Jesus Hypnotist Theory: Did He Put People in a Trance?

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Is there any merit to the Jesus hypnotist theory? Could Jesus have just been a talented hypnotist, and not the son of God?

The Jesus hypnotist theory is one of the theories posed by critics of Christianity. It postures the idea that Jesus was not the son of God, but was actually a skilled hypnotist capable of tricking large crowds.

Keep reading to find out more about the Jesus hypnotist theory, and whether or not it is credible.

Jesus: Hypnotist?

The Jesus hypnotist theory comes from author Ian Wilson. Wilson has advanced an elaborate argument that Jesus was simply a master hypnotist, able to induce trance- or coma-like states that mimicked death (for example, in Lazarus) and create illusions in the minds of his followers. Wilson’s central piece of evidence for this theory is the strange fact that Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in his hometown of Nazareth. Wilson believes this is because the awe surrounding a hypnotist is a major factor in his power to hypnotize, and Jesus’s family and friends wouldn’t find him mysterious enough to fall under his sway.

This Jesus hypnotist theory has a number of shortcomings:

  1. Not everyone is equally susceptible to hypnosis (this is why stage hypnotists will talk in a “hypnotic” voice and scan the crowd to see who’s being lulled by their techniques). It’s highly unlikely that even the most brilliant hypnotist could enchant the 5,000 people who witnessed Jesus’s multiplying of the bread and fish.
  2. Hypnosis is often ineffective on those who doubt its legitimacy. Yet even Jesus’s most recalcitrant doubters—James, Saul of Tarsus, Thomas—eventually saw his deity.
  3. Both the Pharisees and the Roman Authorities found Jesus’s tomb empty. Although it’s possible he hypnotized his disciples to see an empty tomb, he could not have hypnotized the Pharisees and the Romans.
  4. Jesus didn’t say anything to the wedding guests who tasted wine when they drank water. A glass of water was simply brought to the banquet master, and he said it was wine without prompting.
  5. Jesus’s healings were immediate and total. Whereas Wilson’s comparative example of hypnotic healing took several weeks and was incomplete, Jesus was able to heal ten lepers instantaneously. 
  6. For all the things the gospels do mention, they never once recount anything resembling hypnotism

Jesus as Exorcist

In addition to the Jesus hypnotist theory, some believe that Jesus was a exorcist. Jesus traced illness and strange behavior to possession by evil demons, and he healed people by exorcising those demons. Isn’t the belief in demons a sign of mental disturbation? Is there any psychological evidence for the real existence of demons (or angels)?

Collins replies that, although he hasn’t personally encountered demons in a clinical setting, his colleagues have; and he also notes that many trained psychologists have been exploring the so-called “spiritual” world. In short, greater and greater numbers of psychologists are coming around to the possibility of supernatural influence on our behavior. A belief in supernatural beings having an effect on us, as far as Collins is concerned, isn’t a sign of psychosis.

Jesus Hypnotist Theory: Did He Put People in a Trance?

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Case for Christ summary:

  • How an atheist lawyer-journalist researched Christ and began believing
  • The key arguments against the existence of Christ, and why they don't hold up
  • How to make up your own mind about whether Christ existed

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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