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And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he [the demon] cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? ... But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him."
Gospel of Mark, 1:23-27B

uTtThe youth was, without knowing it, possessed by a devil [daimon]; for he would laugh at things that no one else laughed at, and then he would fall to weeping for no reason at all, and he would talk and sing to himself. Apollonius addressed him with anger, as a master might a shifty, rascally, and shameless slave and so on, and he ordered him to quit the young man... "
Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 4.10 (217 AD)

Was Christianity new?  Was Christianity unique? Let's talk about demons. Pagans had demons. Christians had demons. Right there in the bible, Christianity had demons. What you'll learn here is Pagans had demons first; Christians had demons second.

Stop. Go slow. The first Christians believed in demons. Demons. They believed in demons. They actually believed there are actual beings that live inside people and cause illness. That think, and hear, and talk, and move around, and do stuff. The first Christians had the idea, the concept of demons. How can that be? Where can that idea have come from?

Well, ancient Mediterranean Pagan culture also believed in demons. For centuries before Jesus, people around the Mediterranean had the concept of demons. So, did the first Christians make up the idea of demons all on their own? Or did they borrow —absorb— the idea from ancient Mediterranean culture?

Before you answer, let me mention that the earliest Christians said explicitly they believed in the Pagan demons. So, do you think Christianity borrowed the idea of Pagan demons from the Pagans who said, "There are demons"? Or did Christianity come up with the idea of Pagan demons all on its own? Are Christian ideas new and unique, or did Christianity borrow ideas from Paganism?

This is another one of those times ancient ideas were way different from ours. We think of demons pretty much only as low-level magical evil beings. Pagans did too. But as you'll see ancient culture had several other complicated and contradictory ideas about demons. Back then, demons were a big deal. Even Plato had a theory of demons.

The Greek word was, which English-letterates as "daimon." How daimon translates depends on context. Sometimes daimon meant "God," as in one of the top rank Olympian Gods. In the New Testament book Acts 17:18, Jesus is called a demon. Sometimes daimon is "demi-god," or "divinity," sometimes it's "guardian spirit". Lucky people were "eu-daimon," well-demoned. Unlucky people were "kako-daimon," bad-demoned. Sometimes daimon was the soul of the dead, sometimes it was a folk-religion magical being—and some of those folk-religion beings are the evil spirit you have in mind when you hear "demon."

Daimons are a cool part of ancient Pagan and Christian religion that POCM doesn't have room to talk about in detail. The good news is Christian scholar Dr. Everett Ferguson has written a wonderful, evidence based roundup of Pagan and Christian ideas about demons. See Good Books at the bottom of this page.

Let's start with two demon stories, one pagan, one Christian. Read closely, note the shared features. Prepare to be amazed.

A Pagan demon. Here's the story of a meeting between a Pagan demon and the Pythagorean teacher-sage Apollonius of Tyana. Apollonius lived in the first century AD; after He died, He was worshiped as a God. This history about Him was written in the third century AD, from notes made by one of His disciples.

Apollonius was with some people, discussing a point of sacred ritual, when he was interrupted by a young man who was, I'll be blunt, an asshole. Always shouting at the wrong time. Being licentious. You know the type.

Anyhow, Apollonius is talking and the young guy butts in, real loud like, with a coarse voice. And right away Apollonius, who has this divine power about Him, sees it's not the young lad who's the asshole, it's a demon [= daimon].

Now while he [Apollonius] was discussing the question libations, there chanced to be present in his audience a young dandy who bore so evil a reputation for licentiousness, that his conduct had long been the subject of coarse street-corner songs....[T]he youth burst out into loud and coarse laughter, and quite drowned his voice. Then Apollonius looked up at him and said : "It is not yourself that perpetrates this insult, but the demon, who drives you on without your knowing it."

And sure enough, the kid did have a demon in him. And it was the demon that made him laugh, and cry, and sing and generally act crazy. Don't that beat all!

And in fact the youth was, without knowing it, possessed by a devil [daimon] ; for he would laugh at things that no one else laughed at, and then he would fall to weeping for no reason at all, and he would talk and sing to himself. Now most people thought that it was the boisterous humor of youth which led him into such excesses ; but he was really the mouthpiece of a devil, though it only seemed a drunken frolic in which on that occasion he was indulging. Now when Apollonius gazed on him, the ghost in him began to utter cries of fear and rage, such as one hears from people who are being branded or racked ; and the ghost swore that he would leave the young man alone and never take possession of any man again.

And as soon as Apollonius spotted him, the demon knew it, and started to cry out, and talk with Apollonius and bargain with Him about leaving the young man.


But Apollonius, he didn't need to bargain. He just commanded that daimon to LEAVE!

And the demon left, performing a little miracle on the way.

But Apollonius addressed him with anger, as a master might a shifty, rascally, and shameless slave and so on, and he ordered him to quit the young man and show by a visible sign that he had done so. " I will throw down yonder statue," said the devil [daimon], and pointed to one of the images which were in the king's portico, for there it was that the scene took place. But when the statue began by moving gently, and then fell down, it would defy anyone to describe [page 392] the hubbub which arose thereat and the way they clapped their hands with wonder.

After which the young man turned out to be a swell fellow. I never saw it coming. How about you?



And the man who Apollonius fixed up, demon wise, becomes His follower.

But the young man rubbed his eyes as if he had just woke up, and he looked towards the rays of the sun, and assumed a modest aspect, as all had their attention concentrated on him ; for he no longer showed himself licentious, nor did he stare madly about, but he had returned to his own self, as thoroughly as if he had been treated with drugs ; and he gave up his dainty dress and summery garments and the rest of his sybaritic way of life, and he fell in love with the austerity of philosophers, and donned their cloak, and stripping off his old self modeled his life in future upon that of Apollonius.


Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 4.10 (217 AD), -- which you can find in: Conybeare, F. C. Philostratus I: The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Books I - V (Loeb Classical Library #16) (2000), pg. 389- 91]
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Now here's a story about Jesus and a demon. Jesus lived in the first century AD; after He died, He was worshiped as a God. Whoever wrote this story didn't sign his name, and didn't say when he wrote it, so it's hard to be sure of its date. Our first atestation of this writing dates from about 130 AD, when some version of it (now lost) was offered up as part of a new sacred text—a new testament—by a heretic named Marcion. Here we go, from the Gospel of Luke...

So Jesus comes to town, and right away he meets this man who has demons inside him.

The demons make the man go around with no clothes, and live out in the cemetery. They make him act crazy.

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Ger'asenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 And as he [Jesus] stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs.

Right away Jesus, who had this divine power about Him, knew about the demons. And the demons, who had this divine power about them, knew He knew. And as soon as Apollonius Jesus spotted him them, the demons knew it, and started to cry out, and talk with Apollonius Jesus and bargain with Him about leaving the young man.

28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me."

But Apollonius Jesus, He didn't need to bargain. He commanded those daimons to LEAVE!

Chatting with demons.


29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.

And the demons left, performing a little miracle on the way.



After which the man turns out to be a swell fellow. I never saw it coming. How about you?

32 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. 34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Ger'asenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned.

And the man who Apollonius Jesus fixed up, demon wise, asks to become His follower.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying, 39 "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

"Luke," the unknown author of the Gospel of Luke, 8:22-39, RSV

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Let's recap. You now know Pagans had demons. Pagan demons could live inside people, and make them crazy. Pagan demons could be spotted by divine men. Pagan demons could tell when they'd be spotted by a divine men. Pagan demons talked to divine men. Divine men commanded Pagan demons to leave the body of the people they inhabited. And the Pagan demons left. Performing a little miracle on the way out.

You also know Pagans Christians had demons. Pagan Christian demons could live inside people, and make them crazy. Pagan Christian demons could be spotted by divine men. Pagan Christian demons could tell when they'd be spotted by a divine men. Pagan Christian demons talked to divine men. Divine men commanded Pagan Christian demons to leave the body of the people they inhabited. And the Pagan Christian demons left. Performing a little miracle on the way out.Another SPFYMLM

You also know putting a line through Pagan and writing "Christian" is very annoying. What's more, it's a mistake—another one of those times our ideas are way different from the ancient ideas. See, you and I think "Pagan" and "Christian" are different. I mean, totally different. Different Gods. Different theology. Different morality. Different everything. Them and Us. Now you're starting to see, it ain't so. In many many ways Christianity was not new, not unique. Christian ideas were Pagan ideas. And we're not talking simple, trivial ideas. We're talking ideas deep in the fabric of the bible, in the stories about who Jesus was and what he taught and did. Many biblical ideas are pagan ideas. Christian religion is not different from Pagan religion. Christianity is an ancient Pagan religion.


Greggy's Guesses

Theology of demons, rationalism fail
If you just read the Apellonius and Jesus demon stories, chances are you spotted a problem with the old rationalist explanation of Jesus' miracles. Rationalists think they can explain the magic-miralce bits out of Jesus' stories. Jesus didn't walk on the water; He walked along the shore, and people thought they saw him on the water. Like that.

Demons in the bible
The story you just read from Luke, Chapter 8, isn't a one off demon deal, bible wise. Demons [= daimons] come up in the New Testament a lot.

Here's a demon story from the Gospel of Mark.

If there was every any question that the Christian idea of demons was identical to the Pagan idea of demons, this passage from the Word of God should set doubters straight. God, beaming His thoughts through the magical pen of "Mark," says quite clearly, "the woman was a Greek." Not a Jew. Not a Christian. A Greek. And she knew, without Jesus or anyone cluing her in, exactly how demons worked. They caused disease. And divine men could cast them out.

Greek / Pagan ideas about demons were identical with Jewish/ Christian ideas about demons. The bible says so. Lets not have any more of that "Christianity is new and unique" talk, please.


24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid. 25 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 28 But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29 And he said to her, "For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." 30 And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.
Mark, Gospel of Mark, 7:24- 30

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Again from the Gospel of Mark.

Another man with a spirit/ demon inside him. The spirit recognizes Jesus. Cries out. Bargains. Gets thrown out.

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; 24 and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.


Jesus casts out many demons that are causing disease.


Luke tells this same story in Gospel of Luke, 4:31- 44. I'll spare you the repetition.


29 And immediately he left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together about the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
"Mark", the gospel writer, Gospel of Mark, 1:23-34

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

From the Gospel of Matthew, a demon causes epilepsy.

The ancients called epilepsy "the divine disease," because it was known to be caused by divine [daimon] possession.


Jesus rebukes the demon. The demon left. The boy was cured.

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and kneeling before him said, 15 "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him." 17 And Jesus answered, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me." 18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.
"Matthew", the gospel writer, Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 17

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

In this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, a little demon casting serves to bring up a point of theology.


[BTW, did you notice the plot hump "Matthew" gets around by invoking Jesus' magical mind reading ability? For more such, see Phony Quotes]



22 Then a blind and dumb demoniac was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, "Can this be the Son of David?" 24 But when the Pharisees heard it they said, "It is only by Be-el'zebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons." 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand; 26 and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Be-el'zebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
"Matthew", the gospel writer, Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 12

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

John the Baptist acted crazy. On account of which, people though he had a demon in him. Demon possession was part of ancient folk-religion.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon';
Matthew 11: 7 – 18

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Jesus cures disease by casting out evil spirits.


21 In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight.
Luke, the gospel writer, Gospel of Luke, 7:29 - 35

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


Pagan demons
Remember I said Pagans had demons—daimons, and they had complicated and contradictory ideas about them? They did. Here's a smatterng.

Daimons are older than writing. We know that because in the oldest surviving Greek writing, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, from the 8th century BC, there they are.

This bit is from the Iliad. Aphrodite is one of the big shot Olympian Gods. And, says Homer, she is a daimon.

One meaning of "daimon" is God.


But Aphrodite caught up Paris                             380
easily, since she was divine, and wrapped him in a thick mist
and set him down again in his own perfumed bedchamber.
She then went away to summon Helen, and found her
on the high tower...
So she spoke, and troubled the spirit in Helen's bosom.              395
She, as she recognized the round, sweet throat of the goddess
and her desirable breasts and her eyes that were full of shining,
she wondered, and spoke a word and called her by name, thus:
'Strange divinity! [daimon]. Why are you still so stubborn to beguile me?
Homer, Iliad, 3.380- 399 (8th century BC)

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

For Homer, daimon was also what Zeus was.





But Teukros picked up another arrow for bronze-helmed
Hektor, and would have stopped his fighting by the ships of the Achaians
had he hit him during his bravery and torn the life from him; 460
but he was not hidden from the close purpose of Zeus, who was guarding
Hektor, and denied that glory to Telamonian Teukros;
who broke in the unfaulted bow the close-twisted sinew
as Teukros drew it against him, so the bronze-weighted arrow
went, as the bow dropped out of his hands, driven crazily sidewise. 465
And Teukros shuddered at the sight, and spoke to his brother:
'See now, how hard the divinity [daimon].cuts across the intention
in all our battle, who struck thc bow out of my hand, who has broken
the fresh-twisted sinew of the bowstring I bound on
this morning, so it would stand the succession of springing arrows.' 470
Homer, Iliad, 15.458- 470 (8th century BC)

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


In fact, the Olympian Gods in general were described as "daimons"

Then in answer again spoke Achilleus of the swift feet:        215
'Goddess, it is necessary that I obey the word of you two,
angry though I am in my heart. So it will be better.
If any man obeys the gods, they listen to him also.'
He spoke, and laid his heavy hand on the silver sword hilt
and thrust the great blade back into the scabbard nor disobeyed
the word of Athene. And she went back again to Olympos
to the house of Zeus of the aegis with the other divinities [daimons].
Homer, Iliad, 1.215 - 22 (8th century BC)

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

But don't get the idea that in Homer's day "daimon" just meant "God." It didn't. For Homer, daimon was also an otherwise unnamed supernatural force that drove men in battle.

Now by the ships others fought in their various places
but Hektor
made straight for glorious Aias. These two    415
were fighting hard for a single ship; and neither was able,
Hektor to drive Aias off the ship, and set fire to it,
nor Aias to beat Hektor back,
since the divinity [daimon] drove him.
Homer, Iliad, 15.414- 419 (8th century BC)

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


For Plato (yes that Plato, in the 5th century BC), daimons were spiritual beings—a kind of God.

Plato has a whole theory of daimons (I told you this was cool stuff), but I won't inflict it all on you.





[27c] Is there anyone who believes spiritual things exist, but does not believe in spirits? “There is not.” Thank you for replying reluctantly when forced by these gentlemen. Then you say that I believe in spiritual beings, whether new or old, and teach that belief; but then I believe in spiritual beings at any rate, according to your statement, and you swore to that in your indictment. But if I believe in spiritual beings, it is quite inevitable that I believe also in spirits; is it not so? It is; for I assume that you agree, since you do not answer. But do we not think the spirits are [27d] gods or children of gods? Yes, or no? “Certainly.” Then if I believe in spirits, as you say, if spirits are a kind of gods, that would be the puzzle and joke which I say you are uttering in saying that I, while I do not believe in gods, do believe In gods again, since I believe in spirits; but if, on the other hand, spirits are a kind of bastard children of gods, by nymphs or by any others, whoever their mothers are said to be, what man would believe that there are children of gods, but no gods? It would be just as absurd [27e] as if one were to believe that there are children of horses and asses, namely mules, but no horses and asses.
Plato, Apology, 27b- e
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

And >>


Thinking this got Socrates killed.



[24b] I will try to defend myself next. So once more, as if these were another set of accusers, let us take up in turn their sworn statement. It is about as follows: it states that Socrates is a wrongdoer because he corrupts the youth and does not believe in the gods the state believes in, but in other 24c] new spiritual beings. [hetera daimonia kaina]
Plato, Apology, 24b -c

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

One of the things Plato is famous for is having a whole theory of daimons, but I won't inflict it all on you. You're welcome.


How about in Jesus time? In the first and second centuries AD, people understood that divinity had a hierarchy. There were the big Gods, like Zeus, Dionysus, Isis, Yahweh. Under them were demi-gods, daimons. Under them were Heroes, men whose amazing deeds had been rewarded with immortality. Under them were regular people.

Here's Plutarch (c. 50 AD - c. 120 AD) describing the divine hierarchy.



I'm telling you about Jesus' time, but notice that the daimons in the divine hierarchy. business dates all the way back to Hesiod, in the 7th century BC.

"[I]t seems to me, those persons have resolved more and greater perplexities who have set the race of demigods [daimonon] midway between gods and men," and have discovered a force to draw together, in a way, and to unite our common fellowship-whether this doctrine comes from the wise men of the cult of Zoroaster, or whether it is Thracian and harks back to Orpheus, or is Egyptian, or Phrygian, as we may infer from observing that many things connected with death and mourning in the rites of both lands are combined in the ceremonies so fervently celebrated there. Among the Greeks, Homer, moreover, appears to use both names in common and sometimes to speak of the gods as demigods [daimonas] ; but Hesiod was was the first to set forth clearly and distinctly four classes of rational beings : gods, demigods, heroes, in this order, and, last of all, men ; and as a sequence to this, apparently, he postulates his transmutation, the golden race passing selectively into many good divinities, and the demigods into heroes.



" Others postulate a transmutation for bodies and souls alike ; in the same manner in which water is seen to be generated from earth, air from water, and fire from air, as their substance is borne upward, even so from men into heroes and from heroes into demigods [daimonas] the better souls obtain their transmutation. But from the demigods a few souls still, in the long reach of time, because of supreme excellence, come, after being purified, to share completely in divine qualities. But with some of these souls it comes to pass that they do not maintain control over themselves, but yield to temptation and are again clothed [page 381] with moral bodies and have a dim and darkened life, like mist or vapor


Plutarch, The Obsolescence of Oracles, 414 F - 415 C (1st century AD), -- which you can find in: Babbitt, Frank. Plutarch Moralia, Loeb, Volume 5 (1936/ 1999), pg. 377- 9

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

As demi-gods, demons were worshiped.

Apollonius of Tyana became divine, and was worshiped.

" And I," said Apollonius, " my good friend, understand all languages, though I never learnt a single one." The native of Ninevah was astonished at this answer, but the other replied: " You need not wonder at my knowing all human languages ; for, to tell you the truth, I also understand all the secrets of human silence." Thereupon the Assyrian worshipped him, when he heard this, and regarded him as a demon; and he stayed with him increasing in wisdom and committing to memory whatever he learnt.

Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 4.10 (217 AD), -- which you can find in: Conybeare, F. C. Philostratus I: The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Books I - V (Loeb Classical Library #16) (2000), pg. 53
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Remember Socrates, the 5th century BC Greek fellow who had his own personal daimon? That idea caught on. And lasted. Here's Porphyry, in the third century AD, describing a ceremony in which the famous neo-platonic philosopher Plotinus called up his own personal demon. Plotinus was so cool, his personal daimon turned out to be a full fledged God.

Plotinus was so impressed, he wrote a book about it. Who wouldn't?

Plotinus had special gifts from his birth onwards. There was an Egyptian priest who came to Rome and met him through a friend. This priest offered to give a demonstration of his science and asked him to come to attend an evocation of his familiar spirit. [Professor Beard notes: "The Greek word is daimon, which sometimes corresponds to our 'demon', but is not necessarily a hostile spirit; the idea of a daimon attached to the individual goes back to Plato."] Plotinus was happy to agree. It was in the Isis temple that the evocation took place, because that, according to the Egyptian priest, was the only place he could find in Rome that was 'pure'. The spirit was conjured and asked to reveal himself, but it was not a spirit [daimon] that appeared, but a god. The Egyptian cried out: 'You are blessed who have as your familiar a god and not a spirit of the lower orders.'

There was no chance to ask any questions of the apparition, nor even to look at it for long, because another friend who was there, and who was holding some birds as an insurance, strangled them, whether because he was jealous or terrified. Since Plotinus had a divine being as his familiar, he concentrated on it for a time with his divine eye. This experience caused him to write a book trying to explain the differences between familiars; it was called On the Spirit that Allotted Us to Himself.
Porphyry, Life of Plotinus, 10 (third century AD), -- which you can find in: Beard, Mary. Religions of Rome, Volume 2, A Sourcebook (1998 / 2003), pg. 230

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


Demons in pre-Christian Judaism
As with slavery, and magic dreams, demons were also part of pre-Christian Judasim. Here's a nice magic demon legend from a Jewish story called Tobit. Whether you think Tobit is in the bible or not depends on whether you are Catholic or Protestant. Here we go, from the Book of Tobit; so sayeth the Lord...

Once upon a time, a young lad named Tobias was walking along the river, when a fish jumped up and tried to swallow him.


And the angel (did I mention there was an angel?) said, "Cut out the fish's liver, heart, and gall." So Tobias did.

Tobit, Chapter 6
1: Now as they proceeded on their way they came at evening to the Tigris river and camped there. 2: Then the young man went down to wash himself. A
fish leaped up from the river and would have swallowed the young man; 3: and the angel said to him, "Catch the fish." So the young man seized the fish and threw it up on the land. 4: Then the angel said to him, "Cut open the fish and take the heart and liver and gall and put them away safely." 5: So the young man did as the angel told him; and they roasted and ate the fish. And they both continued on their way until they came near to Ecbatana.


The angel explained: The smoke from burning fish heart and liver will drive away demons, and cure disease.

6: Then the young man said to the angel, "Brother Azarias, of what use is the liver and heart and gall of the fish?" 7: He replied, "As for the heart and liver, if a demon or evil spirit gives trouble to any one, you make a smoke from these before the man or woman, and that person will never be troubled again. 8: And as for the gall, anoint with it a man who has white films in his eyes, and he will be cured."


Scene 2. According to the Law of God, Tobias is entitled to inherit the girl Sarah.

9: When they approached Ecbatana, 10: the angel said to the young man, "Brother, today we shall stay with Raguel. He is your relative, and he has an only daughter named Sarah. I will suggest that she be given to you in marriage, 11: because you are entitled to her and to her inheritance, for you are her only eligible kinsman. 12: The girl is also beautiful and sensible. Now listen to my plan. I will speak to her father, and as soon as we return from Rages we will celebrate the marriage. For I know that Raguel, according to the law of Moses, cannot give her to another man without incurring the penalty of death, because you rather than any other man are entitled to the inheritance."

Trouble is, Sarah has already been given to seven husbands, and they all died "in the bridal chamber," if you know what I mean. Why? They were all killed by a demon who is in love with Sarah.

You got any guesses where this story is headed?

13: Then the young man said to the angel, "Brother Azarias, I have heard that the girl has been given to seven husbands and that each died in the bridal chamber. 14: Now I am the only son my father has, and I am afraid that if I go in I will die as those before me did, for a demon is in love with her, and he harms no one except those who approach her. So now I fear that I may die and bring the lives of my father and mother to the grave in sorrow on my account. And they have no other son to bury them."


Don't worry, said the angel to Tobias, use the magic fish liver.

15: But the angel said to him, "Do you not remember the words with which your father commanded you to take a wife from among your own people? Now listen to me, brother, for she will become your wife; and do not worry about the demon, for this very night she will be given to you in marriage. 16: When you enter the bridal chamber, you shall take live ashes of incense and lay upon them some of the heart and liver of the fish so as to make a smoke. 17: Then the demon will smell it and flee away, and will never again return. And when you approach her, rise up, both of you, and cry out to the merciful God, and he will save you and have mercy on you. Do not be afraid, for she was destined for you from eternity. You will save her, and she will go with you, and I suppose that you will have children by her."

When Tobias heard these things, he fell in love with her and yearned deeply for her.

Chapter 7 is all setup. Skip is if you want.

Chapter 7
1: When they reached Ecbatana and arrived at the house of Raguel, Sarah met them and greeted them. They returned her greeting, and she brought them into the house. 2: Then Raguel said to his wife Edna, "How much the young man resembles my cousin Tobit!" 3: And Raguel asked them, "Where are you from, brethren?" They answered him, "We belong to the sons of Naphtali, who are captives in Nineveh." 4: So he said to them, "Do you know our brother Tobit?" And they said, "Yes, we do." And he asked them, "Is he in good health?" 5: They replied, "He is alive and in good health." And Tobias said, "He is my father."

6: Then Raguel sprang up and kissed him and wept. 7: And he blessed him and exclaimed, "Son of that good and noble man!" When he heard that Tobit had lost his sight, he was stricken with grief and wept. 8: And his wife Edna and his daughter Sarah wept. They received them very warmly; and they killed a ram from the flock and set large servings of food before them.

Then Tobias said to Raphael, "Brother Azarias, speak of those things which you talked about on the journey, and let the matter be settled." 9: So he communicated the proposal to Raguel. And Raguel said to Tobias, "Eat, drink, and be merry; 10: for it is your right to take my child. But let me explain the true situation to you. 11: I have given my daughter to seven husbands, and when each came to her he died in the night. But for the present be merry." And Tobias said, "I will eat nothing here until you make a binding agreement with me." 12: So Raguel said, "Take her right now, in accordance with the law. You are her relative, and she is yours. The merciful God will guide you both for the best."

13: Then he called his daughter Sarah, and taking her by the hand he gave her to Tobias to be his wife, saying, "Here she is; take her according to the law of Moses, and take her with you to your father." And he blessed them. 14: Next he called his wife Edna, and took a scroll and wrote out the contract; and they set their seals to it.

15: Then they began to eat. 16: And Raguel called his wife Edna and said to her, "Sister, make up the other room, and take her into it." 17: so she did as he said, and took her there; and the girl began to weep. But the mother comforted her daughter in her tears, and said to her, 18: "Be brave, my child; the Lord of heaven and earth grant you joy in place of this sorrow of yours. Be brave, my daughter."


And Tobias did inherit Sarah, and go to her bridal chamber, but he didn't die, because he burned the fish liver and heart, and the smoke drove the demon away.

Chapter 8
1 When they had finished eating, they escorted Tobias in to her. 2: As he went he remembered the words of Raphael, and
he took the live ashes of incense and put the heart and liver of the fish upon them and made a smoke. 3: And when the demon smelled the odor he fled to the remotest parts of Egypt, and the angel bound him.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Old Testament, Book of Tobitt Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Like the Greeks, like the Romans, like the Egyptians, Thracians, Macedonians, Cartheginians, Phonecians, like everyone in ancient culture, pre-Christian Jews believed in magic demons. Demons that could cause death and disease. Demons that could be driven away by magic spells and incantations.



Jews and Romans in 1st century AD Judea believed in demons, and demons causing disease, and casting out demons, and demons doing a little miracle on the way out.


8.2.5. Now the sagacity and wisdom which God had bestowed on Solomon was so great, that he exceeded the ancients; insomuch that he was no way inferior to the Egyptians, who are said to have been beyond all men in understanding; nay, indeed, it is evident that their sagacity was very much inferior to that of the king's. . ...


God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, (4) which is a science useful and sanative to men. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return;


and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this: He put a ring that had a Foot of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.


And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man...
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 8.2.5

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


I call upon you, demon, whoever you are, and I charge you from this hour, from this day, from this moment -- torment and strike down the horses of the Green and White [factions]. Strike down the charioteers Clarus and Felix and Primulus and Romanus, and cause them to crash, and leave no life in them. I call upon you by the one who loosed you for periods of time, the god of sea and air.
Curse tablet from Hadrumentum, north Africa, . (200s AD), -- which you can find in: Lee, A.D.. Pagans & Christians in Late Antiquity (2000), pg. 1.11, pages 30 - 31
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves. Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

The Pythagoreans also assert that the whole air is full of souls, and that these are those that are accounted daimons or heroes. They are the ones that send down among men dreams, and tokens of disease and health; the latter not being reserved to human beings, but being sent also to sheep and cattle as well. They are concerned with purifications, expiations, and all kinds of divinations, oracular predictions, and the like.
Diogenes Laertius, The Life of Pythagoras, 19 (Guthrie's divisions) (3d century AD), -- which you can find in: Gutherie, Kenneth. The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library (1988), pg. 149
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


Good Books for this section

Demonology of the Early Christian World
by Everett Ferguson

What you'll find:

Jesus and the demons, in the New Testament.

Greek Views on demonology

Jewish views on demonology

Early Christian views on demonology

All based on a detailed scholarly review and presentation of the primary ancient evidence. Highly, highly recommended.

You can buy this book through Amazon, but I've never seen it there for less than $85. Ouch. See if your local library can get a copy from a university, through inter-libary loan.

Miracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity
A Sourcebook for the study of New Testament Miracle Stories

by Wendy Cotter

Lousy with miracles Like chocolate chips in mama's cookies, miracles were a basic ingredient in ancient people's understanding of how the world works. Every bite—another miracle. The ancient world was lousy with miracles.

Includes a long section with Pagan, Jewish, and Christian passages relating to demons, demon possession, demon exorcism, and the god-demon-hero-man hierarchy.

Well organized, easy to read. Highly recommended.