For centuries since the alleged advent of Jesus Christ, many people have believed that they are the “second coming” of the Jewish messiah, creating followings of devotees who likewise become convinced of these individuals’ claim to divinity. When this “messiah complex” is manifested during a journey to the biblical “Holy Land,” it may be identified as a psychosis called “Jerusalem syndrome.”
Unfortunately, mental institutions have seen their share of individuals claiming to be Jesus Christ, but many such persons do not end up in the psych ward. In the latter instances, these individuals are too often the source of considerable distress and danger, not only to themselves but also to their families, friends and followers. In this regard, two recent cases of men claiming to be Jesus Christ have ended in tragedy.
Defenders of Christ
The first of these tragic cases involves a cult called “Defenders of Christ” located in Mexico, where several sex slaves were abused before the group was raided and 14 people arrested:
Mexican officials storm a home in Nuevo Laredo, which is just across the border from Laredo, Texas, and find 10 victims, mostly women, living in squalor. Police say they were beaten, forced into prostitution and made to have sex with leader Ignacio Gonzalez de Arriba.
After filing a formal complaint against the polygamous sex cult last year, agents with Mexico’s National Immigration Institute helped spearhead the raid along with federal police and prosecutors.
Inside the home, which is located just across the border from Laredo, Texas, police say they found 10 Mexicans living in squalor. The victims, mostly women, police said, were beaten, forced into prostitution and made to have sex with the group’s charismatic leader, Spaniard Ignacio Gonzalez de Arriba, as a form of tithing.
On the Defenders of Christ website, Gonzalez de Arriba, is billed as the reincarnation of Jesus.
“He was able to convince them that they had to behave in certain ways to satisfy his economic and sexual needs,” Myrna Garcia, an activist with the Support Network for Cult Victims, told CNN.
The Spanish cult leader Gonzalez de Arriba thus claimed to be Jesus Christ, and his followers willingly provided him with money and sex slaves.
The cult’s website, shown in the image above, makes extensive comparisons between its leader and purported images of Jesus, as part of the “evidence” allegedly proving him to be Christ.
In another recent case, a man in Seattle, Washington, believed that he was Jesus Christ, to the detriment of both himself and his victim, as he ended up ramming his car into a city worker:
A 54-year-old Tacoma man has been arrested for allegedly driving his car into a Pacific Gas & Electric worker in Fresno, trapping the man between two vehicles. According to a witness, Jett Simmons claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ before making racially charged threats and ramming his car into the PG&E worker.
The witness–a hitchhiker “from Dogtown” by way of West Virginia named Kai (that it–just Kai)–says that after Simmons rammed the man, he got out of the car and tried to smother a bystander with a bear hug. That’s when Kai sprung into action and hit the 6’4″, 290-pound Simmons on the head with a hatchet.
As can be seen, the belief that one is Jesus Christ not only is delusional but also can be dangerous, both to oneself and to the general public.
Many people have claimed to be Jesus
The list of people over the centuries who have claimed to be Jesus Christ or have been perceived as such by their followers is long indeed, and includes the following:
John Nichols Thom (1799–1838)
Arnold Potter (1804–1872)
William W. Davies (1833–1906)
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India (1835–1908)
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
George Ernest Roux (1903–1981)
Ernest Norman (1904–1971)
William M Branham (1908-1965)
Krishna Venta (1911—1958)
Ahn Sahng-Hong (1918–1985)
Sun Myung Moon (1920–2012)
Jim Jones (1931–1978)
Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997)
Charles Manson (b. 1934)
Yahweh ben Yahweh (1935–2007)
Laszlo Toth (b. 1940)
Wayne Bent (b. 1941)
Ariffin Mohammed (b. 1943)
Mitsuo Matayoshi (b. 1944)
Hogen Fukunaga (b. 1945)
José Luis de Jesús Miranda (b. 1946)
Lia Eden (b. 1947)
Inri Cristo (b. 1948)
Thomas Harrison Provenzano (1949–2000)
Shoko Asahara (b. 1955)
David Koresh (1959–1993)
Marina Tsvigun/Maria Devi Christos (b. 1960)
Sergey Torop (b. 1961)
Alan John Miller (b. 1962)
David Shayler (b. 1965)
Maurice Clemmons (1972-2009)
Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez (b. 1990)
Famed Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I (1892–1975) did not make this claim for himself, but his followers were convinced he was Jesus.
There are, of course, many, many more such individuals known not to the public at large but among small followings all over the world.
Multiple divinities, prophets and famous people
In some instances, the claimants to divinity also assert that they are the “reincarnation” of other famous and esteemed figures:
Ernest Norman (1904–1971), an American electrical engineer who co-founded the Unarius Academy of Science in 1954, was allegedly Jesus in a past life and his earthly incarnation was as an archangel named Raphiel. He claimed to be the reincarnation of other notable figures including Confucius, Mona Lisa, Benjamin Franklin, Socrates, Queen Elizabeth I, and Tsar Peter I the Great.
Ariffin Mohammed (b. 1943) is “believed by his followers to be the incarnation of Jesus, as well as Shiva, and Buddha, and Muhammad.”
Like father, like son?
At times, this delusion affects multiple generations: For example, William W. Davies (1833–1906) “taught his followers that he was the archangel Michael, who had previously lived as the biblical Adam, Abraham, and David.” His first child was subsequently declared to be “Jesus Christ,” while his second son assumed the role of “God the Father.”
Individuals suffering from messiah complex have run the gamut of nationalities, ethnicities and races. They tend to be male, as would seem appropriate since Christ was alleged to have been a man. However, on occasion women such as Marina Tsvigun or “Maria Devi Christos” (b. 1960) also have made this claim to be the “son of God,” so to speak. Another female would-be Christ is Lia Eden (b. 1947):
…born as Lia Aminuddin in Makassar, Indonesia. In 1998, she claimed that she met the angel Gabriel several times, convincing her that she was Imam Mahdi or Messiah who brought the prophecy of the world security and justice before the doomsday. In another occasion, she also claimed that she was the reincarnation of Mother Mary and her son, Ahmad Mukti as the reincarnation of Jesus.
Eden was convicted of “blasphemy” in the Muslim country of Indonesia and spent years in prison.
One current “Jesus,” Alan John Miller (b. 1962), has a female partner named Rozena, who “identifies herself as the returned and chic Mary Magdalene.”
Deadly Delusions of Grandeur
A number of these messianic cults have ended very badly, such as that of Adolf Hitler, whose millions of German followers believed he was a figure like Jesus Christ, if not Christ himself. Also notorious was Charles Manson, who convinced his followers he was the “son of man,” Jesus Christ, and that they should murder brutally several innocent people. Other examples of violent outcomes include Jim Jones – who “claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus, Akhenaten, Buddha, Vladimir Lenin and Father Divine” – and Marshall Applewhite of “Heaven’s Gate” notoriety, both of whose followers allegedly committed mass suicide. At Waco, Texas, David Koresh of Branch Davidian infamy holed up in a “compound,” which was burned to the ground, killing dozens of men, women and children trapped inside.
In 1984, Aum Shinrikyo cult leader Shoko Asahara (b. 1955) convinced his followers to release sarin gas in a Tokyo subway and was subsequently sentenced to death. Less well known is Maurice Clemmons (1972-2009), who murdered four police officers in Washington State in 2009, while claiming himself to be Jesus.
Christ claimant Thomas Harrison Provenzano (1949–2000) was an American convicted of murder who was “possibly mentally ill,” an observation that would appear to be obvious. Messiah wannabe Hulon Mitchell, Jr. (1935–2007), aka “Yahweh ben Yahweh,” was convicted in 1992 of conspiracy to commit murder, receiving an 18-year sentence. And then there was Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez (b. 1990), who used an assault rifle to attack the White House, claiming he was Jesus Christ sent to kill American president Barack Obama, the purported anti-Christ.
In 1958, Krishna Venta (pictured above) was “suicide bombed by two disgruntled former followers who accused Venta of mishandling cult funds and having been intimate with their wives.” As we can see, money and sex appear to be the motivators for a significant number of these would-be messiahs, as is power, of course, which would be total, as, according to Christianity, Jesus is the omnipotent or all-powerful God.
“As we can see, money and sex appear to be the motivators for a significant number of these would-be messiahs.”
As another prominent example of how messianic delusion is dangerous to the public, the Hungarian-Austrian would-be savior Laszlo Toth, still alive, is notorious for having damaged Michelangelo’s famous sculpture the Pietà with a hammer. And, as an example of danger to themselves, messiah claimant from the Latter Day Saints or Mormonism Arnold Potter (1804–1872) believed he could “ascend to heaven,” killing himself as he jumped off a cliff.
Other ‘Divine Prophet’ Pretenders
Other cult leaders believing themselves divine in one way or another have been found guilty of the sexual assault, rape and/or trafficking of minors, such as Wayne Bent (b. 1941) and FLDS leader Warren Jeffs (b. 1955) – who convinced his followers that he was the only true, living prophet of God – along with Bernie Lazar Hoffman (b. 1934), aka “Tony Alamo,” who believed that he and his wife were the “two witnesses” in the biblical book of Revelation.
Then there are those countless others suffering mental illness who have claimed “God” told them to harm others, including their own children, with the example of the biblical god Yahweh requiring Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, much as the New Testament God the Father was said to have done with his beloved son.
The list of those experiencing religious delusions is lengthy and filled with tragedy and peril. Not a few of these claimants to messiahship are still alive, undoubtedly to be joined by many more in the future, so long as the world-savior story continues to enthrall the human mind. Thus, there are numerous “Jesus Christs” running about the world, none of whom probably agrees that any of the others are sane and truthful.
“There are numerous ‘Jesus Christs’ running about the world, none of whom probably agrees that any of the others are sane and truthful.”
When this messianic complex has occurred in the biblical city of Jerusalem, it is part of a wider “Jerusalem syndrome,” a form of “psychosis” that causes visitors to the “Holy Land” to believe they are somehow involved in biblical events, including as the “second coming” of Jesus. A paper on “Jerusalem syndrome” in the British Journal of Psychiatry (2000:176:86-90) seeks to describe the condition as “a unique acute psychotic state.” The Society of Biblical Literature defines the syndrome as a “clinical psychiatric diagnosis first identified in the 1930s by Dr. Heinz Herman, one of the founders of modern psychiatric research in Israel.”
“In consideration of all these facts, it would seem best not to encourage and validate such individuals in their delusions and psychoses.”
During holidays and other times of the year, along with milestones like the turn of the millennium in 2000, Israel’s hospitals and mental institutions experience a surge of such persons suffering a psychotic breakdown. In consideration of all these facts, it would seem best not to encourage and validate such individuals in their delusions and psychoses.
The Jerusalem syndrome is a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. It is not endemic to one single religion or denomination but has affected Jews, Christians and Muslims of many different backgrounds.
The best known, although not the most prevalent, manifestation of the Jerusalem syndrome is the phenomenon whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem. The psychosis is characterised by an intense religious theme and typically resolves to full recovery after a few weeks or after being removed from the area. The religious focus of the Jerusalem syndrome distinguishes it from other phenomena, such as the Stendhal syndrome, which is reported in Florence, Italy, or the Paris syndrome, which has been reported predominantly in Japanese individuals.
In a 2000 article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Bar-El et al. claim to have identified and described a specific syndrome which emerges in tourists with no previous psychiatric history. However, this claim has been disputed by M. Kalian and E. Witztum. Kalian and Witzum stressed that nearly all of the tourists who demonstrated the described behaviours were mentally ill prior to their arrival in Jerusalem. They further noted that, of the small proportion of tourists alleged to have exhibited spontaneous psychosis after arrival in Jerusalem, Bar-El et al. had presented no evidence that the tourists had been well prior to their arrival in the city. Jerusalem Syndrome is not listed or referenced in the DSM IV.
Jerusalem syndrome has previously been regarded as a form of hysteria, referred to as “Jerusalem squabble poison,” or fièvre Jerusalemmiene. It was first clinically described in the 1930s by Jerusalem psychiatrist Heinz Herman, one of the founders of modern psychiatric research in Israel….
This syndrome has proved dangerous on more than one occasion, including a notorious case in which an Austrian visitor to Jerusalem, Denis Michael Rohan, “overwhelmed with a feeling of divine mission, set fire to the al-Aqsa Mosque.” His crime was followed by “citywide rioting,” events immortalized in a film entitled “The Jerusalem Syndrome.”
“This syndrome has proved dangerous on more than one occasion.”
While this syndrome is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM IV“), it is clearly considered by health professionals to be a mental disorder, specifically a psychosis:
The classic Jerusalem syndrome, where a visit to Jerusalem seems to trigger an intense religious psychosis that resolves quickly or on departure, has been a subject of debate in the medical literature. Most of the discussion has centered on whether this definition of the Jerusalem syndrome is a distinct form of psychosis, or simply a re-expression of a previously existing psychotic illness that was not picked up by the medical authorities in Israel….
During a period of 13 years (1980–1993) for which admissions to the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre in Jerusalem were analysed, it was reported that 1,200 tourists with severe, Jerusalem-themed mental problems were referred to this clinic. Of these, 470 were admitted to hospital. On average, 100 such tourists have been seen annually, 40 of them requiring admission to hospital.
“On average, 100 such tourists have been seen annually, 40 of them requiring admission to hospital.”
Jerusalem syndrome “overwhelmingly” affects Christians, often causing them to believe they are the messiah. Doctors in Jerusalem at times will refer to such saviors as “chosen ones.” Hence, the same diagnosis of mental illness can be asserted of the messiah complex, which is comparable to a form of delusion, megalomania and narcissism.
Witnessing such individuals gives the impression of a severe form of narcissism, in fact, as they fixate and obsess on “I,” “me,” “my” and “mine,” desperately attempting to draw attention to themselves. This mental illness has caused much suffering, and it is always sad when children are involved in these cases.
Jesus as a mythical figure
This misapprehension is all the more tragic in consideration of the fact that there exists no credible, scientific evidence that the “Jesus Christ” of the biblical gospel story was ever a historical personage in the first place. In reality, the evidence points to him being a fictional composite of characters, real and mythical. A composite of multiple “people,” of course, is no one. In this regard, it seems a crime against humanity to perpetuate this fallacy, to the detriment of millions of people, including those victimized by claimants to divinity, as well as sufferers of this psychosis themselves.
It would seem logical to suggest that, without the conditioning provided by certain religions, these mental disorders would not be so prominent in the world today. In this regard, scholarship factually and scientifically demonstrating religion to be largely allegorical, mythical and fictional could provide a solution to this problem and relief for future suffering.
A video presenting the alternative to the messiah complex:
Raid on Defenders of Christ sexual slavery cult in Mexico nabs 14 suspects
Homeless Hitchhiker Saves Woman From Jesus
List of people claimed to be Jesus
The Jerusalem Syndrome: Why Some Religious Tourists Believe They Are the Messiah
The Jerusalem Syndrome in Biblical Archaeology
Jesus Christ as mythical amalgam