilt about the killing of Stephanus, the first Christian martyr, would invest this otherwise ordinary breakdown with a religious significance that was to have world-wide and millennia-long consequences.

 

Paul�s sect was just one among a number of first-century Jewish sects who expected the end of the world, the coming of the messiah, or a similar cosmic event.

 

The Apocalypse of Baruch is a prophecy of the impending struggle for Jerusalem, written in the revolutionary fervour of ca. 68 AD.  It has remained apocryphal, either because the Jews saw too much inspiration from the Christian Apocalypse in it, or because its predictions had failed in a much too obvious and much too dramatic way.  Indeed, it had predicted that the Romans would not be able to take the Temple Mount or to bum down Jerusalem.  It is because the text was not canonized that its failed prediction survives in cold print.  By contrast, Mark�s Gospel, edited just after the fall of Jerusalem, has the correct �prediction� that of the Temple of Jerusalem, �not one stone will be left upon the other� (13:2).

 

Baruch�s Apocalypse is not at all the product of visions and hallucinations, but an intellectual construction modelled on the extant prophetic literature, adding some newer literary techniques such as the Socratic dialogue.  It constructs imagery to evoke the shocking developments of the final days, before Jerusalem shall defeat her enemies and reign in glory.  While we will not further deal with it here, we note that the book is interesting for two reasons.  Firstly, it is a kind of missing link between Judaism and fledgling Christianity, at a time when both were expecting the ultimate catastrophe and glorification.  Secondly, it illustrates how sane and intelligent people subscribing to an established belief system can integrate the prophetic outlook in their worldview.  The entire edifices of Jewish, Christian and Islamic theology are similar intellectual elaborations of a basic literary material with an important irrational �visionary� component.

 

The last Jewish prophet was called Ezra.  In ca. 100 AD, he wrote a book relating a dialogue with an angel, who is asked why God could let the recent catastrophes happen to his chosen people, and what He has in store for them now.  The visions described are very coherent, are followed by an explanation, and give systematic answers to the questions which Jews are asking.  Short, it is an intellectual construction, not the report of real �prophetic visions�.  It is not the result of pathological experiences, but merely a kind of theological manifesto.

 

The apocryphal book of Ezra contributed to the enduring revolutionary fervour among Jewish die-hards.  It employs images from the earlier apocalyptic literature including the Christian Apocalypse, and in more cautious wording it retains essentially the same message: God has not abandoned His people, He has been testing them, and the final crisis is approaching.  In some details, its predictions were even enacted in the last Jewish insurrection, that of the self-styled Messiah Bar Kochba in 132-135.  Ezra had predicted (13:9-10) that the saviour will have a flaming mouth, and so Bar Kochba took burning hay in his mouth to prove his credentials.

 

With the collective suicide of the last Jewish insurrectionists in Masada, the period of Messianic expectation came to an end.  Reality had outlasted and defeated all the prophetic Doomsday scenarios.  By that time, the Christian sect had already accepted that Jesus� second coming was not around the corner after all.  For Doomsday prophets, the glorious days were over. 
 

Footnotes:

1Published by the leftist publishing-house EPO in Antwerp, Belgium (in spite of many priests� leftist leanings, hard-core leftists remain strongly anti-clerical, and they were glad to publish a book that undermines Christian claims).

 

2Published by Facet Publishers, Antwerp 1990.

 

3E.g. P. Krijbolder: Jezus de Nazareeer. Een studie over de historiciteit ven Jezus en de oorsprong van het Christendom, Amsterdam 1976, The same thing had earlier been said about Socrates, who would have been merely a literary creation by Plato, but that theory has been discarded.

 

4These patients are not dangerous because of aggressiveness.  Their rage is not directed at someone specific, as is the case with paranoia patients.

 

5U. Undeutsch: �Courtroom evaluation of eyewitness testimony�, International Review of Applied Psychology, 33(1), 1984, p.51-67.

 

6e.g. in P. Benoit & M.E. Boismard: Synopse des quatre evangiles, II, Paris, 1972.

 

7See Johannes C. De Moor: The Rise of Yahwism, ch.4.6.

 

8The pharisees were a reform movement that moved the centre of religion away from the priesthood and the temple worship, towards the reading of Scripture and the observance of the Law.  Decentralized and separate from the national symbol which the temple was, they led Judaism through the Roman crackdown on the Jews after the rebellions of 70 and 134 AD, and shaped the rabbinical tradition which has since been virtually synonymous with Judaism.  The anti-pharisaism in the Gospel text is therefore actively anti-Judaism and one of the sources of Christian anti-Semitism.

 

9K. Jaspers: Allgemeine Psychopathologie, Berlin, 1948.



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CHAPTER THREE

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).1 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 asign, 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.2 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.3 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.4

 

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:

  1. there is no certainty about the historical truth of the texts;
  2. what seems to us to be a symptom, was possibly a normal trait, a cultural feature in that civilization;

  3. 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.5

 

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�



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�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��6

 

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).7 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.�

 



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 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 theexorcist, a well-known type in those days (though the characters filling this role must have been of diverse kinds and dispositions).8

 

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.9 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 disciples, and later the priests during his trial, ask him straight if he is God�s son, he consents, saying that they have said it.  But to theologians, it has always remained a riddle why Jesus should be so secretive about his glorious mission.  Paraphrenia patients are very aware of the attitude (and possible lack of understanding) of their fellow men.  That is why Jesus temporizes, in expectation of more auspicious circumstances.

 

A final symptom is the anti-sexual attitude.  As the studies of Bultmann have shown, the primitive church has cleansed, adapted a number of logia.  A relevant example is provided by the logia about the children and the reign of God: unless you become like children, you cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.  In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, some logia have been preserved which explain the periscopes of the Gospels: to be a child is to be asexual and free of sexual shame (log. 12, 21; cfr. also log. 37, 114: if you make masculine and feminine one).  In the canonical Gospels it is also said that in heaven there is no marriage, and virginity is exalted, as it is in the Apocalypse.  The theme is constant: virginity, inhibition of sexual activity, as well in the canonical Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas as in the Apocalypse.

 

Jesus� behaviour during his trial is in conformity with the diagnosis.  We should keep in mind that from the vision on Mount Tabor onwards, Jesus has been mentally preparing himself for death.  The priests accuse him of blasphemy: he has insulted Yahweh by calling himself His son.  Normally, they have to produce witnesses to prove this extremely serious allegation.  But Jesus saves them the trouble: he commits an even greater sacrilege right on the spot, by pronouncing God�s name aloud.  Strictly following the prescribed procedure, the high priest tears his mantle into two.  Jesus stands convicted of sacrilege.  The Gospels make no secret about Jesus� guilt of this sacrilege, which was well known to be a capital offence.

 

He commits what is blasphemy before the priests, with a straight face, because he is fully prepared to die.  For months he has been mentally readying himself for it, announcing that this would be the road to his glorification.  When you think death is the end, the prospect of dying may be a bit horrifying.  But when you think it is the way to the glory, it is alright: �Death, where is thy sting?� His frankness in the face of a certain death penalty must certainly have added to his superhuman aura.

3.6. Some fantastic stories

 

The Gospel of Infancy, i.e. the Gospel narrative of Jesus� conception, birth and early childhood, is not so much a source of psychopathologically relevant information.  It is less reliable and more open to speculative interpretations.  Yet, it also provides material for some interesting psychological observations.  In this respect it is important to see the essential difference between the Gospel of Infancy and the visions during the Baptism and Tabor episodes.  Most Bible students see the Gospel of Infancy as a entirely mythical corpus in the New Testament and they mention numerous reasons.

 

1. The chronological indications are contradictory.  According to Matthew, Jesus should be born between 6 and 4 BC, during the reign of the great Herod, who died in 4 BC; but the census which according to Luke, obliged the parents of Jesus to travel to Bethlehem, was organized by Quirinius, who according to the precise indications of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, became procurator of Syria in 6-7 AD, i.e. 11 to 12 years later.  Furthermore, the beginning of Jesus� public life, when he was about 30 years old, is traced by Luke (3:1) to the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius (27 AD).  According to that indication, Jesus should have been born in 4-3 BC.  These difficulties were never solved by the historians. 

 

2. The divergence between Matthew and Luke is striking.  According to Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph, not to Mary; but for Luke an angel appears to Mary and to Zachariah.  According to Matthew, each event is predicted in the Old Testament; but Luke replaces the quotations of the Old Testament with occasional prophecies by Hannah and Simeon.  Matthew writes that a star appears, Magi come, there is a flight to Egypt and a slaughter of innocents by the Great Herod.  For Luke there are only shepherds, angels and music, the circumcision in the Temple, and a simple return to Nazareth.  He does not mention Egypt, nor the slaughter of the innocents.

 

In the Protevangelium of James another series of divergent elements can be found.  Herod kills Zachariah, while John is sought for; there is no star, no Magi, no prophecies, only the angels and their message to Mary and Elisabeth.

 

3. The only elements which all witnesses have in common are: 1) the exceptional pregnancy of Mary; 2) the hesitation of Joseph; 3) the birth of Jesus; 4) the exceptional atmosphere of wonders.  Each witness surrounds these historical events with a scenery of marvellous elements of his own.

 

4. Whoever the witness, the given details are typically feminine notwithstanding a masculine elaboration.  Typically feminine are: the attention to what people say, to gifts, visits, the emotional reactions of the fiancé and the niece.  Typically masculine is Matthew�s elaboration: the narration of each event is rigorously closed with a quotation from the Old Testament.  Typically masculine is also Luke�s elaboration: he omits a number of marvellous elements (the star, Herod, the visit of the Magi, the appearance of the angel to Joseph); he replaces them by the more credible visit of shepherds; while he omits the Biblical quotation, he replaces it with the occasional prophecies of Hannah and Simeon.  Typical for both is the atmosphere of wonders (signs in heaven versus heavenly music, angels), a great historical context (a Roman census versus Herod and a flight to Egypt) and the glorious role for the mother to give birth to a future king of Israel.

 

If we submit the texts to a psychological examination, to get at its historical core, we find that there is a common source for all stories and particularly a feminine one, and secondly that the majority of events are due to imaginative �loose� construction (e.g. the �prophecies� are not even exact allusions).

 

It is common opinion among exegetes that this mythic scenery can be dated to after Jesus� Resurrection, when in the primitive Church questions arose about Jesus� origin.  As it was due, all signs had to be present that Jesus was the future Messiah.  As there was a Hellenistic Church (Paul) and a Jewish Church dames), so there was a Jewish version (Matthew) and a Hellenistic version (Luke).  For the Jews, Jesus had to be predicted by the prophets; for the Hellenistic people the credibility was to be ensured by a more common course of events.

 

Even in this mythical context some fundamental data may appear which are based on real facts.  As the indications about the census of Quirinius, about Herod, about the descent from David, about the journey to Bethlehem (according to James� Protevangelium, Joseph and Mary live in Jerusalem, not Nazareth) may be false, it is not impossible that Jesus was born in the period that Herodes Archelaos succeeded his father in 4 BC.  Ibis was a period of revolutionary agitation and consequent repression in Jerusalem.  Is it unthinkable that the murder of the innocents goes back to this period, and that Joseph and Mary, like probably a lot of people, escaped from Jerusalem to safer surroundings, such as Bethlehem? In that context and in accordance with the most probable chronology, Jesus was born in 3 BC during the flight from Jerusalem.  But that he was born in Bethlehem, is certainly not more than an invention of the Gospel editors, to declare the apparent prophecy about the birthplace of the Messiah fulfilled in Jesus.

 

According to the Jewish tradition Mary was a whore and Jesus� father was the Roman soldier Panthera.  There are, however, some unsolved questions: how is it possible that from the beginning there is the supposition that Jesus could become king in Israel?  This seems quite unrealistic, if Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier.  Things may change if on hypothesizes that actually his father was a prince, named Herodes Archelaos (a name which evokes the word Archangelos), who in 4 BC became the successor of the great Herod, and who was known for his unrestrained sexual behaviour.  Is it unthinkable that a prince said to a girl that her son could become a king?

 

As it had to be shown to the many new adepts of the primitive Church, who became curious about Jesus� origins, that he was really born as the Messiah, the inferior conditions of his birth had to be overcompensated.  The scenario of conceiving outside marriage and giving birth to an illegitimate child in bad conditions (flight to Bethlehem) had to be changed to a direct divine intervention, a virginal conception, the birth of a future king with the presence of royal Magi, shepherds, angels, heavenly signs and prophecies.

 

About the mythical character of this Gospel of Infancy, there is a consensus among exegetes: a fantastic scenery was elaborated in order to mask the inferior conditions of Jesus birth. It is impossible to understand these fantastic stories, if one does not reduce them to their historical origin: a woman, the mother of Jesus, who had to play her glorious role as the mother of the Messiah to the community of disciples that had gathered around her son.  It is a fair guess that after Jesus� resurrection and departure, Mary was questioned about the circumstances of Jesus� birth, and told the apostles the story that became the Gospel of Infancy.  Some of the miracle-mongering may have been her own doing, as may the variations: she must have told the story on more than one occasion, with less concern for consistency than regular preachers would have.

 

We find Jesus� mother back in another episode: the Pentecost (Acts 2).  This story is also full of commonplaces.  There was a great wind, sounds from heaven, tongues of fire appeared, and the apostles spoke several languages.  In the text it is said quite realistically that the people thought it was the language of drunkards.  But Luke adds that they all understood the preaching in their own language, which seems rather contradictory.

 

This contradiction, together with the commonplace nature of several features and the phenomenon of excited and unclear speech (therefore described as �foreign language�), casts doubt upon the authenticity of the event.  It appears as a show which had to overcompensate the subjective uncertainty of the apostles.  Of course they were anxious: would the people believe that Jesus was resurrected?  Could it become a success?

 

The story of the Ascension is even worse.  The Gospel editors who mention it (not all even do) relate the whole event in only one sentence and they are not unanimous about the precise location. Luke mentions two different ones: Bethany and Jerusalem.  Nobody describes clearly the place, the event, the circumstances.

 

Is it credible that a witness of such a wonderful and glorious event could say nothing more than �he disappeared�?  It sounds like a very simple goodbye.  Why did they not invite a number of witnesses to this ultimate glorification?  Even the high priest?  For this instance let us recapitulate the arguments:

  1. The Apostles are witnesses who try to defend the thesis that Jesus now returned to heaven.

  2. According to the criteria of courtroom evaluation of witnesses these are clearly false with regard to the way of disappearance of Jesus.

  3. The only historical fact is that about Jesus nothing is said any more: he disappears definitively from among the Apostles in Jerusalem.

It should be noted that angels appear at all difficult moments: the conception, the birth of Jesus, the resurrection, the ascension.  The Holy Ghost explains both the conception of Jesus and the conception of the Church.  The structural analysis reveals a systematic trend, a thematic thinking: when there is a difficult situation, a myth with angels or Holy Ghost is masking the truth.  So there is a constant �mythologic� activity, why not say �mythomanic� (not in a truly pathological, but in a larger sense).

 

Exegetes use the term: �post-Paschal glorification�, indicating by that terminology that all these mythical stories were �invented� by the Church and are to be classified as devoid of historical foundation, as purely literary products, only intended to promote the faith in Jesus.  But this theory is unable to specify which were the true historical events, masked by this mythology.

 

So the distinction should be made between two aspects of the Gospel.  The first one is the mythological: a myth is built, a fantastic scenery in order to show the divine nature of Jesus.  The second aspect is the transparency of the factual pathological trend, which could not be masked because of ignorance of psychopathology (baptism, Tabor, etc.). The first has been adequately recognized by the exegetes, the second has been ignored.

3.7. Son of Man

 

Jesus calls himself the Son of Man.  But according to the voices he heard, he was the Son of God; they never called him Son of Man.  In order to understand this complex psychological situation, one has to be familiar with the cultural background, as well as with the psychopathological one.

 

The theme of the �Son of God� is essential in the story of his conception, of his birth, of the temple-episodes (as a 12-year-old, and with the merchants), in the baptismal and the Tabor visions.  While some kings in divergent cultures have been called Son of God (or Son of Heaven, etc.), they never pretended to be the physical Sons of God, conceived without a human father�s intervention, as Jesus did.  Where followers have ascribed magical non-human conception to their leader (e.g. the Buddha conceived on his mother by an elephant), at least the leader or prophet himself did not call himself Son of God.

 

The �Son of God� theme is clearly the fundamental one: the voices confirm that tide.  The contents of this status is the problem which preoccupies Jesus in the desert.  Could he become a Roman Emperor?  Could he transform stones into bread?  Could he precipitate himself in the air?  Jesus of course had to consult the Bible about his condition.  There he found the roles of the King, the Messiah and the Son of Man.  Never was it predicted that the Son of God would come, so if he himself was the Son of God, he had to appropriate to himself the tide of the Son of Man as well.  And this Son of Man was dearly described by Henoch.  Once he was convinced, it became clear to him that now his reign was coming, because soon he would come on the clouds of Heaven.

 

And then he announced the reign of God, implicitly his own.  He kept his secret, because it was impossible to declare to the people that soon he would be the Master of the whole world for eternity.  After a while it became a problem to him how he should attain his glory.  On Mount Tabor he heard the voices that convinced him that he was also the Servant of Yahweh, who had to suffer and die before attaining his glory.  Moses and Elijah clarified to Jesus that he was going to die in Jerusalem.

 

Jesus is convinced that all texts of the Bible point to him, because he is the Son of God.  In Jerusalem he has to make his entrance on an ass �as Zechariah predicted�.  Before his judges Jesus was silent because he enacted the Lamb of Isaiah, except when he was asked who he was: then he affirmed that he was the Son of God, the Son of Man, the King of the Jews, the Messiah.

 

The starting-point of this development was the genetic theme: who is my father?  The purely pathological elements are the progressive Ego-inflation, the specific elaboration of the delusion, the interpretative delirium (all texts point to him) and the hallucinatory state.  So, against Schweitzer, it has been shown that although the content of the delusion is partly indebted to the cultural background (Jewish Scripture), the specific pathological elements are culture-neutral.

 



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 3.8 The resurrection

 

Jesus is sentenced to crucifixion.  This was a Roman, not a Jewish punishment, and Bible scholars have debated a lot about this seemingly unnecessary hand-over of Jesus by the Jewish authorities to the Roman governor Pilate, who proceeded to implement the death penalty which Jesus had deserved according to the Jewish law.

 

Crucified convicts were tied (not nailed) to a cross, and their death was brought about by torture and by breaking their bones.  Interestingly, the Roman soldiers refrained from breaking Jesus� bones, no doubt because they had orders to do so.  Having heard of the prediction that Jesus would rise on the third day, Pilate must have thought it quite an interesting practical joke to arrange for the effective re-appearance of this weird godman.  So, he ordered a servant to look after Jesus after he had been taken down from the cross, and to get him back on his feet by the third day.

 

Postulating, as many modernist theologians do, that Jesus died on the cross and that his re-appearance, which the four Gospels unanimously report, was a mere fable, is hardly tenable.  The rather sensational tradition that Jesus came back alive after being crucified, can much better be explained by assuming that he did indeed come back.  The belief that he had come back was crucial to the Christians� faith, and only a few years after the fact, Saint Paul declared that without the �resurrection�, the Christian faith would make no sense.  This belief is best explained by the hypothesis that Jesus did indeed come back: to everyone�s surprise, he had survived the crucifixion.  They still could not believe that one could survive it, so they accepted that this was Jesus� ultimate miracle: he had died and returned to life.

 

To find out with reasonable certainty which versions of the resurrection story are reliable, there are methods of internal psychological criticism, esp. the criteria of U. Undeutsch.  According to Undeutsch, the clearest sign of falsity of a testimony is the presence of commonplaces.  A true witness mentions particular details which caught his attention; he mentions his emotions; even his faulty reactions.  These criteria can help a lot in the study of our witnesses.

 

It is clear from the vivid and contingent details that Mark and John relate some true events: Mark recalls how the Apostles did not believe the story of Magdalen, when she told them that the grave was empty.  John mentions the fact that he arrived first at the grave, because he had run faster, but let Peter enter first.  By contrast, Matthew and partly Luke give a collection of commonplaces: an angel appears, there is light and thunder, suddenly two men are present.  The conclusion therefore is: Matthew and partly Luke falsified the true story; Mark, John and partly Luke relate true events.  So, to the great astonishment of the disciples, the grave was empty.

 

On similar grounds, it is also true that afterwards, Jesus met his apostles at Jerusalem and in Galilea.  Jesus survived crucifixion.  Some details in the Gospel may become more important in this perspective: 1) the attitude of Pilate, who was not a friend of the Jews and liked to ridicule them; 2) the contacts between Pilate and Joseph of Arimathea; 3) the �good� centurion who spared Jesus; 4) the hasty end to the crucifixion and the restitution of the body to Joseph of Arimathea; 5) the new grave and the presence of a young person (a servant).

 

One can suppose that Pilate ordered the centurion to spare Jesus, so that he would not die but �resurrect�.  After three days, Jesus was sufficiently healed, and a few days later he paid a nightly visit to his disciples in Jerusalem.  But he had to be careful, because if he was caught, he would have been stoned or decapitated.  After the sobering experience of torture and convalescence, he had the presence of mind to escape to safer regions like Galilea, and from there to disappear forever from Palestine.

 

When the Apostles wanted to announce his resurrection, they had to say where Jesus was.  The simplest way to get rid of this problem was the story of the Ascension.  The criteria of Undeutsch stamp the Ascension story as obviously false. It is also possible that the question of Jesus� whereabouts was initially not very important, as long as Jesus� Second Coming was expected; and that only when the expectation was abandoned after decades of vain hope, the Church chose to lodge Jesus safely in heaven whence he shall return �at the end of time�.  Either way, whether it was the apostles themselves or the later editors of the New Testament, those who have reported the Ascension have left us a stereotypical glorification story, immediately recognizable as unhistorical.

 

The ascension story is one of the most vulnerable points in Christian theology, because it makes a mockery of that one cornerstone of the Christian faith: Jesus� victory over death in the resurrection.  After all, if he has disappeared from among us by ascending to heaven, he is not different from us mortals, who also disappear after death. If vanquishing death means remaining in your physical body, as the resurrection story implies, then Jesus has not vanquished death but merely postponed it for a few weeks, something which doctors routinely do with cancer patients.  On the other hand, if he ascended to heaven physically, with body and all, then he is still physically roaming somewhere, in a physical heaven, like the astronauts.  This dilemma, the Church can only solve by statements like: �Hallowed be those who believe without having seen�, or: �I believe because it is absurd�, or: �It is a mystery, and we should be humble enough not to try and reduce it to our intellectual comprehension�.

 

We will let the theologians sort it out, and direct our attention back to the historical situation after Jesus� resurrection.  Jesus did indeed reappear, shocked at his own unexpected survival, but only briefly.  Shortly after, he left from among the apostles, probably from fear of the priests as well as of the Romans, who must have found it a good practical joke, but not one that should last too long.  This survival scenario is far better able to explain why people effectively believed that Jesus had resurrected, than the modernist interpretation that he just died and that later his disciples merely �claimed� to have seen him again.

 

There are indeed traces of Jesus� survival in the New Testament.  Saint Paul relates how, immediately after his conversion, he went to Arabia, and returned to Damascus invested with the authority to lead the Church among the Gentiles; and how he went and joined the apostles in Jerusalem only after three years (Gal. 1:17). This is only seemingly in contradiction with the version of Acts 9:26, which makes him go from Damascus to Jerusalem.  It is indeed from Damascus that he arrived in Jerusalem, but the information that he had to be smuggled out of Damascus indicates that he had already been a controversial preacher for some time, which again presupposes that he had been invested with some authority.  Only after preaching for three years did he visit the Christians in Jerusalem, including the original apostles who must have been the highest authority in the Church after Jesus.  What did Saint Paul go to Arabia for?  Could it be that that is where Jesus was staying, safely just outside the Roman Empire?

 

Secondly, the first line of the book Apocalypse says quite clearly that the book was a revelation from God to Jesus.  The next line says that it was then passed on to John through his angelos, a term which has come to mean �angel� but literally means �messenger�.  The last verses of the Book repeat this information, and assure: �He who testifies to these things says, �Surely I am coming soon.� Amen.� To which a later editor has added: �Come Lord Jesus!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.  Amen.� The Apocalypse is a vision �revealed� to Jesus and subsequently communicated to a disciple who calls himself John.

 

Jesus claims to have received a Revelation, and relates it, through a messenger, to John and his other followers: this clear-cut information given in the book itself has never been satisfactorily explained by any theologian.  The theory that Jesus himself was the author, does explain it in the most straightforward way.  This obviously presupposes that Jesus survived the crucifixion and �ascension� for some years.

 

If he went to live at some other place and survived for some more years, by what could we recognize his traces if ever we come across any? If we want to find Jesus� traces, we have to look for traces of paraphrenia.  The Apocalypse of John is a striking expression of a developed paraphrenic condition.  This mysterious text could reveal the truth about the later Jesus.

3.9. The date of the Apocalypse

 

One of the least understood books of the Bible is no doubt its very last book, the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation, ascribed to Saint John the apostle, also called the �Seer of Patmos�.  No theologian knows really what to do with it, and a coherent explanation of it is simply not extant.  The book is very popular among crackpots and people who expect the end of the world, like the Jehovah�s witnesses.

 

Charles Manson, who killed the actress Sharon Tate and some of her friends in 1969, was an adept of the Apocalypse.  He had taken the Beatles song �Revolution #9� (correctly) as a pun on �Revelation #9�, and interpreted this as a message to himself, connected with the fire-and-brimstone 9th chapter of the Book of Revelation.  Like so many madmen, he related everything (in this case, both the Apocalypse and the songs of the Beatles) to himself. he was the leader of the select humanity that would survive the catastrophe God was about to inflict on the world, as well as an instrument in God�s destruction of doomed �piggies� such as the decadent god-forgetting actors.

 

This use of the Apocalypse in crank millenarist movements is not abnormal: the Apocalypse is a manifesto of the expectation of Judgment Day, and it is definitely the product of a sick mind.

 

A first problem with this book is its date.  The prevalent opinion still is that it was written only in the nineties AD, making it the latest Bible book.  Dr. Somers has, however, convincingly demonstrated that it must have been written in the mid-forties, some two decades before the Gospels. Among the clues he discovered, one certainly deserves mention, because an end should be put to all the nonsense read into it so far: the mysterious number 666, which is said to be the number of the Beast.

 

The arguments for the prevalent dating are the following: in the text, seven or eight kings of Rome (emperors) are mentioned; there is a predictive allusion to a great fire in Rome, probably in 64 AD under Nero10 (taken to be a reference inserted as a vaticinium ex eventu, a prophecy after the fact); and the number of the beast, 666, is probably the number of Nero (gematria value of QSAR NRWN, the approximate Hebrew transcription of the Greek pronunciation of the Roman name Caesar Nero).  Counting the Roman emperors from the beginning with August, and not taking into account the short-lived reigns of Galba (68-69), Otho (69) and Vitellius (69), one arrives at Domitianus (81-96) as the seventh.

 

But this construction does not exactly shed light on this mysterious text.  On the contrary, it is in contradiction with other information given in the text.  It is said that five kings are fallen and that the seventh is not yet there, and that he will not remain for a long time.  It follows that the Apocalypse has to be dated during the reign of the sixth emperor, and that the cryptogram 666 indicates his name.  In that case Nero should be the sixth, but this is impossible because in the list of the emperors, he is the fifth.  And according to the text the destruction of Rome should happen during the reign of the seventh, which cannot be Nero, because he is the sixth or the fifth.  The solution that Domitianus is the seventh, or the eighth, is also unsatisfying for this reason, that he did not reign for a short period.  It is also rather arbitrary to exclude Galba, Otho and Vitellius from the list because of their short reigns.

 

The reason for this hermeneutic chaos is the fact that a number of details are not understood very well, e.g. the indication: �the eighth king who was one of the seven.� What is needed here is an interpreter who is not merely a psychologist but also a Classical philologist, thoroughly familiar with the details of Greco-Roman culture.  Notwithstanding the particular traits of loose mental association operative in the Apocalypse writer, some details may be exact allusions to the political reality, metaphors which should be identified.

 

This identification should proceed from an exact representation of the cultural background at the time the Apocalypse was conceived.  In the previously mentioned interpretation this exact representation is lacking.  Thus, it was forgotten that the name Caesar was not a title of a function, but a proper name; that the list of emperors we have does not coincide with the succession of Caesares; that the description of the fire of Rome (borrowed from Ezekiel) is entirely different from the description of the real fire (Tacitus relates an indescribable chaos inside the city), and looks more like a genuine prediction based on the Scriptural model of Ezekiel rather than a fake prophecy based on a description of the actual event.

 

To start with an easy one: �the eighth who is one of the seven� is simply Octavianus (from Octavus, �the eighth�), the personal name of Caesar Augustus. Julius Caesar was the first in the list of the Caesares, though he was not an emperor: he was murdered precisely because he was suspected of scheming to become king.  That the list is projected to end with the seventh emperor is a reference to a list of seven who ruled in the beginning: the seven kings of Rome.  As the seventh is not yet there, the Apocalypse has to be dated during the reign of the sixth, because five have already fallen.

 

This then is the list: 1) Julius Caesar; 2) Octavianus Augustus, �who is also the eighth�; 3) Tiberius; 4) often forgotten, Germanicus, who was poisoned (fallen) before assuming power but had formally been invested with the imperium maius, 5) Gaius Caligula; 6) Claudius; 7) Nero, whose reign lay in the future when the Apocalypse was written, according to the Apocalypse text itself.  The Apocalypse can then be dated in 45-47 AD, rather than in 90 AD or later.

 

The text of the Apocalypse makes unmistakable reference to the political situation of the day.  There is a dragon and two beasts, the first beast with seven heads and ten horns, the second beast with only two horns: the first beast�s seven heads symbolize the seven kings of Rome (the seven Caesars), one of them fatally wounded (Julius Caesar).  The ten horns are the governors of the ten Provinces of the Roman Empire (the dragon).  The dragon gave power to this beast (the imperial power).  The beast reigns 42 months, which is exactly the period of the reign of Caligula who reigned from the 1st July, 37 AD till the 21st January 41 AD and who wanted to be worshipped as a God (Zeus Epiphanes neos Gaios), even in the temple of Jerusalem: the absolute horror for iconoclastic monotheists.  The second beast has only two horns, it decrees the worship of the emperors and the taxes; it reigns under the supervision of the first beast.  This is clearly the senate of Rome with the two consuls at its head.  The elaborate symbolism of the horns signifying rulers is an imitation of the imagery employed by Daniel in his allusions to the Hellenistic rulers.

 

But the reference to the emperor as �the Beast� does not merely express hatred against the institution of the Roman imperium, which is conceived as the new Babylon that holds the Chosen People in exile.  It is directed against the then emperor Claudius personally.  It is written that the Beast is also a man and this man has the number 666.  Written in Greek characters 666 = Kh.Ks.W, as follows: W ordigamma signifies 6; Ks or ksi signifies 60; Kh or khi signifies 600.  For 6/Digamma the meaning is clear: five kings are fallen, the seventh is not yet there, so it is the sixth.  For 60/Ksi, the associating mind may think of Kaisar, abbreviated KS: 66 signifies then the 6th Caesar (this is plausible but not convincing by itself).  For Khi or 600, the meaning becomes clear when we turn to the Roman number system, where 600 - DC, is also used as shorthand for Divus Caius as well as for Divus Claudius, �the divine Claudius�.  The number 666 signifies emperor Claudius.

 

This informed guess is confirmed when we realize that in his time, Claudius was routinely compared with a monster, because he was indeed ugly like a beast: according to Suetonius, even his own mother said so.  Divus was a title, which was an object of mockery for Romans, and all the more in the case of Claudius because of his un-divine appearance.  Seneca writes that Claudius� body was created by the gods when they were angry.  The fact that Claudius is described unanimously as a beast and a monster by Suetonius, by Seneca and by the Apocalypse, was also due to the fact that he suffered from a vigorous head and hand tremor, and that he had an abnormal gait and a raw voice, �like that of a sea-monster�.  Seneca describes these defects and adds that Hercules had seen several monsters, but not all.  Finally, the comparison with a monster may also refer to Claudius� readiness to have people killed.  Seneca accuses Claudius of sentencing to death numerous people and one can understand the allusions in the Apocalypse to the decapitation of a great number of Christian Jews, ordered by Claudius (Apoc. 6:9; 13:9,15; 16:6; 17:6; 18:6,24; 19:2; 20:4).

 

One sees that the Apocalypse imagery is a mixture of allusions to the reigns and persons of the successive Caesars: the violent death of Julius Caesar, the short reign of Gaius, the appearance and the symbolic cypher of Claudius.  The evocation of his ugliness is completed with the traits of the beast in Ezekiel (with the face of a lion, etc.). The aversion for the emperor is situated in the Jewish-Roman conflict: emperor-worship and the taxes (paid in coins bearing the name or picture of the emperor: the �mark of the Beast�).  So one can deduce the procedure of composition: the text is an agglomerate of historical details, loosely unified by symbolic figures, all woven into a catastrophic vision of the impending Doomsday.

 

The Apocalyps can safely be dated to the year 45 AD, because this date is corroborated by other historical Information.  In 49 Claudius banished the Jews from Rome, because they were restless under the instigation of a certain Chrestos (as reported by Suetonius).  If the Apocalypse was known in Rome in 47, it is quite understandable that some of the Jews were in a revolutionary mood, not only because of the taxes and the worship of the emperor instituted by Gaius, but also because they were instigated to set fire to Rome and to refuse to pay the taxes.  Those who obey the laws of Rome are threatened with being condemned by Jesus and being tortured with fire (Apoc. 14:10) and with tumors (16:2).  There was a campaign of civil disobedience and terrorism severely repressed by Claudius.  This repression created more fervour for rebellion, because the rebels had to avenge the death of some of them, condemned to decapitation by Claudius.  It appears that Suetonius is right when he calls the instigator Chrestos.

 

There is a satirical play by Seneca about Claudius titled Divi Claudii Apokolokyntosis, �Claudius� transformation into a pumpkin�.  No transformation into any pumpkin figures in the play and the title is probably alluding to Claudius� helpless attempt at pronouncing the word Apokalypsis.  The Christian pamphlet Apocalypse with its prophecies of doom against Rome and the emperor was the talk of the town, and in the ensuing persecutions of the Christians, the Romans will give proof of a remarkable familiarity with the Apocalypse�s threats and predictions.

 

According to Suetonius, a senator said to Nero that he wished that Rome would not be destroyed during his reign.  Nero answered that he would welcome its destruction, because he hated the small streets of ancient Rome and wanted to reconstruct the city.  So one can suspect that talk of �the destruction of Rome� was in the air at that time, and that the prophecy was known and talked about.  Afterwards Nero did not hesitate to arrest the Christians as guilty for the fire of Rome.11 The way he tortured them was an obvious allusion to the treatment which the Apocalypse had in store for the emperor: he let them bum like living torches, and let them face the lions while themselves sewn into animals� skins.  Anybody could understand the allusion.  That the Romans were capable of such cruel practical pun on the rebels� own Apocalyptic predictions, was demonstrated a few years later when rebellious Jerusalem was conquered by Titus: then also, the rebel leader was given exactly the same treatment which Jewish Apocalyptic literature had promised the Roman commander.

 

A very important indication is the reference to the hated taxes.  The saints should persevere and die (14:12), and refuse to pay taxes: they should not take the mark of the emperor�s name, which is on the coins (cf. 13:17: nobody can sell or buy, if he does not carry the name of the beast).  There can be no doubt that the Apocalypse instigates the Christian Jews to civil disobedience, even when they are sentenced to death.  As Suetonius writes, Christ is the instigator of the troubles in Rome; the reason is his hatred for him who stands in the way of his coming in glory to rule over the whole world (2 Thess. 2:1-12). Claudius was radical in the repression.  By capital sentence and by banishment (49 AD) he tried to keep the troubles under control.

 

The Jews, especially the Christian ones, did not have the sense of humour that characterized the Roman attitude regarding the deification of the Roman Emperors.  If one reads Seneca, one sees how Romans were full of mockery about these deifications.  Claudius is ridiculed as he wants to become a god, and finally condemned to be a slave, and the fundamental reason is that �tam facile homines occidebat quam canis adsidit� (Seneca: �he killed as easily as a dog urinates�).  This seriousness in their opposition to the Emperor�s deification makes them susceptible to calls for rebellion, like the one launched by Chrestos.  But they get killed or exiled by Claudius, the Beast.

 

It is remarkable that Paul in his letter to the Romans (Ro. 13) tries to convince them to be submissive to the authorities and to pay the taxes (13:6).  This letter should have been written in 56 AD, shortly after Claudius� death (54 AD).  As Seneca suggests, the young Nero inspired a new hope in Rome, also for the Jews, who started returning there.  This does not mean that the plans for the final confrontation had been abandoned: �For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all wickedness�� (Ro. 1:18). in the meantime Paul was in Rome as a (well-treated) prisoner.  Probably Peter also came to Rome and was there during the fire.

 

If the Christian Jews set the fire to Rome, this had to be prepared by Paul and Peter in great secret.  In Thess. 2:1-12, Paul alludes to the thesis of the Apocalypse that Jesus cannot come back because he is impeded by the Antichrist, viz. the Roman Empire; and that his coming must be preceded by rebellion.  But the end will come soon, during Paul�s own lifetime.  The strategy had been changed: they would pay taxes and honour Caesar; but this did not change the fundamental attitude and the hostility against Rome, which was still to be destroyed.

 

If the hypothesis is accepted that Nero and some senators knew that the destruction of Rome was predicted, as Suetonius suggests, then of course during the ten years of Nero�s reign, there was some rumour against the Christians, who were persecuted.  The 1st Letter of Peter (1 Petr. 3:13-17; 4:11-19; 5:9) mentions these difficulties between 60 and 64 AD.  Peter too tries to obtain obedience to the emperor (1 Petr., 2:13; 4:17).  It is easy to distinguish two periods after 45 AD, the presumed date of publication of the Apocalyps: the first one a period of troubles in Rome and elsewhere till the banishment of the Jews in 49 AD; a second period (54-64 AD) when Peter and Paul preach submission to the Law, announcing that the end is coming soon.  In the meantime the Christians have difficulties and are criticized, they have to behave prudently, they should not provoke reactions: that is the doctrine of Peter and Paul, in contradiction with the doctrine of the Apocalyps.

 

The contradiction between the Apocalypse (not to pay taxes, to die instead) and the directives of Paul and Peter is a normal evolution: when there is sufficient repression, the outward behaviour normalizes, though the inner rage remains.  If we suppose that Jesus� (active) life ended around 54 AD, along with his fanatic revenge against the emperor, who impeded his coming in glory, it is possible that Peter and Paul took charge of the Christian community and gave it a new direction.  And because it could not be a long time before Jesus would come back (�the times are now decisive�, Paul writes to Timothy (2 Tim. 3:1)), it was not very useful to sacrifice a number of lives by objecting to the taxes and resisting the new emperor openly.  So they preferred the secret subversion: Rome had to be destroyed, because it impeded the second coming of Jesus. It has been forgotten for too long that the first Christians were true anarchists.

 

The period of ten years before the fire was one of caution.  After the fire, the opposition to Rome of the entire Jewish community was at its apogee: in 66 AD there was a revolution in Jerusalem, and in Alexandria thousands were killed.  Until 135 AD, the revolutionary fire would rage in Jerusalem.

 

Given the opposition between the doctrine of Peter and Paul and the doctrine of the Apocalyps, it would be extremely improbable that the Apocalyps came later than the letters of Paul and Peter.  In the year 90 AD the taxes were more than 50 years old, the worship of the emperor was an old tradition; the indignation could not be so fresh as when Gaius prepared his statue for the temple in Jerusalem and when the commercial taxes were newly imposed.  The real sequence is: indignation, troubles, revolution, repression, outward submission, inner rage, secret subversion.  It fits the developments between 40 and 64 AD.

 

The Apocalypse is therefore the first document of Christianity. In the light of these problems one can ask if the logion of Jesus: �Give unto Caesar what is Caesar�s�, has not been added later as a part of the Church�s strategy to convince the Christians to pay taxes, or to convince Rome that they were no longer subversive.

 

The consequences of this change in perspective are important.  The Apocalypse is the bridge between the real public life of Jesus and the letters of Paul, and later the Gospels as texts.  That the cited logion is probably a later addition is strongly supported by the fact that in the trial of Jesus before Pilate the accusation against Jesus is: that he preaches revolution against Caesar, that he forbids to pay taxes and that he pretends to be the Messiah, the King.  And this is confirmed by the Apocalypse, which incites to revolution against Rome and Caesar in order to burn Rome, and which forbids to pay taxes (to take the mark of the beast).  Luke (22:2) simply mentions the accusations, but not the acts of Jesus that might have led to them.  When the Gospels are published, Jesus is presented as a taxpayer and a loyal subject of Caesar, and this is in accordance with the official strategy of the Church (Rom., 1 Petr.).

 

Given the evidence of the Apocalypse and of the allegation during Jesus� trial, we have to admit that the historical Jesus did indeed preach the revolution against Rome and forbade at least his own disciples to pay taxes.  In the Gospel discussions about the subject are mentioned (Mk. 12:13-17). While the anti-Roman thrust may have been secondary as long as Jesus lived in the Jewish milieu in Palestine, it came centre-stage when he fled his homeland after the resurrection and found himself constantly exposed to the Pagan culture that was so repulsive to his Jewish sensibilities.

3.10. The author of the Apocalypse

 

The Apocalyps is certainly the most primitive document.  Is it also a paraphrenic document?

 

The general opinion of the exegetes about the Apocalyps is that it is a literary work of the genre of the apocalyptic literature (Ezekiel, Daniel, Henoch, etc.), which contains prophecies about the end of time, predicting catastrophes, with visions, angels and cryptic symbolic expressions, not always well understood today.12

 

We may at once remark that this is an improper use of the term �literary genre�.  One could call the poem, or the novel, or the comedy, �literary genre�.  But �Apocalypse� does not belong in a formal classification of literature, and refers to the contents.  In different genres, you could have an apocalyptic play, an apocalyptic poem, etc.

 

The psychopathological examination of the texts leads to conclusions far removed from current theological opinions.  Ezekiel, Daniel and Henoch were mental patients, schizophrenics and paraphrenics, showing all typical symptoms of these diseases: receiving revelations, seeing visions, believing they are the elected ones, predicting catastrophes.  The apocalypse is not an exception.  Characteristic of the Apocalypse is the megalomaniac atmosphere, the horrible aggressiveness and the boundless narcissism.  Symptomatic are the loud voices, crying; symbolic, idiosyncratic, pedantic expressions; zoopsy (seeing monsters and beasts); the hallucinatory state; the sense of impending catastrophe, the typical systematic elaboration of assimilated earlier predictions (Henoch, Ezekiel and Daniel had. been �digested� into the delusion).

 

The abnormality of the mental processes can easily be shown.  A number of expressions are inspired by an enormous Ego-inflation: glory and power to him, omnipotence, everybody will see his power, he will destroy the earth and all peoples, he is the Son of Man.  This is coupled with an enormous narcissism: all will adore him, everybody has to sing his glory because he alone has power and wisdom (5:12), he alone is worthy to receive the glory, only the Lamb is worthy to open the book with the seven seals, he is the king of kings, the Lord of Lords.

 

All events are cosmic: stars fall, angels occupy the four corners of the earth, events are accompanied by thunder and lightning and earthquakes; all voices are loudly crying, some with the voice of the thunder.

 

All punishments are terrible: blood streams abundantly, Rome will be destroyed in one hour or one day (18:8-9), all kings, all soldiers, all their horses will be eaten by the birds, the beast will be burnt alive (that is why Nero burnt the Christians alive), all others will be killed by Christ himself (19:17-21), all living beings in the sea will die (16:3), etc.

 

All these catastrophes are the effect of God�s anger.  Rome is described as the great whore and the Roman Empire is identified with Satan himself.  All this anger, all these catastrophes are due to the fact that all others are supposed to be the enemies of Jesus (the majority of humanity did not even know who Jesus was), and are therefore guilty and worthy to be destroyed.  Only those who are the elected ones will reign with the Christ for 1000 years.  Those who died, will resurrect when Jesus comes back to reign for 1000 years (cfr. also the prediction of Paul: 1 Thess. 4:13-19).

 

This immense, irrational aggressiveness is a consequence of the enormous inflation of the Ego.  The pathological character of these mental processes is well-known.  The hypothesis that the source of this text is a megalomania cal paraphrenic is highly plausible, if one considers the original part of the content, as distinct from the assimilated part.  The latter consists of a few borrowed notions, esp. the notion of the resurrection: according to Ezekiel (37:1-14), the bones of the slain warriors of Israel shall be raised from the grave, and covered with sinews and muscle and skin, and quickened with breath.  As the Jehovah�s witnesses correctly maintain, the Bible does not teach an afterlife but a physical resurrection; the Apocalypse specifies that it will take place at the time of Jesus� second coming, and will only concern the saved ones.

 

It deserves repetition that among religious believers, there are a great many takers for the prophetic pretences of such revelations.  Schizophrenics such as Henoch and Ezekiel, both authors of apocalyptic writings, have the revelation to be elected by God, they understand suddenly all mysteries of the world, they travel from one end of the world to the other, they are always at the centre of immense events, they predict catastrophes.  The delusions of paraphrenics are generally more systematically evolved, but share often the same cosmic dimensions.  As most of these delusions are religious and genetic, it is clear that their content was ready to be believed as the word of God.  Mysterious, grandiose, futuristic, these revelations seemed to contain higher divine truth and so became the stuff of Sacred Scripture.  In fact they were reports of the schizophrenic or praphrenic delusions of mental patients.

 

Let us now take a closer look at the condition of the author of the Apocalypse.  A precise examination of the style of the Apocalyps reveals: 1) a typical Jewish, non-Greek, style, including an excessive use of conjunctions and a scarce use of particles; 2) a non-Johanneic style, as compared with the Gospel and the Epistles of John.  The author is definitely non-Greek, probably Jewish, and definitely not John the Evangelist.

 

In Apo.1:9, John has a vision and hears a voice and then he sees an angel, who dictates to him what was earlier called the �revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place� (Apo. 1:1).  In john�s narrative, there is a direct communication of the visions.  According to our criteria, and going by the factual validity of the angels appearing in other New Testament stories, the angel is only there in order to hide or to embellish the truth.  It is Jesus who speaks and orders to write to the Churches in a typical authoritative style as in the Gospels (�He spoke with authority�, say Mt. 7:29, Mk. 1:22, Lk. 4:32), and with the same expressions: �those who have ears to hear��, developing the same themes: �Those who believe in me��, �I shall come��

 

The other visions are attributed to John, but at the end the angel comes back, and while the angel is speaking Jesus speaks again (Apoc. 21:12) �I Jesus, I have sent my angel�.  There is a constant osmosis of the angel and Jesus.  These inconsistencies together with the recurring observation that the angel is merely there in order to conceal the truth, lead to the hypothesis, that a secretary just noted the visions of Jesus and gave a literary form to them.  This scribe could have been John, but that is not certain.  These names are sometimes pseudonyms, just, as in the Proto-Gospel �of James�.  Given all these elements, we can formulate the hypothesis that the real inspiring author of the Apocalypse was the surviving Jesus himself in a later stage of his illness.  With this hypothesis in mind, the Apocalypse, formerly a poorly understood text, becomes a dear manifesto of early Christianity.

 

It is quite astonishing that the style of expression of Jesus in the Gospels corresponds precisely with the style of the expressions of Jesus in the Apocalyps.  In the Gospel, he posits himself as authority: �I say to you�� The same �I� - style can be found in the Apocalypse: �I shall give you�I know�I shall come� I shall confess their names� I knock at the door�.  Other expressions, like: �I shall confess their names before my father and the angel� (Apo. 3:5); �We shall eat together� (Apoc. 3,20); �I shall come as a thief� (Apo. 3:3), are common to the Apocalypse and the Gospels (Mk. 8:38; Mt. 10:32; Lk. 9:26; Lk. 12:36; 22:29-30; Jn. 14:23; Mk. 8:38; Mt. 24:42-44; Mk. 13:33).

 

Identical is also the egocentric point of view, e.g. in the Gospel: �those who remain faithful to me (Jn. 8:31, 12:44); in the Apocalypse: �those who remained faithful to me� (Apoc. 2:3, 2:13, 3:8).  The same doctrine with regard to suffering and death for the faith in Jesus: �He who loses his life because of me� (Mk. 8:35); �Do not fear what you are about to suffer� be faithful till death� (Apo .2:10; cfr. also 6,11).

 

The character of the similarities is rather convincing: they are all idiosyncratic features (the egocentric authoritative style, the insistence on faith to Jesus till death), not stereotypes or vague generalities.  It is difficult to imagine that an independent author would have so well crystallized the idiosyncracies of Jesus in the Gospel and used them so naturally.  Thus, the expression: �those who have ears to hear� is not that frequent in the Gospel (Mt. 13:9; 13:43; Mk. 4:12), but here this expression is used quasi-systematically.  We cannot suppose that the expression was so striking, that an independent author would have imitated that expression so systematically.

 

Another idiosyncratic feature is the insistence that the faithful should lose their lives for Jesus, because the only important thing is the faith in Jesus.  A number of letters of apostles are known; there is not one that is so extraordinarily filled with allusions to the Gospels and the Old Testament, and none of them is so extravagantly characterized by an ego-inflated style.  The suspicion that the Gospel and the Apocalyps belong to the same inspiration is therefore well-founded.  One can see clearly that the so-called literary genre hypothesis does not hold: the Apocalypse is not merely one in a series of books that propagate a view of the end of time, with prophecies of catastrophes, etc.  It is a very personal account of the imaginary life of a paraphrenic.

 

The �intertextual� elements in the Apocalypse, i.e. the references to other literary sources, equally provide an indication that Jesus and the seer of the Apocalypse are one and the same person.  The source of inspiration, apart from the personal visions, is still the prophetic tradition; but while in the Gospel it was more Henoch and Isaiah, here it is more Daniel and Ezekiel.  The theme remains the Son of Man who shall return to avenge himself because of unbelief and because the people had slaughtered him like a lamb.

 

The Apocalypse seer is already an old hand at hearing voices: �Then I had a vision. I saw a door in heaven standing open, and the voice, loud as a trumpet, which I had heard speak to me before, called: �Come up there, then I shall show you what must happen after this.�� (Apo. 4:1)

 

The central images of the Apocalypse signify the visionary himself (a self-centredness through diverse personae, which is a feature even of ordinary dreams), in his self-pity and vengefulness, in his frustrated and hurt narcissism: the slaughtered Lamb which will be glorified into an object of universal adoration, and the woman in labour pains, who is about to give birth to the Son of Man.

 

The enemy of the woman in labour is the Beast, i.e. all worldly rulers who usurp the Son of Man�s God-given rights, and esp. the Roman Empire, which divine intervention is about to destroy under the rule of the next emperor.  In these pages of fire and brimstone, the paraphrenic delusion has been cosmically elaborated with unbridled visions of catastrophe, full of horrible revenge and hatred.  The fact that the seer�s own enemy, the Beast, is the enemy of the woman in labour pains, gives a clue to the identity of the woman, viz. the seer himself.  This trans-gender self-image can be compared with Freud�s famous case of Justice Schreber, who thought he would be turned into a woman, get impregnated by a god, and become the mother of a new human race.

 

The woman in labour pains is one motif that is not represented in the Gospel, but of which the appearance in the Apocalypse fits a logical development.  The full confidence of being the Son of Man, soon to be covered with glory, has, after the shock of surviving his glorious execution, and after years of impotent anger against the world�s skepsis, evolved into a vision of the near future, when he willbecome the Son of Man, after the ongoing painful stage of expectation, described as labour pains.  After he survives the crucifixion, his Kingdom does not start.  Instead of shattering his delusion, this gets explained, and the Kingdom is put off to a later date.  We see this in all the predictions of the end of the world: for every failed prediction, there is an explanation that prevents utter disillusionment, and the believers persist in their slightly amended expectation, in spite of all the refutations of their belief by reality. In people afflicted with a delusion, this capacity of rationalizing experiences that are logically disturbing to the delusion, is virtually unassailable. 

 

One could characterize the Apocalyps as the hymn of the wrath, of the anger and the hate, exactly the contrary of the (later) doctrine of Jesus in the Gospels.  Nothing in the Apocalyps is love or mercy, all is self-glory, revenge, wrath, power, cruelty.  The Apocalypse is in stark contradiction with the more theologically elaborated books of the New Testament, esp.  John and Paul.  In those books, Jesus has been humanized in order to make him more acceptable to the faithful.

 

The hypothesis that the Apocalypse is Jesus� own swan song, is based on psycho-pathological parallelism, taking into account the time factor: further development of the delusion into a form at once more extreme and yet incorporating a compromise with unresponsive reality, viz. the fact that his glorification as the Son of Man has so far failed to come about.  This hypothesis has the immense advantage that it requires only one theory to explain both the Gospel and the Apocalypse, not the string of dozens of little separate explanations which the theologians offer.  In fact, it is the first-ever coherent explanation of the Apocalypse, a text with which the theologians have never come to terms. 
 

Footnotes:

1For an assessment of Nietzsche�s view of Christianity, in the light of recent Bible scholarship, see Henk Van Gelre: Friedrich Nietzsche en de Bronnen van de Westerse Beschaving (Dutch: �Friedrich Nietzsche and the Sources of Western Civilization�), vol. 1, Ambo, Baarn 1990.

 

2Sigmund Freud: Der Mann Moses und die Monotheistische Religion: Drei Abhandlungen (1939), republished in vol. 13 of The Penguin Freud Library.

 

3Ch. Binet-Sanglé: La Folie de Jésus (French: �Jesus� Madness�), Paris 1908-12; W. Hirsch: Religion und Civilisation, Munchen 1910., G.L. de Loosten: Jesus Christus vom Standpunkt des Psychiaters (German: �Jesus Christ from the Psychiatrist�s Viewpoint�), Bamberg 1905.

 

4A. Schweitzer: Die psychiatrische Beurteilung Jesu, Tubingen, 1913.

 

5Excerpts in Elke Schlinck-Lazarraga: �De vraag naar de psychischgeestelijke gezondheidstoestand van Jesus� (Dutch: �The question of Jesus� psycho-mental health condition�), in Teksten Kommentaren en Studies, December 1981.

 

6Hermann Werner: �Der historische Jesus der liberalen Theologie - ein Geisteskranker?�, in Neue Kirchliche Zeitschrift 22 (1911), p.347-390, quoted in Elke Schlinck-Lazarraga: op.cit.

 

7With these quotes from John�s Gospel, it should be kept in mind that they are part of the most �theological� Gospel, the one most unscrupulously tailoring stories to fit the emerging Christian theology and also the Church�s missionary programme, which rejected Christianity�s Jewish roots and therefore exaggerated the opposition between Jesus and �the Jews� Nonetheless, even if John concocted these incidents, this proves that he expected his audience to accept them as realistic.

 

8The classic on the magician�s role which Jesus played or was considered playing, and at the same time a very informative work on the role of the missionary/polemical context in which the Gospels were written, is Morton Smith: Jesus the Magician, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London 1978.

 

9In Anglo-Saxon textbooks of psychopathology, paraphrenia will be subsumed-under the larger category paranoia.  This should, according to Dr. Somers, be considered a recrudescence and loss of an essential distinction.

 

10The number 666 has also some numerical properties, e.g. it is the triangular number of 36 (= sum of all numbers from 1 to 36); but then, many numbers have remarkable properties, so this is not sufficiently distinctive.  Incidentally, Jesus� name in Greek,Iesoys, has the numerical value 888; and 8 was a sacred number for early Christians, signifying the �eighth day�, the completion of the 7-day Creation, viz. the Resurrection. See C.F. Dumermuth: �Number Symbolism: a Biblical Key�, in Asia Journal of The Theology, 1/1990.

 

11Suetonius mentions the measures against the Christians among Nero�s praiseworthy reforms, and calls this sect �a new superstition involving the practice of magic�.

 

12E.g. M.J. Lagrange: Le Messianisme chez les Juifs, Paris 1909; id.: Le Judaisme avant Jésus-Christ, Paris, 1931; and E. Schillebeeckx: Jesus, het verhaal van een levende, Brugge 1975. 



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CHAPTER FOUR

REACTIONS TO PSYCHO-CHRISTOLOGY

4.1. Catholic reactions

 

In Flanders, the Catholic-dominated press has kept very quiet about Dr. Somers� approach to Jesus.  Most theologians have kept mum.  The Vatican has not reacted.  It had put some Jesuits to work on this theory, but they did not publicly speak out.  Perhaps they are aware of its explosive potential.  Perhaps they are, on the contrary, not worried at all, because earlier psychopathological studies about Jesus had also not toppled Christianity.

 

But those earlier theories had been put forward by staunch atheists who had been a bit intemperate and triumphalistic in the presentation of their case, which made it sound less scientific and less convincing.  Moreover, psychology then was not what it is now. Then, there was an Albert Schweitzer to write an in-depth reply which had convinced many believers that there was nothing to worry, that this was just another of those far-fatched hypotheses that anti-Christian skeptics used to come up with.1 But now, no man of the stature of Albert Schweitzer has come forward with a reply.  And this time, the psycho-analysis of Jesus is being presented sobrely by a man who was a faithful servant of the Church for most of his life, and who knows not only psychology, in a more advanced form, but also the philological and theological aspects of Bible research.

 

A comment on Dr. Somers� work was written by the KUL (Catholic University Leuven) theologian Leo Kenis, who denounced the book as assuming the Bible text to be historical, and as not understanding the Biblical language game, etc.2 A leftist weekly has collected a few more reactions, notably those of Prof.  Etienne Vermeersch, another ex-Jesuit, now staunch opponent of Church and religion; and of Prof.  Edward Schillebeeckx, the famous Flemish theologian teaching in Nijmegen, Holland.  Let us have a brief look at their objections.

 

1. �Paraphrenia does not exist.  It is an outdated category in psychopathology, not even mentioned in American manuals of psychiatry.�

 

It is a fact that in the US, the paraphrenia syndrome has been subsumed under the more general category of paranoia.  But in continental Europe, the fine distinction between the two is certainly being maintained.  Even otherwise, it would only be a change in name-tag: the diagnosis of at least a psychopathological condition of the paranoia family would remain in place.  The symptoms remain symptoms, even if the condition they indicate gets a less precise definition or another name.

 

2. �This approach forces modern categories on ancient cultural phenomena.  What would now be considered a disease was something divine in those days.  Vincent Van Gogh was considered a madman in his time, but a genius today.�

 

Just like physical diseases have been diagnosed on the leftovers of people who died one hundred or ten thousand years ago, because physical diseases have remained the same all along, mental afflictions can also be diagnosed because they have also remained the same.  In fact, terms like �epilepsy� and �paranoia� were coined by Greek doctors, so these diseases were known in their time, and were considered as diseases.  They were not that precisely defined and only known to very few initiates (not to Jesus� audience), but at least they indicate that human psychopathology has not fundamentally changed over the millennia.  The fact that the same psychological phenomena were interpreted differently, not as disease but as ghost-possession or god-inspiration, only goes to confirm the thesis that what was deemed a sign of divinity by Jesus� (and other prophets�) followers, may in reality have been a pathological symptom.

 

The best proof that the diagnosis remains the same in spite of cultural differences, is the fact that contemporaries of Jesus considered him mentally disturbed.  The pharisees say: �Now we know that you are possessed by a devil� (John 8:52).  According to the Gospel of the Hebrews, an apocryphal text (i.e. kept out of the Church canon, not because of unreliability but because of theological inconvenience), Jesus� family wants him to get baptized, because they hope that this ritual may purify him from the impure spirit that troubles him.  And the canonical Gospels confirm that Jesus� own family members considered him mentally afflicted: when they hear that his public life has started they want to take him back home, �because they thought he had gone out of his mind� (Mark 3:21). One could ask: but why have the Gospel editors not scrapped this hint at a mental affliction?  The answer is that they had to counter precisely this allegation from their audiences, so they roundly admitted that people could consider mad what was in fact divine.

 

As for Van Gogh, if he was a mental patient in the 19th century, he would still have been one today.  It so happens that there is a lot of debate about the correctness of the diagnosis of Van Gogh.3 At any rate, his condition did not prevent him from being a genius in painting.  The point is that between functioning non-mad people and non-functioning mad people, you have shades of gradual mental affliction, which allow people to be somewhat mad and yet function.  This unease may even act as an incentive to remarkable achievements, like a peculiar inspiredness in painting, or a kind of charisma in a wandering god-man.  Nevertheless, the �revelations� such people get, no matter how creatively they integrate them, are at any rate the products of their own minds, not messages from God.

 

3. �The Bible stories do not give a historical report about Jesus� doings and sayings.  Therefore, no diagnosis of a historical character can be extracted from them.�

 

This stand, taken by modem theologians like Schillebeeckx, is in fact dangerously undermining the foundations of the Christian faith.  As Prof. Vermeersch, another ex-Jesuit who renounced Christianity, commented on Prof.  Schillebeeckx� reaction: if all these Bible stories are only stories, do you think that the common faithful will remain Christians if they are told the truth about these �mere stories�?  The crux of the Christian faith is precisely that God has intervened in history, by sacrificing his Only-begotten Son and resurrecting Him.  If the report in the Gospels is not history, then the Christian myth is at best of the same order as all the Pagan myths, and Christianity must forsake its claims to uniqueness and finality.

 

What is worse from the scholarly angle: this hiding behind the postulated non-historical character of the Gospel stories fatally leaves important features of the Gospel unexplained.  Quite a few episodes cannot possibly be explained as �post-paschal glorification� or any other of the difficult concepts which the exegetes keep on inventing.  They can only be understood as the report (even if distorted and reworked) of a historical reality.

 

Prof. Schillebeeckx has said that Dr. Somers should study �literary genres� and �narrativity� before he can speak about Gospel interpretation.  As a negative authority argument this is quite ludicrous, since dr. Somers is a Ph.D. in theology with a lot of research publications to his credit, plus a number of other academic titles and achievements besides, and he can talk circles around most theologians, who are a class of specialists not taken seriously by most fellow academics.  He rejects �narrativity� not because of ignorance, but because on the contrary he has found that classifying the Gospel episodes as different types of narrative does not add up to any explanation and understanding worth the name.  In contrast to the theologians, a number of psychiatrists have declared they could not find any fault with Dr. Somers� methodology and conclusions.

4.2 Shock and disbelief

 

For many people, Dr. Somers� research findings have come as a shock.

 

Being shaken in your most cherished beliefs can be hard.  The first reaction is outright rejection.  When I was 6 and my sister told me that Saint Nicolas (a saint popular in the Low Countries, deformed in America to Santa Claus), the saint who rides the rooftops on his white horse and brings toys through the chimneys, �does not exist�, I was sincerely indignant that she dared to say such scandalous things.  My indignation lasted only a minute, I was still young and flexible; but when you have spent decades nurturing a certain belief and making it the corner-stone of your world-view and value-system, seeing it swept away can be painful.

 

Dr. Somers has testified how for him too, discovering the untenability of the belief system to which he had devoted his life had been a long-drawn-out painful experience.  But what can we do?  We all have to grow up one day, and accept that Saint Nicolas does not exist.

 

Many Christians have never had any scruples to disrupt the entire culture, not merely the beliefs but also the entire way of life, of non-Christians.  Actual disruption has happened on a large scale in many countries, but verbal blackening has been truly universal among believing Christians.  The Old Testament speaks in the most hateful terms about the Gentiles, the New Testament is very harsh on the Jews and the Pagans.  Christians are spoonfed this attitude to unbelievers simply by hearing and reading their revered Scriptures.

 

To Christians shocked by the psychopathological approach to some of their great religious figures, we may point out that Christian polemists have always accused a similar prophet, Mohammed, of being something else than a genuine spokesman of God.  Either he had to be an impostor, who didn�t believe in his own prophethood but fooled the masses. Or he had to be ghost-possessed: that was the perception of Mohammed�s contemporaries, against which he had to defend himself a dozen times, and which Christian polemists have borrowed and repeated numerous times.4

 

Though Mohammed�s adversary Utba investigated the matter and gave Mohammed a certificate of complete sanity (according to Muslim sources), Christian polemists have kept on using the charge of a psychopathological disturbance against their arch-rival Mohammed until in the 20th century, secular-minded diagnoses of Jesus made them realize that this approach would damage Jesus along with Mohammed.

 

The campaigns they have waged against the gods and religious figures of non-Abrahamic religions have been along different lines, but usually just as insulting.  So, Christian polemists are in no position to protest when Jesus is put to psychopathological scrutiny.

 

Being confronted with facts and insights that jeopardize your cherished beliefs may be painful for many, but for many others the experience comes as a liberation.  Dr. Somers relates how after the publication of his first book on Jesus, he received a grateful letter from a woman who had been going through divorce proceedings before a Church Court.  For Catholics, divorce is strictly forbidden even if the marriage is a complete disaster, unless a Church Court declares the marriage invalid.  For people who believe that Church-ordained morality is based on a revelation through God�s Only-born Son, the thought of trespassing against the divorce prohibition is extremely heavy to bear. In the case of this lady, the news that Jesus was just a human person, whose self-proclamation as Son of God was merely a delusion, reduced the questions of morality she was facing to the human level where they properly belong.  By accepting the failure of her marriage, she would not be trespassing against a divine law, nor would she go to hell.

 

More generally, the suffocating grip of Church dogma over human decisions has been eliminated at the source.  Many theologians have tried to amend Church dogma or Biblical prescriptions by superficially glossing over the implications of such reforms.  Either Jesus� revelation is forever valid, and then no changes are possible in the entire theological edifice logically constructed upon this basic belief; or changes are possible, but then the divine and unique character of Jesus� mission and message is undermined.  In Dr. Somers� approach, by contrast, we have a contradiction-free solution: forget the prophets� claims of divine authority, forget Jesus� claims of a divine nature, and start the human quest for meaning and for an ethical code all over on a different basis.

4.3. Prophetic monotheism and Sanatana Dharma

 

In the past century, people belonging to the Hindu-Buddhist cultural sphere have started projecting the characteristics of their own spiritual masters on the monotheist prophets.  Thus, when Jesus says: �The Kingdom of God is among you�, meaning �I, Jesus, am the Kingdom of God�, these good-natured Orientals take it to mean: �The Kingdom of God is inside of you, waiting to be discovered through meditation.� They have started to say that the prophets were a kind of yogis who taught their followers a way to attain a divine state of consciousness.

 

In fact, prophecy is radically different from yoga: it means allowing an outside entity, which in the case of monotheism is called Yahweh/God/Allah, to blow certain consciousness contents into your mind.  Consciousness is not turned inward, but is (or believes it is) communicating with another Being.  Moreover, the mind is not being emptied of its contents and made to rest in itself, as it is in yoga; on the contrary, it is being filled with a message beyond one�s control.  The prophet receives a certain information: prophecy is like talking, though with an unusual partner via an unusual channel; but yoga is silence.  Lastly, if it is correct that prophethood is a mental aberration and a delusion, then that makes it the very antithesis of yoga, which is an undisturbed and realistic awareness of pure consciousness.

 

Yoga is not an erratic and disturbing experience which befalls you and drives you to tirades of doom and to outbursts against your fellow men.  It is a systematic discipline and makes the practitioner calm and serene.  The word yoga means discipline, control (it is also translated as �uniting�: not the soul with an outsider called God, but the mind with its object, i.e. concentration).  Since its field of working is consciousness, it is not interested in outward experiences such as recognition and glorification, or martyrdom.  There is nothing dramatic about yoga, in stark contrast to the dramas enacted and encountered by the prophets.

 

The most remarkable difference between the prophets� discourse and that of the rishis, is certainly this.  The prophets all talk about themselves a lot.  They think they are very special, this one person in this one body is different from the rest and has an exclusive relationship with the Creator.  But the rishis talked about a universal way, a world order in which we all participate, a state of consciousness we can all achieve.  If God is defined as that which transcends all worldly differences, the One above the Many, then this universalism is far more divine than the prophets� exclusivism.

 

What Hindus who have been trapped in a sentimental glorification of Jesus and other prophets will have to learn, is that the essence of Hindu Dharma is not �tolerance�, or �equal respect for all religions�, but Satya, truth.  The problem with Christianity and Islam is superficially their intolerance and fanaticism.  But this intolerance is a consequence of these religions� untruthfulness: if your belief system is based on delusions, you have to pre-empt rational inquiry into it and shield it from contact with more sustainable thought systems.  The fundamental problem with the monotheist religions is not that they are intolerant, but that they are untrue, (Asatya orAnrita).

 

At this point many Hindus will be sincerely shocked, they will object, and Christian polemists will express the same objection: �By denouncing some religions as untrue, you are making a pretentious claim to knowing the ultimate truth.� In the case of Christians who know and believe the essence of their religion, this objection is highly insincere, as they themselves are confidently claiming to possess the ultimate, God-given truth.  Otherwise, the objection against absolute truth-claims may be valid.  The point is that by denouncing the defining beliefs of Christianity (and similarly, Islam) as untrue, we are not making a claim to know the final truth.  The quest for the final truth remains open.  When scientists find that a certain hypothesis is empirically disproves, they henceforth treat it as untrue and move on to more promising hypotheses; this does not imply a pretentious claim to ultimate truth.  It is simply that once a belief is found to be untrue, we should not burden ourselves with it anymore, so that we can keep ourselves free for something more true.

 

There are other respects also in which Christianity and Sanatana Dharma are radically different.  Christianity worships a suffering convict on the cross, and consequently glorifies suffering.  To a woman who was heavily suffering, mother Teresa wrote: �You should be grateful for this suffering.  It is Christ�s way of kissing you.�

 

In a sense, there is something to it that �hardships are the spice of life, they mould the perfect man�.  Even so, the unabashed glorification of happiness is a far healthier attitude than the glorification of suffering.  Hardships will come anyway, but it is morbid to focus the mind on them unnecessarily.  When Christians hear Chinese people wish each other �much wealth� or in fact �much money�, on New Year�s day, they find it rather shocking.  When they see depictions of Lakshmi or Ganesh, with all their opulence and well-being and endless generosity, they find something is very wrong.  At any rate, it is a kind of iconography which you will not find in any church.

 

Like Christianity, several Sanatana traditions, esp.  Buddhism, focus on suffering.  But they have an unambiguous verdict: suffering is the problem, we offer a way out of it.  The common-sense position of mainstream Hindu sources like the Bhagavad Gita is that suffering is a fact of life, that we have to bravely face it, that enduring it makes us stronger; but not that we should glorify it.  In Christianity, a straightforward remedy against suffering is always resented as a bit selfish; since we are sinners, suffering is what we deserve.

 

This attitude to suffering is symptomatic of the single most harmful characteristic of Christianity: its lack of balance.  In traditional Pagan and secular systems of ethics, the principle of the Golden Mean is duly emphasized (Aristotle, Confucius, Buddha); by contrast, Christianity fosters a sentimental extremism.

 

The only Bible books that consist of lucid observations about life, are non-prophetic books like Proverbs and Qohelet (Ecclesiastes).  They belong to a section of the Old Testament called Ketuvim, �Writings�, for which no divine source is claimed.  Their source is just human and normal, rather like any collection of quotations or �Collected Proverbs from the Middle East�.  These sayings range from the trivial and uninspired to the witty and the profound.  Some good, some not so good, a few gems: your average human product.  These human sayings have some good advice to offer on how to conduct life; in the prophetic revelations, it is hard to find any such good advice.

 

Prophetism has caused innumerable hardships without giving anything valuable in return.  Not one of the valuable things in the cultures dominated by it, can be traced to their prophetic-monotheistic component.  Its source has more often than not been mental darkness.  Today, there is no justification for keeping humanity in the mental prison of prophetism any longer. 
 

Footnotes:

1A. Schweitzer: Die Psychiatrische Beurteilung Jesu (German: �The Psychiatric Evaluation of Jesus�), Tubingen 1913.

 

2Review of Jezus de Messias, under pseudonym Joris Christiaansen, in Kultuurleven, December 1986.

 

3According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Van Gogh really had Ménière�s disease, an ailment which can cause hallucinations and a ringing in the ear. Perhaps he cut his ear off as a way of relieving this suffering. But dr. Alan D. Kornblut, chief editor of the Ear, Nose and Throat Journal, rejects this diagnosis.

 

4See Quran 15:6, 23:25, 23:70, 26:27, 34:8, 34:46, 37:36, 44:14, 51:39. 52:29, 68:2, 68:51, 81:22.  People also call him �enchanted�, according to Quran 17:47, 25:8.



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