Demonology (3)

By Jerry C. Ray

1. In the last article was begun a contrast between Biblical demonology and the concepts of uninspired men. We noticed the silence of the New Testament regarding the origin, nature, characteristics or habits of demons as compared with the wild ideas of that age.

The Contrast

2. In the New Testament the demon is an ethically evil being. Contemporary Jewish and Gentile writings pictured demons as “mischievous fairies” with no particular allegiance to, nor connection with Satan and his forces of evil. In the New Testament demons are of the kingdom of Satan, and Christ’s power is shown to extend over these evil spirits.

3. New Testament demonology differs from all others in its negation of the power of magic rites to deliver the afflicted from his affliction. Many ancient Babylonian incantations have been discovered. Likewise among the Jews was found the idea of expulsion of demons by magic and magical rites.Jewish Magic

The Jews were strictly forbidden to practice magic, but by the traditions of the Jews it had been declared lawful to practice magic, under certain circumstances, even on the Sabbath. Egypt was regarded as the home of magic. “In connection with this, it deserves notice that the Talmud ascribes the miracles of Jesus to magic, which he had learned during His stay in Egypt, having taken care, when He left, to insert under His skin its rules and formulas, since every traveler, on quitting the country was searched, lest he should take to other lands the mysteries of magic.” (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II, p. 772.) It should be noticed that the Jews did not deny the miracles of the early church, but simply attributed their source to magic.

The Jews had six classes of magicians. (1) The conjuror of the dead, who evoked a voice from under the armpit, or from other members of the dead body, the arms or other members being struck together to elicit the sound. Necromancy might be practiced in two ways. The dead might be called by a method in which the feet would appear upwards. This must not be practiced on the Sabbath. The second method: by means of magic, a skull might be made to answer. This could be practiced on the Sabbath. Or a demon might be called up to speak by means of incense. (2) Yideoni uttered oracles by putting a certain bone into their mouth. (3) Then there were the serpent charmers. (4) The Meonen could indicate the days or hours, which were lucky. (5) The “searcher after the dead” remained fasting on graves in order to communicate with an unclean spirit. (6) The Menachesh knew what omens were lucky and what unlucky.

Many, varied, and ridiculous were the magical formulas, cures, incantations and methods of exorcism. We reproduce a few as illustrative of their general nature: They are taken from Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II, p. 775. “To ward off any danger from drinking water on a Wednesday or Sabbath-Evening, when evil spirits may rest on it, it is advised either to repeat a passage of Scripture in which the word Qol (‘Voice’) occurs seven times (Psa. 29:3-9), or else to say this: ‘Lul, Shaphan, Anigron, Anirdaphin–between the stars I sit, betwixt the lean and the fat I walk!’

“Here is an incantation against boils: ‘Bas, Baziyah, Mas, Masiya, Kas, Kasiyah, Sharlai and Amarlai–ye Angels that come from the land of Sodom to heal painful boils! Let the colour not become more red, let it not farther spread, let its seed be absorbed in the belly. As a mule does not propagate itself, so let not this evil propagate itself in the body of M. the son of M.”‘

In the apocryphal book of Tobit, chapter 8, verses 1-3, we have a legend of exorcism by means of fumigation: ” When they had finished eating, they escorted Tobias in to her. As he went he remembered the words of Raphael, and he took the live ashes of incense and put the heart and liver of the fish upon them and made a smoke. And when the demon smelled the odor he fled to the remotest parts of Egypt, and the angel bound him.”

This same superstition is found among the seven sons of Sceva mentioned in Acts l9, who thought that Paul’s “magic words” were adjuration in the name of Jesus. But these men learned a lesson the hard way. See Acts 19: 13-16.

Now, notice the contract in New Testament demonology. “While the New Testament furnishes no data by which to learn the views of Jesus or of the evangelists regarding the exact character of the phenomenon, it furnishes the fullest details as to the manner in which the demonized were set free. This was always the same. It consisted neither in magical means nor formulas pf exorcism, but always in the Word of Power which Jesus spake, or entrusted to His disciples, and which the demons always obeyed. There is here not only difference, but contrariety in comparison with the current Jewish notions, and it leads to the conclusion that there was the same contrast in His views, as in His treatment of the ‘demonised.”‘ (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, I, p. 482.)

4. In the New Testament the range of activities attributed to demons is greatly restricted. In the Babylonian writings demons are said to be lurking everywhere, watching for their prey. This same exuberance is found in the non-canonical writings of the Jews. The writings attribute “all kinds of ills of mind and body to innumerable, swarming hosts of demons lying wait for men and besieging them with attacks and ills of all descriptions. Of this affluence of morbid fancy there is no hint in the New Testament.” (Sweet op. cit., p. 629.)

From this summary study the contrast is so abundantly evident that no serious charge of similarity between the New Testament demonology and that of uninspired literature could be entertained by anyone. To the contrary there is a great gulf between the sane and subdued doctrine of demonology as found in the Bible and the absurd superstitions that have flowed from the prolific imaginations of countless uninspired men.

In the next article we shall study more specifically what the New Testament says about demonology.

Next Article of this Series

Truth Magazine VI: 8, pp. 6-7
May 1962