The Gadarene Demoniac

At that time, when Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their   neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.   (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

A totally modern commentary on the exorcism of the legion of demons says:

“Jesus asked the man his name, and he replied, ‘Legion,’ the same word for a division of Roman soldiers. Scholars note that a legion consisted of around two thousand troops, and there would have been several legions around the Decapolis. It’s interesting that in the story, the demons beg to stay in the area. Nearby was a ‘band’ of pigs, band being the same word used for a group of military cadets (and no, we aren’t suggesting it’s okay to call police officers ‘pigs’). The demons asked to be sent among the pigs, another symbol of uncleanliness. (Jews did not touch pigs.) Jesus invited the Legion to enter the pigs. And the pigs, specifically numbered at two thousand, ‘charged’ into the sea to their deaths. And none of the listeners could have missed the subversive poetry, remembering the legion of Pharaoh’s army that charged into the sea, where they were swallowed up and drowned (Exodus 14).

[Footnote:  The pig was also the mascot of Rome’s Tenth Fretensis Legion stationed in Antioch (Carter, Matthew and Empire, 71) It’s interesting to note the places where Jesus drove demons out of people: often in the temple and in the militarized zones. The words ‘come out’ that usually accompany an exorcism are the same words with which Jesus exorcized the temple, calling the money changers to ‘come out’ because they had made a market of God’s temple and marginalized visiting Gentiles.” (Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President, pg.115)

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12 thoughts on “The Gadarene Demoniac

  1. Hugh Burnett

    Had the story been true Jesus had no right to commandeer the herd of pigs. They did not belong to Him, and their owner was robbed when they all drowned, and polluted the Sea of Galilee.
    And do demons drown?
    No.
    So the anecdote is inaccurate, was inserted by some unknown writer – and is not true.
    I say inserted because it is not known who wrote the four ‘Gospels’ attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.

    1. Fr. Ted

      The fact that the author is unknown is hardly proof that the story is not true. We have many stories from the ancient world whose authorship is unknown but that doesn’t invalidate the stories.

      As you say the owner of the pigs did lose property and suffer an economic loss. But that is part of the story – people are more concerned about profit than about a human being. And since it is a Jewish story the fact that it is swine that is lost makes the story all the more stark. The story is questioning on so many levels sanity and values, good and evil. But like many scriptural stories, what is being valued is not what is commonly valued by people. That’s part of questioning what is sane and what is crazy. The story also contrasts powers in the world – the demons do not ultimately have power over anything. They cannot even go into the swine without asking permission. And the swine appear to be spooked by them – the swine have enough sense to rid themselves of the demons who cannot stop the destruction from happening. The demons have no where else to go, but to disappear entirely. They have no power over anything.

      Your reading of the story is exactly the kind of thinking the story is refuting. What is real loss? Who really owns what in this world? Who possesses what and what possesses people?

  2. Hugh Burnett

    The belief in demons and demoniacal possession is “a mere survival of a once universal superstition,” its persistence “pretty much in the inverse ratio of the general instruction, intelligence, and sound judgment of the population among whom it prevails.”

    Demonlogy gave rise “through the special influence of Christian ecclesiastics, to the most horrible persecutions and judicial murders of thousands upon thousands of innocent men, women, and children. . . .If the story is true, the mediæval theory of the invisible world may be and probably is, quite correct; and the witchfinders, from Sprenger to Hopkins and Mather, are much-maligned men…. For the question of the existence of demons and of possession by them, though it lies strictly within the province of science, is also of the deepest moral and religious significance. If physical and mental disorders are caused by demons, Gregory of Tours and his contemporaries rightly considered that relics and exorcists were more useful than doctors; the gravest questions arise as to the legal and moral responsibilities of persons inspired by demoniacal impulses; and our whole conception of the universe and of our relations to it becomes totally different from what it would be on the contrary hypothesis.”
    T S Huxley

    1. Fr. Ted

      I don’t deny that much harm was done by people misusing and abusing demonology against their fellow human beings.

      But it is not just the superstitious who have tortured and killed millions. The infamous Japanese unit 731 during WWII was scientifically based persecution and murder. The Nazis also did the same in the name of science. Even the good old USA used human subjects for scientific experiments which resulted in the deaths of some.

      More recently there have been discussion about the use of torture for interrogation.

      All it takes to misuse and abuse people is to dehumanize them. Claims of demon possession dehumanized a population which then enabled others to become inhuman in their treatment of them. But completely scientifically driven people are capable of the same behavior.

      Far more people died during the 20th Century from ideologists following their own rational logic then from all of the deaths that can be blamed on Christian ecclesiastics for all of history. The extermination of the Jews was an effort to exterminate a religion and it was masterminded by those who were following philosophical ideologies. Stalin and the Communists also used rational ideas to attempt to exterminate Christianity.

      It isn’t demonology that is the problem it is inhumanity dehumanizing others.

  3. Hugh Burnett

    ‘I don’t deny that much harm was done by people misusing and abusing demonology against their fellow human beings.’
    So, the tale of the Gaderine swine in the Bible demonstrates that Scripture can be as dangerous as Naziism, and the use of Jesus in propagating the myth of ‘fallen angels’ diminishes His authority and status within the Trinity.
    In addition the proposition that God is omnipotent is faulty, since forseeing this, and all the wickednes of man, the Deity cannot be logically be presumed to be Good.

    1. Fr. Ted

      No, it only shows that people can bend and twist a story or an idea or a comment into anything they wish and they can try to build a whole series of false premises on what they invented.

      You’ve invented an idea about god and then want to destroy your the false idea you created.

      It’s just like a witch hunt.

  4. Hugh Burnett

    There are some 38,000 branches of Christianity, each claiming to have the true interpretation of Scripture.

    All believe Jesus is Divine.

    If the Gadarene story is allegorical all well and good.

    But alleging it to be literally true diminishes the stature and credibility of Jesus, since belief in fallen angels and demonic possession is no more than primitive superstition

    1. Fr. Ted

      “But alleging it to be literally true diminishes the stature and credibility of Jesus, since belief in fallen angels and demonic possession is no more than primitive superstition”

      At least in your mind this is true. Obviously lots of people are comfortable with the story being literally true, perhaps many are “agnostic” regarding the literalness of the story, and some don’t think it matters one way or another and so don’t worry about the literalness of the story.

      Even the ancient commentators on scripture were aware that not everyone could accept the literalness of scripture stories. Already in the 3rd Century, Origen advocates for moving beyond the literal story to find its spiritual meaning. The ancients were aware that for some the stories were unbelievable and pushing them as literal sometimes led to a loss of faith.

      There are ways to read the Gospel lessons for truth other than simply looking at the literal truth. Jesus taught in parables after all whose very nature is not literal, and sometimes his interpretation of the parables is allegorical.

      The narrative portion of the Gospels however can challenge the modern scientific mind. One has to believe miracles are possible to see a miracle. If one doesn’t/cannot believe in miracles then they aren’t going to be seen in the Gospel nor will they convince you of anything.

  5. Hugh Burnett

    A reported Biblical event, in this instance the alleged curing of Legion and conversing with demons, bears no comparison with a parable preached by Jesus.
    Acceptance of the mythology of Genesis, which incidentally is a late version of the story of the Creation, immediately lowers the credibility of the Messiah’s supernatural pedigree.

  6. Deaconeddie

    Dear Hugh – I don’t know about you, but I know enough about temptation and grace to believe in angels and fallen angels. I am a quite fond of Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and find it entirely plausible that there are spirits whose only goal is the ruination of souls. You may wish to read that short but excellent book; I think you’ll find that it rings true with our own experiences.

    That Jesus has absolute authority over such spirits is of great comfort to me.

  7. Fred

    Good job Ted. Just remember, .” The natural man cannot receive the things of God because they are spiritually discerned.” (1st. Cor.2:14) and (“Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age (Satan)has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel of glory of Christ who is the image3 of God..” (2nd.Cor.4:3,4)

  8. Pingback: The Devils You Know | Comfort & Challenge

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