What are men obsessed with?

Detail view

Marie-Therese Berndt

Brief description:
Jesus goes with his disciples in a boat across the Sea of ​​Galilee. There he meets a possessed, leprous person who lives in the grave caves and is dependent on Jesus' help. Jesus enters into a dialogue with the unclean spirits, then sends them into a herd of pigs that drown in the lake and thus drag the evil forces with him into the abyss. After the demons have been destroyed, the possessed person regains his identity and control over himself. After this experience with Jesus, he goes back to the ten-city area to preach Jesus' message.
Additional information for the author: Marie-Therese Berndt
Biblical Theological Com.
Biblical reference:
Mk 1
Additional scripts:
Lk 8, 26-39Mt 8, 28-34.
Other keywords:
Embassy; Christianity; Demons; Spirits (evil, unclean); Cure; Challenge; Identity; Jesus; Jesus heals; To meet Jesus; Discipleship (Jesus); New beginning; pure / impure; Ritual; Security; Symbol act; Despair; Wonder.
Last update:

1. First reading impression

When reading Mk 5, 1-20 for the first time, the divine and non-divine sides of the story emerge very clearly. Through the detailed description of the possessed, which represents a completely desperate, self-harming, excluded from society at the end of his strength, the contrary attitude of Jesus in his role as miracle worker and bringer of hope becomes particularly clear. Even if the resistance of an evil power is not concealed, Jesus' superiority and authority are emphasized.

2. Synchronous access method

2.1. Inclusion in the context

The Gospel of Mark depicts the phase of Jesus' life as a continuous sequence of movements in which almost every event is introduced by a new location. (cf. Klumbies, 2011, p. 2014) Jesus is in Mk 1, 21 in Capernaum, to which he has traveled from Nazareth. The place Kapernaum is on the northeastern bank of the Sea of ​​Galilee. At the lake and around this place, Jesus performed several healing miracles, such as the healing of a leper (Mk 1, 40-45), the healing of a paralyzed man (Mk 2, 1-12) or the healing of the sick at the lake (Mk 2, 7-12). Even if the Gospel of Mark does not speak exclusively of healings, they are very present in the first two thirds of the Gospel.

In the evening, before the possessed person is healed, Jesus and his disciples are still on the opposite bank of the lake. The evening crossing to the land of the Gerasenes is made more difficult by a storm on the lake, which Jesus is able to silence (Mk. 4, 39-40). Arriving in the land of the Gerasenes, which is located southeast of the lake, Jesus immediately meets a person who is possessed by an unclean spirit. This is not the first possessed person that Jesus met, because already in Mk 1, 21-25 or Mk 1.32-39 he drives out evil spirits. After the healing of the possessed of Gerasa (Mk 5, 13-14), Jesus leaves this lake immediately and drives back across the lake towards Karpernaum. On the bank there, he again devotes himself to people in need, until he finally leaves this area and sets off for his home in Nazareth (Mk 6).


2.2. Structure and structure of the pericope

The pericope considered here is told as a self-contained episode, with Jesus 'arrival in the land of the Gerasenes as the beginning and Jesus' departure as the end. In general, the self-contained narratives are typical of the Gospel of Mark, all of which, with the exception of various miracle stories (e.g. Mk 5, 1-20; Mk 5, 21-43), are quite short (e.g. Mk 1, 9-13; Mk 2, 13-17) fail. (cf. Lührmann, 1987, p. 7) Markus tells from an authorial narrator's perspective and thus knows what Jesus thinks, feels and how he will act. The narrator himself does not appear, however. In this way the reader can also be initiated into the inner life of the person and knows more than the disciples of Jesus from the beginning. This narrative style gives the text a theological statement for the recipient that was still hidden from the people in the text at their time. (cf. Eckey, 2008, p. 15) The main actors in this story are Jesus and the possessed, even if Jesus is actually still with his disciples, they do not play a major role in the event. At the end of the text there are also swineherd who react with fear to the healing miracle. The focus of the healing is the detailed description of the possessed and Jesus' confrontation with the same. Even if the focus is on casting out demons, there is still a small missionary part in the story (vv. 18-20). (see Dschulnigg, 2007, p. 152)

Healing miracles as a literary genre have certain motifs and a certain structure. These features are included in the following subdivision of the text (cf. Steiner / Weymann, 1984, p. 181):


Verses 1-5: Introduction, description of the situation

The miracle worker Jesus and the possessed, i.e. the needy, appear. The person in need is described in detail and his or her need is broadly portrayed.


Verses 6-10: exposure, preparation for the miracle

The possessed approaches the miracle worker and falls down in front of him. He also immediately recognizes Jesus' majesty and superiority and the demon's first request is made, namely to be spared.

Verses 11-13: main part 1, miracles

The herd of pigs is introduced and the second request of the evil spirit to continue walking on earth and to be allowed to enter the herd of pigs is made. Jesus granted the request, but the pigs drowned in the lake. The healing and annihilation of the unclean spirits is thus completed.

Verses 14-17: main part 2, response to the miracle

The swineherd fear Jesus' miracle and ask him to move on. Description of the healed, in contrast to the description of the needy.

Verses 18-20: Conclusion, effects of the miracle

The healed is contrary to the crowd. He will now carry Jesus' message further into the world.

After the subdivision of Mark 5, 1-20, some peculiarities in the structure of the narrative are now apparent.

At the beginning of the story there are some statements that make the impurity of the possessed very clear, e.g. that the possessed lives near the grave sites, which shows his isolation from the rest of society or that he injures himself with stones. In addition, the description of the person in need contains some repetitions. On the one hand, this can indicate that the language of the pericope is intended more for listeners and not for readers (cf. Lührmann, 1987, p. 9), on the other hand, the hopelessness of the man becomes clear and the contrary calm attitude of Jesus is emphasized.

The repetitions in verses 2-5 also have the peculiarity that, according to Rudolf Pesch, they are formally built up as a concentric ring composition and thus follow a recurring pattern (cf. Dschulnigg, 2007, p. 153):




The exposition part is characterized by direct verbatim speech and is therefore very lively. Verbatim speech is a characteristic of this popular narrative style in Mark and represents a connection to narratives of the Old Testament, in which important things are often conveyed in a dialogue (e.g. Jer 36, 16-19 or Jer 37, 17-21). (cf. Eckey, 2008, p. 16) In the exposition part the demon is also forced to give his name. The name "Legion" indicates that there is not one, but a whole host of demons in a person. In ancient times a legion was the highest unit of a Roman army and comprised 4,000-6,000 foot soldiers, in late antiquity around 1,000 men. (cf. der Brockhaus, 2002, p. 2689) Since only the statement "Legion is my name and we are many" (Mk 5, 9) is made, the exact number of demons is not mentioned at all. But then there is the addendum: "[...] and the herd rushed down the slope into the lake,about two thousand. ”(Mk 5:13). The number of demons is indirectly made clear through the description of the pig herd.

Ultimately, the once possessed and now freed from the demon, contrary to his initial posture, is described as “clothed and sensibly seated” (Mk 5:15). But instead of honoring the miracle that Jesus performed, the swineherd fear. Then they tell what happened in the village, including that they lost their herd of pigs. As a result, they ask Jesus to leave their area again. In the final part, in contrast to the rejection of the residents of Gerasa, the healed person wants to stay by Jesus' side. However, Jesus sends him away with a final instruction in verse 19: "Go into your house to your own and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has shown mercy on you" (Mk 5:19). This is the final part of particular importance because this man will now be the first to become a preacher of Jesus' deeds in non-Jewish land. (cf. Dschulnigg, 2007, p. 157) This is where the missionary part of the story lies, which was briefly mentioned at the beginning.


2.3. The genre miracle story as exorcism

The genre miracle story can be divided into further sub-genres, such as healing miracles, raising the dead, rescue miracles, norm miracles, gift miracles or, as in this case, into exorcism. (cf. Steiner / Weymann, 1984, p. 31) In general, miracle stories are symbolic acts that give hope to people who are struggling with existential problems. It is these people in particular who then carry the Christian message into the world. (cf. ibid., p. 4) The structure and motifs of miracle stories are often very similar and not only the miracle is a distinguishing feature of this sub-genus. A miracle story usually consists of the introduction, the exposition, a central part and the conclusion (see also chapter 3. b.). (see ibid., 25 ff.)

Exorcisms are performed when a person is possessed by one or more demons. This impure spirit robs the person concerned of his identity, his own self. Man serves the demon as a host and as a battlefield for a fight. If the possessed person is to be cured, the demon is driven out of the person, even if the person then defends himself. The demon is destroyed by a commanding word spoken by a miracle worker. If the demon drives out of humans, he can display his destructive power, such as when the Legion drives into the pig herd and they drown. Combat motifs are not uncommon in exorcisms. (see ibid., p.33)

2.4. Jesus in the role of a miracle worker

A miracle is generally used to describe events that seem incomprehensible, cause a sensation and break through everyday life. Mostly they are associated with the idea that miracles involve divine action or a higher power.

At first glance, Jesus himself can be compared with other miracle workers, who also win other people for themselves through their “miracles”. Especially those who are in need and are ready to orientate themselves towards the life of a religious personality. The special thing about Jesus' miracles, however, is that they stand under the sign of the beginning of God's reign on earth. You are a prospect of what the new world will be like. Thus, Jesus' miracles take on a meaning that no other miracle worker can claim for himself. Through Jesus' miracles and sermons, the rulership of God receives an actuality and reality for the present.

Furthermore, exorcisms are probably one of the most surely attested miracles that Jesus performs, making them very much the focus of his deeds. (cf. Steiner / Weymann, 1984, p. 21 f.) Expelling demons or similar also contribute significantly to the spread of Jesus' sermon and Christianity itself. Another factor that should not be underestimated in Christian miracle healings is that they are carried out free of charge, whereas “normal” ancient miracle workers are dependent on payment. (see Kollmann, 2007, p. 107)


3. Diachronic approach

3.1. place in life

In the Gospel of Mark, the casting out of demons goes hand in hand with the healing of the sick. This is to be understood in such a way that in ancient times demons were held responsible for diseases (cf. Klumbies, 2001, p. 106). At this time, a person's psychopathic traits are perceived as demonic. These states are known today as altered states of consciousness, dissociative personality disorders or epilepsy. (cf. Kollmann, 2007, p. 69) In this state, those affected can no longer dispose of themselves.

The contemporaries of Jesus see in him a power that enables him to heal and through which he can banish illnesses by breaking through them with his words and freeing the suffering people. This process is described as a battle between Jesus and the demonic power over man. Jesus' dealings with those excluded from society who, for example, bear a guilt, conveys his message of forgiveness and liberation. He helps these people to find a new life through his miracles. (cf. Grundmann, 1977, p. 159 ff.) So these miracles also have a missionary character in that the witnesses of the miracle pass on Jesus' message.

The understanding of the term “miracle” in antiquity differs from today's conception of miracles and the rational thinking of modern times. In the New Testament understanding of reality, a miracle inevitably refers to the influence of a higher power, whereby the modern understanding refers more to an event which, contrary to reason and scientifically, does not seem to be explainable (yet). (see Kollmann, 2007, p. 9)

Diseases of the soul and spirit are generally widespread in Jesus' time. Socially, this can be explained by the fact that the people are in a state of Roman occupation. The Palestinian world of Jesus clashes with that of Roman rule. It is possible for people to break apart under such political and social pressure from an occupation, and so-called "obsession" is a way for those affected to express their needs. (see ibid. p. 69 ff.)


3.2. Interpretation of Mk 5, 1-20

In the first five verses of the pericope, Jesus meets the possessed of Gerasa, whose condition is described in detail. The particularly terrifying condition of man emphasizes Jesus' opposite calm and superior attitude. (cf. Schlatter, 1979, p.50) The impurity of the possessed is made clear by the fact that he dwells in the grave caves and no longer has any control over himself. For Jesus, however, this encounter is not the first with an unclean spirit, because already in Mk 1, 24 or 3, 11 he encounters demonic powers. The verb “to encounter” has a special meaning here, since Jesus meets the Gerasener head-on and he is now facing a task that no one else has yethumancould cope with (Mk 5, 4). For Jesus, however, this situation is not a hopeless problem.

The state of the possessed is not described in the text from a medical perspective. Today he would be described as manic-depressive in connection with fits of rage. (cf. Grundmann, 1977, p. 142) The violent, undressed and self-harming person seems to be plagued by self-doubt and tormenting contradictions. (cf. Kollmann, 2007, p. 74) Only after this detailed description of the Gerasener and the general situation does the actual narrative begin.

When the possessed sees Jesus, he immediately prostrates himself before him. The demonic power in him recognizes the true nature of his counterpart, because he immediately addresses Jesus as the “Son of God the Most High” (Mk 5, 7). This choice of words does not seem to be used by the demon by chance, because in the Bible it is only used by non-Jews (e.g. Gen 14, 18-20; Num 24, 16 or Acts 16, 17). This can be understood as an indication that the event is taking place in pagan territory. In addition, such an address and exaltation can be interpreted as an attempt to rescue the demon. So after the demon recognizes Jesus, he implores him in verse 7 that he should not drive him out and torment him and tries to gain power over Jesus' actions. So it is not Jesus who conjures up the demon, but the demon Jesus? Immediately afterwards, however, Markus explains that Jesus had already sworn him to go out and that is why the demon had reacted in this way. The recipient does not read anything about it beforehand, however, and it seems much more as if only Jesus' presence had already terrified the demon. (cf. Klaiber, 2010, p. 106 f.) This addendum introduces a dialogue that extends from verses 8 to 13. The dialogue is shaped by expulsion practices of antiquity. Jesus asks for the name of the demon. In ancient times, asking for a name is fundamental in order to gain knowledge of where the demon comes from and what the next steps should be. This is followed by the command to extend the human body, the exit word. (cf. Kollmann, 2007, p. 74) Jesus has already spoken this, however, and the demon strongly opposes it.But he is forced to reveal his name "Legion" and as already explained in chapter 2.2, there is not just one, but a lot of demons. The pericope itself makes no reference to the meaning of the name and its allusion to the Roman occupying power. The Demon Legion is now asking not to be sent away and their self-pity is the focus of the narrative.

The demons then discover a large herd of pigs and ask in verse 12 to be allowed to go into the pigs. For Jewish Christians, pigs are unclean animals that are not allowed to be consumed according to Jewish dietary laws. This is not only due to the animals' split claws and the fact that they are not ruminants, but history also plays a role, as the animal is considered a symbol of pagan cult. Ancient peoples offered pigs to their gods as an offering. (Cf. Gradwohl, 1995, p. 21 f.) This provides a second indication that the pericope is set in non-Jewish areas.

In verse 13, readers now stumble upon the fact that Jesus complies with a request from demons and allows them to go into the pigs. Markus does not explain why exactly, the Demon Legion wants to stay in this area and does not suggest what will happen if the request of the demons is granted and thus creates a tense moment.

Ultimately, the entire herd, now possessed by the evil spirits, falls down a slope into the lake and drowns. This short section of the narrative has a deeper meaning. On the one hand, the fall into the water is to be understood as a symbolic act. The aggressiveness of the unclean spirits fizzles out through the death of the pigs, so that a permanent cure can be granted to the possessed. (cf. Kollmann, 2007, p. 75) On the other hand, the destructive power of demons is only made visible through the death of the approx. 2000 pigs. An evil force that tears 2,000 animals to their deaths had to be endured by just one person. This shows all the more how much this person is dependent on help. Jewish Christians may also find this section of the pericope amusing, since the unclean spirits in turn destroy unclean pigs. Now the question arises whether the demons have set a trap for themselves. Did Jesus know from the beginning that the demons would destroy themselves? And are the evil spirits finally where they belong, in the abyss of the depths of the lake? (Cf. Klaiber, 2010, p. 108)

The swineherd react with appropriate fear at the miracle that has been performed. The once possessed is now properly dressed and can sit properly (Mk 5:15). He now has his own identity again and has regained control over his body. He is now very kind to Jesus, in contrast to the shepherds and the people who are told about the miracle. On the one hand, this reaction is understandable, since its existence, the pig herd, has been destroyed. (cf. ibid.) For this reason and probably also out of fear that arose from the radical change in life of the once possessed, they ask Jesus to leave their home again. They seem to find the price for the healing of a person too high, even if they have certainly perceived Jesus' authority, which enables him to liberate people only through his commanding word. However, it remains questionable why Markus does not even address this fact. Jesus destroys other people's livelihoods in order to give you back your identity. Was one life more precious than the existence of another? Or is a human life worth 2,000 pigs? Or wasn't it really 2000 pigs at all? In this regard, Markus leaves us in the dark.

The healed person, on the other hand, would like to stay with his Redeemer, because in Jesus' presence he would also be protected from harm in the future. Jesus does not keep the people to whom he does good by his side, as if they were proof of his saving power, but wants people to return home and reintegrate into their previous life and society. (cf. Schlatter, 1974, p. 52) So he sends this healed man back home and says to him: “Go to your house to yours and tell them how much the Lord has done to you and how he feels about you has had mercy. ”(Mk 5:19) Jesus consciously focuses on the mercy and grace of God so as not to bring himself to the fore as a person. In addition, this reference to God's message shows priority over the acts of power in the form of Jesus' miracles. (see Grundmann, 1979, p. 163)

By sending the healed to his homeland with the task of carrying his message into the world, Jesus contributes to the spread of Christianity. At the same time, this form of following represents a new one, since the healed person should not leave his home to follow Jesus, but rather pass on the message in his own home, as already explained. This seems to be an obvious reaction from Jesus, since the ten-city area is predominantly Hellenistic-pagan and is only inhabited by a small Jewish minority. The people in history are amazed at Jesus' work, although at this point we cannot speak of faith, but now non-Jews are also beginning to show interest in what Jesus is doing. (see Theißen, 1974, p. 107 ff.)


4. Three research theses on the issue

4.1. Gerd Theißen on the social intention of miracles:

“The early Christian miracle stories intentionally want to testify to a revelation from God that reaches out to the whole world and wants to bring all people to the recognition of this revelation. At the same time, however, they are caused by the problems faced by the lower classes. There is a hermeneutic conflict between intention and conditionality. A functional analysis cannot resolve this conflict, but it can transcend it: If we define miracle stories as collective symbolic actions, [...], this function transcends both the social conditions under which the early Christian belief in miracles was shaped and the intention that it itself ascribing. "(Theißen, 1974, p. 261)


4.2. Rudolf Bultmann critical of miracles:

"Bultmann only lets inreal miracleapply, namely the revelation of God's grace for the ungodly, which, in contrast to the legalism shaped by achievement-oriented thinking, grants the world undeserved forgiveness. [...] The attempt to prove the reality of the miracles of Jesus represents an aberration, is an expression of the desire to look for evidence of the presence of God and to base faith on facts for the purpose of false certainties. […] This only onereal miraclesit is important to accept in the risk of faith [...]. "(Kollmann, 2007, p. 27)


4.3. Peter Dschulnigg on the meaning of miracles:

“The miracle stories want to remind fundamentally that Jesus saved people from various needs [...]. Jesus made people healthy and whole and made it possible for them to have a holistic, happy life. [...] The miracle stories also emphasize the Christological power and sovereignty of Jesus. [...] Miracle stories also want to advertise the miracle worker in a missionary way, show his power and greatness and praise his Christological sovereignty. "


5. Bibliography



Adolf (1979):The Gospels according to Mark and Luke. Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag.

Dschulnigg, Peter (2007):The Gospel of Mark. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer GmbH.

Eckey, Wilfried (2008):The Gospel of Mark. Orientation on the way of Jesus. (2nd ed.). Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchner Verlagsgesellschaft mbH.

Gradwohl, Roland (1995):Ask the rabbi. Highlights of Judaism. (2nd ed.). Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag.

Grundmann, Walter (1977):The Gospel according to Mark.(9th ed.). Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsgesellschaft GmbH.

Klaiber, Walter (2010):The message of the new testament. The Gospel of Mark. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlagsgesellschaft mbH.

Kollmann, Bernd (2007):New Testament miracle stories. Biblical-theological approaches and impulses for practice. (2nd ed.). Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag.

Klumbies, Paul-Gerhard (2011):The myth with Markus.Berlin: Walter Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG.

Lührmann, Dieter (1987): The Gospel of Mark. Tübingen: Mohr.

Metzger, Paul (2010):Interpret the Bible. Exegesis for beginners. Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag GmbH.

Steiner, Anton / Weymann, Volker (eds.) (1984):Bible study in the church. Miracle of Jesus. (3rd ed.). Basel: Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag.

Theißen, Gerd (1974):Early Christian miracle stories. A contribution to the historical research into the synoptic gospels. Gütersloh: Gütersloh publishing house Gerd Mohn.

Lexicon article:

The Brockhaus (2002):Ip-mus. Leipzig: F.A Brockhaus GmbH


All biblical passages were taken from:

Elberfeld Bible (2013). (4th ed.). Dillenburg: Christian publishing company



List of figures:


Figure 1: Ring composition

Compare: Dschulnigg, Peter (2007):The Gospel of Mark. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer GmbH. P. 9


Back to overview