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.

2 comments:

newbeginning said...

Mike: A few thoughts...I think rarely anymore do people use the expression "demon possession" -- more often these days one would simply transliterate the greek phrase as "demonized." A useful discussion is in Wayne Grudem's note in Bible Doctine (http://books.google.com/books?id=Bi0jrhaviVgC&pg=RA2-PA179&lpg=RA2-PA179&dq=possession+or+demonized&source=web&ots=6m1j35NYOX&sig=naGnqjHdjYe51RRyVG4SqkH7lis&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result#PRA2-PA179,M1); or in Chuck Kraft's paper for the Lausanne consultation (http://www.lausanne.org/nairobi-2000/contemporary-trends.html).

But terminology aside, to hear Marcus speak of "The Markan Jesus' demonic possession on the cross" is jarring -- I see in the gospels evidence of Satan's attacks "on" Jesus (or as being directed "at" Jesus) as opposed to his presence "in" Jesus.

Also, Acts 10:38 (TNIV), "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him" and 1 John 3:8 (TNIV), "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work" would seem to speak against any notion of Jesus being somehow "possessed" and therefore in need of "exorcism" -- as does Colossians 2:15 (TNIV), "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."

However, Marcus' dual observations that the cross "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" do merit further reflection.

A. B. Caneday said...

I find Joel Marcus’s proposal intriguing, but I resonate with your cautionary comments, particularly the notion that Jesus was demon possessed. Given this qualification, however, it seems to me that the proposal has merit.

Not having read the piece, perhaps Joel Marcus includes my own observations within his essay. Yet, a crucial note in Mark’s Gospel does not make it into Marcus’s following observations.

“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)."

I am surprised not to see any mention of Mark 1:12, which states, τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον. Mark’s statement that the Spirit “cast out” Jesus out into the wilderness surely is ironic, given the frequent use of ἐκβάλλω in Mark to refer to casting out 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 cast out Jesus; now Jesus casts out spirits.

Also, given the baptism-crucifixion inclusion, Mark 1:12 would seem to be significant for Marcus’s proposal.