We begin with a long story in Mark 5 entitled Healing of a Demoniac.
So, Jesus has left the land of the Jews and entered into the land of Gentiles, will he do things differently here?
Well, apparently upon landing, a man with an unclean spirit just pops out the tombs as if called by Jesus’ presence.
This man is identified as having an unclean spirit for three reasons it seems, first, he lives among the tombs which is considered an unclean area/act. Second, he is too strong, as he apparently rips through chains and remains unable to be bound. Increased strength could be caused by many things, but abnormal strength is still identified as a symptom of possession even to those who exorcise today. Third, he screams and cuts himself with stones. Poor guy sounds as though he is very unhappy with his situation.
When he sees Jesus he runs up to him and says, “Leave me alone!” Does this seem backward to anyone else? If I want someone to leave me alone, and I see them coming from a distance, I run the other way. Perhaps this man was in combat for his body and desired Jesus to heal him, but the demons possessed his tongue?
“I implore you by God.” An unclean spirit using the name of God. Fascinating. As before with demons, it is surmised by the translators that this is in relation to a specific time and place that God had agreed would be the end of times for spirits and that Jesus’ arrival is an early violation of that agreement. The implications of this line of reasoning are far reaching and lead to many questions including what purpose do these spirits have that God agreed to, and then why would Jesus go about undoing what God had ordained?
This is the first time we have Jesus asking for a name. Some suggest this is because the demon was legion and required more power, such as knowledge of a specific name to command. This seems supported by the report that Jesus had already told these spirits to leave the man, and all they did was whine and beg to him about it.
I wonder if it’s important that Jesus entered into Gentile territory because this story involves a herd of pigs? Jews would have no reason to raise pigs, and pigs are already considered unclean animals by Jewish law, so sending unclean spirits into them wouldn’t be a big violation of Jewish worldview.
Speaking of the pigs, I feel as though this story is clear evidence that animals do not have souls because Jesus seems perfectly fine with condemning these thousands of pigs to death. This also speaks against the idea of all life is sacred, because it seems Jesus simply could have told them to go back from whence they came, but indulged their whining and let them go to the pigs.
The remainder of this story is pretty standard, people ran and spoke about what Jesus had done and came to sight see. Not surprisingly, the guy whom Jesus saved wants to come with him, but Jesus tells him to go home and tell people about God’s mercy. This is a Gentile man, who doesn’t believe in God, so it’s an interesting way to spread the Jewish message.
That the people asked Jesus to leave isn’t surprising either considering he just ruined the livelihood of many shepherds who used to have 2000 pigs and now have nothing. It doesn’t talk about compensation for those shepherds either. This certainly makes Jesus look like a jerk. I mean, yes, he saved one man’s life, but he ruined many others in the process. Something tells me we aren’t seeing the whole picture here.
So, what do I think? I think we have a large herd of pigs on a hillside near the sea. I think we have an area prone to sudden violent storms as established in the last parable. I think it entirely possible that a herd of pigs drowned due to flash flooding just like what happened in China.
As for Jesus’ involvement with a legion of demons? Considering that in the other gospels the only thing the stories seem to have in common is the pig death, I think that Jesus’ involvement is most suspicious. Not saying it didn’t happen, just saying I’m suspicious of the tale. Is it not more reasonable that a herd of pigs drowned in a flash flood and got attributed to demonic activity, which was then connected to the ministry of Jesus? I think there are enough loose ends and questions about the entire interaction to warrant a healthy dose of skepticism.
Grace and Peace to you all.