Exorcism of Legion
The Exorcism of Legion is a story from the Gospel of Mark. It was later modified and retold in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. In the story, Jesus confronts a man (or men) possessed by demons, and the demons fear Jesus and ask to be allowed to possess pigs, which Jesus allows. The pigs then drown themselves.
Early Epistles (50-66 CE)
There is no mention of this story in any of the early epistles.
Gospel of Mark (66-70 CE)
- They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"
- Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"
- "My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
- A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis a how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:1-20 NIV)
Gospel of Matthew (80-90 CE)
- When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"
- Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs."
- He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region. (Matthew 8:28-34 NIV)
Gospel of Luke (80-100 CE)
- They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, a which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
- Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"
- "Legion," he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
- A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
- When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
- The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39 NIV)
Gospel of John (90–110 CE)
There is no mention of this story in John.
Later Epistles (80+ CE)
There is no mention of this story in any of the later epistles.
Most Christians I've met believe this story should be accepted literally, but I've read of a metaphorical approach where "legion" was meant to be understood as a legion of Roman troops. Like the Romans, they should fear Jesus, and Jesus would deliver his people from those who are no better than swine, and not fit to live. I think this is a reasonable interpretation, although, it doesn't matter to me one way or another whether it was meant to be taken literally.
The only historical evidence of this story comes from the Gospel of Mark. Although apologists will cite Matthew and Luke as well, historians generally agree than they are merely modified re-tellings. The other authors of the New Testament either didn't know about the story or didn't feel a showdown between Jesus and thousands of demons was worth repeating. The story describes many witnesses, including the farmers and townsfolk who saw the healed man, but none of them wrote about the event or convinced someone else to write about it. The author of Mark did write about the even until around 30 years after it supposedly happened.
Since there is only one independent source for this story, and it is extremely far-fetched with no archeological evidence, I do not believe it. There are also several additional problems:
There are several differences between the original and the two re-tellings and between the retellings with each other. This indicates that the authors of Matthew and Luke either didn't have a manuscript of Mark with which to copy (and relied on a faulty oral account), or they purposely altered it in different ways. The most striking discrepancy is that the author of Matthew added a second demon-possessed man and does not have Jesus asking the demon's name, so "Legion" isn't mentioned at all. Those who believe biblical inerrancy are forced to say there were two men, but the authors of Mark and Luke, for some reason, didn't bother to acknowledge the second man.
Although Christians often view this passage as Jesus showing his authority over evil, I see it as Jesus actually acting semi-evil, and certainly not all good. The demons from the story acknowledging that Jesus had the ability to banish them (Mark says "out of the area", Luke says "into the Abyss"), but Jesus does not. To me, not doing away with evil when you have the ability to is less than perfect. Next, the demons ask a request from Jesus and Jesus agrees to their request. To me, granting the request of a demon, when you could easily banish them instead, seems evil. In failing to banish the demons, Jesus has ruined the livelihood of the pig farmers, as 2,000 pigs would be an enormous investment at the time, and there is no mention of Jesus making things right, he and his disciples just run away. Finally, like in Jesus cursing the fig tree, Jesus shows no regard for the life of non-human things. Classical Christian commentators including Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas both have argued that drowning animals to death isn't immoral, because morality only applies to humans. I disagree with their interpretation, and think that animal abuse is evil, and see Jesus' actions as immoral.
This is a minor issue, but, in each gospel, Jesus and his disciples cross a lake assumed by most readers to be the Sea of Galilee because it is the only large body of water in the region. Upon crossing it, they encounter the man, the demons enter the pigs and drown themselves in the lake, witnesses go to the city and bring the townsfolk who ask Jesus to leave, so he gets back into the boat on the lake and leaves. The story implies that Jesus never leaves the shore, and this makes the named locations problematic because Mark, and later Luke, set the story in Gerasenes (Gerasa, now called Jerash) which is about 35 miles across the desert from the Sea of Galilee. If the witnesses on the shore walked all the way to the town and brought the townspeople all the way back, it would take all day, but the story implies a more immediate event. This may be why the author of Matthew changed the location to Gadarenes (Gadara, now called Umm Qais), since it is more believable at only six miles away. Apologists dismiss the location problem saying that neither author is giving an exact location, but just placing it near the city most important to them, though there is no evidence for this assertion.
- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exorcism_of_the_Gerasene_demoniac - Wikipedia.
- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legion_(demons) - Wikipedia (Legion).