Mad Men

Atonement and Enthronement


“Jesus does what no medicine man
or witch doctor is able to do.”

And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man,
the one who had had the legion, sitting there,
clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.
– Mark 5:15

Rich Bledsoe’s old blog is a goldmine. Here’s an excerpt from The Dysfunctional Family of the Gadarene Madman.

A friend of mine who is a Christian clergyman, and is from India, and has demonstrated gifts of exorcism, tells me that the power of the witch doctor is the power of being able to command lesser demons to leave by the power of a greater demon. But the demons are never banished. They just transfer place or position. In the case of this text, the demons of the village were all put on this one poor man who became a representative demoniac, and bore the pain and agony of the entire community in himself.

There are four descriptors around the demoniac that we need to look at.

First, he is chained, but in his madness is so crazed that he breaks the chains and cannot be restrained. He is the recipient of the accusations of the demons of the village. The very character of the devil is that his is “an accuser” (Revelation 12:10, Zechariah 3:1). Accusation is the most galling of all experiences, and he is accused day and night by the devils who have taken possession of him who used to accuse the community. Now along with the demons, the whole village also accuse him.

Secondly, he is naked. (Luke 8:27, Mark 5:15) This is a symbol of shame, and he thus bears the shame of the entire community.

Thirdly, the text says that he cuts himself with stones (Mark 5:5). In the Greek, the term is “autolapsis”, which literally translated means “self stoning”. In other words, the madman executes himself by stoning, which in the ancient world was a ritual form of execution. Hence, he is executed on behalf of the community as well. Finally, he lives amongst the tombs, (Mark 5:2, 5) which as a fulfillment of the other curses on him means that he is already dead. He bears death and damnation in himself for the whole rest of the community.

The demons immediately begin to beg that they not be sent out of the country, and beg instead that they might be sent into a herd of swine that are nearby. Now, this is ambiguous. The swine are in fact a mirror image of the village. There are about 2000 pigs (Mark 5:13), and in fact the demons may be begging to be allowed to re-enter the people in the village, for whom the madman is a surrogate. To the demons, the people are as unclean as the pigs, and either allows for their occupation. But Jesus mercifully does not send them back to the village people, but instead sends them into the nearby pigs, and they, driven mad by the incursion into them, rush off of a cliff and into the Sea of Galilee.

To fall into the sea is to fall into the abyss. In doing this, Jesus does what no medicine man or witch doctor is able to do. He does not just exchange one demon for another from one place to another, and that in a temporary fashion, but Jesus banishes them forever, and sends them back to the abyss.

I recommend reading the entire article, and its sequel, The Gadarene Madman and the Modern World. Bledsoe demonstrates that the relationship between the demoniac and community are exactly the kind of “triangulation” observed by Edwin Friedman to be the problem in all dysfunctional relationships, whether personal, familial, institutional or corporate.

Of course, I have to tie this to the matrix, at least its “festal” strand. The first chapters of Matthew follow the Feasts, and place this event at Atonement. [1] This means that the communal dysfunction of scapegoating (as expounded by René Girard, particularly concerning the treatment of Job by his advisors [2]) is Man’s unjust, twisted method for obtaining corporate healing without reference to the mercy of God. It replicates the reaction of Cain to God’s atoning mercy (an event which also appears at Atonement within the narrative of Genesis 4). The scapegoat in the end was not Abel, although that was Cain’s intention. Abel himself became an acceptable offering. The scapegoat was Cain himself, who could not bear his shame and so rejected the mercy of God. The community he founded was a primeval “Gadara,” and Lamech continued to deal with its demons through bloodshed. The blame shifting continued until the entire culture was cutting itself. [3] The bloodletting continued and  increased until the Great Flood.

These primeval events were similar expressions of blame-shifting. “Shifting” is the work of the witch doctor. It’s a form of “cooking the books.” Rather than take the shame and blame and be forgiven, fallen corporate Man (Greater Eve) can’t take vengeance upon historical Adam, so she finds someone else to take the rap. Of course, the time came when the Man she found to vent her fury upon, in a demonic hysteria, was her One True Husband. This led to unfathomable mercy, but also to the avenging of all the scapegoats in the history of atonement, beginning with Abel, in AD70. The Revelation tells us the story of their enthronement.

In the end, it is God who cooks the books. Jesus is the Great Medicine Man, the White Witch Doctor. But He removes our sins from us as far as the East is from the West.


[1] See Why Jesus Healed Some.

[2] James Jordan writes:

Job is clearly some kind of king. He is the leader of his community. He is the Chief Cornerstone, while Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are his “three mighty men,” the other corners of the realm. It is because Job is the king that the other men arrive to try and force him to step down.

(The Hebrew word for “army commander” is “corner.” For other examples of chief corners and three other corners, consider David and his three mighty men, Daniel and his three friends, and Jesus with Peter, James, and John. On “corners” and “three mighty men,” see Biblical Horizons 121. Compare also Jesus with the Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, as discussed above.)

Job as king is the “greatest of the men of the east” (Job 1:3). He employed hundreds of people and fed the poor. The disaster that overcame his household was, thus, a disaster upon the entire realm. The poor were starving, and hundreds of people were either killed or out of work. The sores on Job’s body were a sign of the lesions on the body politic of which he was the head, a point no ancient reader would miss.

This realm or political “house” has fallen because the Chief Corner, Job, has fallen. The other three corners, thus, step in to try and repair it. Their fallacy is not in seeking to restore their society, but in the way they seek to do it. Their desire is for Job to step down by admitting fault, so that one of them can replace him. God’s intention, however, is to take Job and this society through judgment and resurrection, and to reconstitute a new and better society afterwards (as happens in chapter 42).

Job’s position as king or leader of his people has been skillfully analyzed by Rene Girard in Job: The Victim of His People, translated by Yvonne Freccero and published by Stanford University Press in 1987. Despite the many flaws in this book, it makes clear that the attack upon Job came not because he was an ordinary person, but because of his preeminent position in this community, which had fallen into chaos seemingly as a result of God’s judgment upon Job, their “king.”

The book of Job, then, is not just about the sufferings of a righteous man, though it is that in part, and can be preached that way. It is also about chaos in the body politic, and the position of the suffering king within that chaos.

James B. Jordan, Was Job an Edomite King?, Biblical Horizons Newsletter No. 130.

[3] The innocent victims in our society are most obviously the unborn. But perhaps this sheds some light on the growing problem of self-harm in our culture. Biblically, we should also remember the priests of Baal on Carmel cutting themselves. Paul ties this factor to the Circumcision in the first century, those who considered it to be somehow redemptive rather than simply signal.

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