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)
Gospel of Mark 5:1-20, NIV.
Gospel of Matthew (80-90 CE)
Gospel of Matthew 8:28-34, NIV.
Gospel of Luke (80-100 CE)
Gospel of 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. Even the author of Mark didn't write about the event 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 a little evil himself. The demons from the story acknowledge that Jesus has 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 immoral, and certainly 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 instead easily banish them, seems evil. By sending the demons into the pigs, who then drown themselves, Jesus has ruined the livelihood of the farmers, as 2,000 pigs would be an enormous investment at the time. There is no mention of Jesus offering reparations to the farmers, 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, but I disagree with their interpretations and think that animal abuse is evil, so I see Jesus' actions as immoral.
One final minor issue: 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. Each version of 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 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 (a 70-mile round trip through the desert), it would take an entire 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. However, I could be reading too much into this, and the author of Matthew simply confused the two locations. 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/Legion_(demons) - Wikipedia (Legion).