Exorcism, in the Name of Jesus— Hurtado’s Take

Exorcism, in the Name of Jesus— Hurtado’s Take April 7, 2018

The following is a recent post by my friend and colleague, Larry Hurtado. Pay attention especially to his three main points listed below. BW3

Exorcism and Healing in Early Christianity
by larryhurtado
On the weekend last I returned from a short (but very interesting) conference on “Healing and Exorcism in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity,” held in Orebro School of Theology (Orebro, Sweden). The focus, contributors and paper-titles are listed here.

My own presentation was, “The Ritual Use of Jesus’ Name in Early Christian Exorcism and Healing,” and here is my abstract:

“On the one hand, the use of Jesus’ name in early Christian accounts of healing and exorcism fits within the larger pattern of the invocation of powerful names (e.g., daimons, angels, etc.) in Roman-era exorcism and “magic”. On the other hand, the invocation of Jesus to the exclusion of other beings/powers suggests something distinctive within that larger pattern. This particular, even singular, focus on Jesus’ name (and the power/person it represents) likely reflects the unique status accorded to the risen/exalted Jesus in early Christian circles, and, along with some other distinguishing features, gives to early Christian exorcism and healing an identifiable character.”

I posited three main distinguishing features of early Christian exorcism and healing practice.

(1) The exclusivity of Jesus’ name, i.e., earliest texts portray Jesus’ followers as invoking his name alone, in contrast the the use of various and even multiple names/figures in non-Christian practice.

(2) The early Christian ritual use of Jesus’ name was one facet of a wider devotional pattern in which Jesus figured centrally. Here again, this distinguishes early Christian practice. The evidence of various other forms of Jewish ritual practices, and “pagan” practices as well, typically involved invocation of names of powerful beings, but this was not attached to any further devotional practice directed to these beings. But in early Christian circles, Jesus was invoked at baptism (the initiation rite), and in the collective worship gathering, hymns sung celebrating him, prayers directed through Jesus or to Jesus jointly with God, the shared meal understood as one in Jesus’ honour, et alia.

(3) The simplicity of method in earliest Christian ritual practice. Unlike the more elaborate practices portrayed in pagan and other Jewish circles, involving such things as elaborate and fixed spells, the use of fumigations and/or various devices, the reports of earliest Christian practice typically involve a simple command (e.g., to the demonic spirit).

The papers from the conference will appear in a volume to be published by Mohr-Siebeck in due course. In the meantime, my thanks and appreciation to Dr. Tommy Wasserman and Dr. Mikael Telbe, and their various assistants, for a well-run, informative and cordial conference.


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