Milton Rokeach and his study of three Christ patients

A film adaptation that amounts to a kitsch corruption: Walton Goggins, Peter Dinklage and Richard Gere in Jon Avnet’s “Three Christs”
Photo: Mauritius

Deceiving paranoiacs is pretty hard: Milton Rokeach reports on his questionable experiment with three psychiatric patients who thought they were Jesus Christ.

IIn the fall of 1958, the Michigan State Department of Mental Health sent inquiries to a number of local mental health hospitals. The point was to find two or more patients with the same delusional identity. Among the approximately 25,000 prison inmates, however, there were only a few who corresponded to this description: no Napoleon and no Caesar, but at least three male patients, all of whom were firmly convinced that they were Jesus Christ. Two were interned in Ypsilanti State Hospital, the third in another clinic.

All three men had received the same diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia, little chance of recovery. In July 1959, they were placed in the same ward for several months to take part in a unique experiment devised by social psychologist Milton Rokeach of Michigan State University. A case reported by the psychoanalyst Robert Lindner served him as inspiration: after he had met two Catholic patients in a psychiatric institution in Maryland who both believed they were the Mother of God, he organized an encounter and one of the two women to give up her Brought delusion. The miraculous and unspecified healing served Rokeach as legitimation for his own bizarre experiment with the three Christs, in which the management of the clinic in Ypsilanti granted him freedom from fools for two years.


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