Releasing a Man from Violence: The Story of Legion Mark 5:1-18

living among the tombs

The morning’s bible study began over breakfast with the usual group and a familiar story, albeit one that took on some special significance in the approach to Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. Some of us might have known it as the story of the demoniac, or the story of Legion or the demon possessed man, but it was clear from early on that the name Legion wasn’t accidental, despite the Message translation calling him Mob. It wasn’t accidental because Legion fits neatly with the rest of the militaristic imagery in the passage.

Ched Myers draws attention to the fact that the region of the Gerasenes was known to be an area where veteran Roman soldiers were given land as payment for successful military campaigns. Legion’s request to be allowed to enter the ‘herd’ of pigs uses the slang word for a group of raw military recruits, and a swine cult is well attested among Roman soldiers of the time.

Finally, the charge of the pigs down the hill seems to be a sarcastic caricature of a military charge. And of course, their eventually fate in the waters of the lake recalls the destruction of the Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea, coincidentally after another release story.

When all of this is added together, and swirled together with the violent behaviour of the man, his fear of torture and the terror of the people, it seems clear we are dealing with issues of violence and fierce militaristic and cruel oppression.

No surprise when again we recall the title of Myers’ commentary on Mark “Binding the Strong Man.” He points to the content of John the Baptist’s message in 1:7, “A Powerful One is coming.” This Powerful One knows that to ransack the power base of a strong one, the Stronger One must first immobilise him (3:27). And what could be more powerful than the Roman occupying force, upheld by four legions of soldiers in the region of Syria.

So here comes Jesus, stepping out of a boat (5:2), a one-man invasion force.

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