The Politics of Exorcism
Accusations against Jesus are frequently mentioned not only in the writings of Christian apologists, but also in the earliest strata of the Gospel tradition (Q 7:34; Mark 2:7, 16; 14:64; Matt 27:63; Luke 23:2, 5; John 10:33, 36). These accusations are a privileged starting point for the study of the historical Jesus because of their embarrassing nature, and because of their close relationship to the trial and execution of Jesus, which are among the best-documented facts of his biography. In social-scientific analysis, accusations can be described as negative labels, while titles of prominence can be identified as positive labels. Both negative and positive labels are social weapons whose purpose is to identify and control behavior that is outside the normal. Models derived from the sociological study of deviant behavior and of societal reaction to it have been applied recently by English-speaking scholars in the study of some New Testament documents (Luke: Malina and Neyrey 1991a and Richter 1995; Matthew: Malina and Neyrey 1988; Paul’s letters: Richter 1995), as well as in the study of the relationships between Judaism and Christianity in the first century (Sanders 1993; Barclay 1996). German-speaking scholars have used a particular aspect of this approach for the study of the historical Jesus (Ebertz 1987; Mödritzer 1994; Theissen and Merz 1996) and the early Christian movement (Theissen 1989 and 1995; Ebertz 1992).
Following the path opened by the above-mentioned studies, I use the social study of deviant behavior to understand the cluster of sayings known as the “Beelzebul Controversy” (Matt 12:22–30 par.). In this text segment we find one of the best-attested accusations against Jesus, followed by his reaction to it. Both the accusation and Jesus’ reaction are the key to interpreting his exorcisms (Yates 1977:43), an activity widely attested in the Gospel tradition (Twelftree 1993).