The Three Christs of Ypsilanti

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The Three Christs of Ypsilanti
Cover of the first edition
AuthorMilton Rokeach
CountryUnited States
SubjectPsychology, schizophrenia
Publication date
ISBN0394703952 (1973 edition)

The Three Christs of Ypsilanti (1964) is a book-length psychiatric case study by Milton Rokeach, concerning his experiment on a group of three males with paranoid schizophrenia at Ypsilanti State Hospital[1] in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The book details the interactions of the three patients—Clyde Benson, Joseph Cassel, and Leon Gabor—each of whom believed himself to be Jesus Christ.


Rokeach got the idea from an article in Harper's Magazine describing two women who both believed they were the Virgin Mary. After being assigned as psychiatric hospital roommates, one of the women recovered from her delusion as a result of conversations with the roommate and was discharged.[2] Rokeach was also influenced by Cesare Beccaria's essay On Crimes and Punishments, concerning the subject of Simon Morin, who was claimed to have been potentially cured in a similar way.[3][4] As a similar study of delusional belief systems, Rokeach brought together three men who each claimed to be Jesus Christ and confronted them with one another's conflicting claims, while encouraging them to interact personally as a support group. Rokeach also attempted to manipulate other aspects of their delusions by inventing messages from imaginary characters. He did not, as he had hoped, provoke any lessening of the patients' delusions, but did document a number of changes in their beliefs.

While initially the three patients quarreled over who was holier and reached the point of physical altercation, they eventually each explained away the other two as being patients with a mental disability in a hospital, or dead and being operated by machines.[5] The graduate students who worked with Rokeach on the project have been strongly critical of the morality of the project because of the amount of dishonesty and manipulation by Rokeach and the amount of distress experienced by the patients.[2] Rokeach added a comment in the final revision of the book that, while the experiment did not cure any of the three Christs, "It did cure me of my godlike delusion that I could manipulate them out of their beliefs."[2]


The Three Christs of Ypsilanti was first published in 1964. Rokeach came to think that his research had been manipulative and unethical, and he offered an apology in the afterword of the 1984 edition of the book: "I really had no right, even in the name of science, to play God and interfere round the clock with their daily lives."[5] The book was re-published by New York Review Books in 2011.[1]

Cultural impact[edit]

The book served as inspiration for the song "Ypsilanti" on the Detroit band Protomartyr's debut album No Passion All Technique.[6] The book also served as the inspiration for the memory play Trinity by Gary C. Hopper with music by Tim Kloth.[7] The title is also mentioned in Anne Sexton's poem 'Rapunzel' in her 1971 book Transformations.

Movie adaptation[edit]

A drama film based on the book, Three Christs, starring Peter Dinklage, Richard Gere, Walton Goggins and Bradley Whitford, and directed by Jon Avnet, was released on September 12, 2017.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Milton Rokeach (19 April 2011). The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. NYRB Classics. ISBN 978-1-59017-398-5. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  2. ^ a b c The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. Snap Judgment. NPR. May 2, 2014.
  3. ^ Moody, Rick (2011). Introduction. The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. By Rokeach, Milton. NY, NY: New York Review Books. p. viii. ISBN 978-1-59017-384-8. Rokeach's experiment was prompted in part by a text from Voltaire, on the subject of one Simon Morin
  4. ^ Bell, Vaughan (26 May 2010). "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus". Slate. Retrieved 27 May 2019. Voltaire recounted the tale of the 'unfortunate madman' Simon Morin who was burnt at the stake in 1663 for claiming to be Jesus. Unfortunate it seems, because Morin was originally committed to a madhouse where he met another who claimed to be God the Father, and 'was so struck with the folly of his companion that he acknowledged his own, and appeared, for a time, to have recovered his senses.'
  5. ^ a b "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus". Slate. May 26, 2010. Retrieved May 28, 2010.
  6. ^ Protomartyr – Ypsilanti, retrieved 2019-12-08
  7. ^ "Trinity".
  8. ^ "Three Christs". Retrieved 2017-09-02.
  9. ^ Three Christs (2017), retrieved 2017-09-02