I recently read Michael Willett Newheart’s “‘My Name is Legion’: The Story and Soul of the Gerasene Demoniac” (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2004)
I read this book looking for insights into the story of the healing of the demoniac of Gerasa (Mark 5). This is the story of the man living among the tombs, who self-injured and who met Jesus and was healed from possession. This is the one where the demons go into the pigs and subsequently drown. These are, literally, a few notes on what he has written rather than a review.
Newheart is writing narrative theology, taking the story and the Gospel itself as a literary piece. I was note-taking for a specific purpose – to reflect on the Gerasa story as it applies and is applied to self-injurers today.
Newheart notes similarities in the three exorcisms of Mark. They involve unclean spirit/s (1:23; 5:2; 9:25) and the demoniac screams (1:26; 5:5, 7; 9:26). In two cases the initiative is with the demoniac (1:23; 5:6) and in the other, with the father (9:17). The reaction of people to the healing is amazement (1:27) or fear followed by amazement (5:15,20). In both the Capernum and Gerasa exorcisms the demons say the same thing – “what have you got against us?” (1:24; 5:7) although Legion says so in the singular.
He also notes that both Gerasa and the son with a spirit exorcisms involve self-injurous behaviours. However, while in chapter 9 the exorcism is “another lesson in the misunderstanding of the disciples” (p39), the disciples are not mentioned in Gerasa.
Specifically on this exorcism he notes that the tombs are places of uncleanliness, and that Mark seems to expect us to know Jewish customs (see Leviticus 21:1, 22:4-5 ; Isaiah 65:4) Legion is here a “strong man” who Jesus binds although others could not (see 3:27). He also notes that while tombs are the places of the dead mountains are places of God (3:13; 6:46)
Newheart notes that unclean spirits are here given to unclean animals (pigs) and assumes that the demons did not anticipate that. He also notes that Jesus had tamed the sea prior to going to Gerasa, and the demon/pigs are now drowned in it.
Jesus agrees, in Mark 5, to what the demons wanted (to go into the pigs) and what the Gerasene’s wanted (he left the area) but the only thing he does not agree to is the request of the ex-demoniac, to come with him.
An interesting note, and one I had not noticed before is that Jesus tells the demoniac to declare what “the Lord” (i.e. God) has done, and the man then tells what Jesus did – an interesting indication of who the demoniac thought Jesus was.
Newheart wonders whether the demoniac functioned as a scapegoat bearing the repressed desires of the community. This point has been made by many – it is noticeable that the demons are called “Legion”, a Roman military term, in a region invaded and controlled by the Roman military.
These are just a few notes on this book, rather than a review, but it is an interesting book and one of very few which deal with the Gerasene demoniac specifically. I will be writing a few thoughts on Mark 5 and self-harm at some point in the future.