Casting Out Demons in the Name of Solomon: Jewish Exorcisms at the Time of Christ

Giotto, Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo (detail) (1300) 

Exorcisms have been a part of Catholicism from the very beginning. When Jesus sends out the Twelve Apostles, “they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:12-13). But did you know that exorcisms actually predate Christianity, and that there were Jewish exorcists at the time of Christ?

Jesus actually refers to this, but it’s such a brief mention in Scripture that it’s easy to overlook. It’s in Matthew 12:24-28, while the Pharisees are questioning Him about His own exorcisms:

But when the Pharisees heard it they said, “It is only by Be-elzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 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; and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Be-elzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Jesus’ remark makes it clear both that Jewish exorcists existed in His day, and that they were apparently successful in driving out demons.

That’s all the detail that Scripture gives us. Fortunately, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus tells us much more, in Book VIII of Antiquities of the Jews:

Now the sagacity and wisdom which God had bestowed on Solomon was so great, that he exceeded the ancients; [….] God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, 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; and when this was done, the skill and wisdom of Solomon was shown very manifestly: for which reason it is, that all men may know the vastness of Solomon’s abilities, and how he was beloved of God, and that the extraordinary virtues of every kind with which this king was endowed may not be unknown to any people under the sun for this reason, I say, it is that we have proceeded to speak so largely of these matters.

Josephus’ account is fascinating. It’s a first-century eyewitness account of a Jewish exorcism. And what he describes is this: demons were cast out in the name of Solomon, and the success of the exorcism was due to Solomon’s sanctity.

All of that neatly prefigures Catholic exorcisms, instituted by Jesus Christ, and done in His name. The two clearest Scriptural descriptions of these exorcisms are in Matthew 7 and Acts 16. The first actually mentions exorcisms as something of an aside (Matthew 7:21-23):

“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’”

It’s a sobering reminder that even this ability to perform miracles is no guarantee of salvation. We can proclaim Jesus as Lord and do mighty works that we want to do, and still not be saved, if we refuse to obey God and do what He wants us to do. And in the midst of it, we get a clearer picture of the way exorcisms work: demons are driven out in the name of Jesus. That’s even clearer in Acts 16:16-18:

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying. She followed Paul and us, crying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

It’s simple and effective. Of course, not every exorcism is as simple; we know of at least one case in which even the Apostles weren’t able to drive out a demon, because they needed to be praying and fasting (cf. Mark 9:17-29). But we still see that just as Our Lord had entrusted Solomon and the Jews with some sort of ability to perform exorcisms, Jesus entrusted the Apostles with the power to drive out demons in His Name.

There are three things that I hope that you take away from this post. First, the connection between Solomon and Christ. This isn’t the first or the only time that Solomon prefigured Jesus. In 2 Samuel 7:12, God promised David that He would establish a great Kingdom through David’s offspring. This is fulfilled in a limited sense with King Solomon, and in an infinitely greater sense in Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Solomon builds the Second Temple, while Christ’s Incarnate Body is the prophesied Temple (John 2:21). I talk about that dimension much more here, along with the Virgin Mary’s connection to the whole thing. Christ refers to Solomon’s role as a foreshadowing in Luke 11:31, when He says of Himself, “something greater than Solomon is here.”

An excerpt from the diary of St. Isaac Jogues, recounting the martyrdom of St. René Goupil.
This sign is from the Shrine of the North American Martyrs, near where both men were killed.

Second, the importance of the Name of Jesus (Philippians 2:10). St. Peter exhorts the crowds on Pentecost: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Shortly thereafter, Peter heals a crippled beggar by saying, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). For this, Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin, and the Holy Spirit inspires Peter to deliver this defense (Acts 4:8-12):

“Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

While these passages center around St. Peter, the head of the Apostles, he’s not the only one to do this: the Acts of the Apostles also describes the centrality of the Name of Jesus to the preaching of St. Philip (Acts 8:12) and Barnabas (Acts 9:27). Both evangelization and exorcisms have been, from the very beginning of Christianity, closely tied to the name of Jesus. 
Finally, the validity of exorcisms. It’s easy to regard exorcisms as superstitious, or too Medieval, or too ritualistic. But that’s not the case. And we know that from the testimonies of Jesus, of Josephus, and of the authors of Scripture, as well as the exorcisms that Catholic priests still perform today.  The evidence in these cases speaks for itself. These miracles are one of the ways that we know that Christianity (and more specifically, Catholicism) is true. Christ gave, as a sign, that His followers would drive out demons (Mark 16:17). The Catholic Church can point to two thousand years of doing just that.

11 Comments

    1. Clearly the people of Israel during that time had a great love for their great King, and prophet, of Israel. His personality was completely trustworthy, and lovable, even considering all of his trials and sins, and maybe even because of all his trials and sins. He is a model of faith, zeal and repentance for all times. To identify and associate Jesus with David was to appeal to all of these merciful, faithful and caring characteristics that they identified in the person of David. And, apparently, they trusted that Jesus would also listen to them, when they called out to Him in all of their miseries. Undoubtably, these same sick and suffering people had heard of all the great things that Jesus was performing for the poor and sick in their areas. So, they honored this new founded fame by linking His name, to their great and lovable King, David. An I think I counted about 12 times that they went home rejoicing, satisfied and healed.

      Then, there is also the prophetic link between David and Jesus as described by St. Paul:

      And after that they desired a king: and God gave them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, forty years. [22] And when he had removed him, he raised them up David to be king: to whom giving testimony, he said: I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man according to my own heart, who shall do all my wills. [23] Of this man’ s seed God according to his promise, hath raised up to Israel a Saviour, Jesus..” (Acts 13:21)

  1. Josephus above states: “Now the sagacity and wisdom which God had bestowed on Solomon was so great, that he exceeded the ancients.” And “..the skill and wisdom of Solomon was shown very manifestly: for which reason it is, that all men may know the vastness of Solomon’s abilities, and how he was beloved of God, and that the extraordinary virtues of every kind with which this king was endowed may not be unknown to any people under the sun for this reason…”

    Josephus in the ‘Antiquities’ certainly praises Solomon for his virtues. And in the same book we can find a similar praise, if not greater, of Jesus:

    “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

    Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3,3

    1. It might be added the Eusebius, in his “The Ecclesiastical History” (AD 326), included the same account from Josephus:

      …”After relating these things concerning John, he makes mention of our Saviour in the same work, in the following words:[11] “And there lived at that time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be proper to call him a man. For he was a doer of wonderful works…” (Church History of Eusebius/Book I/Chapter 11)

    2. Pretty boring DE MARIA……….my initials 🙁

      Some day maybe I’ll think of something clever…but really I’d rather think of something theological….it’s more fun!

      As I’m a member of the Legion of Mary I can see that you picked a good one! You’re also an excellent apologist. I’m just a rookie who loves the Lord.

      Best to you.

    3. Lol! Not boring. It had me wondering. Agnus Dei…no. Ad Majorem Dei Gloria, no. All’s well that ends well, no.

      Oh yeah. I love the name, De Maria. I’ve been using it a long time now. At the time, I was studying St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori and St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort. I followed their example.

      Thanks. I’ve been doing it a long, long time. If you’re “just a rookie”, you’re a talented one.

      Best to you as well,

      Sincerely,

      De Maria

  2. Solomon went to hell, get it out of your head that he was some great king, I don’t even know why we think his writings are just great and wise as ever.

    Kings Chapter 11: Solomon did that that was evil in the eyes of the Lord.

    He used drugs and divination, fornicated, had many pagan wives, made altars to pagan gods, and ate pork and blood.

    Acts Chapter 15: We should lay upon you no greater burden then these necessary things, do not fornicate, do not eat sacrifices, eat no blood. Do these things and you shall fare well. -Christs disciple James.

    Sounds like the model to being a priest to me.

    Acts Chapter 10: Peter doubted in himself what the vision should mean.

    Because nobody ever said a thing to him about eating unclean food until ten years after the crucifixion. The vision is most often interpreted! The first Gentiles come to the church, just read the whole chapter!

    Common and unclean are not the same word but were treated like such!

    Eating unclean food and blood is a pagan deception!

    Every creature is good and nothing to be refused because it is (set apart) by the word (of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.) And humans are supposed to be set apart from food as it is, because way back in Genesis chapter 9, God blessed Noah and his sons, and gave them the animals for meat, but whosoever sheds mans blood by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man. And furthermore if you study cities under siege such as Stalingrad you will see that human beings go utterly insane and incapacitated when they eat human flesh. Because flesh, that was not made to be food for humans, puts evil spirits into peoples bodies, in scientific terms, it doesn’t sit well, actually there is evidence it does not metabolize well.

    Peter come out onto the water with me. All things are possible with faith.

    Do you see how faith is not witchcraft? Because sin is not involved. There are a few that understand Jesus’ heart, we are finding that the first will be last, because we have had to learn from the first disciples in Greek texts that have not been corrupted, mistranslated, and words added in over the years.

    There will be many that say, Lord we drove out demons in your name, and I will tell them, depart from me I knew you not.

    Behold I stand at the door and knock, as many as I love I rebuke and chasten, be zealous therefore and repent!

    It’s all about repenting! Every prophet of Israel, John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples said repent!

    People read things that are not there because they are paranoid schitzophrenic, otherwise known as demon possessed! I can read all of it! And I don’t ignore any of it! Because I believe in God! And I know that God is good!

    If you ate good food and wore 100% material clothing you would not break a single law in that entire book. And furthermore polyester blend bras and clothes are a direct cause of breast cancer. Rebuke it!

    So what really changed from the old to new? Animal sacrifice was made obsolete, you can read about it in scripture, you can google scripture for a powerful research tool, and Christ did away with the death penalty. Because all of us deserve the death penalty, and all of us deserve an exorcism, and really if we sin we die the spiritual death so you can see how Christ made Gods laws stricter and fairer at the same time! Awesome! God loves us and wants us to live without sin!

    1. there’s something I don’t seem to understand when Christians says Christ paid for our sins with his blood. in the old testament God said if we commit sin and repent we will be forgiven. the story of Jonah of Nineveh confirms this, David the son of Jesse committed several atrocities and we he asked God for forgiveness he was forgiven and many more. so what is special about Jesus death?

      1. First of all Jesus didnt do away with the death penalty altogether, whether or not we should use it in the present circumstances is another question though “For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain.” Romans 13:4

        Thanks.

        God Bless

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