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Orr, D.W. (1949). The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: By Albert Schweitzer, M.D. Boston: The Beacon Press, 1948. 81 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 18:387-388.

(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:387-388

The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: By Albert Schweitzer, M.D. Boston: The Beacon Press, 1948. 81 pp.

Review by:
Douglass W. Orr

Albert Schweitzer had long since become an ordained minister and was a renowned interpreter of the organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach when he took up the study of medicine. By 1911 he had passed his state medical examinations, but had still to write a doctoral thesis and complete his internship. For the thesis he chose to write a refutation of medical works, then recent, asserting that Jesus was a paranoiac. The Psychiatric Study of Jesus is Schweitzer's thesis. It was published in 1913, the year in which he became a Doctor of Medicine and in which he began his famed missionary activities in French Equatorial Africa.

Schweitzer is principally concerned in this monograph with a critical evaluation of books by George de Loosten (Dr. George Lomer), William Hirsch and Charles Binet-Sangle, published respectively in 1905, 1911 and 1912. All of these authors adduce Biblical evidence to support their contention that Jesus suffered from delusions, hallucinations, pathological emotional reactions and other symptoms of paranoia. Schweitzer brings all of his knowledge of the higher criticism and of medicine in rebuttal against these writers and appears to discredit them, both as psychiatrists and as students of the Bible.

Schweitzer's conclusions are subsumed under four main points. He proves, first of all, that the material used by these authors is unhistorical; it is largely drawn from parts of the Bible not accepted by theologians as authentic. As a second point, Schweitzer argues that his adversaries make no attempt to understand the contemporary religious and ideological climate—the culture—in which Jesus lived. Actions and utterances that would be considered pathological in twentieth century Europe, he argues, were not so in the Near East of Jesus' day. In the third place, Schweitzer contends that the pictures of paranoia constructed by the three authors are artifacts; they do not conform to the clinical picture or progression of any known form of mental disease. Finally, if one were to concede that there are two symptoms that must be accepted as historical—'the high estimate which Jesus has of himself and perhaps also the hallucination at the baptism'—these alone fall short of proving the existence of mental illness.


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