Article: Christianity And The Witch Hunt Era (8/12)May 3, 2007
Before moving to the 18th century, it is necessary to review the work of two 17th century authors who also contributed usefully to the ongoing debate regarding supernatural evil. These two men were Joseph Mede and Thomas Hobbes.
* 1640: Joseph Mede, prominent Anglican professor of Greek at Cambridge University, puzzled over the accounts of demon possession in the New Testament. He noted their complete absence from the Old Testament, and wondered that such possession was so common in the 1st century, yet so rare in his own time:
‘Now, to come toward my Text; a like instance to this, I take to be that of the Daemoniacks so often mentioned in the Gospel: For I make no question, but that now and then the same befals other men; whereof I have experience my selfe, to wit, To marvell how these Daemoniacks should so abound in, and about that Nation, which was the People of God; whereas in other Nations and their writings wee heare of no such; And that too, as it should seem, about the time of our Saviours being on earth onely; because in the time before we finde no mention of them in Scripture.
The wonder is yet the greater, because it seems notwithstanding all this, by the Story of the Gospel, not to have been accounted then by the people of the Jews, any strange or extraordinary thing, but as a matter usuall; nor besides is taken notice of by any forraine Story.’
Joseph Mede, ‘S. Iohn 10.20. He hath a Devill, and is mad’, published posthumously in ‘DIATRIBAE. DISCOVRSES ON DIVERS TEXTS OF SCRIPTVRE: Delivered upon severall occasions’, pages 122-123, 1642
Mede’s conclusion was that those described as ‘demoniacs’, or possessed by demons, were in fact mentally ill:
‘To meet with all these difficulties, (which I see not how otherwise can be easily satisfied) I am perswaded (till I shall heare better reason to the contrary) that these Daemoniacks were no other then such as well call mad-men, and Lunaticks; at least that we comprehend them under those names, and that therefore they both still are, and in all times and places have been, much more frequent then we imagine. The cause of which our mistake, is that disguise of another name, and notion, then we conceive them by; which makes us take them to be diverse which are the same.”’
Joseph Mede, ‘S. Iohn 10.20. He hath a Devill, and is mad’, published posthumously in ‘DIATRIBAE. DISCOVRSES ON DIVERS TEXTS OF SCRIPTVRE: Delivered upon severall occasions’, pages 123-124, 1642