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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

In the earlier period of his career man did not realize, as we do, the difference between himself and the animals, plants, and objects around him. He thought, and in the lower culture still thinks, of these as in many respects like himself. When, therefore, through dreams and other experiences, he realized that his body was inhabited and animated by a spirit, he also thought that the falling rock, the running river, the waving tree, the sun moving through the sky, were each inhabited by a spirit or spirits like that within himself; every thing and every affair were animated by their own particular spirit. This animistic belief was, and is still, held by the men of the lower culture, by the primitive Semites and Aryans and the races springing from them, by the modern Chinese, and even by educated Europeans to-day._

Some spirits, like vampires, were corporeal, but the majority, if not all, were free to move about, and able, nay anxious, to enter into some relationship with man. As a person’s ordinary speech and action sprang from the action of his own spirit (minor differences arising because each had his own individual spirit), so extraordinary conduct of any kind was due to the impact of a spirit other than his own. The man was not himself, he was out of his mind, and consequently another was in._

The contact of a spirit and a person might be at the instance of the person, through his eating laurel leaves, inhaling fumes or incense, drinking blood or an intoxicant, drumming, dancing, steady gazing._ It might, again, be on the initiative of the spirit. The contact might be either obsession, in which the spirit acts from without, or embodiment, in which it actually enters into the person._ Such expressions, in regard, e.g., to the Holy Spirit, as ‘come upon,’ ‘was upon,’ ‘fell upon,’ ‘poured out on,’ ‘baptized with,’ pointing in the direction of obsession, others, as ‘filled with,’ ‘God gave them,’ ‘they received the Holy Spirit,’ pointing in the direction of embodiment, indicate that the spirit took the initiative._

The conception of spirits underwent development along two distinct, though not quite independent, lines. Certain spirits, coming to be recognized as stronger than others, gradually attained a higher dignity, a more elaborate ritual, and a wider sway. They got names and became deities. Further, some of these becoming more important than others, came to be the chief deities of tribes and nations, and then, like Zeus, the head of a pantheon. A strong belief in such a deity in some cases almost attained to, and in the case of Jahweh actually reached, monotheism, or at least what Hogarth calls ‘super-Monotheism.’_ In some religions, as Zarathustrianism and the cults of Mesopotamia, the inferior spirits were grouped into grades as angels, archangels, principalities, and powers, at whose head there sometimes stood a supreme spirit as the Satan. Again, as primitive man, believing that all things which occurred to, or within, him arose from the action of a spirit-generally a minor spirit-distinguished between things pleasant, beneficial, or according to his standard, good, and the reverse, he came to distinguish between spirits benevolent and beneficent, and others malevolent and maleficent._ When one is so fortunate as to be able to predict future events ( Acts 21:11), or to indicate the will of God ( Acts 13:2,  Acts 15:28,  Acts 16:6), then clearly one is filled with the Holy Spirit. This, rightly called ‘inspiration’, is not found in the lower culture, except occasionally, when it is due to the spirits of the dead, though it has been maintained that the deliverances of the classic oracles were given by a divine being._ On the other hand, a person who becomes hot and burning, is twisted or tortured, slowly pines away as if being eaten up, is thrown helpless on the ground, into water or fire, writhing and jerking, exhibits the strength of a giant or the fury of a wild beast, strips off his clothes, raves in a voice not his own-such a one seems to be, and was by the men of the lower culture believed to be, possessed by a maleficent spirit._ This belief acted in two ways. When the seizures were intermittent the sufferer believed that at the period of seizure he became possessed by a malevolent spirit, and even gave it a name. Again, a person who imagined that a harmful spirit had entered into him acted in the way possessed people were conceived inevitably to act, and this became in its turn a proof positive of such possession._ The entry of such a hurtful spirit is of course involuntary._

The Greeks called a supernatural being intermediate between the gods and men δαίμων, ‘demon.’ This was used in the LXX_ and the Apocrypha, as in Tobit, to translate ùÑÅøÄéí and ùÒÀòÄéøÄéí. The word thus came to get a bad meaning. The later Jews and Christians, in their hatred of the pagan cults, emphasized this view, and it has ever since been retained as in the English word ‘demon.’_ The Greek term δαιμονἱζεσθαι means ‘to be possessed by a maleficent spirit.’ Our word ‘epilepsy’ is the English form of ἐπίληψις, meaning ‘seizure’ by a superhuman agent, while epilepsy itself was called by the Greeks ἱερὰ νόσος, ‘the divine illness.’_

While, therefore, ‘demonism’ and ‘demonist’ indicate belief in and a believer in demons, ‘demonology’ is the science which treats of demons, ‘demonolatry’ is the worship of demons; ‘demonopathy,’ or, better, to use the term of the Sydenham Society Lexicon of 1883, ‘demonomania’ is the pathological condition in which the patient, a ‘demoniac,’ believes, and his conduct would induce others to believe, that he is possessed by a maleficent spirit.

Anthropological research shows that demonomania prevails or has prevailed among the Amerind tribes from the furthest North to Patagonia, throughout Polynesia, in New Zealand, the Australian and Tasmanian regions, in all parts of India and Africa, among the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and all the Semitic nations._

But the facts as to demonism and demonomania will become clearer by a consideration of these as we find them present in the life of one nation. The primitive Semites believed in demons, and this racial faith was inherited and developed by the Arabians, and the nations which swarmed from the desert cradle-land-Mesopotamians, Phcenicians, Canaanites, and Hebrews._ The last, in their nomadic state and their sojourn in Egypt, by their settlement in Palestine and intercourse with neighbouring nations, and during the Exile, were subjected to influences which, while modifying, tended to intensify the ancestral belief._ They recognized not merely the existence of demons but their classification into the two great groups, beneficent and maleficent, the latter being our special concern._ The demons in the earliest culture had no names, but gradually, e.g. in Mesopotamia, they were divided into classes with distinct names. Among the Hebrews we have these classes._

(1) The ùÒÀòÄéøÄéí, field spirits, like satyrs, so called because of their resemblance to hairy he-goats. To these sacrifices were offered in the open field, and for their worship Jeroboam appointed priests._ A further reference to these may be found in  2 Kings 23:8, where for ùÑÀòÈøÄéí there should be read_ ùÒÀòÄéøÄéí. One of these spirits became prominent enough to receive a personal name òÂæ֤àæÇi, and to have a distinctive ritual of his own in which a goat was offered._

(2) In Mesopotamian mythology one of the most prominent of the groups of demons was the shçdîm, storm-deities. They were represented in an ox-like shape, and from being used as the protective genii of palaces became, in Mesopotamia, propitious deities. From Chaldaea their worship passed to Palestine, and the name name ùÑÅøÄéí was applied by the Hebrews to the Canaanite demons whom they recognized and worshipped._ If àÇáÀðÅé çÇùÑÈøÆä ( Job 5:23) be a corruption for àÂãÉðÅé äÇùÒÈãä, then ‘the lords’ were field-demons of this hind. A further reference to them is found in  Genesis 14:3;  Genesis 14:8;  Genesis 14:10, where äÇùÒÄãÌÄéí should be printed äÇùÑÅøÄéí;_ and in  Hosea 12:12 áÌÇâÌÄiÄâÌÈi ùÑÀåÈøÄéí æÄáÌÅçåÌ should be áÌÇâÌÄ× iÇùÑÅøÄéí æÄ× ‘at Gilgal they sacrifice to the false gods (la-shçdhîm).’_ Three of these demons attained to such eminence as to receive names. These were iéiÄéú, Lilith (the night-hag,  Isaiah 34:13-14), a female night-demon who sucked the blood of her sleeping victims;_ äÇîÌÇùÑÀçÄéú, a demon servant of Jahweh warded off by a blood-talisman ( Exodus 12:23);_ Asmedai, the Asmodeus of  Tobit 3:8-17, who is called in the Aramaic and Hebrew versions of  Tobit 3:8 ‘king of the Shçdîm,’ a demon borrowed from Zarathustrianism, who is identified with Ἀπολλύων ( Revelation 9:11)._ Indications are not wanting that certain words which later came to signify calamities were originally the demons who caused the calamities. Such were øÈèÆá ‘the smiter,’ the deadly hot wind of mid-day; øÈùÑÆó and áÌÀðÅé øÆùÑÆó, the demon of destroying flame;_ òÂiåÌÈä a vampire, a blood-sucking demon._ Such demons resemble and appear as either wild beasts or imaginary hybrid monsters._ Satan was identified with a serpent. ‘The zoology of Islam,’ as has, been well said, ‘is at once a demonology,’ and the remark need not be confined to that religion._ While originally the belief in such demons may have been caused, partially or wholly, by the sudden or mysterious appearance or action of animals, the spirits gradually came to be looked on as assuming the appearance of certain animals._ Thus, when the Shunammite solemnly conjures the daughters of Jerusalem by the àÇéÀiåÉú and the öáÈàåÉú ( Song of Solomon 2:7;  Song of Solomon 3:5) she was doubtless referring to the faun-like spirits of the wild._ The continuous and persistent efforts of the prophets to extricate Jahweh from the other gods and to exalt His power and importance inevitably diminished those of the demons; and, as His holiness and goodness became clearer, their malevolence became more marked._ The continuous prevalence of and belief in demonomania becomes clearer still when we recall (a) the names given to the art of dealing with the demons, as ÆñÆí ‘divination,’_ îÄÀñÈí, ‘divination,’_. ðÇçÇùÑ, ‘enchantment,’_ ùÑÇçÀøÈäÌ ‘sorcery,’_ ëÌÆùÑÈó, ‘incantations’;_ (b) the terms indicating the practice of such arts, as òåÉðÅï, ‘to use hidden or magical arts,’_ such as those common among the Philistines; çÈáÇø, ‘to tie magical knots,’_ öÄôÀöÅó ‘to twitter,’ with its corresponding name for the practitioner, äÇîÀöÇôÀöÀôÄéí;_ (c) the various kinds of practitioners whose business it was to deal with spirits, as ãÌÉøÅùÑ àÆiÎäÇîÅúéí, ‘necromancers’; éÄãÌÀò̇ðÄéí ‘knowing ones,’ or wizards;_ îÇäÀðÄéí, ‘those who mutter’;_ àÄèÌÄéí, ‘whisperers’;_ àåÉá, those who maintain communion with the dead, cause them to return, and through intercourse with them deliver oracles, speaking low as if out of the ground. Condemned by the Deuteronomic legislation, they were banished by Saul, patronized by Manasseh, and much sought after by the Egyptians._ The entrance of these malevolent spirits into a person might be prevented by using proper precaution. Among the Orang Laut of the Malay Peninsula when the demon of small-pox is active in one locality the people of the adjacent districts prevent it coming to them by placing thorns in the paths between them and the infected locality. The Khonds of Orissa ward off the same intruder by presenting the demon with gifts._ Among the Hebrews the chief prophylactics were amulets,_ charms,_ knotted cords,_ the repetition of the Shema’ ( Deuteronomy 6:4) and other formulae, fixing of the mezûzâh, wearing the tephillîn, eating salt;_ and, as we may infer from the practice of other races, the intervention of guardian angels._ When the malevolent spirit had actually entered a person the usual remedies employed were sacrifice,_ prayer,_ and, as the thing aimed at was the expulsion of the spirit, exorcism._

These notes will make clear what needs to be kept in mind, the very large place demonism occupied in the minds of the ordinary Hebrews.

As men came to think of the river running and the tree falling through natural causes, while still attributing the earthquake and the thunder to the action of a god, so they came to think of certain maladies as also due to natural causes, whereas others, peculiar, or peculiarly severe, were still considered as the work of demons. It is impossible to trace out this process in every religion, but the OT affords us helpful suggestions. Among the Hebrews it pursues something like the following line. When a disease in its advent and development followed, in different people, very much the same course, exhibiting nothing abnormal, its nature came, so far, to be understood, and to be considered as due to natural causes. The sickness of the son of the woman of Zarephath ( 1 Kings 17:17), Hezekiah ( 2 Kings 20:1), Daniel ( Daniel 8:27), Jacob ( Genesis 48:1), Abijah ( 1 Kings 14:1), is not attributed to any extra-natural cause._ This conception of natural diseases would result in, and go hand in hand with, some study of such diseases. By the time of Ḫammurabi, the doctor, the veterinary surgeon, and the brander were each distinct from one another._ The hygienic laws of Leviticus would encourage the study of the causes of disease. ‘In the Mishna it is mentioned with approval “Hezekiah put away” a Book of Healings.’_ In the time of Jeremiah physicians were a distinct set of men._ They were more or less connected with the priests and prophets, and were probably more akin to the ‘leech’ of the Middle Ages than to the scientifically trained physician of to-day. Still the rise of curative applications_ shows the dawning of some idea of rational treatment. Such men would be viewed with prejudice by people of a conservatively pietistic type, as the Chronicler ( 2 Chronicles 16:12) who censures Asa for resorting to physicians, and by disappointed patients with whose disease they had wrestled in vain ( Wisdom of Solomon 16:12,  Job 13:4). But the success which in many cases they achieved merited and won its need of praise._

But when a disease appeared as a sudden seizure, epidemical, or otherwise abnormal, men still believed that it was caused by a Divine being. Jahweh Himself smites with disease: diseases of the abnormal type are arrows shot from the hand of God._ Leprosy was clearly sent by Jahweh, and therefore His priests were the judges of the presence and of the cure of that disease, and the patient when cured had to offer sacrifice._ At other times Jahweh employed a subsidiary spirit like the Satan ( Job 2:7) or some other of his messengers,_ Saul’s case is instructive. First of all there came upon him a spirit called øåÌçÇ éÀäÉåÈä and øåÌçÇ àÁiÉäÄéí._ This spirit departed from him, and another spirit, called øåÌçÇÎøÈòÈç îÅàÅú éäÉåÈä_ and øåÌçÇÎàÁiÉäÄéí øÈòÈç,_ a malevolent spirit of the gods, came upon him; and a pathological condition at once ensued, exhibiting itself in intermittent attacks of a strange and therefore demoniacal disorder._ For such abnormal diseases exorcism, in some form or another, would continue to be employed._ Thus the evolution of the function and character of spirits and the advance of medical science led to the differentiation of two types of disease, one normal, always tending to increase in number, and the other abnormal, always tending to decrease in number, the latter type being due to the action of superhuman beings.

In the Apostolic Age a belief in the active participation of spiritual beings in human affairs was universal._ Of these some were beneficent, as the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, the seven spirits before the throne of God, angels, archangels, principalities, powers, ‘living creatures,’ and probably the πρεσβύτεροι before the throne._ Others, which specially concern us, were malevolent._ These were organized into a kingdom, the prince of the demons being Beelzebul, otherwise named Satan, and the devil,_ who is the ‘prince of the air,’ and has therein his residence._ In fact, to some Christians the age appeared one of lawlessness and unbelief lying under the sway of the Satan._ Satan is not merely a malevolent spirit; he delights in doing evil. As the Evil One, he is in a special sense the Tempter, sows evil in the world, and snatches away good. He has the power of death. He suggests to Judas to betray the Master, and the final surrender of the traitor to the Tempter is described in the words ‘Satan entered into him.’_ Subordinate to him are potentates of the dark present, the spirit-forces of evil in the heavenly sphere,_ among all of whom there are degrees of malevolence._ The demons were numerous, they congregated in men,_ and in certain places where they might be found. These places, as can easily be understood, were uninhabited, and remote from human dwellings. Arabs and Jews thought of these malevolent beings as dwelling in deserts, waterless places, mountains, cemeteries, and places which had been deserted._ The demons were able to enter into men and animals; they could go out of their own accord and they could be cast out by exorcists._ The entrance of a maleficent spirit made a human being a demoniac. But we get a clearer view of demonomania if we look at it from:

(a) The ethical standpoint.-People whose strangeness of life or action seemed abnormal were said to have a demon; this was said_ of our Lord even by His own relatives, and of John the Baptist. In the Apostolic Age there were many people whom the writers of the NT looked upon as wicked. Amid that evil and disloyal generation_ were hypocrites, sinners, adulterers, harlots, thieves, brigands, and open enemies of our Lord and His servants. But none of these are thought of as demoniacs. The boy mentioned in  Mark 9:21 had been a demoniac from a child, hence the malady could not have arisen from moral causes. Further, the fact that demoniacs were not excluded from the synagogue_ indicates that demonomania was not looked upon as constituting them immoral characters. The demons were maleficent, some of them also malevolent, but their wickedness did not necessarily contaminate the patient morally. It is also to be observed that demoniacs were not constantly or permanently afflicted.

(b) The physical standpoint.-By the time of Jesus, the physician, separated off now from the prophet and the priest, had his distinctive name and practised his art on payment of fees._ Indications are not wanting that matters of diet and the use of restoratives were studied, and as healing appliances the balm of Gilead, the waters of Siloam and Bethesda, the hot springs of Tiberias and Callirhce were well known and widely used._ Luke was a physician,_ and most probably it was to him that the inhabitants of Melita brought those who were diseased to receive medical treatment._ These developments of medical science more and more differentiated demonomania from more normal diseases. The latter were well known and are often alluded to. Peter’s mother-in-law, aeneas, Dorcas, the father of Publius, Epaphroditus, Trophimus, besides many others whom our Lord cured, all laboured under ordinary diseases and no hint is given that they were demoniacs._ In the NT the distinction is carefully observed; sicknesses and diseases are referred to as prevalent;_ particular diseases are mentioned by name, as lunacy, haemorrhage, paralysis, dumbness, deafness, leprosy, fever, blindness, lameness, shrivelled limbs, dropsy, dysentery, maimedness;_ disease is differentiated from demonomania._ These latter types of disease, differing from the other by suddenness of attack or other abnormal feature, were still, owing to ignorance of their real nature, attributed to the action of superhuman beings such as Jahweh,_ one of His messengers._ the Satan,_ one of his messengers,_ or a demon who was sometimes named from the disease with which he infected the sufferer, as a deaf and dumb spirit,_ an unclean spirit,_ a spirit of infirmity,_ etc. While doubtless the old preventives against the entrance of demons continued to be employed, the older forms of expulsion (besides the direct act of God [ Colossians 1:3] and determined effort on the part of the sufferer [ Ephesians 6:12]), such as prayer_ and exorcism,_ were practised. We have no reason to suppose that our Lord and His followers thought of these diseases and remedies in any other way than the rest of their countrymen._ Our Lord’s method of delivering His message, like His mode of living, was to a large extent conditioned by the times in which He lived. As He condescended to become a man, He humbled Himself to become one of the itinerant healers who abounded throughout the country. This enables us to realize how Jesus commanded the attention of His countrymen not merely by curing diseases but by exorcizing demons. Further, it explains how these wonders, while attracting the crowd, did not impress the majority of the people with the fact that He was a Divine Being, any more than the miracles of Moses led the Egyptians to think of him as a messenger from Jahweh. It is very significant that, after recording the turning of water into wine ( John 2:1;  John 4:46), the cure of the royal official’s son ( John 4:47), the healing of the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda ( John 5:1), the feeding of the five thousand ( John 6:1), and the walking on the sea ( John 6:19), the writer of the Fourth Gospel says that not only many of His disciples refused to associate with Him any longer ( John 6:66), but even His own brothers did not believe in Him ( John 7:5). Of the mass of the people it is said, ‘But though he had done so many signs before them, yet they believed not on him’ ( John 12:37), but continued to demand a sign not on earth but from the heavens.

Jesus, then, cured not merely normal diseases, but eases of demonomania of which no particulars are given._ But there are recorded four types of demonomania which appeared, and might well appear, to those of that age to be caused by the intrusion of a demon: (1) where certain organs existed but seemed prevented from fulfilling their proper functions, as cases of dumbness ( Matthew 9:32,  Luke 11:14), dumbness allied with blindness ( Matthew 12:22), and dumbness aggravated by deafness, sudden convulsions, causing suicidal tendencies, foaming at the mouth and grinding the teeth ( Matthew 17:15-18,  Mark 9:17-26,  Luke 9:37-43); (2) the case of the demoniac of Capernaum, where the demon made its presence felt in outcries, shrieks, and convulsions ( Mark 1:23-26,  Luke 4:33-35);_ (3) the demoniac or demoniacs of Gadara present still stronger evidence of what would be deemed embodiment, such as abnormal physical strength, exhibiting itself in fierceness, violence, the breaking of chains and fetters, passion for seclusion among the tombs and mountains, frenzied shriekings, self-mutilation, nakedness, homicidal tendencies, loss of the sense of personality, and identification of the patient with the demon ( Matthew 8:28-32,  Mark 5:2-13,  Luke 8:27-33);_ and (4) the case of the daughter of the SyrophCEnician woman, in which the cure was effected when the afflicted person was not present ( Matthew 15:22-28,  Mark 7:24-30).

The question of how Jesus accomplished these cures brings us face to face with problems which have not as yet been satisfactorily solved, but which the study of insanity and kindred diseases will doubtless one day clearly explain. As to the outward methods employed, it is noticeable that our Lord used no incantations or similar outward means. He seems to have been in the habit of laying His hands on the sufferers, and this became a means by which spiritual blessing was also conveyed._ His word alone seems to have been effective._ Jesus Himself uses two expressions to indicate the power which lay behind and wrought through touch and word-‘the Spirit of God’ ( Matthew 12:28) and ‘the finger of God’ ( Luke 11:20). These expressions do not help us much to understand the authority which the crowds recognized as accompanying His acts ( Mark 1:27); nor, indeed, do the words of the Third Evangelist ( Luke 5:17); ‘the power of the Lord was present for the work of healing.’ The difficulty is not lessened when we remember that this power is said to have been conveyed by Jesus to the Twelve and to the Seventy (see Exorcism). Indeed it is increased when we learn that, even during our Lord’s ministry, unauthorized exorcists effected cures in His name ( Mark 9:38,  Luke 9:49,  Matthew 7:22) that such power was promised ‘to all those that believe’ ( Mark 16:17) and that Jewish exorcists used His name in a magical formula to cast out demons ( Acts 19:13).

The real solution would seem to lie in the direction of suggestion. Suggestion is defined as ‘the communication of any proposition from one person (or persons) to another in such a way as to secure its acceptance with conviction, in the absence of adequate logical grounds for its acceptance.’ The idea thus suggested ‘is held to operate powerfully upon his bodily and mental processes,’ with the result that owing to the conditions of mental dissociation ‘the dominance of the suggested idea is complete and absolute.’_ Suggestion is most effective when the agent is a person with an intense personality wielding magnetic power, when he has gained a reputation for power to do what he is expected to do, and distinguished by some outstanding quality like kingship or holiness, and if there has grown up a widespread popular belief in his power; also when the patient is inferior in knowledge or station to the agent. Suggestion becomes still more powerful if the attention of both is intensely concentrated on the purpose to be accomplished, if the impression has already been produced that the agent will accomplish his task, and if consciousness is practically, for the time being, concentrated on the one thing. Of course the more direct and powerful the suggestion and the more receptive the patient, the greater the success._ A careful reading of the cures of demonomania effected by our Lord will show how the factors making for success were not only present, but powerfully present. We are in this way led to the conclusion that there is ‘no reason to suppose that the cases … recorded [in the NT] were due to anything but disease.… No facts are recorded which are not explicable either as the ordinary symptoms of mental disease or as the result of suggestion.’_

The Jewish doctrine as to demonomania will be found fully developed in the Talmud._

The article Exorcism shows how belief in demonomania and its cure by exorcism prevailed in the Apostolic Church, and among the Fathers._ In the post-Apostolic Church these beliefs were, if possible, even more strongly held. Justin Martyr says_ that some Christians had ‘the spirit of healing,’ and claims_ that their exorcism in the name of Christ always succeeded, while success was probable only if the exorcism was in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. ‘The church sharply distinguished between exorcists who employed the name of Christ, and pagan sorcerers and magicians, etc.; but … several of her exorcists were just as dubious characters as her “prophets” ’_. From the time of Justin Martyr for about two centuries there is not a single Christian writer who does not solemnly and explicitly assert the reality and frequent employment of exorcism. The Christians fully recognized the supernatural power possessed by the Jewish and Gentile exorcists, but they claimed to be in many respects their superiors. By the simple sign of the Cross or by repeating the name of the master they professed to be able to cast out devils which had resisted all the enchantments of the pagan exorcists. Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius, Athanasius, Augustine, and Minucius Felix all profess their faith in demonomania and exorcism._ In the mediaeval Church the εὐεργούμενοι, persons who are apt to become possessed, and to whom a special part of the church was exclusively assigned, were under the care of an ἐπορκιστής._

The belief in demonomania lingered, and still lingers, in certain Christian circles. We have it in the Church. The rite of casting out demons from the bodies of the possessed is still retained in the rituals of the Roman and Greek Churches,_ the exorcist in the former Communion occupying the third place among the four minor orders. It still holds a place in the belief and ritual of the Maronite Church._ In England, by the 72nd Canon of a.d. 1603, ‘no minister or ministers shall, without licence and direction of the bishop … attempt … to cast out any devil or devils._’ Among individuals we find Burton_ a firm believer in demonomania. Times of excitement, especially of religious excitement, rouse the belief in demons and demonomania. Certain disturbances which occurred in the Rectory at Epworth were ascribed by the Wesleys to the devil._ Wesley (1703-28) himself believed that disease and other discomforts were caused by demons, and that epilepsy was often the result of possession._ He gives several cases of such disease, where the afflicted person believed that he or she was possessed by an evil spirit, and who were partially or completely cured by exorcism._ Cotton Mather (1663-1728) was a fervent believer in demonomania. Lavater (1741-1801) was so convinced of the facts of possession that he was seriously concerned with the cessation of the gifts of healing and miracle-working power possessed by the early Church._ The obsolete word ‘demonagogue’ was used as late as 1736 to indicate a medium ‘useful in expelling preternatural substances from the body.’_ George Lukins, who was possessed of seven devils who threw him into fits, and talked, sang, and barked out of him, was cured by a solemn exorcism by seven clergymen at the Temple Church in Bristol in 1788._ In 1843 Pastor Blumhardt exorcized the devil out of the sisters Dittus._ As late as 1848 ‘demonifuge’ was used to mean some substance, like salt, used to drive away demons. In countries still under the sway of animism the belief exists in all its pristine strength. In Ceylon the exorcist will demand the name of the demon possessing a person, and the person will give the demon’s name._ To the question ‘Does Devil-possession, in the sense in which it is referred to in the New Testament, exist at this present time amongst the least civilized of the nations of the globe?’ R. C. Caldwell gives an answer in the affirmative, and gives instances of such possession from Southern India._ Among all peoples of the lower culture demonomania and exorcism are mixed up with a good deal of trickery and ventriloquism._ But even among the more highly educated races the belief ever and anon becomes more or less prominent. The diseases which were ascribed to demons still occur, and where a person of powerful will and outstanding religiosity, with a profound belief in himself and in demon-possession, attains to some eminence, then persons more or less demoniac are treated by exorcism. But modern exorcism-or Divine healing, as it is sometimes called-rests very much on the personality of Satan and on subordinate demons only as doing his work;_ and so the patient should be treated only by those who are ‘anointed by the Holy Spirit.’_ Nevius, an American missionary, found that in China demonomania was not an uncommon disease, and that the Chinese ascribed it, as all people of the lower culture do and did, to the action of demons-a belief confirmed among the Chinese Christiana by the narratives of the NT. Nevius did not attempt to cast out the demons by exorcism or the use of the name of Jesus. The most that he and the other missionaries did was to pray for the relief of the patient … ‘and the demon, speaking apparently in a different personality and with a different voice, confessed the power of Jesus, and departed.’_ Howton, who declares he has seen demons possessing human bodies, and producing exactly similar effects to those described in the Word of God,_ gives many instances of cures effected by himself, of which the following is typical. A local preacher afflicted evidently by multiple personality had baffled Howton, but he says, ‘early one morning the Spirit of God came upon me and I commanded the Demon in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to come out of him. The Evil Spirit threw him on the floor, made him writhe like a serpent, and foam at the mouth, and then left him. He was cured.’_

It is somewhat difficult to draw the line between the milder forms of demonomania and certain forms of temptation, convictions of sin, and even theological scepticism. John Bunyan’s prolonged periods of melancholia, Brainerd’s deep convictions of evil, Carlyle’s ‘Stygian darkness’ are all instances in point. In many cases these feelings are symptoms of an already existing pathological state. This feeling in its strongest form ‘manifests itself in the idea of demoniacal possession. The foreign evil power by which the patient imagines he is governed, assumes different demoniacal shapes, according to the prevailing superstitions and beliefs of the epoch and country. The chief differentiating mark of demon possession is the automatic presentation and the persistent and consistent acting out of a new personality. With this are associated convulsions of the voluntary muscles, contraction of the larynx which alters the voice in a striking manner, anaesthesia of different important organs, hallucinations of sight and hearing. This delirium is at times accompanied by intermittent paroxysms of violent convulsions, evidently analogous to epileptic or, still more frequently, hysterical attacks, which are separated by intervals of perfect lucidity.’_ At Gheel in Belgium there was a shrine of St. Dymphna to which in former days lunatics were carried in large numbers to have the demons expelled. Many are still taken there, but to be treated by physicians._ That men have believed in certain things ‘is ground for holding that such ideas were indeed produced in men’s minds by efficient causes, but it is not ground for holding that the rites in question are profitable, the beliefs sound, and the history authentic.’_ To seek, to-day, for the action of a demon in a case of demonomania would be just as sensible as to take a walk into a desert to have an interview with Lilith or Azazel. As Comte well said, ‘no conception can be understood except through its history.’_

P. A. Gordon Clark.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]


1. Meaning of the term . The central idea in the word is the coercive seizing of the spirit of a man by another spirit, viewed as superhuman, with the result that the man’s will is no longer free but is controlled, often against his wish, by this indwelling person or power. In Scripture the idea is associated with both phases of moral character; and a man may be possessed by Christ or the Holy Spirit, or by a or the devil. Later usage has confined the word mainly, though not exclusively, to possession by an evil spirit. Of the better possession there are several kinds of instances in both Testaments. It is sometimes represented, according to the more material psychology of early times, as the seizure of a man by an external power, though the internal occupation is implied, and the control is none the less complete (  1 Samuel 10:10 ,   Isaiah 61:1; cf. the frequent ‘the hand of the Lord was upon’ him,   1 Kings 18:46 : so of an evil spirit,   1 Samuel 18:10 ). The inspiration of the prophets is in some places described as effected by a supernatural agency occupying the seat of personality within the prophet, and controlling or moving him (  Luke 1:70 , 1Pe 1:11 ,   2 Peter 1:21 , 2Es 14:22 ). In personal religion not only is the transference of authority within to the indwelling Christ spoken of (  John 17:23 ,   Galatians 2:20 ), but the Holy Spirit also may seize and possess a man (  Acts 2:1 ,   Luke 1:15 ,   Romans 8:9 ,   Ephesians 5:18 ), and should rule in him (  Ephesians 4:30 ). But this involves a welcome and glad submission to the sway of a spirit within, though personal wishes may be thwarted or crossed (  Acts 16:7 ). Demoniacal possession, on the other hand, is characterized by the reluctance of the sufferer, who is often conscious of the hateful tyranny under which he is held and against which his will rebels in vain.

2. Features of demoniacal possession . In such possession two features may generally be traced. It is allied with and yet distinct from physical disease, and there is almost always something abnormal with respect to the psychical development or defect of the sufferer. It is given as the explanation in cases of dumbness (  Matthew 9:32 ,   Luke 11:14 ), of deafness and dumbness (  Mark 9:25 ), of dumbness and blindness (  Matthew 12:22 ), of curvature of the spine (  Luke 13:11 ), and of epilepsy (  Mark 1:25 ). Elsewhere such complaints are referred to as merely disease, and no suggestion is made that they were caused or complicated by the action of an evil spirit (  Matthew 15:30 ,   Mark 7:32 ,   Luke 18:25 ). Sometimes possession and disease are even distinguished by different enumeration (  Matthew 10:8 ,   Mark 1:32 ,   Luke 6:17 f.,   Luke 7:21;   Luke 13:32 ); and once at least epileptics (or lunatics) and palsied occupy a different category from demoniacs (  Matthew 4:24 ). The right conclusion seems to be that the same disease was in some cases ascribed to ordinary causes and in others to possession, the distinguishing feature being possibly intractability due to the violence of permanence of the symptoms. Evidence that the disorder was at the same time of a psychical or nervous character is plentiful. According to Arab belief, something abnormal in the appearance, such as a strange look in the eyes or an unusual catching in the throat, was an invariable symptom, and both are indications of nervous excitement or alarm. The will was paralyzed (  Mark 9:18 ), and the sufferer was under the influence of illusions (  John 7:20 ). He identified himself with the demons, and was averse to deliverance (  Mark 1:24;   Mark 5:7 ). In such cases Jesus does not follow His usual course of exciting faith before he heals, but acts as though the sufferer were not in a fit state to believe or to trust, and must be dealt with forcibly first of all. Some confident and majestic word is spoken, of which the authority is immediately recognized; and only then, when the proper balance of the mind has been restored, is an attempt made to communicate religious blessing.

3. Our Lord’s belief . Two opinions have been held as to whether Christ actually shared the current views of His day as to demoniacal possession. That He seemed to do so is attested on almost every page of the Synoptics, ( a ) According to one opinion, this was nothing more than a seeming, and His attitude towards the phenomena must be explained as a gracious accommodation to the views of the age . In addition to the serious objection that such a theory introduces an unwelcome element of unreality into Christ’s teaching, and implies a lack of candour on His part, the arguments in its favour are singularly ineffective. To assert that Christ never entangled His teaching with contemporary ideas is to prejudge the very question at issue. That He adopted different methods from those followed by professional exorcists, whose success He expressly attests (  Matthew 12:27 ), is exactly what His difference in person from them would cause to be expected, but does not necessarily involve a difference in theory. To humour a patient by falling in with his hallucination is not a correct description of Christ’s procedure; for in many of the instances the treatment is peremptory and stern (cf.   Mark 9:25 , where the sufferer was not consulted, and any humouring followed the cure; so elsewhere), and the evil spirits are represented after expulsion as actual and still capable of mischief (  Mark 5:13 ). Christ’s own language is itself significant. He makes the current belief the basis of argument (  Luke 11:16 ff.), attributes the power to cast out devils to the disciples of the Pharisees, and implicitly asserts it for Himself (  Mark 12:27 f.,   Luke 11:19 f.), and recognizes the power as resident in others (  Mark 9:38 f.,   Matthew 7:22 ), without a single intimation that He was speaking in metaphor, and that His hearers were blundering in assuming that He meant what He said.

( b ) The real explanation is to be found in quite another direction. His humanity was true and complete, the humanity of the age into which He was born; and of His Divine attributes He’ emptied himself’ ( Php 2:7 ,   2 Corinthians 8:9;   2 Corinthians 13:4 ), except to the extent to which His perfect human nature might be the organ of their manifestation (Bruce, Humiliation of Christ , 136 ff.; Ottley, Doct. of Incarnation , 610 ff.). In virtue of this voluntary self-limitation, His humanity was not lifted clear of the intellectual atmosphere of His time; but He shared the conceptions and views of the people amongst whom He became incarnate, though His sinlessness and the welcomed guidance of the Holy Spirit aided His human intelligence, removing some of the worst hindrances to correct thinking, but not making Him in any sense a prodigy in advance of His age in regard to human knowledge. Accordingly, He avoids the extreme and exaggerated demonology into which an unduly extended animistic interpretation of the universe was leading His contemporaries, but does not reject or question the interpretation itself. At a later date there was a disposition to ascribe all diseases to possession, to multiply evil spirits beyond calculation, and to invest them with functions and activities of the most grotesque kind. Christ’s attitude was altogether different, though He consistently talks and acts upon the assumption that evil spirits were no creatures of the fancy, and that possession was a real phenomenon.

That such an assumption was wrong it is outside the province of the real sciences to assert or to deny; and there are some considerations that make the conclusion at least probable, that personal spirits of evil exist, and cause by their activity some woeful sufferings amongst men. Metaphysics postulates transcendent personal power as the original cause of material phenomena, and is sustained in so doing by all that a man knows concerning the roots of his own moral procedure. Immanent in man and outside, there is generally recognized a great spiritual existence, affecting human life in a thousand invisible ways; and the belief in One Supreme Spirit removes most of the difficulties from the belief in others, subordinate yet superhuman. In the asylums and hospitals, moreover, are cases of mental or nervous disease, not entirely explicable by physical law, but looking exceedingly like what cases of possession may be supposed to be; just as in social and civil life men are sometimes met with whose viciousness defies any other interpretation than that an, or the, evil spirit has secured the mastery over them. Psychical research, too, points to a large spiritual population of the world, and all the naturalistic explanations so far suggested have failed to solve the mystery. The conclusion seems probable that demoniacal possession was accepted by Christ as an actual fact, with modifications of the views of His contemporaries in the direction of economy in the bringing in of superhuman agencies, and of their due distinction from processes of physical law.

Possession may further be classed as one of the fundamental and universal beliefs of mankind, with a solid element of truth in it, though running at times of excitement into extravagance. Homer held that a wasting sickness was caused by a demon, and the Greek dramatists generally attribute madness and quasi -religious frenzy to demonic or Divine possession. The Egyptians located a demon in each of the thirty-six members of the body; their presence was the cause of disease, which was healed by their expulsion. Seven evil spirits are grouped in Babylonian mythology (  Matthew 12:45 ,   Mark 16:9 ,   Luke 8:2;   Luke 11:26 ), and these with their subordinate genii kept men in continual fear, and were thought able to occupy the body and produce any kind of sickness. In almost every civilization, ancient as those of the East or rude as those of Central Africa, a similar conception has prevailed; and the prevalence points to a certain rudimentary truth that need not De renounced along with the elaborations by which in the course of ages the actual fact has been overlaid.

R. W. Moss.

King James Dictionary [3]

POSSES'SION, n. The having, holding or detention of property in one's power or command actual seizin or occupancy, either rightful or wrongful. One man may have the possession of a thing, and another may have the right of possession or property.

If the possession is severed from the property if A has the right of property, and B by unlawful means has gained possession, this is an injury to A. This is a bare or naked possession.

In bailment, the bailee, who receives goods to convey, or to keep for a time, has the possession of the goods, and a temporary right over them, but not the property. Property in possession, includes both the right and the occupation. Long undisturbed possession is presumptive proof of right or property in the possessor.

1. The thing possessed land, estate or goods owned as foreign possessions.

The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.  Obadiah 1:17

When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  Matthew 19

2. Any thing valuable possessed or enjoyed. Christian peace of mind is the best possession of life. 3. The state of being under the power of demons or invisible beings madness lunacy as demoniacal possession.

Writ of possession, a precept directing a sheriff to put a person in peaceable possession of property recovered in ejectment.

To take possession, to enter on, or to bring within one's power or occupancy.

To give possession, to put in another's power or occupancy.

POSSES'SION, To invest with property. Not used.

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(1): ( n.) The having, holding, or detention of property in one's power or command; actual seizin or occupancy; ownership, whether rightful or wrongful.

(2): ( n.) The thing possessed; that which any one occupies, owns, or controls; in the plural, property in the aggregate; wealth; dominion; as, foreign possessions.

(3): ( n.) The act or state of possessing, or holding as one's own.

(4): ( n.) The state of being possessed or controlled, as by an evil spirit, or violent passions; madness; frenzy; as, demoniacal possession.

(5): ( v. t.) To invest with property.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words [5]

Segûllâh ( סְגֻלָּה , Strong'S #5459), “possession.” Cognates of this word appear in late Aramaic and Akkadian. This word occurs only 8 times.

Cegullah signifies “property” in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves. Six times this word is used of Israel as God’s personally acquired (elected, delivered from Egyptian bondage, and formed into what He wanted them to be), carefully preserved, and privately possessed people: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure [NASB, “possession”] unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine” (Exod. 19:5—first occurrence).

Smith's Bible Dictionary [6]

Possession. See Demoniacs .

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [7]