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 decadent. 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’etre of religion: Christ has come, suffered and risen in order to save humanity from sin.
And yet, somehow this Salvation is not complete, because on top of it, man must also go under the yoke of a system of morality, adapted with strong simplification (deritualization) from the Mosaic Law, in order to earn his place in Heaven. It is this emphasis on dry morality that has made Pauline Christianity so unpopular among the pleasure-seeking section of humanity. A lot of modern Western literature is about people outgrowing their tense submission to Christian morality. Some Protestant sects have decided that morality is not instrumental in our Salvation (though for the sake of public order they support morality and explain that one’s degree of morality is a sign, but not a factor, of one’s predestination for either Heaven or Hell), but they too stick to the notion of sin as fundamental to the human condition until Jesus saves us.
The question of ‘salvation’ through one’s own ‘works’ or through mere ‘faith’ in Jesus’ autonomous act of Salvation is a much-debated one among Christian thinkers including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin etc. The controversy exists, mutatis mutandis, in some other traditions too, e.g. Shaiva Siddhanta. Borrowing a Shaiva metaphor, we might say that Christianity too has advocates of ‘the way of the kitten’, which is grabbed by its mother and ‘saved’ without effort, and of ‘the way of the baby monkey’, which clings on to its mother and is ‘saved’ through its own effort. But in Christianity, unlike Shaivism, one is saved not from ignorance about one’s own ever-divine Self (i.e. restored to one’s own intrinsic divinity), but from one’s own ever-sinful self. No one is a Christian if he does not accept that we human beings are all intrinsically sinful, and that Jesus has come to save us from sin. But, all according to Nietzsche, Jesus never cared about sin. Contrary to Jesus, Christianity feeds us an obsession of being profoundly evil and God-alienated.
At this point we must comment that Nietzsche has taken the traditional image of Jesus too much for granted, an image built on those Bible stories that are the most likely to be inserted borrowings from other sects, such as the Sermon on the Mount. In the more reliable Gospel passages, we find that the historical Jesus was not the exalted, ever-innocent pacifist and passivist he is often made out to be.
One thing that Nietzsche has against the Christianity of the Church still dominant in his time, is that it is not religious enough. Religion for Jesus was a revolutionary thing, an extreme thing. And while Jesus’ religiosity was bizarre and unintegrated in the world (it was an anticipation of the Kingdom of Heaven expected soon), it has a certain kind of uncomplicatedness and cheerfulness about it which is proper in a healthy religion. But Pauline moralistic Christianity is drab, unhealthy, worrisome, negatively limiting without offering anything positive and great in return. Nietzsche’s own religiosity is a longing for the superhuman which transcends human smallness. It is the antithesis of Pauline Christianity, which to him seems to have nothing great and mentally uplifting to it.
While Christ’s religion is centred on love and surrender, Paul’s Christianity becomes, in Nietzsche’s analysis, the religion of hatred and revenge. Paul was obsessed with the Law, the central topic for the Pharisees. He was painfully aware of man’s (esp. his own) incapability to live up to the letter of the Law. Fortunately, Christ has delivered us from the Law, and replaced it with the ‘law of love’: a revolution. So far, Paul is in tune with the spirit of Christ, as Nietzsche understood it. But in Paul’s vision, this revolution comes hand in hand with another revolution, in one movement: the abrogation of the Law is the ideological starting-point of Christianity’s mission among the Gentiles. Paul’s life, and with it that of many others, will no longer be burdened with the Law, but will now burden itself with a new task, unprecedented in history. Paul breaks with Judaism and its oppressive Law observance, and starts to win the rest of humanity for Christ. His own frustrated desire to live up to the demands of the Law, now gets transformed into a tremendous ambition to spread his new-found religion of Salvation through Christ.
Nietzsche draws the parallel with Luther, who had aspired so earnestly to live an ascetic life and fulfill the commandments imposed by Church teaching, but had ended up hating the Church and the pope and the monastic rules so bitterly that he became their declared enemy, crusading to spread an alternative. Paul is so tired of the Law, that he turns into a follower of its declared enemy, Jesus, once a psycho-physiological crisis had broken through his resistance. As Dr. Somers has shown, this crisis, befalling Paul on the road to Damascus, was a sunstroke, of which the effects and sensations were afterwards interpreted as a divine revelation. Once this liberating decision to break with the Law has its exalting effect on him, he feels that this solution for him, is also the solution for mankind. He will now become the apostle of the destruction of the Law, which has been replaced by faith in Christ.
Saint Paul was not a prophet, but he was a political genius. He saw the potential of his new doctrine and of the situation in the Roman empire, especially the provincial towns. Away from the worldly turmoil of Rome and from the extremist zealotry of Palestine (two places where the Christians would encounter plenty of martyrdom), Paul found the optimum terrain for the onward march of his new religion. In these towns (in Greece and Asia Minor), he would set up communities that would imitate the social ways of the Jewish communities spread across the Empire, with their honourable inconspicuous lives as craftsmen and traders, with their mutual support and communal solidarity, and with their quiet sense of superiority as the Chosen People. Instead of the unbearable burden of the Mosaic law, he would give them some petty bourgeois morality, but all the same he would promote among them this communal superiority feeling of being the Saved ones in Christ.
The contrast between Jesus and Pauline Christianity, is treated by Nietzsche as a contrast between two doctrines. Nietzsche does not really analyse Jesus’ personality, self-perception or public image. He mistrusts the historicity of the Gospels. At the time, the critical method of investigating the historicity of pieces and layers of text was not as refined, and especially the psychological analysis which 20th century psychologists tried out on Jesus, was not yet at his disposal. So, his psychological evaluation of Jesus, and of Saint Paul, the creator of Christianity, concerns more the ideology they represent than their historical personalities. Nietzsche puts their personalities between brackets, and concentrates on the ideologies that their (doubtlessly distorted) Biblical biographies represent.
One might say that Nietzsche’s view of Jesus was very one-sided. The peaceful apostle of love is a popular image of Jesus based on only a few gospel texts: the Sermon on the Mount; ‘when you get slapped, offer the other cheek also’; ‘he who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword’; ‘the lilies of the field don’t toil, yet Solomon in his splendour was not as good-looking as any of them’; ‘do not judge lest you yourself by judged’. These passages are of disputed historicity, while many reliably historical passages show us a very different Christ. short-tempered, defiant, and a Doomsday prophet. The gentle Jesus, who was in Nietzsche’s view the original Jesus whose teaching and example were later deformed by Pauline Christianity, was himself just as much a creation of his second-generation disciples.
While Nietzsche’s evaluation of Christ is somewhat marred by the immaturity of the historical research on Christ, his understanding of the Old Testament already had the benefit of a Biblical scholarship that has, in great outline, been confirmed by the more recent scholarship. The chronology of the Old Testament had more or less been established, and the political context of the successive stages of editing were already understood.
According to Nietzsche, Yahweh’s support for his people came to be seen as ‘conditional’ and dependent upon the Hebrews’ own behaviour, when they had become losers on the international scene. God was no longer seen to be giving them victory, so they tried to regain control over their destiny by assuming God’s support to be dependent upon their own moral behaviour (observance of the Law). Nietzsche considered the Bible’s emphasis on morality as a revenge operation of a defeated people: winners are not burdened with morality, which is the weapon of the losers.
Nietzsche has paid little attention to the next stage in Israel’s religion. During the period of the exile, prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and deutero-Isaiah had again disconnected God’s sovereign decision from man’s degree of obedience to God’s will. Man’s morality and law-abidingness no longer make a difference: God’s judgment has already been determined, his final intervention will come anyway, and our Salvation will be brought about not by our own goodness but by the Messiah. The apocalyptic stage in the doctrinal development in Hebrew religion, which will culminate in the Jewish rebellions of the first and early second centuries AD, was already appearing on the horizon at the time of the exile, when the classical doctrine of the Covenant, the mutual contract between Yahweh and His chosen people, was still being formulated and imposed upon Israel’s history through the final Bible editing.
While Nietzsche’s analysis concerns ideologies or collective mind-sets rather than persons, and while some of his insights have simply become outdated by the newest Bible research, he has the merit of being one of the first to apply human psychology to the supposedly divine revelation embodied in the Bible. He was instrumental in breaking the spell that had been shielding the Bible from critical inquiry. Moreover, unlike the radical atheists and skeptics who simply disregarded the Bible or dismissed it as fable, Nietzsche took the more balanced position of ‘honouring’ it as a highly interesting and psychologically revealing human document.
3.2. Psycho-analyzing Jesus
Shortly after Nietzsche made his psychological analysis of what he understood as Christian doctrine, rightly or wrongly attributed to the historical Jesus by the Gospel editors, professional psychologists tried to get at the historical personality of Jesus. In the beginning and more even at the end of this twentieth century AD, psychology has thrown a mighty new light upon the development of the Abrahamic or prophetic-monotheist lineage of religions.
Since the dawn of modem Western psychology, the Bible has interested psychologists. Freud, the Austrian-Jewish father of psychoanalysis, gave a lot of attention to the character of Moses.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-Sangle, 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:
- there is no certainty about the historical truth of the texts;
- what seems to us to be a symptom, was possibly a normal trait, a cultural feature in that civilization;
- there are not enough fully reliable elements in order to base a safe judgment on them; even the pathological symptoms claimed, viz. pathological Ego-delusion and hallucinations, are insufficient to conclude a definite diagnosis.
These objections can be met, as we shall see in subsequent chapters. The last of the three can be met right away: if a psychiatrist notices both hallucinatory crises and an Ego-delusion in a patient, he will most certainly conclude that these are symptoms of a mental affliction, and this all the more certainly if they can be identified as a known syndrome, and are accompanied by a number of coherent typical behavioral features.
Dr. Schweitzer was not a psychiatrist, but his Doctor’s title was already enough to put all doubts to rest. After his reply the Churches felt reassured, and few outsiders made new attempts to psycho-analyze Jesus.
An exception is Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum, with the chapter ‘The problem of Jesus’ in his book Genie, Irrsinn und Ruhm (German: ‘Genius, Madness and Fame’), of which we have excerpts from the third edition at our disposal: it was still prepared by the author himself in 1942, while the fourth edition of 1956 has been seriously tampered with by outsiders, esp. in this chapter.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
‘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.’
3.3. Jesus the magician
From the Gospel it is amply clear that Jesus was first of all known to his contemporaries and to the audiences of later Christian preachers as a miracle-worker, a magician. He must have had an aura of intensity about him. He impressed the ordinary people with his charismatic airs, and he believed in his own miracle-working act. The role he fulfilled in the eyes of his followers, was that of the exorcist, a well-known type in those days (though the characters filling this role must have been of diverse kinds and dispositions).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.
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.
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.
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.
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 fiance 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:
- The Apostles are witnesses who try to defend the thesis that Jesus now returned to heaven.
- According to the criteria of courtroom evaluation of witnesses these are clearly false with regard to the way of disappearance of Jesus.
- 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.
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 or digamma 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 will become 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.
For 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. ↩
Sigmund Freud: Der Mann Moses und die Monotheistische Religion: Drei Abhandlungen (1939), republished in vol. 13 of The Penguin Freud Library. ↩
Ch. Binet-Sangle: La Folie de Jesus (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. ↩
A. Schweitzer: Die psychiatrische Beurteilung Jesu, Tubingen, 1913. ↩
Excerpts 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. ↩
Hermann 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. ↩
With 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. ↩
The 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. ↩
In 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. ↩
The 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. ↩
Suetonius mentions the measures against the Christians among Nero’s praiseworthy reforms, and calls this sect ‘a new superstition involving the practice of magic’. ↩
E.g. M.J. Lagrange: Le Messianisme chez les Juifs, Paris 1909; id.: Le Judaisme avant Jesus-Christ, Paris, 1931; and E. Schillebeeckx: Jesus, het verhaal van een levende, Brugge 1975. ↩