Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Exorcism of Jesus Christ

Michael Bird posted an intriguing segment from a recent essay by Joel Marcus, "Identity and Ambiguity in Markan Christology," in Seeking the Identity of Jesus (Richard B. Hays and Beverly Roberts Gaventa). Joel Marcus argues that Jesus himself is exorcised according to Mark's crucifixion narrative


If Jesus' death is demonic, then the death scene represents an ironic, kenotic reversal of the situation in the Beelzebul controversy (3:22-30), in which Jesus is presented as 'the Stronger One,' whose exorcisms prove him mightier than Satan. Now it is Satan who has suddenly, albeit temporarily, gained the upper hand, and Jesus' demonic cries might almost be taken as confirming the scribes' earlier charge: 'He has Beelzebul . . .' (3:22). This is not completely surprising, since there is often an ambiguity about exorcists, whose power over the demons may be seen by hostile critics as an indication that they are on the demons' side. The exorcist, therefore, inhabits a dangerously liminal space because of his commerce with the demons, and this commerce may either lead to his own possession or testify that he is already possessed. The Markan Jesus' demonic possession on the cross, if that is what it is, may thus be the terrible result of his grappling with the powers of darkness - a grappling that he undertakes for the benefit of demon-possessed humanity. The 'Son of the Most High God,' as the Gerasene demoniac calls him (5:7), takes his place among the possessed in order that humanity may be definitively delivered from is demons. Mark, then, may undestand Jesus' earlier exorcisms in the Gospels as proleptic of Jesus' own exorcism at the cross, just as he understands the healings in which Jesus raised people from sickness (2:9, 11-12; 3:3; 9:27; cf. 10:49) or death (5:41) as proleptic of Jesus' own 'being raised' by God (14:28; 16:6).

Michael Bird observes,

Marcus' words could be said to comport with a couple of things mentioned in the Gospel of Luke such as Luke's comment that after the temptation in the wilderness: "When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time " (Luke 4:13) and what Jesus says to the cohort who come to his arrest: "Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour-- when darkness reigns" (Luke 22:53). But then again, it is another thing to say that Jesus was demon possessed, and the expiration of Jesus on the cross is more of a person giving up of his spirit (i.e. breath of life) signifying his death, than the expulsion of an unclean spirit.

Joel Marcus’s proposal is intriguing, but I do resonate with Michael Bird's cautionary comments, especially the notion that Jesus was demon possessed. Yet, given this qualification, it seems to me that Marcus's proposal has some merit, though I have not yet read the full essay. From what I have read Marcus does not include my own observations. In light of my own proposal that Mark's Gospel entails an inclusio that links Christ's baptism with his crucifixion ("Christ's Baptism and Crucifixion: The Anointing and Enthronement of God's Son") by way of significant catchwords (e.g., σχίζω in 1:10 and 15:38), Marcus's proposal seems resonable. See the chart below concerning catchwords common to both the baptism and crucifixion narratives.


Marcus writes, “Mark, then, may understand Jesus' earlier exorcisms in the Gospels as proleptic of Jesus' own exorcism at the cross, just as he understands the healings in which Jesus raised people from sickness (2:9, 11-12; 3:3; 9:27; cf. 10:49) or death (5:41) as proleptic of Jesus' own 'being raised' by God (14:28; 16:6)."

May I suggest that his thesis would be strengthened if he would include
Mark 1:12 within his purview? Mark 1:12 states, τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον. In other words, the Spirit exorcises Jesus into the wilderness. This statement that the Spirit “cast out” ("exorcised") Jesus into the wilderness surely is ironic, given the frequent use of ἐκβάλλω in Mark to refer to exorcism of demons. The irony, of course, may not strike one upon one's first reading of Mark's Gospel, but it will surely begin to hit one when one comes upon 1:39 and subsequent passages. The Spirit exorcises Jesus; Jesus exorcises spirits. Is it true, then, that Jesus is exorcised at his crucifixion, as Marcus argues? This is intriguing, without accepting the notion that Jesus had become demon possessed. It is not?

9 comments:

Jinson said...

hi nice to see you

A. B. Caneday said...

Greetings, Jinson.

Please greet your father and your sister for me.

How are you and the family?

Mark said...

I may be dense, but I'm not sure I understand the point.
Is the image of Jesus being exorcised merely a literary device to tie together certain themes within the gospel, or is it to analogize the exorcism of demons with Jesus' taking on humanity's sin and subsequently gaining victory over death?

Mark Simons

A. B. Caneday said...

Mark,

It functions as a literary device in Mark's Gospel, but it is not merely a literary device. It does as you say, "analogize the exorcism of demons with Jesus' taking on humanity's sin and subsequently gaining victory over death".

Lyss said...

That is...fascinating. It also makes one question the idea that the Gospel of Mark is the "simple" gospel, doesn't it?

A. B. Caneday said...

Lyss,

Yes, it does question the notion that Mark is the "simple" or "dull" Gospel, a notion that is now well-disputed by biblical scholars.

Mark said...

Is Marcus, then, saying essentially the same thing when he uses the language of the "demonic" death of Jesus, or does he have a different point?

A. B. Caneday said...

Mark,

Since I've not yet read the whole essay, I would want to hold off on saying whether Marcus is saying the same thing. I need to access the essay.

FS said...

Latecomer to this discussion. I haven't read the Marcus essay, don't have access to an academic library, and am wondering if anyone has a copy of the essay that might be shared in the form of a PDF or Word document. The very first time I read Matthew in Greek (and I should say that my background is not in NT but epic/tragedy) I was struck by the usage of standard exorcism terminology in the crucifixion verses. Very eager to see what Marcus has to say on the topic.

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