Scripture: Mark 5:1-43
- Jesus and the disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee to the region of the Gerasenes
- They’re greeted by a yelling, naked, demon-possessed man whom the locals have given up trying to chain and now lives in the graveyard
- The demon possessed man asks Jesus, “WHAT DO YOU WANT WITH ME?”
- Jesus tells the impure spirit in him to leave, and asks the spirit’s name
- The man tells Jesus that he is called “Legion” because there are lots of spirits inside him
- The spirits say, “Hey, Jesus, rather than sending us into the abyss, how about you let us go into those pigs over yonder” (‘cuz there were some pigs nearby)
- Jesus casts the spirits out of the man and into the pigs
- The pigs (about 2,000 of them) go bonkers and run down the hill and drown themselves in the sea
- The pig-keepers run into town and explain what happened
- All the townspeople come out and see the crazy dude no longer demon-possessed and politely ask Jesus to leave
- The former demoniac wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus tells him to stay and tell his story
- Jesus and his peeps head back across the sea and are greeted by a synagog ruler named Jairus
- Jairus asks Jesus to heal his dying daughter
- On his way to Jairus’ house the edge of Jesus’ clothes gets touched by a woman who has had a gnarly illness for the last twelve years
- The woman is healed and Jesus is like, “Whoa! Who touched me? I just healed someone. Who was it?”
- The disciples are like, “Um, Jesus, if you didn’t notice we’re like in a crowd here? Lots of people are touching us.”
- The woman admits it was her and Jesus is like, “It’s totally cool. Your faith has healed you. Go and be free!”
- Some people tell Jairus it is too late, his daughter has died
- Jesus goes ahead into the house with just a few of his closest disciples
- Jesus tells the mourners outside that the little girl is just sleeping, they laugh at him
- Jesus takes the little girl’s hand and tells her, “Get up”
- The little girl (twelve years-old) gets up and starts walking around
- Jesus tells everyone to keep this miracle quiet and to give the little girl some food
Demon Possession: Historical References to Exorcism
The oldest references to demonic possession are from the Sumerians, who believed that all diseases of the body and mind were caused by “sickness demons” called gidim or gid-dim. The priests who practiced exorcisms in these nations were called ashipu (sorcerer) as opposed to an asu (physician) who applied bandages and salves. Many cuneiform tablets contain prayers to certain gods asking for protection from demons, while others ask the gods to expel the demons that have invaded their bodies. (Wikipedia)
In the first century Jewish exorcisms were often performed by administering poisonous root extracts or by making sacrifices. The Dead Sea Scrolls mention that exorcisms were conducted by the Essenes (a Jewish religious sect).
Common elements of historical exorcism include (1) attaining the name of the possessing demon in order to gain power over them, (2) calling on a spirit of greater strength to overcome the demon, (3) having the demon show “proof” that it had left the body.
Philostratus, a second century Greek, gives an account of an exorcism of a young man by the magician Apollonius of Tyana: “[He] addressed [the demon] with anger, as a master might a shifty, rascally, and shameless salve and so on, and he ordered him to quit the young man and show by a visible sign that he had done so. ‘I will throw down yonder statue said the devil, and pointed to one of the images which were in the portico, for there it was that the scene took place.'” (Bible.org)
Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, gives an account of an exorcist named Eleazar. “The manner of the cure was this: He put a ring that had a foot of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.” To show proof of the exorcism Eleazar would “set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man…” (Josephus)
Mark’s account of the pigs madly running into the sea would’ve been regarded as “proof” of the demons leaving. The number of pigs killed (2,000) adds confirmation that the man was possessed by multiple demons.
Note that Jesus uses no elaborate rituals, special prayers or calls upon no higher power other than himself to exercise the demons.
Demon Possession: Mental Illness and Treatment of the Afflicted
“According to the Talmud there were four characteristics of madness: walking abroad at night; spending the night on a grave; tearing one’s clothes and destroying what one was given.” (Lane) The demoniac in Mark demonstrates all of these signs.
For the Jews, corpses (and by extension, graves) were ritually unclean and were a source of ritual impurity. (Answers) It was a common belief at the time that evil spirits lived among the tombs.
Treatment of the afflicted was often exile, ridicule and/or imprisonment depending on the threat the individual posed to society. Philo, a first century Jewish philosopher, gave an account of a madman named Carabbas who spent all his days and nights naked in the roads, minding neither cold nor heat, or “the sport of idle children and wanton youths.” The man was dressed up and mocked as if he was of royal authority. Eventually the madman was apprehended and put in prison so that “he might not give to those who reviled him any opportunity…for insulting their superiors.” (Bible.org)
It is likely in Mark’s account that the townspeople requested Jesus leave their region was because they thought more of their pigs than they did of the demon-possessed man now healed. (Bible.org)
Starting in the twentieth century the majority of cases of demon possession (both contemporary and historical) have been considered to be misdiagnosed cases of mental illness. There is no classification for demon possession in modern psychology. Symptoms related to demon possession are most often considered to be dissociative identity disorder (or multiple personality disorder).
In modern cases of dissociative identity disorder in which the alter personality is questioned as to its identity, 29% are reported to identify themselves as demons, but psychiatrists see this as a mental disease called demonomania or demonopathy, a monomania in which the patient believes that he or she is possessed by one or more demons. (Wikipedia)
Difficulties Within the Account of the Demon Possessed Man
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark give more than one location for the exorcism: Mark says “territory of the Gerasenes;” Matthew says “territory of the Gadarenes.” One explanation is that Matthew is attempting to correct the Mark account, substituting Gerasa–a larger city, and closer to the Sea of Galilee–for Gadara, details that would make more sense to his audience, who would be familiar with the region. The city of Gerasa (also known as Jerash) had been a major city-center since its founding by Alexander the Great. During the Roman period, it was one of the ten cities known as the Decapolis (literally, ‘Ten Cities’). (Wikipedia)
However, neither Gadara nor Gerasa is near to the sea. Gerasa is around 30 miles South East of the Sea of Galilee and Gadara 6 miles away, a several hour walk. Today they are the modern towns of Jerash and Umm Qais. A third city, Hippos, was similar in character to Gadara and Gerasa, and it may fit the biblical account even better. It was located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Early Christian monks venerated a site called Kursi, a few kilometers north of Hippos on the lakeshore, as the location of the miracle. (Wikipedia)
Additionally, Matthew says that it’s two men who were demon possessed. Mark and Luke agree that it is only one man. Some commentators think Matthew is speaking of a secondary demoniac whom the other authors left out because the one man (possessed by Legion) was the central character. Also of note, Matthew’s version is also much shorter and Jesus does not ask for the demon’s name.
Rulers of the synagogue
The organizational structure varied somewhat from synagogue to synagogue. One common scheme had a “ruler of the synagogue” at the head of the congregation. He would control the flow of religious services, serve as judge over community disputes, and represent the congregation outside the local community. He was frequently a patron of the synagogue. Surrounding the ruler of the synagogue was a group known as the “elders” or “notables”, who served as an advisory panel and assisted in administration and teaching in the synagogues. In addition, one or more trained scribes–most frequently a Levite or priest–maintained the synagogue archives and assisted in the reading and teaching of scripture. Finally, a synagogue assistant would oversee the upkeep of the physical plant and assist the synagogue ruler in various servile tasks during assemblies. (Answers)
The Woman Subject to Bleeding
The nature of this woman’s illness would’ve made her ritually unclean according to the Law. This meant she was not allowed to take part in any religious observances, nor could she have any public contact with others without defiling whomever she touched. She would’ve also been forced to be separated from her husband, if she had one.
To add insult to injury, Mark mentions that the woman had spent all she had on doctors and was not helped at all (of note, Luke–thought to have been a doctor himself–makes no mention of this). The Jewish cures for this problem listed in the Talmud were (1) carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen rag around one’s neck in summer and in a cotton rag in winter or (2) carrying barley corn from the dung of a white female donkey or (3) drinking a goblet of wine containing a powder compounded from rubber, alum and garden crocuse or (4) drinking wine with a dose of Persian onions cooked in wine administered with the incantation, ‘Arise out of your flow of blood!’ (Answers, Bible.org)
The woman likely did not try to touch Jesus himself due to her unclean status. She did not wish to make him unclean as well.
Jesus called her ‘daughter’ as a means of showing kindness and inclusion. She was no longer unclean. She now belonged with all the other people who believed in Jesus. (Easy)
Parallel Structure of Mark’s Healing Narrative
|Bleeding Woman||Jairus and His Daughter|
|She is ritually unclean according to the law, forbidden from participating in religious ceremonies||Jairus is a synagogue ruler, the leader of religious ceremonies|
|She has been sick for 12 years, unable to have children||Jairus’ child, a daughter, is 12 years old|
|She lives outside of society, without community||Jairus’ position is central to society, the epicenter of Jewish community|
|She is socially dead||Jairus’ daughter is physically dead|
|Her healing is public, everyone nearby witnessed the event||Jairus’ daughter is healed in private, with only a select few present|
|She has faith and acts on it alone||Jairus is told to keep the faith, his friends advise him to leave the master alone|
- “Decapolis” is a Greek word meaning “ten cities.” It was a confederacy going back to Alexander the Great. This region was north of Perea and east of the Sea of Galilee. It was a haven of Hellenistic culture. (Bible.org)
- The name “legion” was given to a division in the Roman army. It did not always denote the same number; but, in the time of Christ, it consisted of six thousand–three thousand foot and three thousand horsemen. It came, therefore, to signify a large number, without specifying the exact amount. (Barnes)
- Demons beg to not to be cast “out of the area” – The Greek word chora is usually translated “country” but it can also be defined as meaning “the space lying between two places or limits” or “an empty expanse”. In Luke (8:31), the word abyssos is used, meaning “bottomless pit”. The demons did not want to go to the place where God will put evil spirits on the day of judgement. The evil spirits were afraid that Jesus would punish them early. (Easy)
- In contrast to previous miracles in which the recipents of healing were asked to remain silent, Jesus encourages the healed demoniac man to go out an talk about him. This may have been because Jesus did not plan to preach in the Gentile cities of the Decapolis and so wasn’t worried about the crowds, or that the Gentiles had no preconcieved notions of the messiah and so his healing power would not be a distraction, or that Mark was reminding his readers of their evangelistic duty now that they too, as Gentiles, had been saved by Jesus. (France)
- Jairus was likely the leader of the synagogue in Capernaum. He may have witnessed the casting out of the demon in the synagogue and the healing of the man with the withered hand in the synagogue. (Hampton)
- Jairus was with Jesus and when Jesus stops to help the woman with the issue of blood. Jairus was likely anxious to hurry Jesus along and worried that “all the power” went out from Jesus.
- “People loudly weeping and wailing” – Hiring mourners was a common Jewish funeral practice. It shows that the family was expecting the death of the little daughter and had already made preparations. (Bible.org)
- A twelve year old girl would have been considered responsible to keep the law (i.e.,bath mitzvah) and was of marriageable age. Boys became responsible to the Law and marriageable at age thirteen (i.e., bar mitzvah). (Bible.org)
- Jesus saying the girl is “sleeping” is likely an allusion to the temporary nature of death in God’s eyes. This labeling of death as “rest” or “sleep” later became so common that Christians later called the place where they had their graves a ‘cemetery’ from a Greek meaning ‘place to sleep’ (Easy)
- Ordering her parents to give the girl something to eat “seems like a move from the high drama of Jesus conquering death to the banality of everyday life.” (Answers) It may have also been a way to prove her cure as well as her physical presence (so those in the room wouldn’t think she was a ghost).
- Jesus called the girl as her mother might have done to wake her in the morning. (Easy)
- What does Jesus’ willingness to destroy a herd of pigs (of considerable economic value to their owners) as a means of healing the demoniac say about the man’s value? What did the town’s people’s request to have Jesus leave say about their estimation of the loss of the pigs vs. the gain of the healed man? How much value do we put on each other? What economic and social disruption are we willing to incur as a means of helping someone?
- What are your thoughts on demon possession? Is it simply the ancient explanation for mental illness or is it genuine? Why? Why not? What does this say about Jesus’ miracles in light of your opinion?
- Regarding the bleeding woman’s healing, did Jesus know who had touched him? Was he asking a rhetorical question or a real one? Why? What does this say to you about your understanding of God and the the distribution of his power?
- What is Mark saying about faith, healing and God’s ability to help us with the combined stories of the woman with the issue of blood and Jarius’ daughter? How do the stories contrast/complement each other?
- The Demoniac (Wikipedia)
- Demon Possession (Wikipedia)
- Exorcism (Wikipedia)
- Gergesa (Wikipedia)
- Catholic Answers
- Easy English Commentary
- Bible.org Commentary
- Demonism in Jewish Literature