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Acts 19:13 informs us about the existence of iterant Jewish exorcists who, inspired by Paul, decided to undertake the practice of invoking Jesus' name to cast out demons, probably because they wanted to reach the same success ratio as Paul:

13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” [Acts 19:13, ESV]

Based on later verses it appears that they managed to see some success and the practice gained some traction, until they came across an evil spirit that was way too strong for their level. All this is very interesting and food for thought, but for this question I would like to bring your focus to the fact that there were Jewish exorcists in the first place. We know this because Acts 19:13 says "[...] some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook [...]". This means that there were many itinerant Jewish exorcists around at the time and only a fraction of them began to invoke the name of Jesus (meaning that the rest continued doing their exorcisms the way they used to do them).

Question: How did the itinerant Jewish exorcists cast out demons before they undertook to invoke the name of Jesus?

Evidently they couldn't have used the name of Jesus to cast out demons before they started using the name of Jesus (duh), so they had to have employed a different method and receive authority from a different source prior to that. In fact, a more generalized version of the question would be: How did Jewish exorcists (and people in general) cast out demons before the name of Jesus became popular? I don't know if these are questions that can be answered relying solely on the Bible, so I'm open to answers that incorporate useful insights from historical records.


A closely related question for the interested reader: How do Christians make sense of exorcisms in other religions?

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  • I think it is highly questionable how much success 9if any) they enjoyed. See the comments of Benson and Barnes.
    – Dottard
    Mar 29 at 22:07
  • @Dottard - about the grammaticality of 'use to', is it ungrammatical in Australian English? According to this article it is grammatical in American English at least (see the section Use to: Usages (with 'Did')). Mar 29 at 22:12
  • If you wish to use that form then it must be past tense and so "used to". I deleted it because it is a prolix - the sense is clear without it as well.
    – Dottard
    Mar 29 at 22:13
  • BTW - I agree with the attached article but that was not the way it was used above.
    – Dottard
    Mar 29 at 22:16
  • @Dottard - sure, but in a question the auxiliar did carries the past tense and the main verb has to be written in its infinitive form. Example: "I used to play chess" vs "Did you use to play chess?" Mar 29 at 22:16
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Josephus recounts incidents of possession and exorcism in his Antiquities of the Jews.

https://ia802604.us.archive.org/19/items/completeworksofj01jose/completeworksofj01jose.pdf

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 root of one of those sorts [of herbs] 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 unto him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he [Solomon] 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 bason 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 showed 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.

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  • Beautiful research. I heard the stories of Solomon and his ring but I didn't know that it was purported to be used by others.
    – יהודה
    Mar 31 at 16:24
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Casting out demons was not something that only came about as a result of Jesus coming onto the scene. This practice had been going on since the times of King David.

By the time of Jesus, casting demons followed a practised routine. The first step was determining the demons ‘name(s)’. The practice had varying levels of success, and was certainly not always successful. And, the Pharisees practiced this. All of this from mostly non canonical sources, although there are brief glimpses in the Bible. Example, the evil spirit that tormented King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14).

So, because the source is non-canonical, you will need to decide whether to consider this - but - it is relevant to your question which will at best be difficult (impossible?) to answer using scripture - although I could be quite wrong. (We’ll see)

The difference Jesus made was he did actually cast demons out of people who were dumb - unable to ‘speak’, therefore you couldn’t determine the demons name. This was (1) thought to be impossible, and (2), therefore this was a specific Messianic sign that only the coming Messiah would be able to perform.

That’s why in Matthew 12 when Jesus did this, the audience turned to the leaders and asked ... ‘is this him’!

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  • This answer would be better if it included references to reliable sources to back it up. Mar 29 at 23:45
  • @Spirit Realm Investigator For scholarly research, start with searching ‘Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum’ - a Jewish Messianic believer, expert with Torah. Search YouTube for ‘The Truth About Demons Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum’
    – Dave
    Mar 30 at 18:14

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