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The first thing that Matthew tells about the two demoniacs in 8:28 is that they were “coming from the tombs.” Mark, in his similar account of the event, reveals that at least one of these men actually “lived in the tombs.” This is an important detail with both cultural and historical significance.

First, from the ancient Jewish perspective, simply passing through a cemetery made a person ritually unclean and therefore unfit for social or religious contact. A man who actually lived in a graveyard, among the tombs and corpses, would have been considered shockingly unclean, like a disgusting character in a horror story. As such, these two demoniacs were more than just tortured men; they were a reprobates and a danger to all.

Second, prevailing thought at that time was that people who frequented graveyards did so with the intent of contacting evil spirits, or communicating with the dead, or practicing divination—acts which were expressly forbidden by the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 19:26, 31, 20:27, Deut. 18:10-11) and punishable by death. One rabbinical commentary on the subject stated, “If he spend the night in a cemetery, I might say that he did (it) in order that the spirit of impurity might rest upon him.” Another passage in the Talmud also indicated that the reason a person would spend a night in a cemetery was “so that an unclean spirit (of a demon) may rest upon him (to enable him to foretell the future).”

In light of this historical background, it’s quite possible that the two men described in Matthew 8:28-34 were victims of their own thirst for supernatural power. We’re not told exactly how they came to be possessed and tortured by thousands of demons, but they may have first ventured into the tombs in search of an unclean spirit to grant them power of divination—and then been overwhelmed by the demonic consequences of that unwise invitation.

 

Works Cited:

[BKB, 179-181]

 

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