Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The exorcism of Jesus
The second volume of Joel Marcus' AB commentary on Mark 8-16 is due out soon. In a recent essay on "Identity and Ambiguity in Markan Christology" (in Hays and Gaventa Seeking the Identity of Jesus) Marcus argues that Jesus himself is exorcised in the Marcan crucifixion scene:
"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 Beelzebsl ...' (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)."
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.