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Post Info TOPIC: Could Jesus Have Been Psychotic? - Kalavai Venkat


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Could Jesus Have Been Psychotic? - Kalavai Venkat

Could Jesus Have Been Psychotic?

Results of an Investigation by Leading Medical Experts


A 2012 investigation informs that Jesus could possibly have suffered from a psychotic disorder. This information may shock some Christians, who could perceive this as an attack on their cherished religious beliefs. However, this attempt at offering a tentative medical appraisal of Jesus’ behavior is not meant to offend Christian sensibilities but instead to pursue the truth and to create a reasonable, truthful, and sympathetic understanding of Jesus.

The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, in which this analysis appeared, is a highly respected academic journal. It is the official journal of the American Neuropsychiatric Association, the society of psychiatrists working at the interface between neuroscience and behavioral disorders.[ii] The authors of this study, Evan D. Murray, Miles G. Cunningham, and Bruce H. Price, are affiliated with the prestigious Harvard Medical School. All the three are acclaimed authorities in the field of neuropsychiatry, and each are actively working with persons with neurological and psychiatric conditions.[iii] Their discussion was aimed at helping to understand Jesus for who he really might have been. Their paper was rigorously peer-reviewed by other distinguished authorities during the course of a year, modified where necessary, and finally published in December 2012. The authors clearly articulate the purpose their research. In the United States, every year, thousands of patients display symptoms of psychotic disorders:

“As many as 60% of those with schizophrenia have religious grandiose delusions consisting of believing they are a saint, God, the devil, a prophet, Jesus, or some other important person. How do we explain to our patients that their psychotic symptoms are not supernatural intimations when our civilization recognizes similar phenomena in revered religious figures?”[iv]

This is an important point. How can one convince the patient, or his relatives, that the patient is suffering from a mental illness when society perceives religious figures such as Jesus who displayed similar symptoms as divinely inspired? Won’t the patient think that he too is divinely inspired when in reality he needs medical care? An understanding that Jesus suffered from a mental affliction would allow society to perceive him with increased compassion and this would translate into increased understanding and empathy for persons with mental illnesses.

It is important to recognize that Murray et al have performed a tentative assessment on Jesus’ condition based on religious sources while informing the reader about the inherent limitations of such an approach as opposed to the use of modern medical reports. Hence, they cautiously conclude that it is possible that Jesus was psychotic assuming he indeed existed. I will further elaborate on the controversy around the existence of Jesus in the section, “Answering Possible Objections,” later in this article but here it would suffice to say that Murray et al have appraised the Jesus of the New Testament based on the behaviors attributed to him in that text. Any retrospective attribution of a medical condition carries the possibility of being incorrect, and hence Murray et al are careful to highlight the reasonable sources of error. Murray et al also recognize the positive effects some religious beliefs and practices might have on some practitioners’ lives and certainly do not intend to offend the sensibilities of believers. I think their stance is consistent with that of many other neuroscientists who differentiate beneficial religious beliefs from harmful ones. A very good example of this stance is the University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist Andrew Newberg’s book, How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist, co-authored with Mark Robert Waldman, where Newberg dispassionately studies the effects of yöga and meditation on practitioners and concludes that they are beneficial. So, the effort of Murray et al must be seen from this reasonable perspective and not as an attack on religion per se.

In this article, I will summarize the findings of the paper published by Murray et al, provide commentary where I would add my own perspective, review possible objections to the methodology that Murray et al have used, and conclude with a discussion based upon their results and my additional perspective concerning the possible implications of their findings.

The Methodology, the Symptoms, and the Diagnosis

Murray et al use Differential Diagnosis, a diagnostic method used in psychiatry to diagnose a specific disease in a patient. They rely upon the spoken words and behavioral patterns attributed to Jesus in The New Testament as source report and compare those against the criteria and psychiatric symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders[v] (DSM). Here is a summary of symptoms that Jesus is purported to display:[vi]

Psychotic symptoms Jesus displaysBiblical verses reporting these symptoms
Paranoid-type (PS subtype) thought contentMatthew 10:34–39, 16:21–23, 24:4–27


Mark 13:5–6

Luke 10:19

John 3:18, 14:6–11

Auditory and visual hallucinationsMatthew 3:16–17, 4:3–11


Luke 10:18

John 6:46, 8:26, 8:38–40, 12:28–29

Referential thought processesMark 4:38–40


Luke 18:31

Since Murray et al do not elaborate on these verses (their paper is focused on medical diagnosis) I will elaborate each one of these observations in detail.

Paranoid-type (PS subtype) thought content

Paranoid-type (PS subtype) thought content is one in which delusions are typically persecutory or grandiose or both and are organized around a theme. In the case of Jesus, these symptoms are organized around the grandiose theme of messianic apocalypse in which he imagines himself as the persecuted messiah.

He announces that he has come to obliterate peace on earth and to tear asunder families. One must abandon family to become his follower. Whoever is ready to die for Jesus will find eternal life in heaven and those who are not willing to die for Jesus are unworthy of heaven  (Matthew 10:34-39). He visualizes himself to be so important that in his imagination everybody wants to persecute him. Of course, he will present himself as the sacrificial victim by going to Jerusalem to be persecuted and killed. However, it will not end there. Against all odds, he will be resurrected three days later. Peter, one of his disciples, is naturally skeptical of these prophecies and is rebuked by Jesus as Satan (Matthew 16:21-23).

Jesus claims to have knowledge of events to come and imagines himself to be the protagonist. He warns his followers that many false prophets would impersonate him. His own followers would be hated, persecuted, and put to death merely because they believe in him. He specifically warns pregnant women and nursing mothers that they would be put through distress and be made to flee as these events he portends unfold. He becomes paranoid and urges his followers not to believe anything they hear about him. He predicts that after the calamities have unfolded, he would return and usher in the Kingdom of God to end all this distress to save his followers (Matthew 24:4-27). Having earlier frightened pregnant women and nursing mothers, Jesus then inexplicably tells his followers not to be alarmed when they hear about wars and tumult.

The grandiose beliefs remain a constant though. His followers would be tortured by the rulers but they need not worry. The Holy Ghost will supply them with the needed answers at the right time (Mark 13:5-11). The grandiose theme continues to grow. It is not only that Jesus possesses supernatural powers he also bestows his followers with those powers. They would be able to trample on their enemies and not suffer any harm whatsoever. His followers could rejoice that their names are written in heaven. Jesus informs his audience that this secret message of the events to unfold had all along been hidden from mankind but God has chosen him as the agency to carry this message. His followers must consider themselves blessed to receive this message that so many have eagerly awaited all along (Luke 10:19-24).

His self-importance attains gargantuan proportions and he menacingly declares that those who do not believe in him as the exclusive savior are condemned forever (John 3:18). He identifies himself with God, informs his audience that those who have seen him have seen God as well, and declares that nobody goes to heaven unless they exclusively believe in him (John 14:6-11).




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Auditory (AH) and visual hallucinations (VH)

Auditory and visual hallucinations are related to themes of delusions. A person experiencing these hears voices and sees visions in his head. These hallucinations can be noticed in patients suffering from schizophrenia and related disorders. Jesus unmistakably displays these symptoms where he has conversations in his head with imaginary characters and sees prophets whereas those who are beside him do not hear or see anything.

The New Testament narrates the episode of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. Jesus is baptized, the heaven opens, the spirit of God takes the form of a dove and descends on him, and a voice from heaven announces that Jesus is the son of God (Matthew 3:16-17). It does not require a lot of discussion to conclude that “heaven opening” or “voice of God emanating from heaven” are cosmological impossibilities and that these are likely to have been auditory and visual hallucinations that Jesus had.

Jesus fasts for forty days and nights in wilderness where he is tempted by the devil who apparently takes him to different places to test his will. Jesus gives seemingly clever answers and the speechless devil leaves and the angels of God come and attend Jesus (Matthew 4:3-11). Elsewhere, he sees Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18). One must depend on events of infinitesimal probability to support the reality of these verses. To a rational observer, these are symptoms of delusion.

Jesus claims that he is the only one who has seen God (John 6:46). He vehemently tells his audience that he is from heaven, everything he says and does manifests God’s wishes, and he is going to a place where his listeners cannot follow. This makes no sense to his Jewish audience who wonder whether he is talking of committing suicide (John 8:19-30). He claims that he is merely telling his audience the words he heard from God and that he has seen God’s abode (John 8:38-40). His audience is confounded because they could not relate to this God who only existed in Jesus’ mind. It is reasonable to propose that a psychotic Jesus believed that he was sent from heaven to where he would return after fulfilling his all-important mission which only he could accomplish.

Jesus, apparently suffering from suicidal depression, hears the voice of God. However, The NewTestament reports that some of those present hear a thunder whereas some others hear the voice of angels (John 12:28-30). Can you imagine each attendee of a rock concert or a movie show hearing a different lyric or dialog respectively? That would be impossible. One must again suspend reason to accept that Jesus and his audience heard different things: the voice of God, a thunder, or the voice of angels. It is apparent that Jesus heard what he most likely believed to be the voice of God and his companions heard nothing or tried to rationalize the incident by amplifying the importance of whatever else they may have heard or they were suggestible and thereby had a religious experience. Research has also shown that individuals can fabricate false memories even though the individual is not aware of this process. If this had occurred to the disciples of Jesus they may well have not realized that this was occurring. Richard Dawkins points out:

“The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown great courage, in the face of spiteful vested interests, in demonstrating how easy it is for people to concoct memories that are entirely false but which seem, to the victim, every bit as real as true memories.”[vii]

It is reasonable to conclude that the followers, who believed that Jesus was the messiah, did not hear the same thing as Jesus heard and hence bear witness based on a rationalization of their own individual experiences, and that the entire episode is probably a case of auditory and visual hallucination that Jesus might have experienced.

Referential thought processes

Referential thought processes refer to the tendency to find self-relevant meaning in random events.[viii]For example, let us say a bird was chirping in the patio of your house in the morning and later in the day you received a new job offer. The chirping of the bird is a random event which has no correlation to the job offer you received. However, if you are predisposed to indulge in referential thought process, you may conclude that the job offer came because the bird chirped. In extreme cases, you may even ask the bird to chirp every time you are anxiously awaiting a new job offer.  It is a phenomenon that ranges from dissociative or imaginative states to more extreme states related to psychosis and schizophrenia. Jesus displays referential thinking.

Jesus and his disciples were once caught in a momentary storm which only seems to have lasted briefly. The frightened disciples thought they were going to drown. Jesus rebuked the winds and told the waves to be quiet. Once the storm receded, Jesus rebuked his disciples for not having faith in him and they in turn marveled at his powers (Mark 4:35-41). It is reasonable to agree that winds and waves do not follow spoken words. Jesus related a random event, the dying down of a momentary storm, to his own imaginary divine powers.

On a different occasion, Jesus tells his disciples that once they all reach Jerusalem he would be arrested, mocked, killed, and then resurrected according to an ancient prophecy. However, his disciples could not understand how this past event narrated in scripture had anything to do with Jesus (Luke 18:31-34). This is an example of referential thought processes where Jesus interprets an unrelated scriptural verse written centuries ago as prophecy applicable to him.

Having provided my perspective, I will now return to the conclusions that Murray et al arrive at:[ix]

  1. Jesus possibly experienced behavior closely resembling the DSM–defined phenomena of Auditory Hallucination (AH), Visual Hallucination (VH), delusions, referential thinking, paranoid-type (PS subtype) thought content, and hyper-religiosity.
  1. His symptoms lasted for over a year which meets the DSM-defined criteria.
  1. There is a 5%–10% lifetime risk of suicide in persons with schizophrenia. While Jesus did not commit suicide, his death has a striking parallel to premeditated suicide by proxy where a person willfully places himself in circumstances that led to his execution. Jesus was aware that people intended to kill him yet places himself in circumstances that would result in his execution. He explains to his followers the necessity of his death as prelude for his return (Matthew 16:21–28;Mark 8:31; John 16:16–28).

Murray et al then explore how much his symptoms have in common with schizophrenia:[x]

SymptomsWere these present in Jesus?
Visual hallucinationsYes
Negative symptomsNo
Duration of symptoms yearsMore than a year – this sufficiently meets the diagnostic criteria
Decline in occupational functioningInconclusive evidence – since just over a year of activities from Jesus’ life are reported in The New Testament.

They conclude that Jesus displays most but not all symptoms of schizophrenia. However, he displays symptoms of psychosis and he may have also possibly suffered from folie à deux, a shared psychotic disorder.




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  Answering Possible Objections

In this section, I will anticipate possible objections to the methodology used by Murray et al and answer those.

  1. One cannot retrospectively diagnose a long dead patient based on biblical reports.

Murray et al anticipate this objection and offer a response to it which I would paraphrase.[xi]

  1. Advances in understanding human physiology have afforded us some confidence for interpreting certain types of findings even retrospectively. For example, the 6th century BCE Indian physician Suśruta describes sweet urine and one does not require the physical presence of the long dead patient to recognize a probable case of diabetes mellitus.
  2. It is an over-simplification to argue that the physical presence of a patient is always required for correct diagnosis of the illness. The behavioral and neurological fields of medicine frequently rely upon reports by friends, family, and associates to draw inferences simply because the patients themselves are often reticent to talk about their symptoms, self-reporting is inaccurate, and medical professionals have to piece together incomplete information to arrive at the diagnosis.

So, it is reasonable to rely upon the testimony provided in The New Testament to arrive at a psychiatric evaluation of Jesus. I would add the following:

  1. Laboratory tests available to diagnose diseases such as Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder, schizophrenia, etc., are even today very limited (often non-existent) and the psychiatrist has to rely upon reports from acquaintances describing the behavior of the patient as the primary means to arrive at a diagnosis. It is no different when a psychiatrist relies upon what acquaintances report about the behavior of Jesus in The New Testament.
  2. It would be the height of hypocrisy when a Christian apologist insists that it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus was divine without ever meeting him and based on a (selective and uncritical) reading of The New Testament but a scientist cannot systematically analyze the same biblical verses and diagnose Jesus with psychosis.
  1. Would the behavior of Jesus have been considered normal by his contemporaries?

 Here, the implication is that we are judging Jesus by retroactively projecting our modern cultural biases on a Palestinian carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago. Would his contemporaries have considered the behavior of Jesus normal? The answer is a definitive no. The New Testament narrates an episode where a crowd had gathered around a house which Jesus had gone into. His family heard about this and went to take charge of him, fearing, “He is out of his mind (Mark 3:21).” Koenraad Elst, in his brilliant work,Psychology of Prophetism: A Secular Look at the Bible, based on the researches of the Belgian theologian and psychologist Herman Somers draws our attention to the apocryphal Gospel of Hebrews, which 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’ behavior had been strange for some time already, and now that there is an exorcist in the neighborhood, the remedy should be tried: if it doesn’t help, it doesn’t harm either.”[xii]

That settles the matter. Even the immediate family of Jesus recognized that he was mentally ill and needed help. The fact that The New Testament as well as the apocryphal traditions relay this information tells us that even his contemporaries did not consider the behavior of Jesus normal. So, we are not retroactively projecting modern biases on an ancient Palestinian carpenter.

  1. Are these medical authorities scholars of The New Testament?

 A corollary to this argument is that the medical authorities have interpreted the sayings of Jesus literally instead of interpreting them figuratively whereas a biblical scholar familiar with the primary sources in Aramaic or Greek would surely have understood the subtle nuances. Such arguments are most likely to originate from Christian apologists. In effect, they invoke argument from authority and attempt to disqualify a medical authority from bringing in a rational perspective. However, this kind of special pleading will not work here for multiple reasons:

  1. Murray et al have relied upon The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version, edited by May H. G. and Metzger B. M., Oxford University Press for their biblical citations. Professor Bruce Metzger was a towering biblical scholar and textual critic and it is reasonable to assume that the edition he produced in 1977 would not have stood the test of time unless it had been reliable. Medical authorities that rely upon such authoritative sources have done their due diligence and need not be biblical scholars themselves.
  2. Herman Somers, whom we encountered earlier, had been a Catholic priest, theologian, as well as a psychologist. He had been trained in reading and interpreting the primary biblical sources. He interpreted the relevant verses precisely the way our Harvard experts have interpreted them.
  3. If there is really some figurative meaning to these logia of Jesus, how come one is unable to find such in the translations of any edition of The New Testament? It is simply because there is no figurative meaning to the sayings relevant to this study. Christian apologists attempt to create this smoke screen merely as a stratagem to deflect attention away from inconvenient facts brought forth by informed critics.
  1. How did Jesus acquire so many followers if he was really mad?

 Murray et al anticipate this question and respond to it by invoking the modern day examples of David Koresh and Marshall Applewhite both of whom appear to have had psychotic-spectrum beliefs. I will provide some background on these individuals. David Koresh was the charismatic leader of Branch Davidians, a fringe Christian group that was formed as a break-away splinter of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Branch Davidians nurtured a novel belief that Jesus is judging everyone in heaven on an ongoing basis and that he would resurrect the dead in batches. Eventually, many of his followers not only subscribed to such irrational beliefs but also fought and died for Koresh.

Marshal Applewhite was even more charismatic and irrational. He had founded a religious group called Heaven’s Gate and taught that a spaceship was accompanying Comet Hale-Bopp. The spaceship was supposed to take Applewhite and his followers to heaven provided they all committed suicide. Any public school educated ten year old child would know that comets are masses of ice and that spaceships do not accompany them. Yet, despite his mental illness, Applewhite was able to convince his followers otherwise.

I would like to add the example of Jim Jones, who had been influenced by the charismatic faith-healing acts he witnessed in the Seventh Day Baptist Church early in his life and who later founded the religious movement known as the Peoples Temple. Jones was paranoid that government officials were going shoot the innocent babies of his movement, torture the children and seniors, and convert the captured children to fascism. Jones was charismatic enough to convince over 900 of his followers to commit mass suicide in 1978 to avoid being “captured” by the government. Rational people can tell that Jones’ paranoia was due to his mental illness but his followers did not see it that way and allowed themselves to be persuaded by him.

How did Koresh, Applewhite, or Jones succeed? Murray et al point out:

“A subset of individuals with psychotic symptoms appears able to form intense social bonds and communities despite having an extremely distorted view of reality.”[xiii]

That explains why Jesus would have succeeded in forming intense social bonds with small but closely-knit group of followers despite his psychosis. There is no correlation between the mental sanity of the proponent of an idea and the influence such persons have on others. The eminent neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran, while discussing mirror neurons and exotic syndromes, in The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human, provides some hints about how mentally ill people may influence others:

“Dissolution of interpersonal boundaries may also explain more exotic syndromes such as folie à deux, in which two people, such as Bush and Cheney, share each other’s madness. Romantic love is a minor form of folie à deux, a mutual delusional fantasy that often afflicts otherwise normal people. Another example is Munchausen syndrome by proxy, in which hypochondriasis (where every trifling symptom is experienced as a harbinger of fatal illness) is unconsciously projected onto another (the “proxy”)—often by a parent onto his or her child—instead of onto oneself. Much more bizarre is the Couvade syndrome, in which men in Lamaze classes start developing pseudocyesis, or false signs of pregnancy. Perhaps mirror-neuron activity results in the release of empathy hormones such as prolactin, which act on the brain and body to generate a phantom pregnancy.”[xiv]

So, the argument that only sane people can influence others is without basis. It is quite possible that Jesus and his close followers exhibited one such syndrome as folie à deux, resulting in the dissolution of inter-personal boundaries, enabling the charismatic Jesus to project his psychosis-inspired beliefs on his followers and influence them.

  1. Did Jesus even exist?

Mythicists such as G A Wells, Thomas Thompson, Robert Price, Earl Doherty, Richard Carrier, Frank Zindler, and Kenneth Humphreys present compelling arguments that Jesus, like many other Greco-Roman divinities of that time, was a product of myth. Professor Alan Dundes shows that twenty-two typical, recurring elements that are present in the story of Jesus such as the virgin birth and the resurrection were common motifs attributed to mythical heroes in the Greco-Roman world thereby making Jesus non-different from any of the mythical heroes the first century pagans would have been familiar with.[xv] Earl Doherty points out that The New Testament claims that an event happened “according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) or “in order that the scriptures might be fulfilled” (Matthew 1:22-23, 2:5-6, 15-18, 23) demonstrate that the life events attributed to Jesus are not historical accounts, but rather midrashic fictions based on scripture passages.[xvi]

Therefore, a historical Jesus probably didn’t exist. It is possible that early Christianity thrived in a psychotic milieu and that early Christians attributed psychotic statements and deeds to a mythical Jesus. However, Murray et al diagnose Jesus based on the words and deeds attributed to him in The New Testament. Therefore, one could reasonably conclude that the Jesus of The New Testament was possibly psychotic. Christians face a strange predicament. They have to either conclude that Jesus is a myth or that he was psychotic. Either of these conclusions would effectively invalidate their religious faith.


Every society has its share of mentally challenged individuals, and many of those individuals function with varying degrees of success. Psychosis, a debilitating form of mental illness, could be caused either by neurological factors or by secondary factors such as brain neoplasms, complex migraine, delirium, dementing illness, encephalitis (infectious, autoimmune, or paraneoplastic), endocrine dysfunction, epilepsy (ictal, postictal, and interictal), hypnagogic imagery, infection (such as neurosyphilis), malnutrition/starvation, metabolic derangements, metabolic storage diseases, parasomnia, poisonings and intoxications, stroke, traumatic brain injury sequelae, and vitamin deficiencies (B1 or B12). We cannot be certain about the cause of Jesus’ psychosis. It could have been neurological or one of the secondary causes listed above. We can only conjecture whether his forty days of fasting in the desert exacerbated an underlying neurological condition resulting in acute psychosis.

The paper of Murray et al is very important for another reason: It opens up the possibility to vindicate Jesus. Many biblical verses portray Jesus as apocalyptic, fickle-minded, or inherently violent. I will summarize a few examples to illustrate this point:

  1. Jesus would judge everyone on the day of his Second Coming and usher in the Kingdom of God (a thousand year old reign). What about those who refused to believe in Jesus? Well, they would be roasted alive in the furnace of hellfire (Matthew 13:40-43). In this worldview, our innocent children could be violently tortured for the simple reason they did not accept Jesus as their savior. How this makes Jesus any different from a stereotypical Middle Eastern terrorist is hard to explain.
  1. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).” Here, and in the subsequent verses, Jesus preaches indiscriminate violence and rails against family values.
  1. Jesus once saw a fig tree from afar and went looking for figs. However, it was not the season for figs so he could not find any. An angry Jesus cursed the tree to wither away (Mark 11:13). If taken literally, this makes Jesus fickle-minded and irrational.

Ever since the advent of philology and textual criticism, perceptive readers have known that the pacifist verses attributed to Jesus are later day interpolations into The New Testament whereas the violent and apocalyptic verses attributed to him were probably either spoken by him or belong in the earliest strata ofThe New Testament. It was hard not to conclude that Jesus was violent, unethical, or anti-social. Some patients of psychosis are indeed violent but many are merely troubled individuals. This new diagnosis from medical neuroscience allows us to view Jesus in a sympathetic light. It is possible that he may not have intended harm to non-believers when he threatened them with eternal torture. He may not have meant anything at all. He may not even have distinguished followers from non-believers as evident from the fact that in one verse he calls Peter Satan (Mark 8:33) and in another he calls him the Rock upon which he would found the church (Matthew 16:18). He was struggling to cope up with acute psychosis and often had little control over what he said or did.

It would not have been Jesus’ fault had he been psychotic. He and his family deserve our sympathy. If he were to live today, given the level of awareness and medical facilities available, we would give him the best possible psychiatric care and prevent his suicide by proxy. Even the Republicans, who threaten to repeal Obamacare, may have instead proposed a Jesus Bill to extend Obamacare to the mentally ill free of cost. One hopes that a realization that Jesus was possibly psychotic would enable everyone to view other mentally ill people with increased compassion. That is a lesson worth learning.

However, it would be highly irrational and irresponsible to ignore the verdict from medical diagnosis and to continue to view Jesus as the divine messiah that he never was. It would be equally irresponsible to continue to present a sanitized version of Jesus in textbooks whereas presenting the truth about his psychosis would enable children to empathize with their own psychotic friends and relatives who may display, to varying degrees, the very symptoms that Jesus displayed. We might even prevent the next Heaven’s Gate tragedy.

Murray et al do not seem to be aware of the work of Koenraad Elst and Herman Somers. Yet, both have arrived at similar diagnosis of Jesus because they used comparable medical diagnostic methods. In addition, Somers specifically diagnosed Jesus with paraphrenia, a sub-category that is present in European diagnostic manuals but not in the DSM. It would be interesting to compare the diagnosis of Somers with that of Murray et al using the latest insights from neuropsychiatry. It may also be worthwhile to examine other episodes reported from the life of Jesus from the perspective of folie à deux, a shared psychotic disorder about which we read earlier, to gain new insights. Did the charismatic John the Baptist (assuming that he historically existed), in a possible case of folie à deux, influence Jesus to believe that the latter too possessed the magical powers of the former and to imitate him? Professor Morton Smith wrote a thought-provoking academic treatise entitled, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, which focused, among other things, on a passage from the Gospel of Mark that the second century CE Clement of Alexandria was aware of but which the church has since then deleted. In that passage, Jesus is shown to be physically intimate with another man and even lies down naked with him in the bed. This led to the suggestion that Jesus was possibly homosexual – not that anything is wrong with homosexuality. However, it is equally possible that Jesus was not homosexual but was merely exhibiting symptoms of folie à deux characterized by the dissolution of inter-personal boundaries though we should be careful with this proposal because little is reported about the behavior of Jesus’ companion. Such explorations could make the study of The New Testament very exciting even for the scientific-minded.


 Murray, Evan D., Cunningham, Miles G., Price, Bruce H.: The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 24:4, Fall 2012, pp. 410-426.



[iv] Murray, Evan D., Cunningham, Miles G., Price, Bruce H.: The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 24:4, Fall 2012, p. 410.

[v] The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) published by the American Psychiatric Association provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders.

[vi] Murray, Evan D., Cunningham, Miles G., Price, Bruce H.: The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 24:4, Fall 2012, p. 413.

[vii] Dawkins, Richard: The God Delusion, pp. 355-356, Kindle Edition. Also see, Loftus, E. and Ketcham, K.: The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse.


[ix] Murray, Evan D., Cunningham, Miles G., Price, Bruce H.: The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 24:4, Fall 2012, pp. 414-415.

[x] Ibid, pp. 415-417.

[xi] Ibid, p. 419.


[xiii] Murray, Evan D., Cunningham, Miles G., Price, Bruce H.: The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 24:4, Fall 2012, p. 422.

[xiv] Ramachandran, V. S.: The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human, Kindle Locations 4823-4829.

[xv] Dundes, A.: The Hero Pattern and the Life of Jesus, in Segal, R. A.: In Quest of the Hero, pp. 179-223.

[xvi] Doherty, E.: The Jesus Puzzle, in Journal of Higher Criticism, 4, No. 2 (Fall 1997), pp. 68-102.

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