Thursday, March 15, 2012

The (Gentile) Demoniac

For my write-up today on volume 2 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, I will talk some about Meier's discussion of Jesus' exorcism of the Gedarene demoniac. This story appears in Mark 5, Luke 8, and Matthew 8 (only, there, the land is called the country of the Gergesenes, and there are two demoniacs).

Meier believes that the demoniac in the story was actually Gerasene, on the basis of many "early and excellent" ancient manuscripts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But, according to Meier, there was a change to "Gedarenes" and "Gergesenes" because those particular areas are closer to the Sea of Galilee than Gerasa, which is not close to the Sea (see the map here). For those who made the change, the city of the demoniac had to be close to the Sea of Galilee, for, in the story, the demons enter the pigs, who then jump off of a cliff into the Sea.

But, for a variety of reasons, Meier believes that the part of the story about the pigs was added later. (For example, Meier states that Jesus in the Gospels usually does not destroy other people's property.) Meier's conclusion is that the story was originally about a Gerasene demoniac and did not have the part about the pigs, but that people altered the location to Gedar or Gerges after the pigs part was added. That, for Meier, accounts for the present of Gerasa in ancient manuscripts. And Meier is open to the possibility that the historical Jesus performed an exorcism in Gerasa and that "the unusual venue of the exorcism helped anchor it in the oral tradition" (page 651). Why was the venue unusual? Because it was part of the Decapolis, "a group of Hellenistic cities with mostly pagan populations in the region of southern Syria and northeastern Palestine" (page 651). Ordinarily, Jesus ministered to fellow Jews.

This information actually answers a question I have had about the story: Why were there pigs in Israel, which regarded them as unclean? It turns out that the pigs were in predominantly pagan areas. And, when Jesus told the ex-demoniac to go home and testify to his family about what the Lord did for him, there's a likelihood that the ex-demoniac's family was pagan and did not worship the God of Israel, meaning that the ex-demoniac was witnessing to Gentiles. Of course, as I noted, Meier does not believe that the story originally had the pigs. But the information about the Decapolis helped me to understand the pigs' presence in the story (at some stage).

Something else that interested me was Meier's reference to Franz Annen's view that the story was written by early Christians to justify the mission to the Gentiles against conservative Jewish-Christian detractors. Jesus, after all, is visiting a Gentile area and is conducting an exorcism there. Meier maintains that the story was historical, however, because the very appeal to it demonstrates that Jewish-Christians accepted its historicity as well, for why refer to a story that the Jewish-Christians could simply say was made-up? This argument stood out to me because of the scholarly view that Jesus did not envision a mission to the Gentiles, for Paul would have spoken about that in his debates with Judaizers had Jesus given any indication of support for a Gentile mission. Perhaps. Or maybe Paul didn't know about that story, or it didn't come to his mind in his debates.

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