Thursday, March 03, 2005

Scholars to delve into mystery of ?the spirit within,?

The University of Chicago Chronicle"Leading scholars from around the world?from as close as Northwestern University and the University of Michigan to as far away as Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Florence?will come together with an interdisciplinary cross-section of Chicago faculty to grapple with the same question: When and where did the idea of the indwelling demon emerge?

Although the history of the indwelling demon is well documented in the common era?demons appear in the New Testament, when Jesus casts a spirit called Legion out of a mentally deranged man, and in the work of such Roman-era authors as Lucian and Plutarch?its precise origins remain obscure, explained conference organizer Christopher Faraone, Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures and the College.

Since the Greeks in pre-Roman times generally thought demons caused illness by attacking their victims from the outside by striking or strangling a person, and since the first reports of exorcism occur in the Levant and Anatolia, classicists have generally assumed that the idea of an indwelling demon?one blamed for stroke, epilepsy, mental illness and the like?is borrowed from the Near East in the first century. However, Biblical and Near Eastern scholars point out that one cannot trace this idea in the East prior to the late Hellenistic period.

?As a classicist, I?ve always thought the idea comes from the East, but my friends who study the Hebrew Bible say that it doesn?t really appear in the Near East until after the Greeks arrive. So we really have no idea where this comes from,? Faraone said. ?That?s why we?re having this conference, so we can figure it out. As of now, nobody has a good answer.?

Faraone?s own work focuses specifically on a bizarre idea that arose in the Mediterranean under the Roman Empire?that a woman?s womb needed to be exorcized as if it were an indwelling demon. This idea is apparently adapted from an earlier theory, found first and most famously in Plato but also to some degree in the Hippocratic doctors, that the womb could freely wander about the body and cause illness by colliding with other internal organs. In the Roman period, however, women who suffered from stroke or mental illness, Faraone explained, were believed to have a demonic womb that willfully attacked their internal organs. The womb eventually began to be addressed in the same way a demon is with a formula for exorcism. Thus in the Roman period, amulets inscribed with the command ?stay where you belong, womb? began to be used and were said to prevent the demonic womb from moving and attacking the other organs in the body. "
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