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Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcising the Gerasenes demonic

The Exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac is one of the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels.[1]

The account is in the three Synoptic Gospels, specifically in Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, and Luke 8:26-39.[2][3][4] All accounts involve Jesus exorcising demons, identified collectively as Legion in Mark and Luke.


Map of Decapolis showing location of Gerasa

The Gospel of Mark reports the miracle as taking place when Jesus went across the lake to Gerasenes, the modern Jerash in Jordan. There a man possessed by an evil spirit came from the caves to meet him. No one could bind this man anymore, not even with a chain, for 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? In God's name don'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.

It has been widely accepted by scholars that several motifs throughout the account refer to the Roman legion. Further possible echoes include Isaiah 65:4, with parallels to graves and swine.[5]

Divergence in synoptic and textual traditions[edit]

Scholars have identified at least two problems in the account of the demoniac.

Number of Locations[edit]

The ancient manuscripts report more than one location for the exorcism: Gadara (Gadarenes), Gerasa (Gerasenes), and Gergesenes.

In Matthew's gospel, "Gadarenes" appears in the Codex Vaticanus and "Gergesenes" in the Codex Washingtonianus. In Mark's account, the Codex Alexandrinus and the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus record "Gadarenes," the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Bezae use "Gerasenes," while other manuscripts testify to "Gergesenes." In Luke's account, "Gadarenes" appears in the Codex Alexandrinus, "Gerasenes" appears in Papyrus 75, and "Gergesenes" appears in the Codex Sinaiticus.

In response to the various locations, some scholars, including John MacArthur, explain the references to Gadara (and the Gadarenes) and Gerasa (and the Gerasenes) in light of the social, economic, and political influence each city exerted over the region. MacArthur suggests that the two ancient cities are comparable with a city with jurisdiction over a small region and another city with jurisdiction over a larger region. In this light, Mark identified the exorcism with the local center of power, Gadara, located about six miles southeast of Lake Galilee, whereas Matthew identified the event with the regional center of power, Gerasa, which commanded an imposing location in the hill country of the Transjordan. However, in his magisterial commentary on The Gospel of Mark, R. T. France expressed doubt that the influence of Geresa reached as far as the shoreline of Lake Galilee; the city lies about thirty-five miles from the lake.[6] Nevertheless, the city of Gerasa (also known as Jerash) had been a major city-center since its founding by Alexander the Great, or one of his generals, in 331 BC. During the Roman period, Gerasa was one of the ten cities known as the Decapolis (literally, 'Ten Cities'). The ten cities were based on the Greek polis (city-state), which consisted of an urban centre, often fortified and with a sacred centre built on a natural acropolis or harbour, which controlled a surrounding territory (chora) of land. Ruins from the Roman era testify to the status of Gerasa as a regional center of power during the First century.

Number of Demoniacs[edit]

The synoptic gospels differ on the number of demoniacs.

Matthew reports two men possessed by demons, while both Mark and Luke report only one.

Mark and Luke's choice to focus only on the man occupied by a demon called Legion suggests that a sophisticated understanding of dramatic effect might have governed their choice. According to narrative theory (or narratology), less detail is more effective than more detail (expressed in the axiom 'less is more'). By eschewing peripheral details, such as the second demoniac, and concentrating attention on the spectacular nature of the demoniac known as 'Legion,' Mark and Luke may have been attempting to increase and intensify the dramatic effect of the exorcism. A Roman legion was a unit within the Roman military system that comprised approximately 6,000 soldiers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Life and Ministry of Jesus: The Gospels by Douglas Redford 2007 ISBN 0-7847-1900-4 page 168
  2. ^ Biblegateway Mark 5:1-20 [1]
  3. ^ Biblegateway Matthew 8:28-34 [2]
  4. ^ Biblegateway Luke 8:26-39 [3]
  5. ^ Brown, Raymond E. et al., The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1968, p. 32.
  6. ^ R. F. France, The Gospel of Mark, A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm Eerdmans Publishing, p. 227

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