AN ATHEISTIC BIBLE READING JESUS V LEGION
A miracle story in which Jesus tackles a man, or two men, depending which Gospel you believe, possessed by multiple demons, whose spokes-demon calls them all Legion.
The story is told by Matthew, Mark & Luke, but not by John. The versions do not tally.
MATTHEW – Jesus goes to the land of the Gadarenes and sees two men, possessed by demons looming towards him across a graveyard. The men were considered so violent that virtually no one dared get anywhere near them.
The demons speak through the two men, identifying Jesus by name, and as the Son of God. They insist that he should leave them free to roam the land of the mortals until Judgement Day, when Jesus is more expected to fight evil demons.
A herd of pigs is conveniently nearby and the demons, knowing that they are doomed, invite Jesus to drive them from the bodies of the men, into the bodies of the pigs. Jesus does so, commanding them with the simple one word order, ‘Go!’ The possessed pigs throw themselves into a lake and drown. Swineherds seeing all this rush to the town to tell every one of the incident, and the people insist Jesus leaves Gadaria immediately.
This is not ingratitude. Jesus had no reason or business wiping out a herd of pigs that could have given the village an income for some time. The demons could have been fought and destroyed some other way by the superhero son Of God. Jesus actually does what the demons want. They call the shots and a group of pig farmers lose their livelihood. The fate of the men cure of the demon possessions is unstated.
MARK – As with Matthew’s Gospel, the demon-healing episode occurs right after Jesus steps ashore following his calming of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. However, in Mark’s account, Jesus reaches dry land in Gerasenes, not Gadaria, as described in Matthew. Gadaria sounds more likely geographically as it is close to the Sea while Gerasenes is much further inland.
Mark acknowledges that the Apostles are still with Jesus, following the storm episode. Matthew had Jesus unaccompanied. The party see a single man, not two, who is possessed by a demonic entity. Far from never daring go near him, the locals have tried fighting the man and binding him in chains, but he has broken free each time. At night he has howled and used stones in acts of self-harm.
The demon sees Jesus and forces the man to his knees as it begs Jesus for mercy. Jesus orders it out of the man, and asks the demon its name. Matthew does not reference the question, and answer of ‘we are legion’. Jesus now has one wretched man and many powerful demons to deal with.
Again, the demon(s) request a chance to transfer into the nearby pigs, numbered by Mark at 2,000. Again the pigs drown themselves in the water.
Again, Jesus is ordered out of the town, but this time, the now sane, no longer possessed man begs to be allowed to follow him as a new Apostle. Jesus refuses to let him, and orders him to go home to convert his family instead, which the man obligingly does.
LUKE – Very similar and almost word for word the same as Mark’s account, though here the one possessed soul in Gerasenes is naked following his latest escapology release from his chains.
When the people of Gerasenes come to drive Jesus out of town from fear of his powers, they find the cured no longer possessed man fully dressed and kissing Jesus’ feet in gratitude for his healing.
So, a herd of dead pigs in a lake and a town in terror about what Jesus might do next – hardly a success story.