Jesus and the Demoniacs
At the close of January 1999, the Vatican published De Exorcismis et supplicationibus quihusdam, a revision of the almost four-hundred-year-old official Roman Catholic rite of exorcism in the Rituale Romanum. Thus, shortly before the turn of the millennium, the Catholic Church continues unwaveringly to stress the legitimacy and relevance of ecclesiastical exorcisms. Yet compared to Africa or Asia, for example, the phenomenon of spirit possession is of little significance in the everyday life of most Western people. The most recent case of exorcism to stir public discussion in Germany dates back more than twenty years to the tragic death of Anneliese Michel (Goodman 1985:114ff). Therefore it is not surprising that the revised version of the Roman Catholic exorcism ritual seemed rather strange to the majority of the people in this country, and not only to Protestants. Yet it is possible that the Roman ritual shares discourse that, in spite of variations over the centuries, is still rooted in the exorcistic action that most scholars associate with the historical Jesus himself. The patent uneasiness about the new version of the Rituale Romanum seems to reflect a fundamental problem in historical-critical Jesus research. This is the difficulty of confronting and comprehending strange and unfamiliar behaviors and ways of thinking that lie at the root of our own Christian tradition. The publication of the revised exorcism rite of the Rituale Romanum once more calls that difficulty to our minds.
After a short consideration of the historical relevance of the New Testament material, I introduce a model that might prepare the ground for a less prejudiced approach to spirit possession. The model then provides a new evaluation of the exorcistic practice of Jesus.