The protagonist has epilepsy and time travels to just a few (maybe 6?) months before the Crucifixion, only to discover that Jesus was actually a mentally-handicapped man, one of perhaps 10 children born to a hard-laboring Joseph and an even harder-philandering Mary, and multiple "travelling salesmen."

With this discovery, he realizes that Christianity will never be, so he accepts John the Baptist's request to play the part of the Messiah, knowing full well the fate which will befall him in order to "fulfill scriptures" and give humanity its savior.

I read this book in 11th grade (ca. 1979-1980), and although it seriously roasted and shredded the modern day sacred esteem of Christianity, for me it was definite food for thought.

I can't recall the name of that book, hence my arrival here after Googling.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. What year was it you read this? (We don't know when you were in 11th grade. :) Do you remember any details of the cover art? – DavidW Apr 23 at 19:43
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    Are you sure this isn't Moorcock's Behold the Man? – DavidW Apr 23 at 19:46
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    @Simply_ Sara Daniels How can the protagonist give humanity its savior if he is not actually a supernatural being? Isn't the most he could do be to give humanity (or merely the Christian members of humanity) the false illusion of being saved? – M. A. Golding Apr 24 at 16:47
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    @M.A.Golding - let's not get into whether or not you need a magic being to sign up as a true saviour, or whether just thinking you got one would be enough. Wars have been fought over less. – Tetsujin Apr 24 at 16:57
  • As for Savior / No Savior, I guess that hinges on whether one actually ascribes any true divinity to this Jesus the Christ character to begin with... I bid you good day – user140250 Apr 24 at 21:20

Since we don't appear to have an accepted answer for Michael Moorcock's 1969 novel Behold the Man, I'm going to formally suggest it as your answer.

Except that Karl Glogauer is a neurotic and not (as best I recall) an epileptic, it seems to match what you recall very closely. It has been extensively reviewed in many places, but I will quote from the Wikipedia summary:

The story begins with Karl's violent arrival in the Holy Land of AD 28, where his time machine, a womb-like, fluid-filled sphere, cracks open and becomes useless. By interpolating numerous memories and flashbacks, Moorcock tells the parallel story of Karl's troubled past in 20th century London, and tries to explain why he's willing to risk everything to meet Jesus. We learn that Karl has chronic problems with women, homosexual tendencies, an interest in the ideas of Jung, and many neuroses, including a messiah complex. [...]

He then makes his way to Nazareth in search of Jesus. When he finds Mary and Joseph, Mary turns out to be little more than a whore, and Joseph, a bitter old man, sneers openly at her claim to have been impregnated by an angel. Worse, their child Jesus is a profoundly intellectually disabled hunchback who incessantly repeats the only word he knows: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Karl, however, is so deeply committed to the idea of a real, historical Jesus that, at this point, he himself begins to step into the role, gathering followers - carefully choosing ones whose names are identical with those attested in the Gospels, repeating what parables he can recall, and using psychological tricks to simulate miracles. [...]

In the end, determined to live the story of Jesus to its decidedly bitter end, he orders a puzzled Judas to betray him to the Romans, and dies on the cross. [...]

Full cover (front and back) of Michael Moorcock's "Behold the Man" showing the front and back of a crucified man against a cross-shaped cut-out.

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    If I have some free time tomorrow I'll try to dig the book out of storage for some proper quotes. – DavidW Apr 23 at 20:25
  • Judas may be an epileptic in Moorcock's yarn. By the way, a (probably abridged) version published in New Worlds is available at the Internet Archive: archive.org/details/New_Worlds_166v50_1966-09/mode/2up – user14111 Apr 24 at 1:27
  • Probably massively abridged. It was only a skinny novella, but I'd guess 150 pages. After a bit of a hunt… this link looks much more promising. Free to sign up, borrow for an hour or 14 days. 160 pages, probably more like the original length - archive.org/details/beholdman00moor/page/n161/mode/2up – Tetsujin Apr 24 at 16:55
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    Thank youFor whomever asked the question to my questions - an error I was deleted for yesterday when responding to the thread where Behold the Man was and answer, I was in 111th grade in 1979-80... It seems it would have made more sense to allow my questioning qualifier where I originally placed it... Thank you, this feels awkward and not the proper forum for me it seems... Tchau – user140250 Apr 24 at 21:15
  • @Simply_SaraDaniels If Moorcock's Behold the Man is indeed the book you were looking for, then please accept this answer to mark it as correct. You can accept by clicking the checkmark on the left, below the voting buttons. – Rand al'Thor Apr 25 at 12:47

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