The “Enemy” Within: the Demon/Ego
Why do the Christian gospels contain so many accounts of Jesus casting out demons? Bousset (1906) and Oesterreich (1974), and more recently Hollenbach (1981) and Crossan (1991), have all noted that, throughout history, colonial domination and the erosion of revered traditions have been among the leading causal contexts for the phenomena of possession and exorcism. Obviously, the former can also lead to the latter, and to these two contexts Hollenbach adds a third: economic exploitation. All three were operative in first century Palestine. Building on Bousset’s findings, Oesterreich summed it up this way:
…in all periods of transition when a people’s highest faith weakens and is threatened with destruction, and before the somewhat higher new forms have as yet definitely developed, the more primitive old beliefs emerge from the lower depths of the popular mind.
These conditions were accompanied by wars and constant external and internal turmoil and division throughout the Second Temple Period (516 B.C.E.—70 C.E.). This period ended with the extinction of the Jewish state, repeating the earlier experiences of bondage in Egypt and exile in Babylon. According to Oesterreich, these disastrous experiences produced the pathological and neurotic tendencies that, as he suggests, “furnish a complete explanation of how it was possible for belief in demons to lead in Judaism to so many sicknesses as appears to have been the case.”
These strong pathological tendencies were waxing in Galilee during the first century. Oesterreich explains, “The particularly strong influence exercised on Judaism by belief in demons seems related to the deeply religious temperament of this people: almost the whole of its intellectual creativeness is concentrated on religion.” According to Herbert Loewe (1913), belief in demonic possession “reigned,” particularly in first century Galilee. In the history of the Jewish people, the time and place of Jesus’ birth and short life was ground zero for the phenomena of demonic possession and exorcism. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, the exorcism of demons was a highly developed and widespread practice.
The exorcisms conducted by the religious authorities were not always successful, while those conducted by Jesus were apparently very successful. In my book I emphasize two important points about the exorcisms of Jesus. First, the context of Jesus’ healings was the psychological and sociological sources of illness in Judean society, not biological or genetic sources of diseases and deformities. Second, the particular pathological tendencies of first century Jewish people, like pathological tendencies in all people, have nothing to do with their ethnicity. This predisposition results from environmental, not genetic, causes. In the case of Jewish people, it derives from their long traumatic history. I devote Chapter Thirteen to an examination of how these psychosocial or, as Crossan prefers, sociosomatic phenomena were understood at that time, and to Jesus’ healings and practice of exorcism. In that chapter I offer the available evidence for one of the main premises of my work: that what we understand as pathological, neurotic and psychotic illnesses and behavior today were understood in first century Palestine to be caused by demonic possession.
We find two “house” metaphors and two “hand” metaphors in Jesus’ teachings. There is the house of the spirit (“good seed”) and the house of the demon/ego (“enemy” or “strong man”); and the “right hand” represents the spirit while the “left hand” represents the demon/ego. The “house” and “hand” metaphors for the seeker’s opponent are ubiquitous in the parables and aphorisms of Jesus—for example 81 Strong Man’s House and 228 The Gerasene Demoniac (see Chapter Thirteen). In the Bhagavad Gita, the demoniacs, the asurika of the evil house of the Kauravas, oppose Arjuna’s spiritual house of the Pandavas and both houses are in the same metaphorical body—the kshetra, just as the houses of the spirit and demon/ego are in the same body in the teachings of Jesus.
Demonic possession is generally no longer seen as a valid psychiatric or medical diagnosis, although there are still some experienced modern psychiatrists who do. The modern view of exorcisms that appear to work attributes this success to the power of suggestion, and many cases of demonic possession are thought to be narcissistic people who are suffering from low self-esteem and want attention. In Jewish folklore, the soul of a dead person (a dybbuk—the Hebrew word for “cleaving” or “clinging”) that returns and inhabits the body of a living person can be expelled through the toe by exorcism. In the Book of Samuel (18:7-14) when King Saul became jealous of David’s fame, a dybbuk attached itself to Saul, who then hurled his spear, unsuccessfully, at David. Jewish exorcism rituals are still practiced today: a quorum of ten people stand in a circle around the possessed person and chant Psalm 91 three times, and a rabbi blows the shofar—a ram’s horn.
Jesus’ practice of exorcism is widely attested in the gospels and exorcism is included in those activities that biblical scholars are certain he did. Yet his practice of exorcism was not the same as the exorcisms performed by his contemporary religious authorities, a difference reflected in his argument with them in 121The Beelzebul Controversy, an encounter scholars consider probably historical that I deal with fully in Chapter Thirteen. Demonic possession was generally thought to be a condition that afflicted the destitute and social outcasts. Jesus had a very different view: it afflicted all social classes, the wealthy and powerful even more so than the underclass.
A corollary hypothesis of the present work is that Jesus understood demonic possession, not as his peers did in the traditional Jewish sense, but rather as we understand it today: as a psychodynamic dysfunction—in particular, a dysfunctional ego. While there are other modern models that have been developed to explain abnormal behavior, nearly 20 percent of current clinical psychologists identify themselves as psychodynamic therapists. The term ego did not enter the English language until the late 18th century when Benjamin Franklin, who was fond of using chess analogies, suggested that chess keeps the mind fit and the ego in check. Of course, we should not simply read all of Freud’s das ich (the “I”) back into Jesus, but Jesus’ concept would be more in line with what Freud called the ego and the superego—the aspects of conscious awareness that grow out of interaction with parents and other people as we age. I find it fascinating how close Freud’s das ich (the “I”) is to the “I-ness” or asmita (see Yoga Sutras 2:3 and 2:6) of yogic mysticism.
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 Bousset, Die Religion des Judentums in NeutestamentlichenZeitalter, 2nd ed., Berlin, 1906, p. 387, as discussed in Traugott K. Oesterreich, Possession and Exorcism (New York: Causeway Books, 1974), p. 170.
 Paul Hollenbach, “Jesus, Demoniacs, and Public Authorities: A Socio-Historical Study,” 1981, JAAR 99:567-588, as discussed in John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1992 Ed., first published 1991), pp. 317.
 K. Oesterreich, Possession and Exorcism (New York: Causeway Books, 1974), p. 170.
 Traugott K. Oesterreich, Possession and Exorcism (New York: Causeway Books, 1974), p. 172.
 Traugott K. Oesterreich, Possession and Exorcism (New York: Causeway Books, 1974), pp. 170-171.
 Herbert Loewe, “Demons and Spirits (Jewish),” in, James Hastings and John A. Selbie, Eds., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. VIII (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), pp. 612-613.
 John Dominic Crossan, “Jesus and the Challenge of Collaborative Eschatology,” in James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Downers Grove Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p 128.
 Swami Swarupananda, Srimad Bhagavad Gita (Advaita Ashrama: Mayavati, Almora, Himalayas, India, 1909), fn. to 16:4.
 See, for example, M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (New York: Touchsotne, 1983).
 Funk and Hoover, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1997; first published 1993), p. 61. See also John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume II (New York: Doubleday, 1994), p.650.
 Ronald J. Comer, Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology (New York: Worth Publishers, Fourth Ed., 2005), p. 43.
 Benjamin Franklin, “The Morals of Chess” (1779), Papers of Franklin, 29:754.
 B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life (Rodale Press, 2005), pp. 120-122, and p. 158.