When my son was three he had a seizure while sleeping. His convulsions were so violent that the sound of his bed shaking woke my wife and I. It was a terrifying event. But rather than calling an exorcist we called the hospital. My son was fine, and we left the hospital with a handful of literature and “First Aid” information. Needless to say, the literature and information was “comforting,” and I’m thankful to live in our modern age; I can’t imagine how people 2,000 years ago dealt with this kind of terrifying event. Oh, wait, maybe I can – demon possessions!
In my World Religions class I make it very clear to my students that people during Jesus’ time had a limited understanding of the world. And, more importantly, I want them to understand that people of the Bronze Age, like today, sought answers.
Answers bring comfort. And in the absence of medical science it is easy to understand how people once diagnosed epileptic seizures and convulsions as demon possessions. It was the best answer they could formulate, and it is understandable. But for many of my students the dichotomy between “alleged” demon possessions (as described in the New Testament) and our present-day understanding of epilepsy can raise some serious questions: Were epileptic seizures misdiagnosed as “possessions”? And if so, does this cast doubt on the credibility of the Bible as actual “truth”? And if the Bible has it wrong regarding demons, where else might the Bible have it wrong? These are questions I let my students answer for themselves.