Mark 5:11

There was a large drove of pigs close by, feeding on the hillside;

cultural omens vary
as much as their measurement
of private and communal success

that which is clean or unclean
or honorable or shameful
is not universable

it is location location location
interpreted through one lens or another
that sets self-inflicted boundaries

for instance anatomically similar pigs
raise hackles by their mere mention
stimulate bacon-induced drool

There are political overtones to whatever is being said. Even silence carries import when a witness is in order.

Such a simple word as “herd” means more than a group of animals. Its context regarding Roman military presence has already been mentioned, but it is entirely too easy to let it slide to the back of our consideration of the location of this scene.

In its context, there is no reason for “herd” not to be heard as “band”. Myers puts it this way:

This unlikely story offers a symbolic portrait of how Roman imperialism was destroying the hearts and minds of a colonized people. If the synagogue demoniac spoke “under the influence” of the scribal establishment, then the Gerasene demoniac represents Rome’s military occupation of the land and its people. That this episode is a kind of political cartoon critical of Roman imperialism is confirmed by the recurring military terminology that follows. Legion begs to be sent into a “band” of pigs (5:11), a Greek term usually referring to a group of military recruits. Sarcasm is evident here, since the swine cult was popular among Roman soldiers.

With these military connections we can see a sympathetic magic of like-calling-to-like. It seems natural that Legionnaires under duress would look around and see a friendly escape route through their adopted mascot. We are also put on edge for there is a significant economic cost to remove the military underpinning of Empire.

Hopefully we are now able to hear an unspoken “palin” (again), remember an earlier encounter with a demoniac, and add in a Jewish poetic form of parallelism. This draws out additional overtones to the critique of Jesus and his preference for prophets before priests as a means to transform today’s separations into a more holistic reality offered by tomorrow.

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