Matthew Chapter 8:28-34 – Chapter 9:1

This will finish up Chapter 8. I’ve included the first verse of Chapter 9 because it’s really part of this story, that of the Gadarene/Gerasene demonaic, which occupies the first half of Chapter 5 in Mark. Before even starting the translation, there are a couple of points to be made. I’m not sure which is the most obvious,

First, in Mark’s story, there is a single demonaic. Here, there are two. Luke has one; however, this can’t be used as evidence that Luke hadn’t seen Matthew, because Luke could have been restoring the tale to its original form. Why are there two in Matthew? That may be answered as we proceed.

Second, the story in Mark is about three times the length as the one recorded here. It’s one of the longest continuous narratives in Mark; why did Matthew shorten it to such a degree? Luke’s version is about as long as Mark’s, but I haven’t done even a cursory comparison for content. The length and the degree of detail in Mark’s story is so great that I have a strong suspicion that this was a very well-known story about Jesus. As such, it had been elaborated over time, accumulating all the details that we find. But it is the tale of an exorcism; does Matthew shorten it because he doesn’t want to emphasize this aspect of Jesus’ ministry? Again, perhaps this will become more clear as we read the story itself.

28 Καὶ ἐλθόντος αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ πέραν εἰς τὴν χώραν τῶν Γαδαρηνῶν ὑπήντησαν αὐτῷ δύο δαιμονιζόμενοι ἐκ τῶν μνημείων ἐξερχόμενοι, χαλεποὶ λίαν, ὥστε μὴ ἰσχύειν τινὰ παρελθεῖν διὰ τῆς ὁδοῦ ἐκείνης.

And he (Jesus) coming to the border of the territory of the Gadarenes, two demonaics met him, coming out from the tombs nearby, extremely fierce, so that no one was able to come along that road. 

Regarding the Greek: the last clause is an accusative and infinitive. This is very common in Latin, less so in Greek. It is one instance where I think that the standard NT Greek translation of “to be able”, as opposed to the Classical usage of “to prevail” is perhaps justified. So I have rendered it like that. I spent some time trying to make it work otherwise, but the way I’ve rendered it seems the most likely.

28 Et cum venisset trans fretum in regionem Gadarenorum, occurrerunt ei duo habentes daemonia, de monumentis exeuntes, saevi nimis, ita ut nemo posset transire per viam illam.

29 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἔκραξαν λέγοντες, Τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, υἱὲ τοῦ θεοῦ; ἦλθες ὧδε πρὸ καιροῦ βασανίσαι ἡμᾶς;

And, lo, they cried out, saying, “What is between us and you, Son of God? Have you come to torment us before the time?

The NIV adds “appointed” to this, making it “the appointed time”. It’s probably not entirely unwarranted, but it’s still a bit intrusive, IMO. Even more interesting is that this little phrase “before the time” is neither in Mark nor in Luke. What does it mean? The obvious implication is eschatological: before the time of the return of Jesus, before the Last Judgement. At least, that’s obvious to us. Where is the support for this in the text, up to this point? Think of being one of those hearing this story from Matthew for the first time. You get to “before the time” and ask “what time? I don’t get it”. Again, Matthew very consciously and very willfully edited this story down from the much longer version in Mark, and yet he added this phrase? Can anyone explain that one to me? I suppose that, if this is the opening of the eschatology to come, this will make sense as we go along.

As for the plural, I suspect this might just be Matthew being pedantic. “My name Legion, and we are many”, so Matthew turns the single man into two. Again: he edits and pares and does all sorts of stuff, but then makes a change like this. But remember: Matthew is an authorial genius, who organized his material with utmost care. Even if he flat-out added stuff

Now there’s something to note. Matthew is adding stuff, changing stuff in Mark’s narrative. He flat-out added the bit about “the time”. As such, the next time I suggest that Matthew has made something up on his own authority, this passage should serve as evidence that Matthew has done this in other places, so the idea that he did it elsewhere is not so incredible after all.   

29 Et ecce clamaverunt dicentes: “ Quid nobis et tibi, Fili Dei? Venisti huc ante tempus torquere nos? ”.

30 ἦν δὲ μακρὰν ἀπ’ αὐτῶν ἀγέλη χοίρων πολλῶν βοσκομένη.

31 οἱ δὲ δαίμονες παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Εἰ ἐκβάλλεις ἡμᾶς, ἀπόστειλον ἡμᾶς εἰς τὴν ἀγέλην τῶν χοίρων.

There was far from them a large herd of swine feeding. (31) The demons beseeched him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us towards the herd of pigs.

This is kind of embarrassing. First we jump to a herd of pigs that is “makran”, far away. Now, “far” can mean all sorts of things, but the idea is that they were something beyond a stone’s throw. But getting to the pigs is a bit of a non sequitur, especially since the <<δὲ>> indicates some kind of connexion with the preceding clause or sentence. And yet, there is no really continuity of content. We go from the demons asking to the herd of pigs. Honestly, one gets the sense that Matthew is summarizing this so quickly because he expects the audience to be familiar with the full story as told in Mark. Which would support my theory that this was a very popular story about Jesus. Because immediately the demons assume that Jesus is going to cast them out of the men, Which, I suppose, makes sense; they would know this, or intuit this. They are demons, after all. Although, generally, demons are not known for foresight. That is the province of the deity alone.

But let’s think about the possibility that this was, indeed, a popular story. Frankly, all of my historical judgement tells me it was. The version in Mark has the feel of something told over and over many times, so that all the little details of the storytelling have been filled out and completed. It is a full story, one that would have taken several minutes to tell. Or longer, if one added some sound effects and did some different voices. This was an oral culture, after all. And sitting around and telling stories about famous people was something that people did of an evening, when the meal was eaten and the chores done, in the minutes before collapsing into the sleep of exhaustion. What I deduce is that this story was popular, and well-known, and so Matthew couldn’t just omit it. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t run through it as quickly as was decent. He couldn’t omit it, but he certainly could abridge it.

So why didn’t he like it? Because it portrayed Jesus as an exorcist and a wonder-worker. Which gets me to a question I’ve often asked myself: why did people continue to talk about Jesus thirty and fifty and more years after he was dead? What was it that they remembered about him? Well, our earliest evidence is from Paul, who tells us Jesus was remembered and talked about because a considerable number of people thought that Jesus was the Christ, and that Jesus’ coming, and second coming were events of cosmic significance. But this story, as told in Mark, provides another reason: Jesus was talked about because he was a wonder-worker, someone who had performed marvelous feats. After all, Apollonius of Tyana was talked about for the same reason. Doubtless, Matthew was aware of these stories about Jesus, but one suspects that he didn’t much care for this tradition. We’ve seen him skip the story of the exorcism in the synagogue, that Mark uses to open Jesus’ public ministry. Now we see him give short-shrift to what may have been the most famous story about Jesus that was told. No, he can’t ignore this, but he can de-emphasize this. So far, we’re at the end of Chapter 8 and this is how Matthew has treated exorcisms to this point. (He did list exorcisms as something Jesus did at the end of Chapter 4, but he mentioned this in passing,without providing details.) 

30 Erat autem longe ab illis grex porcorum multorum pascens.

31 Daemones autem rogabant eum dicentes: “ Si eicis nos, mitte nos in gregem porcorum”.

32 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ὑπάγετε. οἱ δὲ ἐξελθόντες ἀπῆλθον εἰς τοὺς χοίρους: καὶ ἰδοὺ ὥρμησεν πᾶσα ἡ ἀγέλη κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, καὶ ἀπέθανον ἐν τοῖς ὕδασιν.

33 οἱδὲ βόσκοντες ἔφυγον, καὶ ἀπελθόντες εἰς τὴν πόλιν ἀπήγγειλαν πάντα καὶ τὰ τῶν δαιμονιζομένων.

34 καὶ ἰδοὺ πᾶσα ἡ πόλις ἐξῆλθεν εἰς ὑπάντησιν τῷ Ἰησοῦ, καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν παρεκάλεσαν ὅπως μεταβῇ ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων αὐτῶν.

9:1 Καὶ ἐμβὰς εἰς πλοῖον διεπέρασεν καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν ἰδίαν πόλιν.

And he said to them, “Get out, ” (and) they coming out went to the swine. (33) And behold, the entire herd plunged from the cliff into the sea, and they they died in the water. And the swineherds fled, and coming into to the city, they announced all and the things about the demonaics. (34) And then the entire city went out in order to meet Jesus, and seeing him they requested that he should go away from their country. (9:1) And embarking on the boat he departed and he came to his own country.

So this ends the Cliff/Spark Notes version of the story of the Gerasene/Gadarene demonaic. The “I am legion” is not here, replaced by two demonaics who lack most of the terror and ferocity of the original in Mark. I made the point before; we have a herd of pigs; these are probably pagans.  Which leads me to wonder if that might be part of the reason this was cut short: so as not to reflect badly on the pagan community. However, that’s admittedly a stretch; I just don’t think Matthew liked the story because it was about an exorcism. And I don’t think he liked exorcism stories in general. This will bear watching as we move through the rest of the gospel.

Now note what I just did: I speculated on an editorial predilection of Matthew’s. This is the sort of thing that annoys me about much of the Q debate: “Oh, Matthew would never have said this unless that were true. Or Luke really likes theme -x- so he would never have made statement -y- unless the latter was in Q. I think my point is slightly different: if Matthew consistently underplays stories of exorcisms, then I think it’s safe to deduce that there is something about the topic that doesn’t sit well with him. What that “something” might be, of course, is speculation and ultimately comes down to a value judgement. But I will admit that. Too much of the Q defense consists of pronouncements about subject matter and the way the material is organized.

But, since this version is so much shorter than the previous, it’s hard to come up with plausible theories about why they are different. The biggest difference is the length, which we’ve covered. And the story of the pigs is better suited to a “legion” of demons, rather than just a pair. That is one change I would like to understand, but given the brevity, there’s really not much to go on. Any reason, or possible explanation would be pure guesswork. Matthew didn’t like the idea of many demons possessing a single person. Luke had no such qualms; he included the “Legion” of demons. So why not Matthew? Was it too supernatural, or just unusual for him? Who knows? I will discuss this further in a separate post.

One final point. “He returned to his own land”. This is now Caphernaum, as Matthew told us Jesus moved there in Chapter 4:13. Now, I still have the sense that Jesus was from Caphernaum. I just looked it up; Nazareth is mentioned by Matthew a grand total of three times. Even more, Mark mentions it exactly once, in 1:9, in a passage that could very easily be an interpolation. In Mark’s discussions of Jesus’ hometown, where a prophet is not honored, the name of the town is never mentioned. Between the paucity of references to Nazareth and Mark’s implications that Jesus owned a house in Caphernaum, and this passage where he returns to his own country, I believe there is good reason to consider that Jesus was not from Nazareth at all. I really won’t be surprised if no one agrees with me; but I am surprised no one, apparently, has ever asked this question before. 

32 Et ait illis: “ Ite ”. Et illi exeuntes abierunt in porcos; et ecce impetu abiit totus grex per praeceps in mare, et mortui sunt in aquis.

33 Pastores autem fugerunt et venientes in civitatem nuntiaverunt omnia et de his, qui daemonia habuerant.

34 Et ecce tota civitas exiit obviam Iesu, et viso eo rogabant, ut transiret a finibus eorum.

9:1 Et ascendens in naviculam transfretavit et venit in civitatem suam.


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 26, 2015, in gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: