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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

Jesus the Vegan Christ Did Not Drive 2000 Pigs to Death! By Dr. Chapman Chen



Summary: The Gadarene swine story (Mark 5:1-20; note a) cannot be taken literally for there’s no factory farming 2000 years ago, and how could Jesus the Vegan Christ, who eventually died for liberating animals from the Temple, have had the heart to drive 2000 innocent creatures of God to death?! It is best interpreted from a postcolonial cum Freudian perspective. From a postcolonial anti-imperial perspective (Leander 2013), the narrative, which tells of Jesus exorcising demons from a man into a herd of swine that then drown themselves, can be seen as a metaphor for Jewish resistance against Roman colonialism. "Legion (λεγιών/leg-eh-ohn)," the name of the demons, insinuates the Roman military units, whom the colonized Jews secretly loathed and deemed demonic. From a Freudian perspective (Weatherhead 1951), the word “legion” reveals the obsessed person/psychiatric patient’s repressed traumatic memory of being brutalized by the Roman soldiers or witnessing brutality by them. Untended, the swine may easily have madly dashed when the patient screamed, and, as the herdsmen left Jesus and rushed towards them, the pigs may straightforwardly have charged off the cliff into the sea.



1.1. One Human Life is More Important than 2000 Innocent Animals??


Pastor R.C. Sproul (2019) writes in his commentary on Mark that Jesus' compassion “drove Him to destroy the pigs for the sake of one human life. That is how valuable human life is.” In his 2017 book Vintage Jesus, Mark Driscoll, pastor of the megachurch Mars Hill in Seattle, states disdainfully that as Jesus drove the demons into the swine, he drove “the animal rights blogosphere into a panic” and generated “a bacon famine only rivaled by the great Irish potato famine” (Driscoll and Breshears 2017:43). Pastors and theologians like them stand in a long tradition of employing this biblical story to rationalize cruelty against innocent creatures of God (cf. Spalde and Strindlund 2012:102).


St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) referenced this episode, together with another story in which Jesus lays a curse on a fig tree, to contend that Jesus cares about neither animals nor plants. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas, in answering the objection that it is not appropriate for Jesus to work miracles that hurt humans or other creatures, asserted that “Christ came specially to teach and to work miracles for the good of man, and principally to the salvation of his soul. Consequently, he allowed the demons that he chased out to do men some harm, either in his bodyor in his property, for the salvation of man’s soul—namely, for man’s instruction” (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III-II 44, ad. 4). In essence, the killing of the pigs serves as a lesson for humanity.


In other words, these vegan-haters are so anthropocentric as to think that it is alright for God to sacrifice 2000 innocent animals to save one human life.  But there is good reason to believe that the Gerasenes pigs story is a metaphoric parable.


2. No Factory Farming 2000 Years Ago!


First and foremost, there was no factory farming 2000 years ago. A group of two thousand pigs is comparable to a modern factory farm in size, yet in those times, pigs roamed freely and weren't managed in the same way. Maintaining such a large number of pigs would have been a massive undertaking, requiring up to four times the number of caretakers needed for other livestock like sheep. It's doubtful that anyone during the era of Jesus could manage so many pigs, considering the average pig herd then ranged from 100 to 150. This casts doubt on the likelihood that the biblical account of "several thousand pigs" was meant to be taken literally by its readers (cf. Spalde and Strindlund 2012:106-7; Fussell 1967:35).


3. Jesus is a Compassionate Vegan Christ


Even more importantly, how could Jesus, as a Vegan Christ (cf. Chen 2023) who died for the cause of animal liberation (cf. Chen 2024b), have had the heart to harm 2000 innocent creatures of God?


3.1. Jesus has a Vegan Family


It is widely recognized that James, who led the Jerusalem church following Jesus' ascension and was Jesus' brother, strictly adhered to a vegan diet from childhood, as noted by Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 2.23.5–6). This raises the question: If James was brought up vegan, why wouldn't Jesus have been raised the same way? It logically follows that both Jesus and James were brought up by their parents as vegans, suggesting that veganism was an integral aspect of the original teachings of the gospels. (Akers 2015).   


3.2. Jesus Warns against Flesh-Eating


Jesus warns against flesh-eating:- “Now beware in yourselves that your hearts do not become heavy with the eating of flesh…that day will come up upon you suddenly; for as a snare it will come upon all of them that sit on the surface of the earth” (Luke 21:34, Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe — Old Syriac-Aramaic Manuscript of the New Testament Gospels).


Also, in Saying 87, the Gospel of Thomas, as translated and edited by Stevan Davies (2002), Jesus says, "Wretched is a body depending on a body". Now, how can a body be dependent on another body? Only if the body eats the other body. Hence, Davies (2002) comes to the conclusion that Thomas is not stating that all bodies are "wretched", just bodies which are dependent on other dead bodies, in other words, meat, for food.


At least equally importantly, Jesus admonishes the Pharisees, quoting Hosea 6:6, "Go and learn what this means: I desire compassion rather than sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13 NASB). According to Akers (2017), "that would explain why Jesus went into the temple and attacked what he found there", as will be explained below. Similarly, in the Gospel of the Ebionites, Jesus condemns animal sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem:- “I have come to abolish the sacrifices, and if you cease not from sacrificing, my wrath will not cease from you” (Panarion 30.16.5). Jesus also rejected the Passover meal :“I have no desire to eat the flesh of this Paschal Lamb with you” (The Gospel of the Ebionites 22.4). When Epiphanius questions a Jewish Christian as to why he was a vegan, the Jewish Christian responds simply: "Christ revealed it to me" (Panarion 30. 18.9).


3.3. Jesus as a Martyr for Animal Liberation


Akers (2020/2000) argues that prior to the Last Supper, Jesus, in emptying the Temple of animals about to be slaughtered for sacrifice, and in calling the Temple-turned-butcher-shop "a den of thieves", quoting Jeremiah 7:11, debunked the business fraud of animal sacrifice, and disrupted the lucrative revenue stream of the chief priests and scribes, who immediately afterwards conspired to destroy Him (Mark 11:15-18), eventually leading to His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. In this sense, Jesus was a pioneer and martyr for animal liberation (cf. Chen 2024b). (I would add that "Cleansing the temple" was an act of animal liberation not unlike Direct Action Everywhere's open rescue of animals from factory farm.)


As for all those fishy stories about Jesus, please refer to Chen (2024a); and as for Jesus allegedly eating the Passover lamb, please refer to Chen (2023).


So the Gadarene swine story can only be taken metaphorically. We may interpret it from both a postcolonial and a Freudian perspective. Both approaches complement each other in this case.


4. A Postcolonial Approach


According to New Testament scholar Hans Leander’s (2013) postcolonial interpretation, the Gadarene swine story, with all its military allusions (Leander 2013:104), e.g., “legion,” “dispatch,” “herd,” “permission,” and “rush,” covertly conveys a coded anti-imperial message (cf. Spalde and Strindlund 2012: 104-5).  


4.1. Military Allusions in the Story


4.1.1. “Legion” as a Roman Regiment


When Jesus asked the demon its name, it answered, “Legion”. Now, “Legion" means "a division of 3,000–6,000 men, including a complement of cavalry, in the ancient Roman army" (Encyclopedia .com, OUP). The Greek word rendered as “legion” is λεγιών (pronounced as leg-eh-ohn). It is in actuality of Latin origin and refers to a Roman regiment.


During Jesus' times, the Israelites were colonized and exploited by the Romans. As a result, most Jews did not like the Romans. It's only natural that when the demon calls itself Legion, it’s insinuated that the Roman soldiers were swine possessed by demons.


4.1.2. “Send” as Dispatch


Leander’s (2013) also points out that the word "sent" used twice before the sending of the demons into the swine remind people of a commander sending forth a troop.


The Greek for "send" in "[the demon] begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area" (Mark 5:10 NIV) is apostellō (ἀποστέλλω), which means to be set apart or sent with a purpose (cf. Strong 1890; Free Bible Commentary).


The Greek for “send” in "Send us among the pigs" (Mark 5:12) is pempō (πέμπω) which according to Strong's (1890) Dictionary of the Bible really denotes “dispatch.” Leander (2013) argues that it connotes militarily dispatching a troop.


4.1.3. “Permission” as Command


“He gave them permission” (ἐπέτρεψεν αὐτοῖς / epetrepsen autois) can also signify that a military command has been issued (Mark 5:13 NIV).

 

4.1.4. “Rushing into Battle


The Greek for “rushed” ὥρμησεν (hōrmēsen) implies a troop rushing into battle (Mark 5:13 NIV).


4.1.5. Colonization vs Revolution


The demons plead with Jesus not to "send them out of the country." The swine, deemed impure creatures, might represent the "unclean conquerors" who had taken over the lands of the Jews. Therefore, the self-inflicted demolition of the demon-possessed pigs symbolizes the cessation of this colonization, marked by the expulsion of the Roman troops "out of the country" (Lattea 1996:59). Additionally, this narrative mirrors the events of the exodus, as the demon-filled pigs "rush" into the sea and meet their end, reminiscent of the fate that befell Pharaoh's forces at the Red Sea (cf. Spalde and Strinlund 2012:104).


Expanding our view to the historical backdrop, the Tenth Roman Legion, which was garrisoned in Decapolis—the setting of this account—during the period when Mark composed his Gospel, used a boar on their standard, and the figure of two thousand aligns with the typical size of a Roman legion dispatched to combat Jewish rebels (Leander: 2013:257-58).


In a territory under occupation, "Mark’s portrayal of 'Legion' as subordinate to Jesus clearly carries the potential for subversion," notes Leander. Perhaps, as Leander posits, the tale was documented and disseminated as a means for the subjugated populace to covertly defy the invaders without endangering themselves; the narrative thus conveys the message that "the Romans are not as powerful as they think" (Spalde and Strindlund 2012:104).


In essence, Leander (2013) demonstrates that the "legion" demon allegorizes the Roman Empire's colonization of Israel, causing pain and sufferings to the Jews. In 7 AD, a valiant revolution against Roman colonization broke out, and many others were yet to come (cf. Christopher 2015). Similarly, against China's brutal recolonization of Hong Kong, three revolutions have taken place in this cosmopolitan city, namely, The Umbrella Revolution (2014), The Fishball Revolution (2016), and The Time Revolution (2019). And many Hongkongers would call the atrocious Gestapo-like police "dogs".


5. A Psychoanalytic Approach


According to the English theologian Leslie Weatherhead’s (1951) psychoanalytical interpretation, in the account from St. Mark, a man is heard whispering "Legion," and it's reasonable to think he might have been traumatized by Roman soldiers, known as a legion. The biblical massacre of the innocents gives us an idea of their brutality. It's conceivable that this man had been a witness to such horrors. Imagine a young boy, witnessing the slaughter of children, fleeing in horror from the bright streets, screaming "Mummy, Mummy, legion!" as he sees soldiers with blood-stained swords. Such a traumatic event, particularly for someone predisposed to emotional instability, could easily lead to a mental breakdown. Cast out by his community, he finds himself isolated in a desolate graveyard across the border, surrounded by pigs, his mind haunted by terrifying memories that erupt into violent outbursts and screams (Weatherhead 1951:56).


The swine's demise is not hard to grasp, given pigs' tendency to panic. Should the utterance of "Legion" have triggered a release of suppressed memories of trauma from Roman soldiers or Herod's enforcers, it's certain that the pent-up emotions would erupt in loud screams and outbursts. It's plausible that the swineherds, intrigued by the rare sight of a group (Jesus and His disciples) at that late hour, approached out of curiosity and boredom. Neglected during this distraction, the pigs might have been spooked by the man's shrieks. As the swineherds left Jesus' side in a bid to calm the pigs, the animals, in their fright, could have charged off the cliff into the sea. For the man, who believed demons needed a physical form, whether human or animal, this was a fitting outcome (Weatherhead 1951:57).


6. Conclusion


To put it in a nutshell, Jesus is a Vegan Christ. His compassion covers both humans and animals. He would not have had the heart to drive 2000 innocent creatures of God to death. There’s no factory farming 2000 years ago. The Gadarene story had better be treated as a psychological, anti-imperial parable, in which “Legion” symbolizes Roman military occupation of Palestine as well as the Jewish people’s repressed traumatic memory of brutalization by the Roman colonizers.


Note:


a. Mark 5 NIV, Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man:

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.



References


Akers, Keith (2020/2000). The Lost Religion of Jesus. NY: Lantern Publishing & Media/ Woodstock & Brooklyn. 


Akers, Keith (2017). “Vegetarianism and Christianity – Are They Compatible?” Compassionate Spirit, Jan. 9. https://compassionatespirit.com/wpblog/2017/01/09/vegetarianism-and-christianity-are-they-compatible/


Akers, Keith (2015). “Was Jesus a Vegetarian?” Compassionate Spirit, Dec. 1. https://compassionatespirit.com/wpblog/2015/12/01/was-jesus-a-vegetarian/


Chen, Chapman (2024a). "All those Fishy Stories about Jesus the Vegan Christ." HKBNews, Mar. 17. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/all-those-fishy-stories-about-jesus-the-vegan-christ-by-dr-chapman-chen-hkbnews


Chen, Chapman (2024b). "The 'Open Rescue' of Temple Animals by Jesus the Vegan Christ." HKBNews, Mar. 29.  https://www.hkbnews.net/post/the-open-rescue-of-temple-animals-by-jesus-the-vegan-christ-by-dr-chapman-chen


Chen, Chapman (2023) "Follow the Vegan Christ and Celebrate Easter without Taking Life!" HKBNews, 28 Mar. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/follow-the-vegan-christ-and-celebrate-easter-without-taking-life%EF%BC%81by-dr-chapman-chen

 

Davies, Stevan, ed. & trans. (2002). The Gospel of Thomas. Boulder: Shambhala Publications.

 

Driscoll, Jeremy, and Breshears, Gerry (2007). Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions. Wheaton, II: Crossway, 2007.  


Lattea, Karen (ed.) (1996). “Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Gospel from a Postcolonial Perspective. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.


Leander, Hans (2013). Discourses of Empire : the Gospel of Mark from a Postcolonial Perspective. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. https://archive.org/details/discoursesofempi0000lean/page/256/mode/2up?q=The+spirits+beg


Spalde, Anna and Strindlun, Pella (2012). In A Faith Embracing All Creatures, edited by Tripp York and Andy Alexix-Baker, Eugene: Cascade Books, 101-113.


Sproul, R.C. (2019). Mark: An Expositional Commentary. Sanford: Ligonier Ministries. 


Strong, James (1890). Dictionary of the Bible (https://archive.org/details/StrongsGreekAndHebrewDictionaries1890)


Weatherhead, Leslie D. (1951). Psychology, Religion and Healing. New York/Nashville: Abindon Press. https://archive.org/details/psychologyreligi0000weat/page/10/mode/2up






 

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