Psychiatrist puts Jesus on the couch

A controversial study claims that Christ had an Oedipus complex, reports Clare Garner
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WAS JESUS God or was he man? According to a leading psychiatrist, not only was he both a divine being and flesh and blood, he was so fully human that he suffered from an Oedipus complex, went through a stage of adolescent rebellion and experienced sexual arousal.

In his book, One Like Us: A Psychological Interpretation of Jesus, published next month, Dr Jack Dominian puts Christ on the couch and argues that it was his mother Mary's nurturing in the early years which enabled Jesus to develop the emotional maturity to be fully human and fully divine. It was part of Jesus's "psychological genius " that he could handle both natures without becoming a split personality.

According to Dr Dominian, Jesus experienced guilt - particularly for having destructive feelings towards his mother - and was "no sexual innocent". He had "a good awareness of genitality and eroticism", and a "loving and compassionate nature" borne out of a healthy relationship with his earthly parents.

Dr Dominian, who founded the Marriage Research Centre at the Central Middlesex Hospital, has applied the theories of Sigmund Freud, a declared atheist who saw religious belief as a sign of infantilism, to penetrate Christ's psyche. Convinced that Jesus had an "inner psychological world", Dr Dominian worked backwards from his adult personality as portrayed in the Gospels to reconstruct the unwritten stories of his infancy and childhood.

Freud postulated three zones of infantile erotic stimulation: the oral, the anal and, finally, the infantile genital, in which the resolution of the Oedipus complex allows a boy to withdraw from his mother and identify with his father. "There is no reason to believe that Jesus was not subject to this infantile sexual development," writes Dr Dominian.

Dr Dominian argues that Jesus was "capable of appreciating female beauty and being aroused by it". He says we can assume Jesus found the two sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, "attractive personalities with whom he savoured closeness", but that Jesus had a "fine distinction between sexual arousal and loving touch".

Jesus's teaching on adultery - "If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28) - is used by Dr Dominian as evidence that Jesus was not sexually naive. "It is probable that, when Jesus taught this view of erotic arousal, he knew within himself what it implied," he writes.

However, Jesus did not act upon his desires. "The erotic, when expressed sexually, always specifies another person to whom you are giving yourself and, by definition, Jesus came to give himself to the whole world, not to an exclusive person," explains Dr Dominian. The notion that Jesus had a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene, as suggested in Martin Scorsese's controversial film, The Last Temptation of Christ, is dismissed as "popular myth" by Dr Dominian.

If Jesus were alive today, he would not be astonished by our preoccupation with sexuality. "Jesus was no sexual innocent. He knew all about sexual reality. He was no prude ... He would know that sexuality and eroticism are among the gifts possessed by men and women created in the image of God. He would accept that both were not only good, but very good."

He would also applaud feminism. "He would welcome the emancipation of women which he initiated, and rejoice in its fulfilment in our time," said Dr Dominian. "He certainly understood women better than Christianity has done since."

Dr Dominian applies the theories of the Melanie Klein school of analysis to Jesus's "remarkable" combination of security and reliance. "A Kleinian interpretation of his personality would be that he had had a rich and satisfactory time on the breast," he writes.

However, Jesus was by no means "a mother's boy". "He stood on his own as a person in his own right, and it is a tribute to his mother that she offered a mothering which allowed him to realise his autonomy." The episode when he goes missing in the Temple is "a typical human show of independence ... a favourite passage illustrating adolescent rebellion".

Joseph must have been "an excellent model of fatherhood" for Jesus to have had "such a marvellous conception of his heavenly Father". Jesus's identification with his earthly father was "a satisfactory completion of the Oedipus complex". And Jesus survived 40 days in the desert, resisting the temptation to turn stones into loaves of bread, because, according to Dr Dominian, "his oral phase was successfully negotiated, placing him in a position to appreciate the value of food but not to crave it".

Dr Dominian was born in Greece in 1929 to a Roman Catholic father and a Greek Orthodox mother. He was brought up as a Catholic and remembers having a vision of Jesus during a childhood illness which left him with "a private passion for Jesus". In adulthood, he became critical of the Church's teaching on sexuality, its hierarchical structure and "the gap between the institutional reality and the community of love Jesus set up".

He decided to write One Like Us because "Christianity is wrapped up in theological terms which are meaningless to the contemporary world". He explained: "I wanted to show that we can use contemporary psychological ideas and still make sense of Jesus in terms of his capacity to be a loving person."

In the eyes of many Christians, Dr Dominian will have overstepped the mark. But it's good to see that even he has boundaries. "It is fascinating to ask whether Jesus was ever smacked," he writes. But he admits: "Alas, we do not know."