Jesus arrived at the other side, in the territory of the Gadarenes, where two demon-possessed men coming away from the tombs, met him. Very savage they were, so much that nobody was able to travel by that road. And –see this!- they roared out, “What’s your business with us, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the Day of Judgement?” Now there was a large herd of pigs feeding some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you throw us out, send us into the herd of pigs!” And Jesus said to them, “Go!” They came out and entered into the pigs and –see this!- the whole herd rushed over the cliff into the sea and perished in the water.

The herdsmen fled and arrived in the village where they told everything about the demon-possessed men. Then –see this!- the whole village came out to meet with Jesus; and looking at him they begged him to leave their territory.

Matthew gets this from Mark, whose account is a small masterpiece. (Mark 5) in which he focuses on one possessed man who is afflicted with the violent spirit of the Roman Legions. There is a political edge to his version. At first it looks as if Matthew has made a complete mess of it. Why are there two possessed men, and why does the narrative pay no attention to them? Clearly what interests Matthew is the transfer of demons from the men to the unclean animals. The violence of the spirits is underlined by the immediate fate of the pigs. In this gentile setting Jesus is not welcome because the fate of the pigs is much more significant to the Gadarenes than the healing of the men. Jesus’ power is evident in the simple command, “Go!”

Matthew’s attitude to this story is seen in his threefold use of the Greek “idou” meaning behold, see this. He wants the reader to appreciate the event as a mighty miracle, in a hostile place, which is hard for modern readers, who lack belief in the transferability of evil spirits. Also, we may like pigs, and be unappreciative of cruelty to animals.

For me, the lack of any attention to the possessed men remains the problem with Matthew’s story, but that is partly because I have read Mark’s version. Matthew places it between the stilling of the storm and the healing of the paralytic man in Cafernaum, where Jesus pays great attention to the sick man. It seems that he wants his reader to interpret the Gadarene story as an outburst of chaos, akin to the storm, which Jesus manages with comparable calm.

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