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Some have supposed that the word demon, in the sacred writings, always implies an evil spirit, or devil; but this is a conceit of St. Augustin and others, which will not bear investigation. Demons, according to the Gentile Mythology, were middle powers between Sovereign God and mortal man, who performed the office of mediators, and executioners of the divine purposes. Of this opinion was Plato, the most competent judge, and consummate writer on this subject. Apuleius de Deo Socratis, affirms, the demons are middle powers, by whom all our desires and deserts pass to the gods. It would derogate from the majesty of the celestial gods, to be concerned about such things; therefore all things are done by the will, power, and authority of the celestial gods, but by the obedience and ministry of the demons."
It is abundantly manifested from the best writers of antiquity, that demons were the supposititious ghosts of dead men. Hesiod, a most ancient writer, who flourished nine hundred years before Christ, describes that happy race of men, who lived in the first or golden age of the world, as being promoted, after death, to the rank of demons by the will of Jupiter, and appointed to be guardians of men, and the observers of their good and evil actions.
Autar epei men touto genos kata gaia kalupse Toi men daimonese cisi, Dios magalou diaboulas, k. t.l.
Plato agrees with Hesiod, and admits that he and many of the poets speak excellently, in affirming that when good men die, they obtain great honour and dignity, and become demons. In another place, he maintains, that all who die valiantly in war, are admitted into Hesiod's golden generation, and constituted Demons.
Eusebius and Theodoret both cite and approve these passages, from Hesiod and Plato, and use them as an argument for similar dignity and honour
being bestowed on saints and martyrs. Hence it is clear from the writings of the greatest men of antiquity, that the term demon, originally and properly applied to deified dead men. In this very sense, it was un. derstood by the philosophers at Athens, in the days of Paul; for when he preached Jesus and the resurrection, they thought he wished to introduce Christ to them as a demon, or deified dead man. Accordingly they say, "he seemeth to set forth strange demons.” Acts 17: 18. Here our translators were as much puzzled by the word demon, as by the term hades, 1 Cor. 15:55 ; for though they had constantly translated Demon, Devil; Hades, Hell, yet they were in the above places forced to abandon the doctrine of hell, and metamorphose their devils into gods! It is also clear, from the term deisidaimonesterous, used by Paul, Acts 17: 22, that the superstition of the Athenians consisted in the fear and worship of these demons. Epiphanius, haranguing against the idolatrous worship of the Virgin, says, (and that very properly) Paul predicted that “some should apostatize from sound doctrines, giving heed to doctrines concerning demons, and become worshippers of the dead, as they were worshipped in Israel." flere Epiphanius refers to Baalim and Astaroth, which were men and women deified after death. Indeed, idolatrous Israel adopted the model of their gods from the neighbouring nations ; and the opinions of Josephus concerning the demons, agree with the notions of the heathen philosophers. Homer calls Nenus, Demon-Ilaid 17,98—104, and though many of the Greek writers use theoi, kai Daimones, as distinct, thereby indicating different grades in their objects of adoration, yet demons and gods were generally synonymous terms.
It is acknowledged however, that according to Plutarch, it was an ancient opinion, that some of these Demons fearing that good men might rival them in
honour and happiness, or attain to equal dignity, endeavoured to prevent and hinder them in the pursuit of virtue. Accordingly it became the opinion of philosophers, that part of the demons were wicked and malignant. Josephus, Wars, B. 7. C. 6. says, these evil demons were no other than the spirits of the wicked, who enter into the bodies of the living and kill them, unless they obtain help against them.” Hence the demonology of the later philosophers and the Pharisaic Jews, was perfectly analogous to the modern doctrine of good and bad angels. The whole system of Demonology, as also that of the Chaldean and Jewish Angelology, is founded on the fanciful supposition of separate states of spirits, being freed from the body, but possessing its propensities, they assist or torment the living, accordingly as they are benevolently or malevolently disposed towards them. Nothing in all the reveries of a lawless imagination can exceed the wildness of the supposition that souls can subsist after death without a body, and notwithstanding, retain the corporeal passions of that body, from which they are disentangled !
Daimonion appears synonymous with Daimon. It is used by Zenophon and Plutarch to denote the Deity : but it signifies generally, deified spirits, adored as mediators. When we compare 1 Cor. 8:4–7, and 10: 14, 20, 21. 1 Tim. 2: 5. Rev. 9 : 20, we cannot fail to see that the daimonia were the objects of religious adoration, and certainly were not considered as devils. Diabolos and Daimonion, are not once confounded, though the first occurs above thirty, and the latter about sixty times, in the New Testament. The word devil is, therefore, a very improper translation of Daimon in the above texts of scripture. We admit that the word Daimonion, in Matt. 12: 24–27, and the parallel passage, Luke 11 : 14–20, is to be understood in the evil sense according to the definition
of Josephus ; and implies, that agreeably to the Jewish notions, some dead men's spirits had the power of annoying the living: but by no just rule of interpretation can the word ever be rendered by the term devil.
Demoniacs were insane or epileptic persons, who were incurable in those days of medical ignorance ; and therefore, from the violence of the symptoms, were regarded by the superstitious, as possessed by diaboli. cal agents. This view of the subject has been successfully maintained by the learned Joseph Mede, in his discourse on John 10: 20, and by Lardner and Farmer, on the demoniacs of the New Testament. The Jews mostly learned their notions of demons and an.. gels, during the Babylonian captivity, where they became acquainted with the Persian philosophy. Being ignorant of physiology and pathology, they attributed every disease, of whose symptoms they were ignorant, to the influence of demons; and from the prevalence of the opinion, and the credulity of the patients, the subjects of these sore diseases, believed themselves to be possessed of demons, just as the deluded creatures of modern times, have admitted themselves to be witches. Justin Martyr urges it as an argument for a future state of existence, that demons, whom he calls the spirits of the dead, seized and tormented men.Chrysostom mentions it as a vulgar opinion, in his days, that all who died a violent death, became de
He also tells us, that some demoniacs would affirm that they were possessed of the soul of such a monk. Homer, speaking of a man, whom a violent disease had wasted, says, a hateful demon had entered into him. From this general opinion, epilepsy obtained the name of sacred disease. Like the Jews, the Romans believed in possession, but used different names, calling the ghosts, Larva, and the men possessed, Larvati; even to the present day, the Turks Fetain similar notions of insane persons.
Probably the greater part of these silly stories about. demoniacs, were fabricated by the Pharisees, who seized on every idle rumour to support their dogmas, concerning spirits, against the objections of the Saddu
From Matt. 17: 14–18, and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, it appears the Evangelists considered the demoniacs as persons affected with lunacy, or epilepsy. The Jews also identify insanity and possession, John 10: 20. Indeed, it is highly probable, that the notions of demons were rather the vulgar opinion, than the sober sentiment of the enlightened part of society, even in the days of Christ. Origen says, the physicians endeavoured to account for these cases in a natural way, calling them bodily diseases, not admitting the agency of impure spirits. Plotinus, a celebrated philosopher of the third century, blames those who ascribes to demons, diseases which, he says, arise from excess, indigestion, and other natural causes, and are often cured by medicine. Hippo. crates, the father of medicine, whose knowledge of the animal economy greatly surpassed that of all others in his time, wrote expressly to prove that there was nothing supernatural in the case of supposed demoniacs ; but that all the symptoms arose from natural
“When a man (says he) becomes incapable of speech, suffocated, foams, gnashes his teeth, shuts his hands close, his eyes being distorted, and falling down, kicks with his feet, that man has the Epilepsy. How absurd and inconsistent with the superintending providence of God, to admit that the universal parent would allow evil spirits to take possession of his own children, and torment the creatures of his care, the object of his ceaseless love !"