Saturday, July 28, 2018

Demons demons everywhere!

Some readers are struck by how often the Synoptic Gospels mention demoniacs. Were there really that many demoniacs running around 1C Palestine? Were Jews that susceptible to possession? The OT never mentions exorcism. A few quick considerations:

i) Perhaps OT prophets weren't granted the authority to cast out demons. Maybe that was reserved for Jesus and his disciples. When the dark side got wind of the fact that God Incarnate was traipsing around Palestine, it was DEFCON 1 for the occult. Hit Jesus with everything you've got.

The conflict between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light comes to a head with the advent of Christ. Open warfare.

Jesus had the intrinsic authority to cast out demons to demonstrate who's ultimately in charge. To the extent that his followers can do the same thing, that's in the name of Jesus.

ii) When friends and relatives brought people to Jesus to be exorcized, that reflects their diagnosis, not his. They think the individual is possessed–which doesn't imply that Jesus always shared their suspicions. 

Since Jesus has the mojo to cure anyone of anything, it really doesn't matter what's wrong with them. In some cases the individual might be mentally ill, which friends and relatives misdiagnose as possession. Jesus can still heal that individual. His ability isn't contingent on the accuracy of their diagnosis.

The Synoptics record some dramatic cases of demonic possession and exorcism. However, that very fact may indicate that those were the most memorable cases. So the actual percentage of demoniacs may have been fairly low. 


  1. Just thinking out loud here, I could be mistaken, but other considerations might be:

    1. OT history spans millennia, whereas the Gospels primarily look at Jesus' last couple of years of ministry. If all we had of the OT was an account focusing solely on say Elijah's ministry, then it might seem like visible or explicit miracles are commonplace in OT history. Similarly, if we only look at the life of Moses and the Israelites during the Exodus, then visible or explicit miracles might seem commonplace too. Yet was that the experience of most Jews throughout OT history?

    2. OT Israel was threatened to be ruled by and in fact ruled by foreign powers at various times in history. OT Israel was also at times sovereign. However, to my knowledge, while OT Israel had some foreigners living among them, they rarely had foreign peoples living and working alongside them in co-equally dominant numbers. I mean in the very same communities, though of course they were often threatened with invasion from communities just over the hill or the like. Perhaps that wasn't the case during their exile in Babylon though.

    By contrast, the Romans de facto ruled Israel in Jesus' day. The Romans were polytheistic. In addition, Greco-Roman culture had made significant in-roads into Jewish society. What's more, Romans, Greeks, and other pagans lived and worked alongside Jews on what seemed like a regular basis. There was more routine mixing and mingling among peoples of different beliefs and practices. More diversity of peoples and beliefs within the same communities.

    Jewish communities seemed more physically, religiously, and socio-culturally isolated from pagan communities in the OT than in the NT.

    As such, perhaps pagan gods (demons) would have been able to exert more influence and sometimes possesss peoples in the very midst of Jewish communities, necessitating exorcisms, which is how Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and other disciples would have seen so many exorcisms by Jesus.

    3. This one might be a real stretch: To my knowledge, the ancient Romans thought of religion more in terms of right practice rather than right beliefs. Roman religio emphasized pietas in order to secure pax deorum or peace with the gods. Religious malpractice (vitium) would result in the wrath of the gods (ira deorum). As mentioned, Roman customs and culture would have made significant in-roads into Israel and threatened Jews with assimiliation (which Jews like the Zealots fought against). So perhaps Jesus' exorcisms were one way of engaging in polemical theology and subverting assumptions based on right practice over and against right belief. At least if we only focus on Jesus' exorcisms in more Romanized or less Jewish influenced areas (e.g. the Gerasene demoniac, the Syrophoenician woman's daughter), not Jesus' exorcism in predominantly Jewish areas like the Capernaum synagogue.

    I realize all this is very iffy, putting it euphemistically! Anyway, I'm just speculating.

  2. And all the hordes did slink.

    But Jesus made them sink.

    1. From, "The Rime of the Ancient of Days' Exorciser"