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Exorcism and Jesus’ Name

October 19, 2010

I’ve put a posting on the blog-site of our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins about a fascintating comment by Gideon Bohak in his recent excellent book, Ancient Jewish Magic.  His comment concerns exorcism “in the name of Jesus”.  For my posting go to:

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  1. Eric permalink

    A fascinating question. I’d want to read Bohak and think about it some more, but I guess I’d say that that exorcisms in the name of Jesus do not signal a distinct religious affiliation until after Christians are seen as a separate group on other grounds. Why would attributing exorcisms to Jesus be a sign of the parting of the ways instead of (at most) just the formation of another, recognizably Jewish, sub-group? And is casting out demons in the name of Jesus significantly different than casting them out in the name of, say, Solomon (cf. Josephus Ant. 8:46-49)? Off the top of my head I can’t recall any texts in which clearly non-Jewish exorcists use the name of Jesus, though after fall break I might be embarrassingly forgetful.


    • It is fascinating, and I intended it more to provoke thought than to settle opinion. Bohak’s point is that the practice of exorcism by use of Jesus’ name (alone, it seems, without other trappings) seems to constitute a distinctive type of exorcistic activity, and (I take it) that the central place of Jesus’ name in certain circles in early 2nd temple Judaism signals the emergence of a movement specifically identified by/with Jesus.
      The account in Josephus, Ant 8.46-49 is not quite equivalent, really, is it? The focus in the account is more on the elaborate use of the magic ring, incantations, etc., among which the use of Solomon’s name features.
      It’s when we set the exorcistic evidence alongside other ritual phenomena: the invocation of Jesus’ name in baptism (the requiisite entrance rite of the early Jewish-Christian circles), and to constitute their worship circles (e.g., the “maran atha” shows it done in Aramaic-speaking circles too), the practice of their sacred common meal as one presided over by the risen Jesus (“Lord’s supper”), etc. that I think we see the social signs of a new and distinctive religious movement, and this seems to have been so early that it’s already taken for granted in our earliest sources (Paul’s letters). So, easily within the first few years.

  2. Graham Veale permalink

    Dr Hurtado

    I had read the accompanying link, and I’m sorry that I didn’t state my question with more clarity.
    I wondered what caused the parting of the ways, and whether distinctive Christian practices can be traced back to something unique in the exorcisms of Jesus.

    The exorcism of Legion has features that are redolent of Jewish exorcisms (demanding the demon’s name etc). But this encounter seems to have a redemptive-historical significance in the gospels. So I was wondering if similar encounters are described elsewhere.

    Sorry for any confusion. And thank you for drawing attention to Bohak’s work.


    • Well, I’ve tried to lay out rather fully a theory of the “forces and factors” that generated and shaped earliest Jesus-devotion (esp. in my book, Lord Jesus Christ, chap. 1). I don’t think that Jesus’ own exorcisms are sufficient for anything by themselves.
      The account of the Legion-man is fairly obviously Mark’s drawn-out exorcism story because he wants to use it to make some key points (see the commentaries). It’s rather unique in being so drawn out and involving the conversation between Jesus and the demons.

  3. Graham Veale permalink

    Do the exorcisms of Jesus indicate a “parting of the way” at an even earlier stage? Do we have anything like his confrontation with ‘Legion’ in 2nd Temple literature? Did any Jewish exorcist work on his own authority? Would any Jewish exorcist of the period have attributed something like the authority of Jesus to Solomon?

    • It was Gideon Bohak whom I cited as judging that exorcisms “in Jesus’ name” constituted a distinctive type of exorcism that also signalled a “parting of the ways”. I cited it to bring the matter to wider attention, esp. by other scholars. He’s not talking about Jesus’ own exorcistic activity but about exorcisms by Jesus-followers in his name after his crucifixion.
      Jesus’ own exorcisms may have at least a general similarity to one of Bohak’s three types of Jewish exorcisms, in particular his category involving a “holy man” or figure exercising his own “innate powers”. That actually tallies a bit with what we have reported in the Gospel accounts (e.g., Mark 3), where Jewish critics simply take Jesus’ exorcisms as indicating that he is in league with “the prince of demons”.

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