by Alfred Edersheim

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Chapter 24 | Table of Contents | Chapter 26

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
Alfred Edersheim
1883

Book III
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION

Chapter 25
AT GERASA
THE HEALING OF THE DEMONISED
(St. Matthew 8:28-34; St. Mark 5:1-20; St. Luke 8:26-39.)

THAT day of wonders was not yet ended. Most writers have, indeed, suggested, that the healing of the demonised on the other side took place at early dawn of the day following the storm on the Lake. But the distance is so short that, even making allowance for the delay by the tempest, the passage could scarcely have occupied the whole night.1 This supposition would be further confirmed, if 'the evening' when Jesus embarked was what the Jews were wont to call 'the first evening,' that is, the time when the sun was declining in the heaven, but before it had actually set, the latter time being 'the second evening.'2 For, it seems most unlikely that multitudes would have resorted to Jesus at Capernaum after 'the second evening,' or that either the disciples or other boats would have put to sea after nightfall. On the other hand, the scene gains in grandeur - has, so to speak, a fitting background - if we suppose the Saviour and His disciples to have landed on the other side late in the evening, when perhaps the silvery moon was shedding her pale light on the weird scene, and laying her halo around the shadows cast upon the sea by the steep cliff down which the herd of swine hurried and fell. This would also give time afterwards for the dispersion, not only into 'the city,' but into 'the country' of them who had fed the swine. In that case, of course, it would be in the early morning that the Gerasenes afterwards resorted to Jesus and that He again returned to Capernaum. And, lastly this would allow sufficient time for those miracles which took place on that same day in Capernaum after His return thither. Thus, all the circumstances lead us to regard the healing of the demonised at Gerasa as a night-scene, immediately on Christ's arrival from Capernaum, and after the calming of the storm at sea.

1. In the history related in St. Matt. xiv. 22, &c. the embarkation was much later (see next note), and it is expressly stated that 'the wind was contrary.' But even there, when it ceased they were 'immediately' on shore (St. John vi. 21), although the distance formerly traversed had been rather less than three-fourths of the way (twenty-five or thirty furlongs, St. John vi. 19). At that place the whole distance across would be five or six miles. But the passage from Capernaum to Gerasa would not be so long as that.

2. The distinction between the two evenings seems marked in St. Matt. xiv. 15, as compared with verse 23. In both verses precisely the same expression is used. But between the first and the second evening a considerable interval of time must be placed.

It gives not only life to the narrative, but greatly illustrates it, that we can with confidence describe the exact place where our Lord and His disciples touched the other shore. The ruins right over against the plain of Gennesaret, which still bear the name of Kersa or Gersa, must represent the ancient Gerasa.3 This is the correct reading in St. Mark's, and probably in St. Luke's, perhaps also in St. Matthew's Gospel.4 The locality entirely meets the requirements of the narrative. About a quarter of an hour to the south of Gersa is a steep bluff, which descends abruptly on a narrow ledge of shore. A terrified herd running down this cliff could not have recovered its foothold, and must inevitably have been hurled into the Lake beneath. Again, the whole country around is burrowed with limestone caverns and rock-chambers for the dead, such as those which were the dwelling of the demonised. Altogether the scene forms a fitting background to the narrative.

3. Comp. Tristram's 'Land of Israel,' p. 465; B�deker's (Socin) Palestina, p. 267. The objection in Riehm's Handw�rterb. p. 454, that Gerasa did not form part of the Decapolis manifestly derives no real support from St. Mark v. 20. The two facts are in no way inconsistent. All other localisations are impossible, since the text requires close proximity to the lake. Professor Socin describes this cliff as steep 'as nowhere else by the lake.'

4. In this, as in all other instances, I can only indicate the critical results at which I have arrived. For the grounds, on which these conclusions are based, I must refer to the works which bear on the respective subjects.

From these tombs the demonised, who is specially singled out by St. Mark and St. Luke, as well as his less prominent companion,5 came forth to meet Jesus. Much that is both erroneous and misleading has been written on Jewish Demonology. According to common Jewish superstition, the evil spirits dwelt especially in lonely desolate places, and also among tombs.6 We must here remember what has previously been explained as to the confusion in the consciousness of the demonised between their own notions and the ideas imposed on them by the demons. It is quite in accordance with the Jewish notions of the demonised, that, according to the more circumstantial account of St. Luke, he should feel as it were driven into the deserts, and that he was in the tombs, while, according to St. Mark, he was 'night and day in the tombs and in the mountains,' the very order of the words indicating the notion (as in Jewish belief), that it was chiefly at night that evil spirits were wont to haunt burying-places.

5. St. Matt. viii. 28.

6. See Appendix XIII., 'Angelology and Demonology:' and Appendix XVI., 'Jewish Views about Demons and the Demonised.' Archdeacon Farrar has misunderstood the reference of Otho (Lex. Rabb. 146). The affections mentioned in Jer. Terum. 40 b are not treated as 'all demoniacs;' on the contrary, most of them, indeed all, with one exception, are expressly stated to be indications of mental disease (comp. also Chag. 3 b). The quotations of Gfr�rer are, as too often, for a purpose, and untrustworthy, except after examination of the context.

In calling attention to this and similar particulars, we repeat, that this must be kept in view as characteristic of the demonised, that they were incapable of separating their own consciousness and ideas from the influence of the demon, their own identity being merged, and to that extent lost, in that of their tormentors. In this respect the demonised state was also kindred to madness. Self-consciousness, or rather what may be termed Individuism, i.e. the consciousness of distinct and independent individuality, and with it the power of self-origination in matters mental and moral (which some might term an aspect of free volition), distinguish the human soul from the mere animal spirit. But in maniacal disease this power is in abeyance, or temporarily lost through physical causes, such as disease of the brain as the medium of communication between the mind and the world of sense; disease of the nervous system, through which ordinarily impressions are conveyed to and from the sensorium; or disease of both brain and nervous system, when previously existing impressions on the brain (in memory, and hence possibly imagination) may be excited without corresponding outward causes. If in such cases the absolute power of self-origination and self-action is lost to the mind, habits of sin and vice (or moral disease) may have an analogous effect as regards moral freedom - the power of moral self-origination and action. In the demonised state the two appear combined, the cause being neither disease nor vice, but the presence of a superior power of evil. This loss of individuism, and the subjection of one's identity to that of the demon might, while it lasted, be called temporary 'possession,' in so far as the mental and moral condition of the person was for the time not one of freedom and origination, but in the control of the possessing demon.

One practical inference may even now be drawn from this somewhat abstruse discussion. The language and conduct of the demonised, whether seemingly his own, or that of the demons who influenced him, must always be regarded as a mixture of the Jewish-human and the demoniacal. The demonised speaks and acts as a Jew under the control of a demon. Thus, if he chooses solitary places by day, and tombs by night, it is not that demons really preferred such habitations, but that the Jews imagined it, and that the demons, acting on the existing consciousness, would lead him, in accordance with his preconceived notions, to select such places. Here also mental disease offers points of analogy. For, the demonised would speak and act in accordance with his previous (Jewish) demonological ideas. He would not become a new man, but be the old man, only under the influence of the demon, just as in mania a person truly and consistently speaks and acts, although under the false impressions which a diseased brain conveys to him. The fact that in the demonised state a man's identity was not superseded, but controlled, enables us to account for many phenomena without either confounding demonism with mania, or else imputing to our Lord such accommodation to the notions of the times, as is not only untenable in itself, but forbidden even by the language of the present narrative.

The description of the demonised, coming out of the tombs to meet Jesus as He touched the shore at Gerasa, is vivid in the extreme. His violence, the impossibility of control by others,7 the absence of self-control,8 his homicidal,9 and almost suicidal,10 frenzy, are all depicted. Evidently, it was the object to set forth the extreme degree of the demonised state. Christ, Who had been charged by the Pharisees with being the embodiment and messenger of Satan, is here face to face with the extreme manifestation of demoniac power and influence. It is once more, then, a Miracle in Parable which is about to take place. The question, which had been raised by the enemies, is about to be brought to the issue of a practical demonstration. We do not deny that the contest and the victory, this miracle, nay, the whole series of miracles of which it forms part, are extraordinary, even in the series of Christ's miracles. Our explanation proceeds on the very ground that such was, and must have been, the case. The teaching by Parables, and the parabolic miracles which follow, form, so to speak, an ascending climax, in contrast to the terrible charge which by-and-by would assume the proportions of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and issue in the betrayal and judicial murder of Jesus. There are critical epochs in the history of the Kingdom of God, when the power of evil, standing out in sharpest contrast, challenges that overwhelming manifestation of the Divine, as such, to bear down and crush that which opposes it. Periods of that kind are characterised by miraculous interposition of power, unique even in Bible-history. Such a period was, under the Old Testament, that of Elijah and Elisha, with its altogether exceptional series of miracles; and, under the New Testament, that after the first formulated charge of the Pharisees against the Christ.

7. St. Mark v. 3, 4.

8. 'Ware no clothes' (St. Luke viii. 27) may, however, refer only to the upper, not the under-garments.

9. St. Matt. viii. 28.       10. St. Mark v. 5.

With irresistible power the demonised was drawn to Jesus, as He touched the shore at Gerasa. As always, the first effect of the contact was a fresh paroxysm,11 but in this peculiar case not physical, but moral. As always also, the demons knew Jesus, and His Presence seemed to constrain their confession of themselves - and therefore of Him. As in nature the introduction of a dominant element sometimes reveals the hidden presence of others, which are either attracted or repelled by it, so the Presence of Christ obliged the manifestation, and, in the case of these evil spirits, the self-confession, of the powers of evil. In some measure it is the same still. The introduction of grace brings to light and experience sin hitherto unknown, and the new life brings consciousness of, and provokes contest with, evil within, of which the very existence had previously been unsuspected. In the present instance the immediate effect was homage,12 which presently manifested itself in language such as might have been expected.

11. In his endeavour to represent the demonised state as a species of mania, which was affected by the Presence of Christ, Archdeacon Farrar makes the following statement: 'The presence, the look, the voice of Christ, even before He addressed these sufferers, seems always to have calmed and overawed them.' But surely the very opposite of this is the fact, and the first effect of contact with Christ was not calm, but a paroxysm.

12. St. Mark v. 6; St. Luke viii. 28.

Here also it must be remembered, that both the act of homage, or 'worship,' and the words spoken, were not the outcome either of the demonised only, nor yet of the demons only, but a combination of the two: the control of the demons being absolute over the man such as he was. Their language led to his worship; their feelings and fears appeared in his language. It was the self-confession of the demons, when obliged to come into His Presence and do homage, which made the man fall down and, in the well-known Jewish formula, recorded by the three Evangelists, say: 'What have I to do with Thee,' or rather, 'What between me and Thee' - what have we in common (Mah li valakh)? Similarly, although it was consciousness of subjection and fear in His Presence, on the part of the demons, which underlay the adjuration not to inflict torment on them, yet the language itself, as the text shows, was that of the demonised, and the form in which their fear expressed itself was that of his thinking. The demons, in their hold on their victim, could not but own their inferiority, and apprehend their defeat and subjection, especially on such an occasion; and the Jew, who consciousness was under their control - not unified, but identified with it - exclaimed: 'I adjure Thee by God, that Thou torment me not.'

This strange mixture of the demoniac with the human, or rather, this expression of underlying demoniac thought in the forms and modes of thinking of the Jewish victim, explains the expressed fear of present actual torment, or, as St. Matthew, who, from the briefness of his account, does not seem to have been an eye-witness, expresses it: 'Thou art come to torment us before the time;' and possibly also for the 'adjuration by God.'13 For, as immediately on the homage and protestation of the demonised: 'What between me and Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the Most High God?' Christ had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man, it may have been, that in so doing He had used the Name of the Most High God; or else the 'adjuration' itself may have been the form in which the Jewish speaker clothed the consciousness of the demons, with which his own was identified.

13. Both St. Mark and St. Luke have it: 'Jesus, Son of the Most High God.'

It may be conjectured, that it was partly in order to break this identification, or rather to show the demonised that it was not real, and only the consequence of the control which the demons had over him, that the Lord asked his name. To this the man made answer, still in the dual consciousness, 'My name is Legion: for we are many.'14 Such might be the subjective motive for Christ's question. Its objective reason may have been to show the power of the demoniac possession in the present instance, thus marking it as an altogether extreme case. The remembrance, that the answer is once more in the forms of Jewish thinking, enables us to avoid the strange notion (whether it express the opinion of some, or the difficulties of others), that the word 'Legion' conveys the idea of six thousand armed and strong warriors of evil.15 For, it was a common Jewish idea, that, under certain circumstances, 'a legion of hurtful spirits'16 (of course not in the sense of a Roman legion) 'were on the watch for men, saying: When shall he fall into the hands of one of these things, and be taken?'17

14. So substantially in St. Luke, as in St. Mark.

15. This is one of the difficulties mentioned by Dean Plumptre. Archdeacon Farrar seems to think that the man imagined '6000 devils were in possession of his soul.' His statement, that it 'was a thoroughly Jewish belief' that unclean spirits should pass into the swine, I must take leave to deny. One or another disease, such as rabies, were, indeed, attributed by some Rabbis to the agency of evil spirits - but there is no ground for either the general or the specific statement of Dr. Farrar as regards this 'Jewish belief.'

16. The common Rabbinic word for Legion is, indeed, Ligyon or Ligyona, but the expression (Ber. 51 a) tyniyg@il:t@asi)i (Istalginith) yk)lm l# hlbx cannot mean anything else than a legion of hurtful spirits.

17. Ber. 51 a.

This identification of the demons with the demonised, in consequence of which he thought with their consciousness, and they spoke not only through him but in his forms of thinking, may also account for the last and most difficult part of this narrative. Their main object and wish was not to be banished from the country and people, or, as St. Luke puts it - again to 'depart into the abyss.' Let us now try to realise the scene. On the very narrow strip of shore, between the steep cliff that rises in the background and the Lake, stand Jesus with His disciples and the demonised. The wish of the demons is not to be sent out of the country - not back into the abyss. The one is the cliff overhead, the other the Lake beneath: so, symbolically, and, to the demonised, really. Up on that cliff a great herd of swine is feeding; up that cliff, therefore, is 'into the swine;' and this also agrees with Jewish thoughts concerning uncleanness. The rendering of our Authorised Version,18 that, in reply to the demoniac entreaty, 'forthwith Jesus gave them leave,' has led to misunderstanding. The distinction here to be made is, though narrow, yet real and important. The verb, which is the same in all the three Gospels, would be better rendered by 'suffered' than by 'gave them leave.' With the latter we associate positive permission. None such was either asked or given. The Lord suffered it - that is, He did not actually hinder it.19 He only 'said unto them, Go!'

18. St. Mark v. 13.

19. The verb epitrepw is used both in the active sense of permitting, and in that of not hindering. As to the latter use of the word, comp. specially St. Matt. xix. 8; St. Mark x. 4.

What followed belongs to the phenomena of supersensuous influences upon animals, of which many instances are recorded, but the rationale of which it is impossible to explain. How the unclean spirits could enter into the swine, is a question which cannot be entertained till we shall know more of the animal soul than is at present within our range. This, however, we can understand, that under such circumstances a panic would seize the herd, that it would madly rush down the steep on which it could not arrest itself, and so perish in the sea. And this also we can perceive, how the real object of the demons was thus attained; how they did not leave the country, when Christ was entreated to leave it.

The weird scene over which the moon had shed her ghostlike light, was past. The unearthly utterances of the demonised, the wild panic among the herd on the cliff, the mad rush down the steep, the splashing waters as the helpless animals were precipitated into the Lake - all this makes up a picture, unsurpassed for vivid, terrible realism. And now sudden silence has fallen on them. From above, the keepers of the herd had seen it all - alike what had passed with the demonised, and then the issue in the destruction of the herd. From the first, as they saw the demonised, for fear of whom 'no man might pass that way,' running to Jesus, they must have watched with eager interest. In the clear Eastern air not a word that was spoken could have been lost. And now in wild terror they fled, into Gerasa - into the country round about, to tell what had happened.

It is morning, and a new morning-sacrifice and morning-Psalm are about to be offered. He that had erst been the possession of foul and evil spirits - a very legion of them - and deprived of his human individuality, is now 'sitting at the feet of Jesus,' learning of Him, 'clothed and in his right mind.' He has been brought to God, restored to self, to reason, and to human society - and all this by Jesus, at Whose Feet he is gratefully, humbly sitting, 'a disciple.' Is He not then the Very Son of God? Viewing this miracle, as an historical fact, viewing it as a Parabolic Miracle, viewing it also as symbolic of what has happened in all ages - is He not the Son of the Most High God? And is there not now, on His part, in the morning-light the same calmness and majesty of conscious Almighty Power as on the evening before, when He rebuked the storm and calmed the sea?

One other point as regards the healing of this demonism deserves special consideration. Contrary to what was commonly the case, when the evil spirits came out of the demonised, there was no paroxysm of physical distress. Was it then so, that the more complete and lasting the demoniac possession, the less of purely physical symptoms attended it?

But now from town and country have they come, who had been startled by the tidings which those who fed the swine had brought. We may contrast the scene with that of the shepherds when on Bethlehem's plains the great revelation had come to them, and they had seen the Divine Babe laid in the manger, and had worshipped. Far other were the tidings which these herdsmen brought, and their effect. It is not necessary to suppose, that their request that Jesus would depart out of their coasts was prompted only by the loss of the herd of swine.20 There could be no doubt in their minds, that One possessing supreme and unlimited power was in their midst. Among men superstitious, and unwilling to submit absolutely to the Kingdom which Christ brought, there could only be one effect of what they had heard, and now witnessed in the person of the healed demonised - awe and fear! The 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man,' is the natural expression of a mind conscious of sin when brought into contact with the Divine, Whose supreme and absolute Power is realised as hostile. And this feeling would be greatly increased, in measure as the mind was under the influence of superstitious fears.

20. This is the view of Archdeacon Farrar. The Gadara of which the poets Meleager and Philodemus were natives was, of course, not the scene of this miracle.

In such place and circumstances Jesus could not have continued. And, as He entered the ship, the healed demonised humbly, earnestly entreated, that he might go with his Saviour. It would have seemed to him, as if he could not bear to lose his new found happiness; as if there were calm, safety, and happiness only in His Presence; not far from Him, not among those wild mountains and yet wilder men. Why should he be driven from His fellowship, who had so long been an outcast from that of his fellow-men, and why again left to himself? So, perhaps, should we have reasoned and spoken; so too often do we reason and speak, as regards ourselves or those we love. Not so He Who appoints alike our discipline and our work. To go back, now healed, to his own, and to publish there, in the city - nay, through the whole of the large district of the ten confederate cities, the Decapolis - how great things Jesus had done for him, such was henceforth to be his life-work. In this there would be both safety and happiness.

'And all men did marvel.' And presently Jesus Himself came back into that Decapolis, where the healed demonised had prepared the way for Him.21

21. As this healing of the demonised may be regarded as the 'test-case' on the general question, I have entered more fully on the discussion. The arguments in favour of the general view taken of the demonised are so clearly and forcibly stated by Archbishop Trench (on 'The Miracles') and in 'The Speaker's Commentary' (N. Test. vol. i. p. 44), that it seems needless to reiterate them. To me at least it seems difficult to understand, how any reader of the narrative, who comes to it without preconceived opinions, can arrive at any other conclusion than that either the whole must be rejected as mythical, or else be received as implying that there was a demonised state, different from madness; that Jesus treated the present as such; bade the unclean spirits go out, and by His word banished them. The objection as to the morality of the destruction of the herd seems scarcely more weighty than the sneer of Strauss, that the devils must have been stupid in immediately destroying their new habitations. The question of morality cannot even be raised, since Jesus did not command - only not hinder - the devils entering into the swine, and as for the destruction of their new dwellings, so far from being stupid, it certainly did secure their undisturbed continuance in the country and the withdrawal of Jesus. All attempts to adapt this miracle to our modern experience, and the ideas based upon it, by leaving out or rationalising one or another trait in the narrative, are emphatically failures. We repeat: the history must be received as it stands - or wholly rejected.

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