There are several significant different between much-abbreviated exorcism story in Matthew and the parallel story Mark 5:1-21 and Luke 8:26-40. Luz concludes Matthew “has omitted so many details from his Markan source that one can hardly ask why in each individual case” (Luz, Matthew, 23).
- First, the location is the country of the Gadarenes rather than Gerasenes. This matter is complicated by textual variants, the Alexandian witnesses for Matthew has Gadarenes, the majority has Gerasenes; but that is reversed for Mark and Luke.
- Second, there are two demon possessed men rather than one.
- Third, the description of the demon’s strength is more brief and the demon does not identify itself as Legion.
- Fourth, the men identify Jesus as “Son of God” rather than “Son of the most high God” (Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28).
- Fifth, Mark and Luke say Jesus gave the demons permission to go into the pigs, in Matthew he commands them with the word “Go.”
- Finally, although the locals beg Jesus to leave the region, Matthew omits Jesus’s conversation with the formerly demon-possessed man (Mark 5:18-20; Luke 8:38-39).
Does this miracle happen in “the country of Gadarenes or Gerasenes? Gadara and Gerasa are two different places with very similar names in Greek, and the name for the traditional site is Gergesa. All three names appear in the textual tradition, although Gerasenes is probably correct based on the parallel stories in Mark and Luke.
The traditional location of this miracle is Gergesa, known also as Kursi, is on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. This identification dates to Origin and Eusebius, although Eusebius recognizes the problem of Matthew’s Gadara. By the sixth century Christians built a church at the site and several caves on the cliffside were used by monks. Nolland suggests this identification was made because the place has cliffsides near the Sea of Galilee.
Gadara (“hot springs”) is a territory south of the Yarmuk River about five miles from the Sea of Galilee, but the region may have extended to the Sea. The modern village of Umm Qais is associated with Gadara. Gadara was part of the Decapolis after Pompey (63 B.C.) although it was a Hellenistic city long before that time.
The confusion may have been caused by the fact Gerasa (modern Jerash) is 37 miles from the short of Galilee, the tombs would not be associated with that city, and the distance is too great for the pigs to run into the sea. In my view, Kursi may very well be the location, but it is impossible to be dogmatic on this issue.
Why does Matthew say two men were among the tombs? Mark and Luke tell the same story with only one demon possessed man. There are a wide range of possible solutions to this problem.
- Donald Hagner, for example, suggests the extra man was added as a reference to the Jewish tradition of two witnesses (Matthew, 1:225).
- Following D. A. Carson, Mike Wilkins suggests Matthew had independent knowledge of the second man (Matthew, 353; Carson, “Matthew,” 217).
- Others suggest that since Matthew omitted Mark’s reference to Legion (“for we are many”) he interpreted “Legion” as a reference to more than one possessed man.
- One intriguing suggestion is Matthew added the extra man in order to bring the number of people healed in chapters 8-9 to twelve (Green, Matthew, 102. Cited in Davies and Allison, 2:80).
- Rudolf Bultmann suggested Matthew had a fondness for doubling things (History, 316).
As with the location of this exorcism there are several other possibilities, likely the comments will offer other suggestions!
Why are they “among the tombs”? On the one hand, this may simply be a result of the oppression of the demons. However, the location highlights Jesus’s willingness to go into areas of uncleanliness from the perspective of the Pharisees. He enters a Gentile region and enters a cemetery in order to heal two demoniacs.
Are these men Jewish or Gentile? Jeannine K. Brown suggests they are Jewish because Jesus focused his ministry on the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Brown and Roberts, Matthew (THCNT), 90). When Matthew describes a Gentile who expresses faith in Jesus it is always in contrast to the lack of faith among his own people (the centurion in 8:5-13, for example).
If these are Jewish men, then they are in a state of maximum impurity: demon possessed, living among the tombs in a Gentile region near a pig farm.