Luke Chapter 8:26-39

We have now come to Luke’s version of the Gerasene Demonaic. “My name is Legion, and we are many”. For whatever reason, this is ones of my favorite stories in the NT. There is something very fascinating about it for reasons that aren’t necessarily completely obvious. One of the more striking aspects of the story, IMO, is the sheer length. Especially Mark, it is one of, if not the longest single stories in the NT outside of the Passion Narrative. Why? Of course, that question cannot be answered. The existence of this story clearly points to there being a repertoire of set-piece stories about Jesus that were circulated among the early communities. The story of Jairus/The Bleeding Woman is likely another. This sort of building-block narrative, IMO, makes more sense than the idea of a bunch of sayings. Sayings do not work well in an oral tradition. Think of it: you have an audience, you want to get and keep their attention. Which will do that more effectively, a bunch of pithy aphorisms that come and go in a minute or less, requiring that a number of them be strung together, or a story of some length, with a beginning, a middle, and and end that can be dramatized? Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive; one can salt the spaces between stories with the punchy sayings. However, these are not circumstances that would seem to be conducive to accumulating a book of sayings. I am perfectly willing to accept the idea that the Parable of the Sower may have originated with Jesus, but think about that: it is not a saying in the same way that ‘blessed are the poor’ is, even if you run all of them together. The parable is like Aesop’s fables with people instead of talking animals and these are, at root, stories. If you are familiar with The Iliad, you will perhaps remember that it very much resembles a construction of such story blocks, as each of the heroes has his moment(s) in battle. There are stories of Aias (Ajax), of Diomedes, of Menelaus. Each one can, if pressed, or with a minimal amount of work, stand on its own. The genius of Homer was to take these blocks and then stack them together. So, too, with the evangelists; Mark, in particular, fits this paradigm. Q, OTOH, does not. (See note at bottom of post*)


26 Καὶ κατέπλευσαν εἰς τὴν χώραν τῶν Γερασηνῶν, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἀντιπέρα τῆς Γαλιλαίας.

27 ἐξελθόντι δὲ αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ὑπήντησεν ἀνήρ τις ἐκ τῆς πόλεως ἔχων δαιμόνια: καὶ χρόνῳ ἱκανῷ οὐκ ἐνεδύσατο ἱμάτιον, καὶ ἐν οἰκίᾳ οὐκ ἔμενεν ἀλλ’ ἐν τοῖς μνήμασιν.

28 ἰδὼν δὲ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀνακράξας προσέπεσεν αὐτῷ καὶ φωνῇ μεγάλῃ εἶπεν, Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, Ἰησοῦ υἱὲ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου; δέομαί σου, μή με βασανίσῃς.

29 παρήγγειλενγὰρ τῷ πνεύματι τῷ ἀκαθάρτῳ ἐξελθεῖν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. πολλοῖς γὰρ χρόνοις συνηρπάκει αὐτόν, καὶ ἐδεσμεύετο ἁλύσεσιν καὶ πέδαιςφυλασσόμενος, καὶ διαρρήσσων τὰ δεσμὰ ἠλαύνετο ὑπὸ τοῦ δαιμονίου εἰς τὰς ἐρήμους.

And they went to the country of the Gerasenes, which is on the opposite shore from Galilee. (27) Coming towards him when they were on land a certain man met him from the city having demons. And for a long time he was not able to be dressed, and in a house he did not remain but among the tombs. (28) Seeing Jesus, crying out he fell before him (Jesus) and said in a loud voice, “What is between me and you, Jesus son of God the most high? I beg you, do not torment me!”

There is nothing terribly remarkable here, especially after we’ve been through this twice already. It’s worth pointing out that Luke says he had demons, in the plural. Mark refers to it as an unclean spirit, singular. In a detail that I’d forgotten (upon which which I hope I commented) Matthew says there were two men, not just one. So each puts a particular slant on the story. Also worth noting is the name of the place. Here it transliterates as “Gerasenes”. Matthew has this as “Gadarenes”, which is how the KJV renders the name. So, once again, Luke agrees with Mark and not Matthew, giving the Q conspirators more (not very good) evidence that Luke did not know Matthew, even though Luke agreed about Joseph, the virgin birth, and Bethlehem. But who’s counting? Luke, as Matthew, abridges Mark’s account; there is no mention of the shackles put on the man in the latter’s version.

26 Enavigaverunt autem ad regionem Gergesenorum, quae est contra Galilaeam.

27 Et cum egressus esset ad terram, occurrit illi vir quidam de civitate, qui habebat daemonia et iam tempore multo vestimento non induebatur neque in domo manebat sed in monumentis.

28 Is ut vidit Iesum, exclamans procidit ante illum et voce magna dixit: “Quid mihi et tibi est, Iesu, Fili Dei Altissimi? Obsecro te, ne me torqueas”.

30 ἐπηρώτησεν δὲ αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Τί σοι ὄνομά ἐστιν; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Λεγιών, ὅτι εἰσῆλθεν δαιμόνια πολλὰ εἰς αὐτόν.

31 καὶ παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν ἵνα μὴ ἐπιτάξῃ αὐτοῖς εἰς τὴν ἄβυσσον ἀπελθεῖν.

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion”, that many demons went into him. (31) And he (the demonaic) commanded him (Jesus) in order lest he (Jesus) not command them (the demons) to go away into the abyss. 

The “abyss” is an interesting word. It appears once before this, in Romans, where Paul uses it to describe where someone would go to bring back the dead Christ: into the abyss, the underworld, where the dead are to be found. Then the word is used six or seven times in the Apocalypse, where it means pretty much what we think it means. Also worth noting is that the use of the word as a substantive is pretty much a Christian usage; in pagan Greek usage it’s usually an adjective, meaning “bottomless” in the sense of “too deep to measure”, which is how “bottomless” is generally used in English. So what we have here is the first explicit association of “the pit” and demons; IOW, this is a real step in the geography of Hell. Now, I’ve been reading some pagan myth, and this idea of the pit of Tartaros predates the Christian idea of Hell = Pit by several centuries. This is to say that Christians are steadily adopting ideas from their pagan contemporaries, and Christian theology is becoming less Jewish and more pagan. Given that, by the time Luke wrote, most converts have been former pagans for probably two or three or even four decades–likely since the time of Paul, and certainly since the destruction of Jerusalem–this persistent incorporation of pagan thought should not surprise us in the least. Christian thought was being formulated by pagans, for pagans. What’s more important is that the thought that had been formulated was being written down, first by Matthew and then by Luke. We talked about Matthew as a former pagan, and I’m not the first to make that suggestion, And here is an important step: Hell is taking shape, and it’s geography and purpose are strongly influenced by the Greek idea of Hades, in particular of Tartaros, a place of torment for the wicked. By the time The Apocalypse was written, the idea was firmly fixed in the Christian thought of the author of that work, who then gave it to Christian thought. Much of our ideas of Heaven and Hell derive from Revelations and from nowhere else in the NT. Or the OT for that matter.

The ideas of an eternal soul, Hell, and entrance to a blessed life after death, all all, ultimately, Greek in origin.

29 Praecipiebat enim spiritui immundo, ut exiret ab homine. Multis enim temporibus arripiebat illum, vinciebatur catenis et compedibus custoditus; et ruptis vinculis, agebatur a daemonio in deserta.

30 Interrogavit autem illum Iesus dicens: “ Quod tibi nomen est? ”. At ille dixit: “ Legio ”, quia intraverunt daemonia multa in eum.

31 Et rogabant eum, ne imperaret illis, ut in abyssum irent.

32 *)=ην δὲ ἐκεῖ ἀγέλη χοίρων ἱκανῶν βοσκομένη ἐν τῷ ὄρει: καὶ παρεκάλεσαν αὐτὸν ἵνα ἐπιτρέψῃ αὐτοῖς εἰς ἐκείνους εἰσελθεῖν: καὶ ἐπέτρεψεν αὐτοῖς.

(32) There was a large herd of swine feeding on the hill. And they (the demons) asked him (Jesus) in order to allow them into them (the pigs) to go in; and he allowed them.  

One quick vocabulary note: the word used here for ‘herd’ in the NT only means a herd of pigs. And the only place it’s used is in the three versions of this story, in Mark, Matthew, and then Luke. This indicates a couple of things: first, Mark used the word originally, perhaps because it was part of the original story that he had heard, or that he created.  The other two found the word in use, and not having an alternative at hand, simply followed suit. Second, that swine are being herded indicates that we are among pagans, since Jews don’t eat pork. Along with this, a reference to pigs is found only in the various versions of this story, and two other times in the NT. Matthew refers to “pearls before swine”, and Luke mentions them again in the Prodigal Son. This paucity of pigs should not surprise us given Jewish dietary laws. But let us remember this when we come to the story of the Prodigal son. 

32 Erat autem ibi grex porcorum multorum pascentium in monte; et rogaverunt eum, ut permitteret eis in illos ingredi. Et permisit illis.

33 ἐξελθόν ταδὲ τὰ δαιμόνια ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἰσῆλθον εἰς τοὺς χοίρους, καὶ ὥρμησεν ἡ ἀγέλη κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ εἰς τὴν λίμνην καὶ ἀπεπνίγη.

34 ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ βόσκοντες τὸ γεγονὸς ἔφυγον καὶ ἀπήγγειλαν εἰς τὴν πόλιν καὶ εἰς τοὺς ἀγρούς.

35 ἐξῆλθον δὲ ἰδεῖν τὸ γεγονὸς καὶ ἦλθον πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, καὶ εὗρον καθήμενον τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἀφ’ οὗ τὰ δαιμόνια ἐξῆλθεν ἱματισμένον καὶ σωφρονοῦντα παρὰ τοὺς πόδας τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν.

36 ἀπήγγειλαν δὲ αὐτοῖς οἱ ἰδόντες πῶς ἐσώθη ὁ δαιμονισθείς.

Then the demons went out from the man went into the pigs, and the herd ran over the cliff into the lake and were choked (drowned). (34) The swineherds seeing the event fled and announced to the city and to the fields (to all and sundry, country or city. (35) They came to see the event and went to Jesus and they found the purified man from whom the demons went out, clothed and wise minded (in his right mind) at the feet of Jesus, and they were afraid.

The notable thing here is that the man was clothed. In Mark’s version, we are told that the demonaic would not, or could not, wear clothes, and this was a symptom of his possession. Having once seen a naked man outside the Kennedy Center in NYC at noon on a warm Saturday, I can tell you that being nude in public like this may be an indication that someone is not of sound mind. The guy I saw probably wasn’t. But the point here is that Luke edited that detail out of the earlier story, but retained it here. Perhaps he could just assume that everyone hearing the story already knew the demonaic practiced a clothing-optional lifestyle. This, however, has some pretty profound implications for how these gospels were used: were they collected, and read (aloud or silently) as a unit? Or did different gospels circulate in different regions? That Matthew and Luke feel free to abridge Mark as they see fit…well, which does that signify? That the audience would be able to fill in the details? Or that Matthew and Luke assumed the audience would not be aware of the differences? Or neither, since it was assumed by Matthew and Luke that the audience would not be concerned about the discrepancies? 

33 Exierunt ergo daemonia ab homine et intraverunt in porcos, et impetu abiit grex per praeceps in stagnum et suffocatus est.

34 Quod ut viderunt factum, qui pascebant, fugerunt et nuntiaverunt in civitatem et in villas.

35 Exierunt autem videre, quod factum est, et venerunt ad Iesum et invenerunt hominem sedentem, a quo daemonia exierant, vestitum ac sana mente ad pedes Iesu et timuerunt.

36 Nuntiaverunt autem illis hi, qui viderant, quomodo sanus factus esset, qui a daemonio vexabatur.

37 καὶ ἠρώτησεν αὐτὸν ἅπαν τὸ πλῆθος τῆς περιχώρου τῶν Γερασηνῶν ἀπελθεῖν ἀπ’αὐτῶν, ὅτι φόβῳ μεγάλῳ συνείχοντο: αὐτὸς δὲ ἐμβὰς εἰς πλοῖον ὑπέστρεψεν.

38 ἐδεῖτο δὲ αὐτοῦ ὁ ἀνὴρ ἀφ’ οὗ ἐξεληλύθει τὰ δαιμόνια εἶναι σὺν αὐτῷ: ἀπέλυσεν δὲ αὐτὸν λέγων,

39 Ὑπόστρεφε εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου, καὶ διηγοῦ ὅσα σοι ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός. καὶ ἀπῆλθεν καθ’ ὅλην τὴν πόλιν κηρύσσωνὅσα ἐποίησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς.

And the whole crowd from the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to go away from them, that in great fear they came out together; he embarked that they could return. (38) The man from whom the demons exited asked to go with him (Jesus). He answered saying, (39) “Return to your home, and tell how much God has done for you”. And he went through the whole city announcing what Jesus did for him.

Nice subtle touch there at the very end: Jesus tells the man to say what God had done for him, and the man announces what Jesus had done for him. Ergo, God = Jesus. Not a huge revelation, of course, but nicely done nonetheless. 

Let’s connect this back to the previous verse ((36) in which we are told that the people coming out to see the event were afraid. Here they say they are in great fear. Why, exactly? Why are they not grateful? The simple answer, of course, is that they were terrified of the awesome power of God, working through Jesus, or whether as conduit or operative agent. This would be a good answer, and could certainly have been true, but that feels to be lacking, IMO. The Marxist in me wants to put this in economic terms: a large herd of pigs would have represented a sizable investment to folks of those parts; livestock was a source of wealth just as land was. So to have Jesus come along and destroy–or be responsible for the destruction 0f–the means of production that could support a number of people might be enough to scare people who were afraid that other economic assets would be destroyed, too.

But somehow I doubt that.

Let’s take a moment to stop and think about this. The longest version, with the most details, of this story is found in Mark, the earliest of the gospels. What this tells me is that the story was in place when Mark started to write. It is possible that Mark created the story; however, of the three evangelists that we’ve read/are reading, I am least likely to credit Mark with being a creative writer. Mark’s narrative between stories is minimal to the point of nonexistent. His gospel feels more like something harvested than like something he grew from seed: Mark, I think, went out and picked from what was available, more like stringing beads. Or, to go back to the analogy I used most often, he wove the different threads he found into a single whole, even if the different threads didn’t quite form an harmonious whole. There are places where the different threads do not form a smooth fabric. So, given that set of premises, let’s take it as Mark was a collector; as such, he found this story pretty much intact.

This means it is possibly one of the truly early stories about Jesus, one that could date back to his direct disciples, but likely not since their presence is scarcely felt anywhere here. We assume they sailed the boat, but that’s about it. So who started telling this story? The Gerasenes? Probably not. Here we get pagans (pigs, remember?) basically giving Jesus the bum’s rush out of town. IOW, they didn’t exactly warm to the message. Then compare this to the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who did accept the message of Jesus. Both pagans, but they had very different responses. So, since this was an early story, one that had had sufficient time to accumulate a wealth of details, which the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman did not collect. So this story more closely reflected the early followers, who were probably almost exclusively Jewish. The moral of this story is that here, the message of Jesus didn’t work out for the pagans. That development was still in the future.

So if we agree that this was an early story, what does it tell us about the earliest vision of Jesus? He is not a teacher in this story. He is a wonder-worker who expels demons and creates fear in the population because of the wonders he works. This is not the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. That Jesus came later, I think. Again, this was part of my argument about the composition of Mark: the first eight (or so) chapters were about Jesus the wonder-worker; the rest of the work was about Jesus the Christ. Jesus does no teaching here. He does not teach anything to Jairus, or to the Bleeding Woman. Jesus the wonder-worker was not primarily a teacher, and neither was the Christ as portrayed by Paul. If the earliest Jesus was not primarily a teacher, but a wonder-worker, how likely is it that his sayings and teachings, and only what he said, was collected into a separate work that circulated about, but somehow escaped the notice of Mark, even though Mark was supposed to be the John Mark of Acts who was a follower of Peter, who certainly would have been aware of Jesus’ teachings. As you can see, we are piling implausibility upon implausibility as we attempt to stick to the traditional narrative about the early days and the writing of the NT, all as composed a century or more later by what had by that time become The Church. The possibility of Q is seriously compromised by all of these implausibilities. It simply does not fit with the best evidence that we have, Paul and Mark.

I hope that all this stuff I’m saying about the historical analysis of the evidence as presented by the text is starting to make sense. Historical arguments are complex things, even when the evidence for what we’re discussing is scanty. Even when the evidence is plentiful, it is crucial to stick to what it presents, and to pay less attention to what people said about it a century later. This latter is what biblical scholars do; they assume the accuracy–and the veracity–of the later tradition. But the problem is that later tradition simply is not reliable. The idea that Mark was John Mark the assistant to Peter flies in the face of what the text tells us if we but choose to listen. If it’s crucial to adhere to the text when there is plenty of evidence, it’s doubly so when the evidence is so scanty, and when we only have one text from which to work. That what became The Church chose not to stick to the text is understandable; after all, “scientific history” was still a rarity, although it did exist. But more, what became The Church had a mission to accomplish, and why should a few facts get in the way? I’m currently re-reading the Annales, by Tacitus. He is usually held up as the Roman Thucydides, the scientific historian in a group of hearsay artists. Well, let me tell you, Tacitus may–may–have stuck to facts, but he presented them in a way as to put across a particular point of view. So if a “scientific” historian did this, how likely is it that the evangelists even tried to write scientific history? And how likely is it that what became The Church (wbTC) would be all that careful about sticking to the evidence of the text when they had such a great story to tell? As Eliza Doolittle so eloquently put it, ‘not bloody likely’.

*Note to post:

I was looking at a map of Galilee in conjunction with the next section, when Jesus & c re-cross the lake back to Caphernaum. While looking, I noticed that the town of Gadara, where the Gadarenes (= Gerasenes, presumably) is way on the south side of the lake, pretty much the length of the lake away from Caphernaum. Not only that, it appears to be set back from the lake by a good way. However, since this takes place in the territory of the Gerasenes/Gadarenes, I suppose we can suppose that this territory extended some distance down to the the lakeshore.

37 Et rogaverunt illum omnis multitudo regionis Gergesenorum, ut discederet ab ipsis, quia timore magno tenebantur. Ipse autem ascendens navem reversus est.

38 Et rogabat illum vir, a quo daemonia exierant, ut cum eo esset. Dimisit autem eum dicens:

39 “ Redi domum tuam et narra quanta tibi fecit Deus ”. Et abiit per universam civitatem praedicans quanta illi fecisset Iesus.

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 October 21, 2017, in Chapter 8, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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