|The Trilemma: Some Objections|
The following represents a compiliation of objections made to the Trilemma argument which I have received from opponents. Since these opponents are not persons of significance, and it seems that their material gets little to no attention, I have deemed it worthwhile to present their arguments as a paraphrase so that they may be more broadly answered, and my own answers more broadly applied for other uses.
If you want to see the response that was here before...drop me a line.
What about the possibility of Jesus' mental state evolving over the course of his brief ministry?
We'll talk more about this option of mental instability below, but there is no evidence that a condition as serious as the "Christ complex" (believing you are deity) is an evolving condition. Moreover, if it were, one would expect an increase in mental derangement resulting in a sliding scale of claims; yet this is not what we see at all -- the claims of Jesus are the same, and just as clear, from the beginning of his ministry to the end. The idea of a "growing delusion" is unsupported by any of the data in the Gospels, and is also not supported by a parallel in psychology.
Jesus acted like a Messiah, sure -- but he could have just cured psychosomatic illnesses or hysterical people. And other stories of him curing things like a severed ear could be legends, since many are reported in only one source.
This is actually a matter outside the range of the trilemma proper, since it goes into issues of the authenticity of teh record. But let's make some points even so.
None of the subjects said to be blind or paralyzed show any evidence in the texts of having been "hysterical" -- this is strictly a supposition . In other words, they must postulate additional data to make their thesis work; they must also denigrate ancient people and insult their intelligence unjustly.
In terms of reportage in one source, if that is so, any such event -- no matter how "spectacular" a critic thinks it is, based on their own subjective judgments -- is "sufficient grounds to reject" an element as an embellishment. This then means that a great deal of material in parallel accounts across the board must likewise be "rejected."
For example, in my parallels of Lincoln biographies, one in particular contains much more detail that the other three bios do not report; some of this material left unreported, even concerning the same event, while not on the scale of a miracle, is of such "importance" that one could easily construct plausible arguments accusing the single writer of "embellishment."
If this argument is going to be used, it needs to be applied and proven, not merely hurled in the air.
There's got to be embellishment here. Look at the unusual multitude of lepers that appear in the gospels, for example.
The only lepers in the gospels are the group of ten in Luke 12:17 (living on a social group for the sake of survival as we might expect); the one man healed of leprosy (Luke 5:13 and parallels), and Simon the leper (Matthew 26), who wasn't even healed. That's only 12 lepers, which doesn't seem like much of an "unusual multitude." Incidentally, any idea that leprosy is a target for the subconscious to mimic not only is not supported by the numerical data, but also seems to suggest that the ancients desired to be in this condition.
It is true that certain healing miracles could fit a "psychosomatic" explanation, and yet, one is constrained to ask if it isn't rather too convenient to psychologize persons not personally known and removed from us by such a distance. At any rate I would not exclude the psychologically ill from Jesus' care, and there is still a real problem to be cared for, one which only the best-trained psychologists doing close experiments have dealt with today. Was Jesus trained to the level of these modern psychologists?
Well, Jesus did fail -- he was executed after one year of ministry.
The term of Jesus' ministry was three years, not one; John's gospel gives markers that suggest a ministry of at least three years -- see here). But we can just as ably point out that three days after the execution, Jesus was resurrected and his divine status vindicated.
Jesus tended to avoid dangerous places to preach because it wasn't "his time". When it was "his time", his "luck" didn't last very long at all.
I find only one reference to Jesus hiding himself (John 8:59) and passages that refer to "the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). No connection is made indicating that Jesus was hiding out until it was "his time". Other citations are no more helpful for this argument:
Jn 7:1 "After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life."
Mt 12:14-15 "But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place"
Mk 3:6-7 "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake"
Luke 13:31,33 "some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, 'Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.' He replied, '[..] In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day--for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!'
The cites from Matthew and Mark describe the same event, right after the healing of a withered arm in the synagogue. But do we have a major "hiding away" here?
Not at all. Where did Jesus go? He left "that place" -- what place? Most likely the synagogue; he went, where? Mark says to the lake, the Sea of Galilee, which is what Capernaum (where the synagogue) is right on the shore of. Matthew doesn't get this specific, but he does have Jesus arguing with Pharisees in the very next set of pericopes. If this is "hiding out" then it wasn't done very well.
The cite from Luke is of no use either: After saying this, Jesus doesn't leave for Jerusalem until much later (17:11). Either Jesus wasn't running, or the threat wasn't real.
That leaves John 7:1, but then in the very next few verses, Jesus does go to Jerusalem! So, there is no concrete pattern of avoidance -- to the contrary, an overall tendency to defy the danger.
Let's keep in mind, too, when I say, "if Jesus went about doing the things that He did, He would have been VERY lucky to get as far as the Crucifixion...", I'm not just talking about him being killed. The prospective actions of a would-be Messiah would involve a VERY high "attempt to failure ratio" if the claimant didn't actually have the goods! Enough failed healings, enough teachings offending the local Pharisees, enough of any risk, and you're Messianic campaign is doomed to mass failure of the sort that doesn't satisfy the problem of Christian origins. For more on this, see my reply on a comparison to Sabbatai Sevi.)
Well, Jesus' predictions of his second coming failed.
Not by our interpretation -- see this larger set of articles on this subject.
Many people claimed to be Messiahs in that day. After all, everyone was looking for some kind of Messiah; the OT prophecies were likely on everyone's mind, and Josephus and Seuetonius report that the Jews were expecting a messiah to appear in these very decades.
That's not true: We don't "know for a fact" at all that anyone came up saying, "I am the Messiah" or "I am the Son of Man" or any of that. None of the people recorded by Josephus are recorded as saying any of this.
We have people who took some putative military action against Rome, and failed miserably, but no claimants or claims at all -- one suggests that they might well have made a claim to be Messiah had their little schemes succeeded, but it remains that none did.
Let it be stressed here that there is no doubt that there were those who tried to instigate some eschatological sign, and may well have claimed divine power was in the offing from them, but the key words "I am Messiah!" are never recorded, and given the broad conceptions of the Messiah as one who was a political or religious leader, but not necessarily divine, we are talking about more than just "I am Messiah" here -- I am also referring to Jesus' other divine claims, such as those we list in Mark above, and the claim to be God's Wisdom.
Jesus left no known writings, and we only have the second-hand word of Christian authors. Maybe Jesus really was reluctant to be Messiah. We can see hints of that in the earliest gospel (Mark): Jesus never calls himself Christ/Messiah, is reluctant for his special nature to be known, and despairs on the cross. Maybe he had a growing delusion of his own importance that became a belief in his divinity only after (or shortly before) the time of his execution.
It's easy enough to throw the implication of fabrication around, of course; actually proving it out is something If we are already convinced that malfeasance is afoot, we certainly wouldn't argue and would find such an argument adequate; but there are many issues to be resolved before this can be accepted.
What proof is there that these second-hand claims are not accurate? (Merely, "bceause I don't think they are" is not an argument.) What is it about their "second-handedness" that makes them suspect, and how does this apply to secular works of history consistently (since they offer so much "second hand" info themselves)? What proof indeed is there that Matthew and John at least are not "first hand"? If these claims were invented, why would they be invented, and what about the historical and social repreecussions of such invention, which are not at all in evidence?
This is not an unreasonable burden of proof. It is not sufficient to just apply labels of "misintrerpretation" and "exaggeration" and so on randomly to Gospel accounts in order to create a pastiche of explanations without justification. There are many issues to be considered: Variations among oral tradition; comparisons to other parallel accounts of the same event by ancient historians; the principles of redaction criticism, and so on.
Moreover, even in works by professional historians, such as Lincoln biographies. we may find inconsisent, second- and third-hand accounts, attempts to make Lincoln look like a great guy, and so on; can we apply the same standards to those? (It does not matter in the least that these are secular works of history; they are written with some sort of point of view to pose, and so subject to the same charges of malfeasance as are posed against the Gospels.)
For reference as well, note here our series on the authenticity of the Gospels.
Jesus' mental condition could certainly have deteriorated over time. Delusional grandiosity is common among schizophrenics. As one source puts it: "The patient's attitude towards others is one of superiority. he exhibits fixed beliefs that he possesses unusual powers. He reports divine missions and may identify himself with well-known historical personalities (p. 88).
Superiority, unusual powers, divine missions, and identification with hisorical personalities -- but no reference at all to identification with divinity. Moreover, there is no evidence of this or any condition as something that slowly evolves; the source (which is no longer online):
The Christ complex is not in the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It's not a real condition.
The issue was never whether it appeared in any diagnostic manual (no one expects a separate entry for people who think they are Napoleon either); the issue is whether indeed there are people who think they are Christ or God, and how serious this delusion is compared to, say, someone who thinks they are merely a great football player (but not necessarily any particular one, just themselves with great skills), and whether such serious delusions can be or ever are gradual in their onset.
The level of delusion and dissonance required is much greater for one with a divinity complex than it is for one who has lesser-scale delusions, and whether it makes the DSM-IV as a separate category is utterly beside the point.
In the final analysis, it is not enough to assemble a list of symptoms for a disorder, and apply them -- some legitimately, some by forcing them onto the texts -- then pronounce Jesus "nuts," ignoring the fact that the alleged symptoms are also "symptoms" of quite normal behavior. In this we are reminded of the "repressed memory syndrome" of some years ago in which it was confidently declared that many as 180 different symptoms could be indications of repressed memories of sexual abuse. The fact that these alleged symptoms were so all-inclusive that they made it possible to diagnose everyone alive as a victim of repressed memories was somehow missed.
In short: The claimant must produce examples of unique symptoms not otherwise explicable by normal behavior (the "claim to divinity" as the subject thereby excluded, for otherwise the question is simply enormously begged). It is also not enough to suggest mere possibility: We are obliged to explain matters beyond reasonable doubts -- not all possible doubts that can be invented on the spur of the moment.
Jesus seems to have initially been a disciple of John the Baptist. A Jesus always convinced of his divinity would have been less likely to ever have been anyone's disciple.
That Jesus was a disciple of John is sometimes argued, but it is never stated in the text, and no such relationship is described in the text; the only clue is that Jesus' original message of repentance is the same as John's, though this was also a message of the OT.
However, even if it were true, which is possible, there was a necessity in a collectivist society (as in the NT world) of aligning one's self with a fictive kinship group. The goal of the teacher-disciple relationship was socialization, and the ability to identify one's self with a particular teacher. Becoming a disciple of John, or entering the fictive kinship group of a John the Baptist, would have been useful for a Messianic programme because ancient persons were identified in terms of their teachers, and students took on the identity of their schools (sort of like saying one is from Harvard tends to make an impression).
However, it is unlikely that Jesus was John's disciple, for Jesus is not once identified in terms of being John's student; rather, it is asked, "Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?", indicating no connection with a known personality like John the Baptist or any other teacher.
If we reserve judgment about the truth of the reports about Jesus, and instead can show that they are consistent with paranoid schizophrenia, then it becomes a simple matter of asking which explanation is more parsimonious: divine incarnation or mental illness? Since mental illness is obviously more parsimonious than divine incarnation, it is your burden is to show that the reports about Jesus are inconsistent with paranoid schizophrenia.
Is that the more "parsimonious" explanation? Not when you have to go so far as spinning out every event possible into a sign of mental illness (and calling them signs "consistent with" delusion, in which case, you can go out on the street now and find behaviors "consistent with" delusion all over the place), while dispensing with contrary or insufficient indications of data by any means possible. It is amazing how complex the explanations have to become in order to save the "most parsimonious" explanation.
Out it this way: The opponents needs to at least to provide 1) symptoms in Jesus uniquely associated with delusion and not with normal human behavior; 2) evidence explaining why various social factors (ritual uncleanness associated with delusion in the ancient world, for example) somehow managed to be circumvented where Jesus was concerned.
Okay. I'd say Jesus had a variant of schizophrenia called paraphrenia. "Kraepelin believed that paraphrenia was associated with paranoid schizophrenia and was marked by persistent delusions and hallucinations (1), but it did not show the characteristic deterioration of schizophrenia or the full characteristics of delusional disorder (6). Personality decay is minimal (7), and emotional rapport is well retained (8), but despite its relatively benign features (9), paraphrenia is as chronic as schizophrenia (10). Nowadays, a case like this is often diagnosed as "atypical psychosis," "psychosis not otherwise specified," or even "schizoaffective disorder" (11)." [From Ravindran, "Paraphrenia Redefined", http://www.cpa-apc.org/Subscriptions/Archives/1999/Mar/munro.htm.]
This is an intersting article, and it is just as interesting that the next sentence says, "These vague categories do not lend themselves well to research."(!) The article also advises that more research is needed in this area. But let's look at some of what else this article says. Under the heading of diagnostic criteria, it reads (these criteria are evaluated as the article progresses):
Associated Features: The illness is associated with distress and agitation, and irrational behaviour may appear as delusions become more vivid and judgement lessens. Patients may accuse others of persecution, complain to the authorities, or occasionally show aggression to imagined pursuers.
One would of course want to define "distress, agitation, and irrational behavior" here, and ask where this is shown with Jesus (the article finds this in 81.3% of cases). Critics sometimes appeal to the cleansing of the Temple; if this prophetic demonstration reflects mental disorder of this sort, then protestors in front of nuclear power plants and members of PETA also need help; though see as well here. Note that whether such protests get someone killed is beside the point, though in that case, one may ask about the sanity of American Revolutionary soldiers, for example, who fought for their freedom knowing there was an excellent chance they would be killed.
The general paradigm of protest is the same regardless of the potential results; in each case, one measures the potential results against the potential long-term social value and makes a decision. Being part of a PETA protest may result in long-term social ostracization, unemployability, and decline in life quality; ancients who protested social conditions -- from Socrates to Spartacus -- knew well in advance that such actions had their own potential price, and that it happened to be death at times does not permit us to accuse them of mental disorder (which verges on bigotry).
The ancients as collectivists would have been quite willing to die as individuals for a greater good. Kamikaze pilots are a good if negative example of this: Though they did not have a good choice anyway, for they could either do the mission, or suffer shame and disgrace in an honor-based society like Japan's where such loss of honor was as good as death -- to say nothing of the threat to one's family by a tyrannical emperor if one did not go on the mission.
At the same time, we must not assume upon the ancients certain values and judgments about the value and purpose of life that are held only by moderns; the ancients had no qualms about dying sacrificially for a cause they believed in, and if this is a sign of mental illness, then perhaps Socrates was mentally ill as well.
A lot of people on modern times risk their lives for what they believe in.
This supports our point. Were all of these people schizophrenic? Once again, the issue is not whether one can identify behaviors in Jesus "consistent with" delusion -- by the broad sweep of allowed identifying symptoms, one can go out to the A and P and find hundreds of people showing symptoms "consistent with" delusion -- the issue is whether one can find data that clearly and uneqiovocally and uniquely shows delusion, without resorting to adding to or manipulating the texts or ignoring the relevant social data.
Age of Onset: Traditionally thought to be middle or old age, but this is unproven.
Course: A chronic illness, ameliorated but not cured by treatment.
The first criteria eventually was found not to be indicative at all. The second is of no measure here since Jesus obviously was never subject to psychological analysis or treatment.
Impairment: Intellectual functioning is unimpaired. Daily living, occupational activity, social functioning, and quality of marriage are likely to deteriorate during exacerbations.
Can anyone show that there was deterioration in Jesus' daily living, etc. activities that would match this?
Jesus abandoned his profession of carpentry for a life of wandering asceticism. His ministry caused strained relations with his family that even the gospels felt obliged to report.
How does this show impairment in any of these areas? For one thing, the "strain" was clearly only from the family's side, not from Jesus': The family is the one claiming Jesus is out of order; Jesus does not reply to them in kind or say that they are the ones out of order. Anything beyond that must be added to the text.
As for abandoning a profession, does this mean we are mentally ill when we change careers or lifestyle? Is asceticism a sign of mental illness? (It is only if we beg the question that a divine call to such a life is itself a delusion.)
None of this even so reflects a "deterioration" in the named areas, except by virtue of a modernistic value judgment that assumes that living in a nice house is a sure sign of mental health order. One would also ask for detailed qualification proving that a move from carpenter to travelling teacher is somehow "deterioration," other than by making modernistic value judgments. Do those who leave a comfortable home and join the Peace Corps to dig wells in Africa count as mentally ill?
Jesus' own family and peers evidently considered it a deterioration.
This at best only means at best that they made the same irrational judgment -- one may note that the family of Jesus apparently did not make this judgment following observation of Jesus himself, as they come from outside looking for him.
Complications: Some paraphrenia cases appear to deteriorate to schizophrenia. In elderly patients, dementia may sometimes supervene.
Obviously one would have to say that Jesus was one of the "didn't deteriorate" cases.
Predisposing Factors: Deafness, social isolation, migrant status, and other severe stressors may play a part. It is possible, though evidence is uncertain, that premorbid paranoid and schizoid personality disorders occur more commonly with paraphrenia than by chance. Celibacy, lower-than-normal marital rates, and reduced fertility have been mentioned, possibly indicating abnormal personality traits.
We know of no data indicating that Jesus suffered any of these things (other than celibacy, which was also practiced by the Qumranites and by John the Baptist, and has been practiced by numerous respectable groups over history. Are ascetic Buddhist monks in their mountain temples "hiding fanatics"? Is it possible at all to live a life of religious or other asceticism and not be declared mentally deluded?
Sex Ratio: Uncertain, but seems to become more common in females with advancing age.
No doubt Jesus would be put in the "less common" category, which is fine in context.
Familial Pattern: There is a low frequency of schizophrenia in families of paraphrenia patients, suggesting that there is little or no genetic link between the 2 disorders.
This is fine as well; either side will take it that there was no sign of disorder in Jesus' family.
Among further relevant delineations made:
Many of these patients show a degree of personality and interpersonal incompetence, since more than one-half of the group live alone and well over one-half (average age 47.6 years) are single, separated, or divorced; 57.1% reported themselves as socially isolated prior to the onset of the current episode
Interpersonal incompetence? Jesus had an assemblage of disciples, taught publicly to large crowds, and showed no sign at all of interpersonal incompetence or social isolation. The closest we get to this is going off at untimed intervals to the mountains to pray, which is the sort of thing "normal" people do also.
In Jesus' case, though, this is a testimony to his claim to be divine; as Malina and Rohrbaugh note  the wilderness was thought to be a dangerous place filled with demonic powers; Jesus' venturing alone into it shows an awareness of his place high up in the cosmic hierarchy. It's compatible with disorder, but not proof of it, especially in light of contrary evidence.
The gospels report that Jesus was sometimes socially ostracized for his unconventional associations.
Jesus' "unconventional associations" were with tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers, the marginalized and oppressed of society. Was Mother Theresa mentally ill for caring for the poorest of the poor, the lepers, and the despised, in Calcutta? Shall it now be a show of mental illness to care for terminal AIDS patients?
What was actually happening here is that Jesus was standing against ritual purity taboos heavily ingrained in ancient society, which disapproved of jumping class and social boundaries. This was an act that was akin to a white man locking arms with a black man during the Selma march, or a black man marrying a white woman in 1962.
"Social isolation" in terms of mental illness is not the same as "social isolation" in terms of progressive social activism. The white man locking arms with the black man is Selma risked "social isolation" from his own peer group (though in exchange gained social unity with another peer group, just as Jesus did), yet who would dare call such a man mentally ill or delusional on that basis?
As a side note, it seems at this stage that good or bad, whatever Jesus does, it seems, is evidence of mental illness.
Jesus was declared mad by other people.
We answered this in the prior article, but we can add this: Accusations of madness were no more than part of the polemical stock of response-accusations and labels of deviance from the social norms in the period (cf. 2 Kings 9:11; Acts 12:15, 26:24) and no more represents a qualified or intended assessment of psychological state than a modern person responding to another today, "What are you, crazy?"
Maybe Jesus didn't run from trouble much, but there were still times he chose discretion over valor.
Let's make an inquiry into the fundamental reasoning behind the whole "Jesus avoided danger" paradigm: What normal person or being doesn't do this?
The Sea of Galilee is a big place, and Matthew gives no indication of how soon Jesus was talking to the Pharisees or whether the reported danger was still as grave. The fact remains that these are reports of withdrawal in the face of danger.
The Sea of Galilee a big place? It's seven miles long and four miles wide; that's a big place, all right. Not that it matters: Mark 3:6 says, "And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him." The threat wasn't immediate in the first place; the Pharisees were consulting with the ruling party -- the guys who had Rome's authority over life and death -- to see about bringing a charge. There wasn't anything for Jesus to run from yet, and no danger as yet to be avoided, because "due process" was taking place.
Mark 3:7 says, "But Jesus withdrew himself and his disciples to the sea' and to the (presumably protective) midst of 'a great multitude' of his followers."
Apparnently, Jesus could not even have followers without being accused of cowardice. But it doesn't matter, for discretion is the only viable alternative anyway, cowardice or not. Still, the point remains that this paradigm boxes Jesus in so that he looks bad no matter what he does and has no way at all to do things "right" that cannot be spun into something that evidences mental illness or causes some other problem:
Lk 13:22 clearly says that "Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem". The escape that Jesus announces in Lk 13:33 presumably takes place immediately, and the unnamed village he enters in 17:12 cannot be assumed to be the very next leg of his travels.
Luke 13:22 is of no use in this context, referring to a time chronologically before the events of 13:30 and beyond. Thd "presumably" is a construct, and a natural reading of the text does make this indeed the very next leg of Jesus' travels.
Luke 13:33, "Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" -- does not aid this case either. Not only does Jesus tell everyone in hearing where he was going (Jerusalem), he announces that he is walking (not "fleeing" or "running" -- the word used implies a normal journey). A "withdrawal" made at a slow pace and not in secret is no "withdrawal" at all.
Jerusalem would be hard to hide in, though.
Malina and Neyrey note that "in group-oriented cultures such as the ancient Mediterranean, we must remember that people continually mind each other's business."  Privacy was unknown and unexpected. On the one hand, neighbors exerted "constant vigilance" over others; on the other hand, those watched were constantly concerned for appearances, and the associated rewards of honor or sanctions of shame that came with the results.
We complain of the erosion of privacy, but know as well that it is a compromise for the sake of social control. The ancients would not have worried about not having adequate measures in place to stop a terrorist attack -- because such measures of surveillance were already present. Control comes not from indiviuals controlling themselves, but from the group controlling the individual.
Ancient people controlled one another's behavior by watching them, spreading word of their behavior (what we call "gossip"), and by public dishonor. Critics who ask what Pharisees were doing out in the country watching Jesus' disciples crack grain, and consider that improbable, are way off track. "...[T]he Pharisees seems to mind Jesus' business all the time,"  and little wonder, since that was quite normal to do.
In short, there really was ultimately "nowhere to hide" in the ancient world unless you wanted to make friends with the lions and bears for the long term. Jersualem would have been among the worst hiding places for a cowardly, delusional Jesus.John 7:1-10 says Jesus "went around" in Galilee to avoid the danger in Judea, and didn't consider going to Judea until a feast some unspecified amount of time later. He tells his brothers that his time "has not yet come" and decides to stay in Galilee because he is "hated". He then inexplicably changes his mind and goes to Jerusalem "not publicly, but in secret" (Jn 7:10). He was avoiding danger.
The "went around" reference is in verse 1, but it is still of no relevance -- Jesus still goes to Jerusalem ("inexplicably" or otherwise), and though he indeed begins by going up in secret, "Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught."! If this is danger-avoidance, I suppose Osama bin Laden would have done better to escape detection by waiting a bit in Tora Bora, taking a boat to the US, then sitting on the steps of the Capitol in Washington.
One more point may be made: Direct, ideological confrontation with his opponents was essential to Jesus' ministry. The exchanges between Jesus and his enemies represented contests of personal honor before witnesses which an ancient, honor-respecting society would require of anyone who defiantly stood against a given status quo. Running away before the opponents got there wasn't a live option if Jesus wanted his message to be spread and respected by others.
Well, there were no reports of fist-fights by Jesus in the Gospels.
A fist-fight with a member of the Pharisees, regardless of who started it, would only have initiated a cycle of vengeance and brought grave discredit to Jesus' ministry (though as Malina and Rohrbaugh note, such fights in public would also have immediately been broken up by bystanders; and whoever started a fight was considered the "loser" in a verbal exchange, for not being able to keep up with their own wits), and we would be right back to the same problem of preserving the salvific mission and ministry.
Jesus was said to be mad by his family. Who knew him better than they did?
The meaning ascribed is not correct. Jesus violated the norms of his culture in a variety of ways, for example by associating with tax collectors and prostitutes, he was violating the accepted social norms and purity codes. In so doing he brought dishonor on his family in the eyes of his contemporaries -- and the "madness" line of reasoning not only does not represent the evaluation of a trained psychologist, but also amounts to no more than a makeshift accusation designed to a) explain away and mute the dishonor of the situation; b)get others to move away from Jesus by describing him as ritually impure.
The "madness" reasoning is functionally equivalent to saying Jesus was a leper, but had the advantage of not being visibly testable.
But how could they say he was mad after he showed compassion and altruism to people -- unless he really was mad?
Compassion to the despised lower classes was a foreign concept. As helping the lepers and untouchables in India was not considered "compassioniate" but rather stupid, so likewise in the ancient Roman world with the groups Jesus associated with.
How could Mary go along with this after her angelic revelations?
Appeal to "angelic revelations" is of no relevance -- just as Skeptics today would readily dismiss such experiences as hallucinations or deceptions in the face of later experiences seemingly contrary to the original revelation, so likewise there is no lack of plausibility in the reversal of the family attitude in light of Jesus' completely unexpected "unmessianic" behavior.
How about places where Jesus was reluctant to use his powers? That could be a sign of unsurety!
Not so. From Malina and Rohrbaugh's Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels : Any place where Jesus does show what we would call "reluctance" is a reflection of the fact that excessive honor claims, such as of course divine claims would be, were meant to be kept from outsiders and would also be considered shameful. In addition to the problem of things like making Jesus into a king, the ancients held to a concept of "limited good" in which any time any person gained anything, whether prestige or power, it was seen in context of a "zero-sum" game in which their gain meant someone else's loss.
Appearing self-aggrandizing in public immediately raised suspicion and envy; for a low-born person like Jesus to be known to make of himself such extravagant claims would have been seen as a form of grasping. His status had to be recognized by others to be validated. Jesus' "reluctance" is actually, in context, an honorable behavior.
Jesus was unsure of his identity (Mark 8:27). This is a symptom of a psychological problem.
Not so. There is a vast difference in perceptions concerning relationships in the ancient world (see here for relevant material). The ancient world was not individualistic, but group-oriented. Malina and Neyrey explain in Portraits of Paul that group-oriented persons:
...internalize and make their own what others say, do, and think about them because they deem it necessary , if they are to be human beings, to live out the expectations of others. Such persons need to test this interrelatedness, which draws attention away from their own egos and toward the demands and expectations of others who can grant or withhold reputation or honor. Group-oriented persons rely on others to tell them who they are ("Who do people say that I am?" Mark 8:27); (they "neither knew nor cared about psychological development and were not introspective" [Malina and Rohrbaugh, 231]. Consequently, from this perspective, modern questions of "consciousness" (did Jesus know he was God? did Jesus have faith?...) make no sense. For such questions are posited with the freight of the individualistically oriented persons in mind, and not in terms of the group-oriented persons of antiquity, who depend on others to tell them who they are, what is expected of them, and where they fit.
What this means is that suggestions of "growing delusions of godhood" are insufficient from the get-go. If Jesus was delusional, it would not matter in the least because in a group-oriented society, you needed the support and endorsement of others to support your identity, and Mark 8:27 is not reflective of unsurety or evasiceness but of the need to have one's identity verified by others.
A merely human Jesus could not have fostered these delusions on his own, and kept going; those around him had to believe it as well, and by extension, had to have reason to believe it or else appear to believe it. What this means is that we have further proof that Jesus must have provided convincing proofs of his power and authority to maintain a following, and for a movement to have started and survived well beyond him.
Bottom line: A delusional Jesus would have had to live up to the expectations of others and would have been abandoned at the first sign of failure.
Well, Jesus heard the voice of God in his head. That would be confirmation enough for him.
It would, for Jesus himself, but it still would not answer the issue of others, and the gaining of followers who made the same recognition.