Demons Defeated

A difficult report in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, has assistance to humans by Jesus, connected to deaths of pigs.
Ruins of ancient Gadara, south east of Galilee (name Gadara mentioned in some manuscripts)
Matthew (8), Mark (5) and Luke record Jesus across the lake (of Galilee; see below on location) removing demons. They connect the event to the deaths of many, many pigs (Mark says about 2,000). The accounts vary; those of Mark and Luke are closest in content. Here is Luke’s careful report:

Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes,
[a] which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus[b] had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed
[c] man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him (Luke 8:26-39, ESV).

Mark (5:2) and Luke say that Jesus was met by a man as he left the boat. They simply do not mention the second man, who is included by Matthew. All agree that the victim(s) was(were) dangerous, naked and living in the graveyard (tombs). Mark emphasises the strength of the man and the futility of trying to restrain him. Matthew (with Luke) talks of the trouble coming from demons. Mark initially has an unclean (or evil) spirit; he later says "they" did not want to be sent, etc.  I take these as equivalent expressions.

As you see above, Luke (like Matthew) has the demons begging Jesus. (Mark says the man did the begging.) As Matthew tells it, the demons anticipated ejection and wanted Jesus to send them into the pigs grazing nearby. To that Jesus said simply,”Go”. Mark (in 5:13) and Luke tell us that Jesus gave permission. Mark said their urgent begging was they did not want to be sent out of the country; (Matthew has no equivalent). Is it being too evasive to point out Jesus did not send the evil into the unfortunate pigs? Evil could not stand and the sufferers were restored to their normal selves - that was the enduring message.

Who kept the large herd of (untouchable) pigs (and why so many)? How many? (The word used in Mark is not found elsewhere in the NT?) Were they being "free-ranged"? I can not imagine the practices in place - they did not have Kelpies! Were any Jews involved in the implied pig trade? No way to know - however, involvement with pig keeping was unremarkable in the parable of the “Prodigal Son Returns” (Luke 15).

The Decapolis had chequered history (as did the whole region). The Decapolis had been dominated by Jews under the Hasmoneans but, nearly 100 years before, that was ended by the Roman, Pompey. About 30 years later, at the outbreak of Jewish revolt, there would be a slaughter of Jews there.

The drowning deaths of all those pigs are an uncomfortable fact in the account. Had they survived, their future as pork was clear! Their premature deaths then are mysterious. Did they provide assurance to the former victims? Were they a clarion call to the hearers? It it a case of unintended consequence? It is remarkable that the herdsmen especially told about what had happened to the men, rather than being totally taken up by such a large economic loss, even if not by animal welfare concern.

All three agree that the “locals” wanted Jesus to leave (Matthew and Mark say they begged him). They were fearful of Jesus! It is not said that they were anxious about economic losses, nor if any Jews were in the delegations! Mark (like Luke) tells us the healed man begged Jesus to be allowed to go with him, but instead he was given a mission. Was this man (these men) Jewish or gentile? Was the report spread to Jews or to gentiles? The message to share is briefly put:
But Jesus[a] refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” (Mark 5:19, NRSV)
“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39a, NRSV)
Note the contrasting wording - how much God/how much the lord - has done. Whatever Jesus actually uttered at that moment (Aramaic perhaps?), there is a clear equivalence. The need has been met by God, that is to say, by the lord (or, Lord). We see the flexible word used also to render the OT special name of God. I wonder what the disciples and the hearers thought of The Man that day.

For the group of apostles it had been some day. A frightening storm around them on the lake was subdued by Jesus’ rebuke. A fearsome demon possession in front of them had been ended when the demons could not endure Jesus’ presence. The whole boat-load had to leave promptly - the local community wanted something else, not Jesus! 

Reading on in Mark we find Jesus back in the locality: Again, leaving the region of Tyre, He went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31, HCSB). That indicates a complete traverse of the north. No doubt at least some of those who had heard about the event involving the pigs were pleased to have Jesus nearby. [I wonder what those who had rejected Jesus thought - were their minds eventually changed by the testimony of the ex-sufferer(s)?]

Matthew tells us there was earlier contact between Jesus and people of the Decapolis region. Large crowds followed Jesus from Galilee and the region around the ten cities known as Decapolis. They also came from Jerusalem, Judea, and from across the Jordan River (Matthew 4:25, CEV). I dare say the crowds included some of the Jews from those places.

From very early in his ministry Jesus (or those he appointed) had simply vanquished evil. One report from the opening pages of Mark: Suddenly a man with an evil spirit[a] in him entered the meeting place and yelled, “Jesus from Nazareth, what do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are! You are God’s Holy One.”
Jesus told the evil spirit, “Be quiet and come out of the man!” The spirit shook him. Then it gave a loud shout and left.
Everyone was completely surprised and kept saying to each other, “What is this? It must be some new kind of powerful teaching! Even the evil spirits obey him
” (Mark 1:23-27, CEV).

Jesus had also given authority over demons to his disciples: And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil (Mark 6:13, NLT). However, on at least one occasion the disciples found themselves out of their depth: Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so” (Mark 9:17-18, NRSV). The record includes multiple instances of evil always overcome. (Mark has 13 pericopes referring to demons or evil spirits.)

The precise place of that Decapolis demon-dispossession event is not clear today, even if one locality name is taken as final. The overall name of the local group of cities is “The Decapolis”. The pericope content requires a settlement with caves or tombs nearby, and a steep bank (a particular word found in the three reports of this pericope, but only there). The then contemporary hill-top city called Hippos (Susita) is a contender, with its prominence and proximity close to the lake. (The Susita site is subject to ongoing excavations auspiced by Haifa University. The area around is also mined!) In his briefer report, Matthew refers to Gadara, and specifically mentions two afflicted men together. Gadara city (near today’s Umm Qais) was located to the south east of the lake. (Even further south, on the western side of the river, lay Scythopolis.)

Site of ancient Hippos (also known as Susita) viewing westwards across Galilee from east side
Luke 8:26 (ESV) Some manuscripts Gadarenes; others Gergesenes; also verse 37

Hippos dig:

A Google map to show where the artchaeological work is being done on the above two sites.

Images courtesy of

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