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What Happened to Milton Rokeach’s Jesus Experiment?

The Jesus experiment of Rokeach happened in the latter part of the 1950s involving three psychiatric patients who were put to live together and firmly believed they were the Son of God, Jesus Christ. But what happened to this experiment?

Milton Rokeach did not uncover anything grand about the Jesus experiment. He then concluded the experiment to be manipulative in nature. Freudians suggested the delusions of the subjects sparked their sexual identity confusion.

Who was Milton Rokeach?

Dr. Milton Rokeach was a Polish-American born on December 27, 1918, in Hrubieszow, Poland. When he was seven, he moved to Brooklyn, New York with his family.

He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Brooklyn College in 1941 and achieved his master’s degree in Social Psychology from the University of California in Berkeley in the same year.

His studies were interrupted when he joined the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and served in its Psychological Testing Unit until the end of the war. Rokeach’s studies continued soon after and got his Ph.D. from Berkeley in 1947.

Rokeach moved to East Lansing, Michigan where he started working as a professor.

Rokeach became a professor and taught at several prominent universities, like Michigan State University, University of Western Ontario, Washington State University, and the University of Southern California. (Source: Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections)

What Are The Books Rokeach Is Known For?

During those years when he was a professor, he wrote and published several books. Here is a list of a few of them.

  • The Open and Close Mind (1960)
  • Beliefs, Attitudes and Values: A Theory of Organization and Change (1968)
  • The Three Christs of Ypsilanti: A Psychological Study (1964)
  • The Nature of Human Values (1973)
  • Understanding Human Values: Individual and Societal (1979)

    (Source: Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections)

What Was the Jesus Experiment?

One of the famous works of Rokeach was the Jesus experiment, more known as the Three Christs of Ypsilanti. The study started in the late 1950s at Ypsilanti State Hospital, in Saline, Michigan.

The three psychiatric patients were tested and later diagnosed with schizophrenia. They were forced to live together and to be in contact with one another in the facility for two years. These patients strongly believed that they were Jesus Christ. These patients were Clyde Benson, Joseph Cassel, and Leon Gabor. (Source: World Abandoned)

Rokeach was intrigued by the narratives of the Secret Service agents who felt like they lost contact with their identities, and wanted to find out if the man’s sense of himself may be challenged in a controlled environment.

Uncommon for a psychologist, Rokeach found an answer from the Bible. The holy book stated that there is only one God, anyone who believed himself to be Jesus would suffer a psychological affront by the very existence of another like him. This revelation made Rokeach want to meet with the Messiahs where he documented and inspired him to publish his study in 1964, in a book entitled The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

In September 2017, a film based on the book The Three Christs of Ypsilanti was released and starred Bradley Whitford, Peter Dinklage, and Walton Goggins who played the three lead patients, and Richard Gere who played the role of Dr. Alan Stone, as the doctor in the facility. (source: Slate)

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