Good Friday's Psychological Meaning

By Henaut, Barry | Anglican Journal, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Good Friday's Psychological Meaning

Henaut, Barry, Anglican Journal

There can be no doubt that Mark's passion narrative would make for a wonderfully vivid -- albeit, terrifying -- dream. Betrayal, abandonment, slander, judgement, psychological abuse, intense physical suffering and finally death itself all play their part. These are some of our deepest fears and they find their natural expression in the world's most powerful literature and our dreams.

What would it mean if we approached the Gospels' account of Easter from the perspective of dream analysis? For Carl G. Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist, the key to interpreting dreams often lay in viewing all of the actors in the drama as aspects of the dreamer. When we approach Mark's passion narrative from this perspective the story takes on added psychological depth.

Central to Mark's account are the trial scenes before the Sanhedrin and Pilate. When we consider the continuing popularity of trials including Perry Mason, Matlock, the movie A Few Good Men, and the fascination with the Simpson case, we recognize our instinctive fear of judgment. But unlike the usual happy ending to these scenes in television and movies (wherein the client is invariably proven innocent by the wonderfully gifted attorney), the Gospel presents a harsh and cruel outcome. Jesus has no advocate to defend him; indeed, he even refuses to defend himself. And despite his innocence, he is found guilty and sentenced to death.

While popular culture offers us an optimistic reassurance in the face of our fear of rejection and judgment, the Gospel, in contrast, forces us to face this catastrophe vicariously in Jesus. Only after we face this squarely does it go on to resurrect new life on Resurrection Sunday.

Two agents are central in this judgment, the chief priest and Pilate. Psychologically, they represent aspects of what Jung termed the shadow since they are both the same sex as Jesus. Particularly with respect to the Sanhedrin, historically this has caused great misunderstanding and occasioned deep-rooted anti-Semitism. Since the shadow touches upon those repressed and deeply hated aspects of oneself, the temptation to project these attributes onto an external other is strong. This provides a useful warning against "externalizing" these Gospel characters and thereby avoiding the painful implications of their narrative actions for oneself.

Historically, it is difficult to reconstruct exactly what, if any, role the Sanhedrin had in Jesus' execution. Scholars now recognize that Mark's narrative cannot be used to reconstruct the actions and motives of the real human beings who were members of the Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus' crucifixion (the Gospels tell us that all the disciples fled at Gethsemane, for example). But since a dream often chooses a famous historical figure as a symbol to reveal something about the dreamer, perhaps Mark has included the Sanhedrin in his narrative in order to lead the reader into deeper self-awareness.

As the ruling religious elite within Judaism, the Sanhedrin is a perfect symbol for those conservative and ruling elements of the age. The council was dominated by the Sadducees, a branch of Judaism with a more conservative political and religious stance than the more popular and liberal Pharisees. They also held to a more literal interpretation of God's revelation to Israel, which they limited to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) in contrast to the Pharisees who also accepted the Prophets and Writings.

In Mark, the council instinctively acts out of self-preservation by opposing the advent of the new. This theme is also known in the stories of Sargon, Moses, and Ramses III in the myth of the miraculous child who is not killed, despite the hostile intent of the father/King, but is saved when someone places him in a vessel on a river. In Matthew's nativity, the Moses form of this story is front-and-centre showing how Jesus' birth and death are one theological unity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Good Friday's Psychological Meaning


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.