Mark Chapter 5:1-13

Chapter 5 starts with the story of the demonaic of the Gerasenes. This is my favorite section of Mark, and perhaps all of the gospels.

“My name is Legion, for we are many.”

The story is too long to put into one post. In fact, this is certainly the longest continuous narrative in this gospel, with the exception of the passion narrative. It’s another–perhaps the best–example of the set-piece story that I described at the end of the last chapter, the story of Jesus calming the storm. In fact, it’s so long that Matthew shortens in when he includes it in his gospel. He also refers to them as Gadarenes.

Again, we ask, did Mark write this? Did he compose all the details, filling in the gaps in a bare relation of the story: that Jesus drove out a demon in the land of the Gerasenes? Incidentally, the Gerasenes were not Jewish. The best proof of this may be the herd of pigs at the end. However, let’s note where this story falls in the overall narrative. At the end of Chapter 4, we saw that Mark apparently intended to make sure the audience was made keenly aware of who Jesus was. He had power over the storm. Now he comes up against a very powerful band of demons inhabiting a single man. The break between the two stories is wholly artificial; there is no break in the narrative. In fact, it almost seems that calming the storm is the prelude to what happens here at the beginning of Chapter 5. Note that they were sailing to the far shore when the storm came up; now, they are on the far shore.

Assuming this to be one story, the point becomes even more clear, IMO, that Mark’s purpose was to ensure that we know exactly who Jesus was.

1 Καὶ ἦλθον εἰς τὸ πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης εἰς τὴν χώραν τῶν Γερασηνῶν.

And they went to the far shore of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.

1 Et venerunt trans fretum maris in regionem Gerasenorum.

2 καὶ ἐξελθόντος αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου εὐθὺς ὑπήντησεν αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν μνημείων ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ,

And he having gotten off the boat, immediately he met with the man from the tomb, the man with an unclean spirit,

<< ἐξελθόντος αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου >> is another example of a genitive absolute. This is not nearly as common in Greek as the ablative absolute is in Latin. It forms a subordinate clause, one with no grammatical connection to the main clause.

And, while we’re at it, a more precise translation of << μνημείων >> would be ‘memorials’. The root of the word is “to remember”, which is the root of our word “mnemonic”.

2 Et exeunte eo de navi, statim occurrit ei de monumentis homo in spiritu immundo,

3 ὃς τὴν κατοίκησιν εἶχεν ἐν τοῖς μνήμασιν: καὶ οὐδὲ ἁλύσει οὐκέτι οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο αὐτὸν δῆσαι,

He had his home in the tombs, and no one was able any longer with a chain to bind him. 

A bit difficult to get the English to mirror the Greek; the latter has an extra ‘no one’ that I’m not clever enough to work into the English translation.

3 qui domicilium habebat in monumentis; et neque catenis iam quisquam eum poterat ligare,

4 διὰ τὸ αὐτὸν πολλάκις πέδαις καὶ ἁλύσεσιν δεδέσθαι καὶ διεσπάσθαι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ τὰς ἁλύσεις καὶ τὰς πέδας συντετρῖφθαι, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἴσχυεν αὐτὸν δαμάσαι:

On account of he was fettered and given chains many times, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the fetters broken, and no one was strong enough to subdue him.

4 quoniam saepe compedibus et catenis vinctus dirupisset catenas et compedes comminuisset, et nemo poterat eum domare;

5 καὶ διὰ παντὸς νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ἐν τοῖς μνήμασιν καὶ ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν ἦν κράζων καὶ κατακόπτων ἑαυτὸν λίθοις.

And through all the nights and days he was among the tombs, and he was in the mountains, crying out and cutting himself with stones.

The ‘cutting himself with stones’ is a really interesting detail.

5 et semper nocte ac die in monumentis et in montibus erat clamans et concidens se lapidibus.

6 καὶ ἰδὼν τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπὸ μακρόθεν ἔδραμεν καὶ προσεκύνησεν αὐτῷ,

And seeing Jesus from afar, he ran and prostrated himself before him (Jesus).

 << προσεκύνησεν >> means, essentially, to fall on one’s face as a sign of deference. I notice that some of the translations render this as “worship”, but that adds an element that’s not necessarily in the word.  It literally means “to the dog”, in the sense of the way a dog lies down and exposes its belly in submission. This act was standard practice before Eastern kings, such as the King of Persia. The idea was that one was not worthy to gaze upon the face of the monarch. It became a raging controversy when Alexander began to demand that his generals perform this act when coming into the former’s presence. It was decidedly un-Greek, where Alexander was, in theory, primus inter pares, first among equals. By requiring that those equals fall on their face very much offended the generals, who saw Alexander as an equal, not as a king before whom one should grovel. Plus, most of these generals were his father’s contemporaries, and so were a generation older than Alexander, which made the act doubly offensive. There are theories that such actions on Alexander’s part led to him being poisoned.

All of that aside, prostrating oneself was an act of deference and submission, so the man is definitely acknowledging that Jesus is someone who should be treated with this kind of groveling.

6 Et videns Iesum a longe cucurrit et adoravit eum

7 καὶ κράξας φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγει, Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, Ἰησοῦ υἱὲ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου; ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεόν, μή με βασανίσῃς.

And crying out in a loud voice he said, “What do you and me have (i.e., in common), Jesus, son of the most high God? I adjure you, by God, do not torment me!”

<< Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί >> We came across a very similar construction in Mk 1.24, when Jesus cleansed the first unclean spirit. The second and fourth words are the pronouns ‘me’ and ‘you’; in 1.24, it was ‘you’ and ‘us’.  In all four occurrences, the pronouns are dative. This is a great example of the dative of possession.  In French, this would be like the usage, ‘c’est a moi’; “it’s mine.”

Son of the most high God. Again, using the unclean spirit as a messenger, to tell us, explicitly, who Jesus is. This fits with what I said in c0mment to 4.35-41, that Mark is using this section to demonstrate that Jesus is divine.

7 et clamans voce magna dicit: “ Quid mihi et tibi, Iesu, fili Dei Altissimi? Adiuro te per Deum, ne me torqueas ”.

8 ἔλεγεν γὰρ αὐτῷ, Ἔξελθε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸἀκάθαρτον ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

For he (Jesus) said to him (the spirit), “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”

It occurs to me that we should take a moment to consider “spirit” in this instance. In discussing the Holy (0r holy) Spirit, I said that “sacred breath” is a viable–perhaps even proper–translation, what about here? That is, what about in all instances of an unclean spirit. Does “unclean breath” make sense? Or does that sound too much like halitosis?

I find myself hoist upon my own petard, in a sense. Because during exorcisms, when he talks to the spirit, there really is a sense in which we are dealing with some sort of discreet entity, one that can communicate. While the word is the same, I’m not sure that we have that same feeling when we are told that the Spirit comes down in the shape of a dove.  The voice in 1.11 seems to emanate from an entity distinct from the dove. As for the spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness in 1.12, one doesn’t get the sense of a discrete entity there, either. Or, that this spirit must necessarily be a discreet entity. Nor is it designated as ‘holy’; that designation occurs only four times in Mark, one of them being the unforgivable sin reference.

If Mark is using the same word in different ways, is this inconsistency on his part? Or on mine, for not getting it? The question is not only legitimate, but necessary. On my behalf, I refer back to Genesis 1.2, in which God’s spirit moved over the water. Whatever the underlying Hebrew word, the Greek is << πνεῦμα >>, just as it is here. I think this demonstrates quite clearly that the word has different implications. We just have to ask ourselves what the rules are for  their different usage. My belief is that it is quite clear here, and elsewhere, that the unclean spirits are conceived of as specific entities; the holy spirit, OTOH, is much more ambiguous. We have yet to encounter anything in Mark that gives the plain sense of a distinct entity.

8 Dicebat enim illi: “ Exi, spiritus immunde, ab homine ”.

9 καὶ ἐπηρώτα αὐτόν, Τί ὄνομά σοι; καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Λεγιὼν ὄνομά μοι, ὅτι πολλοί ἐσμεν.

And he (Jesus) asked him (the spirit, or the demonaic), “What is your name?” And he (the spirit, or the demonaic) said to him (Jesus), “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

First: is it just me, or does that send a shiver up your spine? Maybe I saw “The Exorcist” too many times, but I find that just absolutely chilling.

Second: is it just me, or is a really bizarre question? In no other exorcism–and there are a lot of them–does Jesus ask the name of the spirit. So why has this one been singled out? I have no clue. Because it fits so nicely with the denouement involving the herd of pigs? My best guess is that this detail has come down to Mark, and he felt the need, or the desire, to include it. The thing is, it’s bizarre because there seems to be no real explanation for it.

And, speaking of “The Exorcist”, there is a scene in which the young priest asks Linda Blair’s character “Quod nomen mihi est?” This is Latin, for “what is my name?” The idea was to test whether Linda Blair would understand an unfamiliar language, which would indicate possession rather than a psychological disorder. The point is, the question is identical to the Latin translation below, substituting “tibi”, “your”, for “mihi“, which is “my“. Or, rather, it’s ‘to you’ and ‘to me’. Both of these are dative again, so we’re back to the dative of possession. 

9 Et interrogabat eum: “ Quod tibi nomen est? ”. Et dicit ei: “ Legio nomen mihi est, quia multi sumus ”.

10 καὶ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν πολλὰ ἵνα μὴ αὐτὰ ἀποστείλῃ ἔξω τῆς χώρας.

And he (the spirit/demonaic) asked him (Jesus) much in order that he (Jesus) not send him (the spirit) out of the country.

First the Greek: despite being “many”, the verbs above are 3rd person singular, which would be appropriate for a single demon, or the man possessed. In V-9, the demon(s) respond in the first person plural, the royal “we” as it were. So did Mark drop the “we are many” thread? Or is he just referring to the possessed man, here? However, this latter suggestion doesn’t square with the request that Jesus not send him (singular pronoun) out of the country.

Second, is this even more bizarre than Jesus asking the demon’s name?  The spirit does not want to be sent out of the country? What does that mean? Why? Why is that in there?

10 Et deprecabatur eum multum, ne se expelleret extra regionem.

11 ην δὲ ἐκεῖ πρὸς τῷ ὄρει ἀγέλη χοίρων μεγάλη βοσκομένη:

And there was there by the mountain a large heard of pigs pasturing.

11 Erat autem ibi circa montem grex porcorum magnus pascens;

12 καὶ παρεκάλεσαν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Πέμψον ἡμᾶς εἰς τοὺς χοίρους, ἵνα εἰς αὐτοὺς εἰσέλθωμεν.

And they asked him (Jesus), saying, “Send us towards those pigs, so that we may go in them.”

Note that here we have switched back to the plural form of the verb and pronoun.  “They asked…send us…we may…”

12 et deprecati sunt eum dicentes: “ Mitte nos in porcos, ut in eos introeamus ”.

13καὶ ἐπέτρεψεν αὐτοῖς. καὶ ἐξελθόντα τὰ πνεύματα τὰ ἀκάθαρτα εἰσῆλθον εἰς τοὺς χοίρους, καὶ ὥρμησεν ἡ ἀγέλη κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, ὡς δισχίλιοι, καὶ ἐπνίγοντο ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ.

And he directed them. And coming out the unclean spirits went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the cliff towards the sea, so that two thousand (i.e. there were 2,000 pigs) drowned (lit = choked) in the sea.

OK, there were two thousand pigs, apparently. And again, the verbs and pronouns used for the spirits are plural; in fact, they are called “unclean spirits” (plural) here. Per Wikipedia, a Roman legion was 5,000 soldiers.  Sorry, I did not have that number ad digitos  (at my fingers, as in, at my fingertips).

13 Et concessit eis. Et exeuntes spiritus immundi introierunt in porcos. Et magno impetu grex ruit per praecipitium in mare, ad duo milia, et suffocabantur in mari.

I am going to reserve overall comment until later.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on February 10, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Are we sure these were not wild pigs? As an example, near the marshes of Mesopotamia, there is a large population of wild pigs, who cause great destruction to the farms and a substantial amount of time is spent hunting them, even though it is prohibited to eat them, so the meat is wasted.

    I’ve never heard anyone discuss whether “Legion” could mean the Romans in a literal sense, rather than “numerical forces” in general. I say this because I recently learned that before 300 AD, a Chinese emissary led the first official expedition down the Silk Road, ending at Persia, where he learned the name of another empire past Persia, called “Li-jien” (Legion), How common was it to use the word “Legion” in Greek to mean a numerous army?

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