by Alfred Edersheim
Philologos Religious Online Books
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
ON THE JEWISH VIEWS ABOUT 'DEMONS' AND 'THE DEMONISED,' TOGETHER WITH SOME NOTES ON THE INTERCOURSE BETWEEN JEWS AND JEWISH CHRISTIANS IN THE FIRST CENTURIES.
(See Book III. ch. 14.)
IT is not, of course, our purpose here to attempt an exhaustive account of the Jewish views on 'demons' and the 'demonised.' A few preliminary strictures were, however, necessary on a work upon which writers on this subject have too implicitly relied. I refer to Gfr's Jahrhundert des Heils (especially vol. i. pp. 378-424). Gfr sets out by quoting a passage in the Book of Enoch on which he lays great stress, but which critical inquiries of Dillmann and other scholars have shown to be of no value on the argument. This disposes of many pages of negative criticism on the New Testament which Gfr founds on this quotation. Similarly, 4 Esdras would not in our days be adduced in evidence of pre-Christian teaching. As regards Rabbinic passages, Gfr uncritically quotes from Kabalistic works which he mixes with quotations from the Talmud and from writings of a later date. Again, as regards the two quotations of Gfr from the Mishah (Erub. iv. 1; Gitt. vii. 1), it has already been stated (vol. i. p. 481, note 4) that neither of these passages bears any reference to demoniac possessions. Further, Gfr appeals to two passages in Sifré which may here be given in extenso. The first of these (ed. Friedmann, p. 107 b) is on Duet. xviii. 12, and reads thus: 'He who joins himself (cleaves) to uncleanness, on him rests the spirit of uncleaness; but he who cleaves to the Shechinah, it is meet that the Holy Spirit should rest on him.' The second occurs in explanation of Deut. xxxii. 16, and reads as follows (u. s. p. 136 b): 'What is the way of a "demon" (Shed)? He enters into a man and subjects him.' It will be observed that in both these quotations reference is made to certian moral, not to a physical effects, such as in the case of the demonised. Lastly, although one passage from the Talmud which Gfr adduces (though not quite exactly) applies, indeed, to demonical possessions, but is given in an exaggerated and embellished form.
If from these incorrect references we turn to what Jewish authorities really state on the subject, we have: -
1. To deal with the Writings of Josephus. in Aniq. vi. 8. 2, Josephus ascribes Saul's disorder to demonic influence, which brought upon him such suffocations as were ready to choke him. In Antiq. viii. 2. 5, Josephus describes the wisdom, learning, and achievements of Solomon, referring specially to his skill in expelling demons who caused various diseases. According to Josephus Solomon had exercised this power by incantations, his formulae and words of exorcism being still known in Josephus's days. In such manner a certain Eleazar had healed a 'demoniac' in the presence of Vespasian, his officers, and troops, by putting to his nostrils a ring 'that held a root of one of those mentioned by Solomon,' by which the demon was drawn out amidst convulsions of the demoniac, when the demon was further adjured not to return by frequent mention of the name of Solomon, and by 'incantations which he [Solomon] had composed.' To show the reality of this, a vessel with water had been placed at a little distance, and the demon had, in coming out, overturned it. It is probably to this 'root' that Josephus refers in War. vii. 6. 3, where he names it Baaras, which I conjecture to be the equivalent of the form )raf(a:w$b@, boara, 'the burning,' since he describes it as of colour like a flame, and as emitting at even a ray like lightning, and which it would cost a man's life to take up otherwise than by certain magical means which Josephus specifies. From all this we infer that Josephus occupied the later Talmudical standpoint, alike as regards exorcism, magical cures, and magical preventions. This is of great importance as showing that these views prevailed in New Testament times. But when Josephus adds, that the demons expelled by Baaras were 'the spirits of the wicked,' he represents a superstition which is not shared by the earlier Rabbis, and may possibly be due to a rationalising attempt to account for the phenomenon. It is, indeed, true that the same view occurs in comparatively late Jewish writings, and that in Yalkuat on Is. 46 b there appears to be a reference to it, at least in connection with the spirits of those who had perished in the flood; but this seems to belong to a different cycle of legends.
2. Rabbinic views.1 Probably the nearest approach to the idea of Josephus that 'demons' were the souls of the wicked, is the (perhaps allegorical) statement that the backbone of a person who did not bow down to worship God became a Shed, or demon (Baba K. 16 a; Jer. Shabb. 3 b). The ordinary names for demons are 'evil spirits,' or 'unclean spirits' (ruach raah,2ruach tumeah), Seirim (lit. goats). Shedim (Sheyda, a demon, male or female, either because their chief habitation is in desolate places, or from the word 'to fly about,' or else from 'to rebel'), and Mazzikin (the hurtful ones). A demoniac is called Gebher Shediyin (Ber. R. 65). Even this, that demons are supposed to eat and drink, to propagate themselves, and to die, distinguishes them from the 'demons' of the New Testament. The food of demons consists of certain elements in fire and water, and of certain odours. Hence the mode of incantation by incense made of certain ingredients. Of their origin, number, habitation, and general influence, sufficient has been said in the Appendix on Demonology. It is more important here to notice these two Jewish ideas: that demons entered into, or took possession of, men; and that many diseases were due to their agency. The former is frequently expressed. The 'evil spirit' constrains a man to do certain things, such as to pass beyond the Sabbath-boundary (Erub. 41 b), to eat the Passover-bread, &c. (Rosh ha-Sh. 28 a). But it reads more like a caustic than a serious remark when we are informed that these three thing deprive a man of his free will and make him transgress: the Cuthæans, an evil spirit, and poverty (Erub. u.s). Diseases - such as rabies, angina, asthma, or accidents - such as an encounter with a wild bull, are due to their agency, which, happily, is not unlimited. As stated in App. XIII. the most dangerous demons are those of dirty (secret) places (Shabb. 67 a). Even numbers (2, 4, 6, &c.) are always dangerous, so is anything that comes from unwashen hands. For such, or similar oversights, a whole legion of demons is on the watch (Ber. 51 a). On the evening of the Passover the demons are bound, and, in general, their power has now been restricted, chiefly to the eves of Wednesday and of the Sabbath (Pes. 109 b to 112 b, passim). Yet there are, as we shall see, circumstances in which it would be foolhardiness to risk their encounter. Without here entering on the views expressed in the Talmud about prophecy, visions, and dreams, we turn to the questions germane to our subject.
1. I would here generally acknowledge my obligations to Dr. Brecher's tractate on the subject.
2 Erub. 41 b; Pes. 112 a. The more common designation is r. tumeah; but there are others.
A. Magic and Magicians. We must here bear in mind that the practice of magic was strictly prohibited to Israelites, and that - as a matter of principle at least - witchcraft, or magic, was supposed to have no power over Israel, if they owned and served their God (Chull. 7 b; Nedar. 32 a). But in this matter also - as will presently appear - theory and practice did not accord. Thus, under certain circumstances, the repetition of magical formulas was declared lawful even on the Sabbath (Sanh. 101 a). Egypt was regarded as the home of magic (Kidd. 49 b; Shabb. 75 a). In connection with this, it deserves notice that the Talmud ascribes the miracles of Jesus to magic, which He had learned during His stay in Eqypt having taken care, when He left, to insert under His skin its rules and formulas, since every traveller, on quitting the country, was searched, lest he should take to other lands the mysteries of magic (Shabb. 104 b).
Here it may be interesting to refer to some of the strange ideas which Rabbinism attached to the early Christians, as showing both the intercourse between the two parties, and that the Jews did not deny the gift of miracles in the Church, only ascribing its exercise to magic. Of the existence of such intercourse with Jewish Christians there is abundant evidence. Thus, R. Joshua, the son of Levi (at the end of the second century), was so hard pressed by their quotations from the Bible that, unable to answer, he pronounced a curse on them, which, however, did not come. We gather, that in the first century Christianity had widely spread among the Jews, and R. Ishmael, the son of Elisha, the grandson of that High-Priest who was executed by the Romans (Josephus, War. i. 2. 2), seems in vain to have contended against the advance of Christianity. At last he agreed with R. Tarphon that nothing else remained but to burn their writings. It was this R. Ishmael who prevented his nephew Ben Dama from being cured of the bite of a serpent by a Christian, preferring that he should die rather than be healed by such means (Abod. Zar. 27 b, about the middle). Similarly, the great R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, also in the first century, was so suspected of the prevailing heresy that he was actually taken up as a Christian in the persecution of the later. Though he cleared himself of the suspicion, yet his contemporaries regarded him for a time doubtfully, and all agreed that the troubles which befell him were in punishment for having listened with pleasure to the teaching of the heretics (Ab. Z. 16 b, 17 a.)3 The following may be mentioned as instances of the magic practiced by these heretics. In Jer. Sanh. 25 d, we are told about two great Rabbis who were banned by a heretic to the beam of a bath. In return the Rabbis, by similar means, fastened the heretic to the door of the bath. Having mutually agreed to set each other free, the same parties next met on board a ship. Here the heretic by magical means clave the sea, by way of imitating Moses. On this the Rabbis called upon him to walk through the sea, like Moses, when he was immediately overwhelmed through the ban of R. Joshua! Other stories of a similar and even more absurd character might be quoted. But if such opinions were entertained of Jewish Christians, we can scarcely wonder that all their books were ordered to be burnt (Bemid. R. 9), that even a roll of the Law written by a heretic was to be destroyed (Gitt. 45 b), and that Jewish Christians were consigned to eternal punishment in Gehinnon (Rosh. haSh. 17 a), from which even the token of circumcision should not deliver them since an Angel would convert it into uncircumcision (Shem R. 194).
3. See more on this subject in vol. ii. pp. 193, 194.
4. We have here only been able to indicate this most interesting subject. Much more remains to be said concerning Eliezer b. Hyrecanus, and others. There seem even to have been regular meeting-places for discussion between Jews and Christians. Nay, the practice of some early Christians to make themselves eunuchs is alluded to in the Talmud (Shabb. 152 a).
But to return. Talmudic writings distinguishing several classes of magicians. The Baal Obh, or conjuror of the dead, evoked a voice from under the armpit, or from other members of the dead body, the arms or other members being struck together, for the purpose of eliciting the sound. Necromancy might be practised in two different ways. The dead might be called up (by a method which scarcely bears description), in which case they would appear with the feet upwards. But this must not be practised on the Sabbath. Or again, a skull might, by magical means, be made to answer. This might be done on the Sabbath also (Sanh. 65 a and b). Or a demon might be conjured up by a certain kind of incense, and then employed in magic. A second class of magicians (called Yideoni) uttered oracles by putting a certain bone into their mouth. Thirdly, there was the Chabar, or serpent charmer, a distinction being made between a great and small Chabar, according as larger or smaller serpents were charmed. Fourthly, we have the Meonen, who could indicate what days or hours were lucky and unlucky. Fifthly, there was the 'searcher after the dead,' who remained fasting on graves in order to communicate with an unclean spirit; and, lastly, the Menachesh, who knew what omens were lucky and what unlucky (Sanh. 66 a). And if they were treated only as signs and not as omens, the practice was declared lawful (Chull. 95 b).
In general the black art might be practised either through demons, or else by the employment of magical means. Among the latter we reckon, not only incantations, but magic by means of the thumb, by a knife with a black handle, or by a glass cup (Sanh. 67 b), or by a cup of incantation (Baba Mets. 29 b). But there was danger here, since, if all proper rules and cautions were not observed the magician might be hurt by the demon. Such an instance is related, although the Rabbi in question was mercifully perserved by being swallowed by a cedar, which afterwards burst and set him free (Sanh. 101 a). Women were specially suspected of witchcraft (Jer. Sanh. vii. 25 d), and great caution was accordingly enjoined. Thus, it might even be dangerous to lift up loaves of bread (though not broken pieces) lest they should be bewitched (Erub. 64 b). A number of instances are related in which persons were in imminent danger from magic, in some of which they suffered not only damage but death, while in others the Rabbis knew how to turn the impending danger against their would-be assailants. (Comp. for examples Pes. 110 b; Sot. 22 a; Gitt. 45 a; Sanh. 67 b). A very peculiar idea is that about the Teraphim of Scripture. It occurs already in the Targum Ps.-Jon. on Gen. xxxi. 19, and is found also in the Pirqé de R. Eliez. c. 36. It is stated that the Teraphim were made in the following manner: a first-born was killed, his head cut off, and prepared with salt and spices, after which a gold plate, upon which magical formulas had been graven, was placed under his tongue, when the head was supposed to give answer to whatever questions might be addressed to it.
B. After this we can scarcely wonder, that so many diseases should have been imputed to magical or else demoniac influences, and cured either by magical means or by exorcism. For our present purpose we leave aside not only the question, whether and what diseases were regarded as the punishment of certain sins, but also all questions as to their magical causes and means of cure. We confine our remarks to the supposed power of evil spirits in the production of diseases. Four things are mentioned as dangerous on account of demons, of which we shall only mention three: To walk between two palm-trees,5 if the space is wider than four cubits; to borrow drinking-water; and to walk over water that has been poured out, unless it have been covered with earth, or spat upon, or you have taken off your shoes (Pes. 111 a). Similarly, the shadow of the moon, of certain trees, and of other objects, is dangerous, because demons love to hide there. Much caution must also be observed in regard to the water with which the hands are washed in the morning, as well as in regard to oil for anointing, which must never be taken from a strange vessel which might have been bewitched.
5. In general palm-trees and their fruit are dangerous, and you should always wash your hands after eating dates.
Many diseases are caused by direct demoniac agency. Thus, leprosy (Horay. 10 a), rabies (Yoma 83 b), heart-disease (Gitt. 67 b), madness, asthma (Bechor. 44 b), croup (Yoma 77 b; Taan. 20 b), and other diseases, are ascribed to special demons. And although I cannot find any notices of demoniac possession in the sense of permanent indwelling, yet an evil spirit may seize and influence a person. The nearest approach to demoniac possession is in a legend of two Rabbis who went to Rome to procure the repeal of a persecuting edict, when they were met on board ship by a demon, Ben Temalion, whose offer of company they accepted, in hope of being able to do some miracle through him. Arrival in Rome, the demon took possession of the daughter of Cæsar. On this he was exorcised by the Rabbis ('Ben Temalion, come out! Ben Temalion, come out'), when they were rewarded by the offer of anything they might choose from the Imperial Treasury, on which they removed from it the hostile decree (Meilah 17 b, about the middle).
As against this one instance, many are related of cures by magical means. By the latter we mean the superstitious and irrational application of means which could in no way affect any disease, although they might sometimes be combined with what might be called domestic remedies. Thus, for a bad cold in the head this remedy is proposed: Pour slowly a quart of the milk of a white goat over three cabbage stalks, keep the pot boiling and stir with a piece of 'Marmehon-wood' (Gitt. 69 a, b). The other remedy proposed is the excrement of a white dog mixed with balsam. It need scarcely be said, that the more intractable the disease, the more irrational are the remedies proposed. Thus against blindness by day it is proposed to take of the spleen of seven calves and put it on the basin used by surgeons for bleeding. Next, some one outside the door is to ask the blind man to give him something to eat, when he is to reply: How can I open the door - come in and eat - on which the latter obeys, taking care, however, to break the basin, as else the blindness might strike him. We have here an indication of one of the favourite modes of healing disease - that by its transference to another. But if the loss of the power of vision is greater at night than by day, a cord is to be made of the hair of some animal, one end of which is to be tied to the foot of the patient the other to that of a dog. The children are to strike together pieces of crockery behind the dog, while the patient repeats these words: 'The dog is old and the cock is foolish.' Next seven pieces of meat are to be taken from seven different houses, and hung up on the doorposts, and the dog must afterwards eat the meat on a dunghill in an open place. Lastly, the cord is to be untied when one is to repeat: 'Let the blindness of M. the son of N. leave M. the son of N. and pierce the eyeballs of the dog!' (Gitt, 69 a).
We have next to refer to strictly magical cures. These were performed by amulets - either preventive, or curative or disease - or else by exorcism. An amulet was regarded as probate, if three cures had been performed by it. In such case it might be put on even on the Sabbath. It consisted either of a piece of parchment (the Pithqa, Sanh. 78 b), on which certain magical words were written, or of small bundles of certain plants or herbs (also designated as Qemia, an amulet, Shabb. 61 a; Kidd. 73 b). However, even probate amulets might fail, owing to the adverse constellation under which a person was. In any case the names and numbers of the demons, whose power it was wished to counteract, required to be expressly stated. Sometimes the amulet contained also a verse from the Bible. It need scarcely be said, that the other words written on the amulet had - at least, in their connection - little if any sensible meaning. But those learned in these arts and the Rabbis had the secret of discovering them, so that there was at least no mystery about them, and the formulas used were well known. If the mischief to be counteracted was due to demoniac agency, it might be prevented or removed by a kind of incantation, or by incantation along with other means, or in difficult cases by exorcism. As instances of the first we may quote the following. To ward off any danger from drinking water on a Wednesday or Sabbath-Evening, when evil spirits may rest on it, it is advised either to repeat a passage of Scripture in which the world Qol ('Voice') occurs seven times (Ps. xxix. 3-9), or else to say this: 'Lul, Shaphan, Anigron, Anirdaphin - between the stars I sit, betwixt the lean and the fat I walk!' (Pes. 112 a). Against flatulence, certain remedies are recommended (such as drinking warm water), but they are to be accompanied by the following formula: 'Qapa, Qapa, I think of thee, and of thy seven daughters, and eight daughters-in-law!' (Pes. 116 a). Many similar prescriptions might be quoted. As the remedy against blindness has been adduced to point the contrast to the Savior's mode of treatment, it may be mentioned that quite a number of remedies are suggested for the cure of a bloody flux - of which perhaps wine in which Persian onions, or anise and saffron, or other plants have been boiled, seem the most rational - the medicament being, however, in each case accompanied by this formula: 'Be cured of thy flux!'
Lastly, as regards incanation and exorcism, the formulas to be used for the purpose are enumerated. These mostly consist of words which have little if any meaning (so far as we know), but which form a rhyme or alliteration when a syllable is either omitted or added in successive words. The following, for example, is the formula of incantation against boils: 'Baz, Baziyah, Mas, Masiya, Kas, Kasiyah, Sharlai and Amarlai - ye Angels that come from the land of Sodom to heal painful boils! Let the colour not become more red, let it not farther spread, let its seed be absorbed in the belly. As a mule does not propagate itself, so let not this evil propagate itself in the body of M. the son of M.' (Shabb, 67 a). In other formulas the demons are not invoked for the cure, but threatened. We have the following as against another cutaneous disease: 'A sword drawn, and a sling outstretched! His name is not Yokhabh, and the disease stand still!' Against danger from the demon of foul places we have the following: 'On the head of the cast him into a bed of cresses, and beat him with the jawbone of an ass' (Shabb 67 a). On the other hand, it is recommended as a precaution against the evil eye to put one's right thumb into the left hand and one's left thumb into the right hand, and to say: 'I, M. N. belong to the house of Joseph over whom the evil eye has no power' (Ber. 55 b). A certain Rabbi gave this as information derived from one of the chief of the witches, by which witchcraft might be rendered harmless. The person in danger should thus address the witches: 'Hot filth into your mouths from baskets with holes, ye witching women! Let your head become bald, and the wind scatter your breadcrumbs. Let it carry away your spices, let the fresh saffron which you carry in your hands be scattered. Ye witches, so long as I had grace and was careful, I did not come among you, and now I have come, and you are not favorable to me' (Pes. 110 a, b). To avoid the danger of two or more persons being separated by a dog, a palm-tree, a woman, or a pig, we are advised to repeat a verse from the Bible which begins and ends with the word El (Almighty)). Or in passing between women suspected of witchcraft it may be well to repeat this formula: 'Agrath, Azelath, Asiya, Belusiya are already killed by arrows.' Lastly, the following may be quoted as a form of exorcism of demons:'Burst, curst, dashed, banned be Bar-Tit, Bar-Tema, Bar-Tena, Chashmagoz, Merigoz, and Isteaham!'
It has been a weary and unpleasant task to record such abject superstitions, mostly the outcome of contact with Parsee or other heathen elements. Brief though our sketch has been, we have felt as if it should have been even more curtailed. But it seemed necessary to furnish these unwelcome details in order to remove the possibility of comparing what is reported in the New Testament about the 'demonised' and 'demons' with Jewish notions on such subjects. Greater contrast could scarcely be conceived than between what we read in the New Testament and the views and practices mentioned in Rabbinic writings - and if this, as it is hoped, has been firmly established, even the ungrateful labor bestowed on collecting these unsavory notices will have been sufficiently repaid.