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What is the 'Abyss?'

Did you know…

. . .that the word 'abyss' from this week's gospel is the same as a word from the very beginning of creation? In the story this week we hear Jesus have an extended conversation with a 'legion' of spirits possessing a man from Gennesaret. At the end of that dialogue the spirits make a request of Jesus:

Luke 8: 28-31

"What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

This word 'abyss' is a translation of the Greek word ἄβυσσος (abussos) which is the same word used in the Greek version of the Book of Genesis for the Hebrew word תְה֑וֹם (tehom), 'the deep,' as in "the spirit of God moved over the face of the deep' in Genesis 1:2. The 'deep' in the creation story is this primordial formless void from which God brings forth all of creation. It is from this infinite depth, this formless murky muck that all the possibilities of creation emerge. Is this the same place from which the demons emerged and to which they desperately do not want to return? Why would this be a place of torment? And why was possessing a herd of pigs and drowning in the Sea of Galilee a better fate?

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