Where did Jesus cast Legion into the swine, in the country of the Gadarenes or the Gerasenes?

Posted on Nov.20, 2008. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke. Average rating: 4.0 / 10 (Rate It).

All three of the synoptic gospels recount an incident where Jesus met a demoniac who lived among the tombs, and cast many demons out of him and into a herd of swine which then charged into a lake and drowned. In two of the accounts we are told that the demons were named “Legion”. The accounts disagree, however, as to where the event took place.

Matthew has Jesus cast out Legion in the country of the Gadarenes:

When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, ‘What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’ Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine?’ And he said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and perished in the water. [Matthew 8:24-32 (NRSV)]

Mark, however, has Jesus cast out Legion in the country of the Gerasenes:

They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake. [Mark 5:1-13 (NRSV)]

Luke agrees with Matthew:

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’–for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. [Luke 8:26-33 (NRSV)]

The three accounts are sufficiently similar to make it clear that a single event is being described in all of them. So did Jesus cast out Legion in the country of the Gadarenes, or in the country of the Gerasenes?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    I rated this problem as very serious, not so much because of the geographical difficulties. Even though the cites in question, Gadara and Gerasa are different cities, the texts say only that Jesus was in the region of those cities when the demoniac(s) emerged from the tombs. The region that Matthew names may well be the same as the region that Mark and Luke name.

    But the problem with these passages is not the geography, it’s the number of demoniacs. I can’t see how to reconcile the fact that Matthew says that there are two, but Mark and Luke both claim one. So I’m stumped.

  2. 2

    For the problem with the number of demoniacs, see How Many Demoniacs Lived Among the Tombs?.

  3. 3

    I’ve downgraded my rating of this problem in favor of the problem that errancy notes in remark #2.

    It seems to me that the tombs in question were probably well outside of either Gadara or Gerasa (though they might have served both towns). This was a region loosely associated with the towns of the Decapolis. Matthew associates it with Gadara, the closest town of the Decapolis, Luke and Mark with Gerasa, perhaps the more important town.

  4. 4

    I agree with Errancy, the number of demoniacs is a much bigger problem.

    I don’t know much about Gadara or Gerasa – can someone confirm whether these were in fact cities of the Decapolis? Were they in the vicinity of each other?

    Something needs to be corrected in the description of this error: it says “Luke agrees with Matthew”, when, according to the NRSV quotes, it should read “Luke agrees with Mark”?

    The interesting thing with this error though, is that in the NIV, all three versions have a footnote saying something to the effect of “some manuscripts say Gergasenes, or Gadarenes” depending on which Gospel they are looking at. So it’s hard to say who is right or wrong, and that’s a pity because I think it would say something about Markan or Matthean priority.

    Do you have any particular reason for using the NRSV? I tend to use the NIV, but if you pushed me for a reason, I’d probably crumble ;)

  5. 5

    What do you guys think of the possibility that that was an “ancient typo”? The names are fairly similar – Gadara and Gerasa. If Matthew was originally composed in Hebrew, it might even be a translation error from Greek to Hebrew? Or if we assume Matthean priority, an error from Hebrew to Greek by Mark! ;)

    I’m still giving thought to the two demoniacs/two blind men problem in Matthew. It may lend weight to Markan priority ..

  6. 6

    I use the NRSV because I trust it more than other translations. The NIV is theologically loaded, and will sometimes translate away difficulties that are present in the Greek.

    That said, I’m considering switching to the NASB, which in a few cases I’ve looked at recently (e.g. has done better than the NRSV.

  7. 7

    On a suspiciously high number of occasions, the NIV translates in such a way as to hide some problem.

    Jeremiah 7:22 (NIV adds “just”, since in fact the earlier events did include mention of burnt offerings)
    Matthew 21:20 (NIV changes “at once” to “quickly” to hide contradiction with Mark)
    Mark 4:31 (NIV makes it smallest seed “you” plant in the ground rather than smallest on Earth)
    Acts 22:9 (“understand” instead of “hear”, hides contradiction with earlier account)
    John 19:14 (“day of preparation of Passover week” instead of “day of preparation for the Passover” to deal with timing issues.

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