When Jesus 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.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 8:28 – May 23, 2012)
This is the beginning of familiar story. The demons challenge Jesus, “What have you to do with us?” and he, in turn, banishes them into a herd of swine, which then rush into the Sea of Galilee and drown. The swineherds run into the nearby town and tell what happened. The townspeople come out and, being afraid, beg Jesus to leave. Of course, the demoniacs are cured but we don’t know anything further about them. Matthew’s version of the story puzzles me. Mark and Luke also tell the tale and, if scholars are correct, it’s likely that Luke and Matthew got it from Mark who wrote his gospel first. (Compare Mark 5 and Luke 8.) ~ Here’s the first thing that puzzles me – Matthew slightly changes the location. Mark and Luke say this happened in the country of Gerasenes; Matthew, in the country of the Gadarenes. Now I know from my bible studies that these towns, Gadara and Gerasa, are close to one another and neither is actually on the Galilean lake. Both are Gentile towns near the eastern shore of the lake. The town in that area on the lake was Hippos. Why did Matthew choose to put this event in this slightly different location? I don’t know. And, so far, as I know there is no scholarship to answer that question. It’s just, as Yul Brynners king of Siam would say, a puzzlement. ~ The second puzzlement is why Matthew doubles the number of demoniacs. In Marks original tale and Luke’s repetition of it, there is a single possessed man. Matthew says there were two. In all other respects than these two details, the stories are the same. Why does Matthew say there were two possessed persons? Does that make the healing twice the miracle as it is in Mark’s version? I don’t think so. It’s just as frightening to the townspeople – whether Jesus cures one man or two, they still beg him to leave. ~ I have no answers to these puzzlements. I don’t even know if these minor changes of detail have any significance. Probably they don’t. But these little details are among the things about scripture study and contemplation that sometimes grab my attention and make me lay awake at night wondering, “Why two? Why two?” ~ It’s a puzzlement!