Exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac

The exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39), frequently known as the Miracle of the (Gadarene) Swine and the exorcism of Legion, is one of the miracles performed by Jesus according to the New Testament.[1] The story shows Jesus exorcising a demon or demons out of a man and into a herd of swine, causing the swine to run down a hill into a lake and drown themselves.

Mosaic of the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac from the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, dating to the sixth century AD

The story appears in the three Synoptic Gospels, but not the Gospel of John. All accounts involve Jesus exorcising demons, identified collectively in Mark and Luke as "Legion".

The story was interpreted by Saints Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas to mean that Christians have no duties to animals.[2] It has been a point of contention in discussions of Christianity and animal rights.[3]


Map of Decapolis showing location of Gadara and Gerasa



The earliest account, assuming the theory of Marcan priority is correct, is in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 5:1–20). Jesus goes across the sea into the "region of the Gerasenes".[a] There, a man "possessed by a demon" comes from the caves to meet him. People had tried to tie him down but he was too strong to be bound, even with chains, for he would always break out of them; night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. Jesus approaches and calls the demon to come out of the man, who replies "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you in the name of God never to torment me!". Jesus asks the demon for his name and is told "My name is Legion, for we are many". The demons beg Jesus not to send them away, but instead to send them into the pigs on a nearby hillside, which he does. The herd, about two thousand in number, rush down the steep bank into the sea and are drowned. The man is now seen, dressed and restored to sanity: he asks to be included among the disciples who travel with Jesus, but he is refused and instructed to remain in the Decapolis region, to tell of "the great things the Lord has done ... and [how he] has had compassion on you". Theologian Tom Wright calls him "the first apostle to the gentiles".[4]


Jesus exorcising the Gerasene demoniac, from the Hitda Codex manuscript

The Gospel of Matthew shortens the story dramatically (Matthew 8:28–34) and writes not of one possessed man, but of two.[5] In this version, Jesus does not ask for the demon's name, which is considered an important element of traditional exorcism practice.[6]

The location is also changed to the region of the "Gadarenes" (Gadara) as in most Bible translations. The King James Version in (Matthew 8:28) has the location as "Gergesenes" which corresponds to the modern "Kursi" (Kheras), the most plausible location of the Gospel event.[citation needed]



The Gospel of Luke's version (Luke 8:26–39) is shorter than Mark's, but agrees with most of its details.[5] One detail that is unique to Luke's version is a reference to both the demoniac’s nakedness and his subsequent clothing. At Luke 8:27, the gospel writer notes that the demoniac wore no clothes. Then he notes that he “was clothed and in his own mind” (Luke 8:35). Clothing is an important prop in the Lucan narrative (see Biblical clothing), which in this scene portrays the demoniac’s development from his animal-like state to his restoration as a human being. Initially, the possessed man has been expelled from the human race—that is, he is no better off than an animal without clothing—but, after his exorcism, his humanity is fully restored and he rejoins the human race, “clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35).



Gerasa, Gadara, or Gergesa?

Medieval illumination of Jesus exorcizing the Gerasene demoniac from the Ottheinrich Folio

The story appears to be set close to the Sea of Galilee, since it takes place as soon as Jesus gets out of the boat, but neither Gadara nor Gerasa is nearby; both cities are southeast of the lake, Gadara 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) away or a two-hour walking distance, and Gerasa well over twice as far. Origen (Commentary on John 6:24 §41 [on John 1:28]) cited a local tradition that there had been a town called "Gergasa" on the lake shore.[7]

The differing geographical references to Gadara and Gerasa can be understood in light of the social, economic, and political influence each city exerted over the region. In this light, Matthew identified the exorcism with the local center of power, Gadara, located about 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) southeast of Sea of Galilee, whereas Mark identified the event with the regional center of power, Gerasa, located further inland.[8] The city of Gerasa had been a major urban center since its founding and during the Roman period it was the more widely known among the ten-city league known as the Decapolis.

As to the candidate for the location of the Gospel event, the most common consensus [weasel words] is that the miracle took place near the town of Gergesa, the modern Kursi, close by the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and therefore in the country of Gergesenes.[9]

Naming, and use of singular and plural


The revealing of the demon's name has parallels with other examples in Jewish exorcism lore in the Second Temple period.[10]

Allusions to the Book of Isaiah


There is a tenuous connection between the story and Isaiah 65:4:[11]

"A people who ... sit among the graves, and spend the night in the tombs;
Who eat swine's flesh, and the broth of abominable things is in their vessel".

Animal rights

An illustration of the story from c. 1000, showing the swine drowning themselves

Classical theological commentary cited this story to argue that animals have no moral importance in Christianity.[12] Saint Augustine of Hippo concluded from the story that Christians have no duties towards animals,[2] writing:

Christ himself shows that to refrain from the killing of animals and the destroying of plants is the height of superstition, for judging that there are no common rights between us and the beasts and trees, he sent the devils into a herd of swine and with a curse withered the tree on which he found no fruit.[13]

Similarly, Thomas Aquinas argued that Jesus allowed the demons to destroy the pigs in order to make the point that his purpose was primarily for the good of men's souls, not their bodies or property (including their animals).[3] This interpretation has been shared by a long line of commentators up to the present day, including I. Howard Marshall and Mark Driscoll.[3] However, other commentators have attempted to make the story consistent with a Jesus who shows "care and concern for animals," as John Austin Baker wrote.[13][3] Such alternative readings include arguments that the swine were meant to represent the Roman army or "unclean and unfaithful" people because pigs were considered "unclean" for the Jews in this image, and the loss of these animals was not dangerous. And that Jesus did not actually "send" the devils into the pigs, He merely allowed the demons to go where they themselves chose to go.[3][12][13]

René Girard's Scapegoat Theory


This episode plays a key role in the literary critic René Girard's theory of the Scapegoat.[14] In his analysis, the opposition of the entire city to the one man possessed by demons is the typical template for a scapegoat. Girard notes that, in the demoniac's self-mutilation, he seems to imitate the stoning that the local villagers would likely have attempted to use against him to cast him out of their society, while the villagers themselves show by their reaction to Jesus that they are not primarily concerned with the good of the man possessed by demons:

Notice the mimetic character of this behavior. As if he is trying to avoid being expelled and stoned in reality, the possessed brings about his own expulsion and stoning; he provides a spectacular mime of all the stages of punishment that Middle Eastern societies inflict on criminals whom they consider completely defiled and irredeemable. First, the man is hunted, then stoned, and finally he is killed; this is why the possessed lived among the tombs. The Gerasenes must have had some understanding of why they are reproached or they would not respond as they do. Their mitigated violence is an ineffective protest. Their answer is: 'No, we do not want to stone you because we want to keep you near us. No ostracism hangs over you.' Unfortunately, like anyone who feels wrongfully yet feasibly accused, the Gerasenes protest violently, they protest their good faith with violence, thereby reinforcing the terror of the possessed. Proof of their awareness of their own contradiction lies in the fact that the chains are never strong enough to convince their victim of their good intentions toward him."[14]

On Girard's account, then, the uneasy truce that the Gaderenes and the demoniac had worked out was that the evil power in him was contained and thereby neutralized. Jesus' arrival on the scene introduced a spiritual power stronger than Legion, which upset the social balance by removing the scapegoat. This reversal of the scapegoat mechanism by Jesus is central to Girard's entire reading of Christianity, and this reversal is on display in this story as well. Contrasting the self-destruction of the herd of pigs with the typical motif of an individual evil-doer being pushed over a cliff by an undifferentiated mob (cf. Luke 4:29), Girard comments:

"But in these cases, it is not the scapegoat who goes over the cliff, neither is it a single victim nor a small number of victims, but a whole crowd of demons, two thousand swine possessed by demons. Normal relationships are reversed. The crowd should remain on top of the cliff and the victim fall over; instead, in this case, the crowd plunges and the victim is saved. The miracle of Gerasa reverses the universal schema of violence fundamental to all societies of the world."[14]

Roman sexual conquest


According to Warren Carter, the story contains "military language" that alludes to Roman imperialist practices, which were often sexual in nature. For example, when the demonic Legion requests to "enter" the pigs, they are actually requesting to rape them, which is a possible reading according to Koine Greek. Pigs were symbolic of women or male soldiers of the Tenth Fretensis legion, who had boars on their emblems. Thus, Jesus becomes the "manly" military commander that emasculates Romans when he accepts their request. But Jesus allows the Legion and their pig victims to drown to prove that Romans were inherently self-destructive like Egyptians, who drowned when they chased the Israelites during the Exodus narrative.[15]

Proverbial use


The story is the origin of the English proverbial adjective Gadarene, meaning "involving or engaged in a headlong or potentially disastrous rush to do something".[16]

See also





  1. ^ Other textual variations include "Gadarenes" and "Gergesenes".


  1. ^ Redford, Douglas (2007). The Life and Ministry of Jesus: The Gospels. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-7847-1900-8.
  2. ^ a b Honderich, T. (2005). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford Companions. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-19-926479-7.
  3. ^ a b c d e Spalde, Annika; Strindlund, Pelle (2012). "Doesn't Jesus Treat Animals as Property?". In York, T.; Alexis-Baker, A.; Bekoff, M.; McLaren, B. (eds.). A Faith Embracing All Creatures: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Care for Animals. Peaceable Kingdom Series. Wipf & Stock Publishers. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-61097-701-2.
  4. ^ Wright, T. (2001). Mark for Everyone. p. 57.
  5. ^ a b Senior, Donald (1996). What are They Saying about Matthew?. Paulist Press. p. 84.
  6. ^ Keener, Craig S. (1999). A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 282.
  7. ^ Boring, M. Eugene (2006). Mark: A Commentary. Presbyterian Publishing Corp. pp. 148–149.
  8. ^ McArthur, Dr. John (1987). Matthew 8–15. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. p. 41. ISBN 0-8024-0763-3.
  9. ^ See Mendel Nun, “Gergesa: Site of the Demoniac's Healing,” Jerusalem Perspective 50 (1996): 18-25; Ze’ev Safrai, “Gergesa, Gerasa, or Gadara? Where Did Jesus’ Miracle Occur?,” Jerusalem Perspective 51 (1996): 16-19.
  10. ^ Barthes, R.; Bovon, F.; Leenhardt, F. J. (1974). Structural Analysis and Biblical Exegesis: Interpretational Essays. ISBN 0915138026. To force him to surrender his name is to make him more vulnerable to the grasp of the exorcist. Now the name that the demon surrenders to Jesus is a collective singular: "Legion is my name", — (5:9). This name (although in the singular) is a multiplying term.
  11. ^ Brown, Raymond E. (1968). The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice–Hall. p. 32.
  12. ^ a b Preece, R.; Chamberlain, L. (2010). Animal Welfare and Human Values. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-55458-767-4.
  13. ^ a b c Linzey, A. (2016). Christianity and the Rights of Animals. Wipf & Stock Publishers. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-4982-9195-8.
  14. ^ a b c Girard, René (1986). The Scapegoat. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 165–183. ISBN 978-8534948203.
  15. ^ Carter, Warren (2015). "Cross-Gendered Romans and Mark's Jesus: Legion Enters the Pigs (Mark 5:1–20)". Journal of Biblical Literature. 134 (1): 139–155 – via JSTOR.
  16. ^ Knowles, Elizabeth (2006). The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Oxford: University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-157856-4.