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§ 102. Connexion of the Phenomena with the State of the Times.—Conceptions of the Jews in regard to them: of the Demoniacs themselves.

The diseases of the mind in every age bear the stamp, to some degree, of the prevailing tendencies and ideas of the times; and those to which we refer reflected the peculiar and predominant features of the Jewish mind of that age. The wretched demoniacs seemed to be hurried onward by a strange and hostile power that subjugated their intellectual and moral being, and whose chief characteristic, as displayed in their paroxysms, was a wild and savage destructiveness. The Jews explained these phenomena according to their own notions, and especially by the general opinion that man was surrounded on every side by the operations of evil spirits, who were the authors of both moral and physical evil.229229   Some have attributed the prevalence of this opinion to an admixture of Persian religious doctrines; but it had a far deeper ground in the religious spirit of the age. It arose from the sense of discord which penetrated the whole mind of that time, and which was reflected in the doctrine of Dualism, then so extensively prevailing. And as a fierce destructiveness was considered to 147be characteristic of these spirits, the condition of the demoniacs was ascribed to their being possessed by one or more of them.230230   We agree with Strauss, that, according to “the Jewish mode of thinking, the interference of evil spirits must be really supposed, and that the views of Josephus (B. J., vii., 6, 3: τὰ γὰρ καλούμενα δαιμόνια πονηρῶν ἐστιν ἀνθρώπων πνεύματα, τοῖς ζῶσιν εἰσδυόμενα) were modified by his Greek culture. At a later period, when Oriental influences were more felt, the idea of demons, as spirits allied to matter, or as hypostatic emanations from the ὕλη, was common even among the educated Hellenists.

The diseased persons themselves involuntarily conceived of their own experience according to the prevalent opinion, and their expressions, literally taken, contributed to confirm it. Every thing irrational which suggested itself to them appeared to their consciousness as the work and the will of the indwelling evil spirit. They conceived themselves, in fact, as possessed of two natures, viz., their real proper being (the true I), and the evil spirit which subjugated the other; and thus it happened that they spoke in the person of the evil spirit, with which they felt themselves blended into one, even in instincts and propensities utterly repugnant to their true nature. The sense of inward discord and distraction might rise to such a height as to induce the belief that they were possessed by a number of spirits, to whom they were compelled to lend their utterance.

We may find a reason for the remarkable prevalence of such phenomena at that time, not only among the Jews, but also throughout the Roman Empire, in the character of the age itself. It was an age of spiritual and physical distress, of manifold and violent disruptions; such as characterize those critical epochs in the history of the world at which, from the dissolution of all existing things, a new creation is about to unfold itself. The sway of Demonism was a sign of the approaching dissolution of the Old World.231231   Schelling’s remark on this subject, in his “Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom,” is worthy of note: “The time is coming when all this splendour will be dissolved; when the existing body of this fair world will fall to pieces, and chaos come again. But before the final wreck, the all-pervading powers assume the nature of evil spirits; the very powers which in the sounder time were the protecting spirits of life, become, as dissolution draws on, agents of mischief and destruction. Its phenomena—symptoms of the universally felt discord—were among the signs of the times which pointed to the coming of the Redeemer, who was to change that discord into harmony. The insatiable craving of want is always a precursor of the approaching supply.

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