Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Name is Legion!

Mk. 5.1-20 (= Mt. 8.28-34; Lk. 8.26-39) tells the story of Jesus' encounter with a wild demoniac on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (see the textual problems on the location of the event in Mk. 5.1: Gerasa, Gedara, or Gergasa?). In the story the demons are named "Legion" which is coincidentally the label for a standard Roman fighting unit. It is kind of like the demons saying "My name is the 101st Airborne Division" or "The Royal Scots Guards" or "Russian Infantry". Consequently, some interpret the story as a symbolic representation of colonial oppression and indigenous disempowerment. The connection with Roman imperialism is validated further when it is remembered that the Roman 10th Legion Fretensis stationed in Syria from 6 BCE had the image of a boar on its standards (thus fitting for a story involving pigs). As to the value of this approach for historical Jesus studies, I like the comment of John Meier (Marginal Jew, vol. 1, p. 652) asserts: ‘Even if one wants to see in the name “Legion” a reference to the Roman occupation that tormented the indigenous population – a dubious mixture of political and psychological theories in any event – such interpretations are best kept to the level of Mark’s redaction.’


Geoff Hudson said...

Have you ever heard of a prisoner tearing chains apart before?

Geoff Hudson said...

Well done me old mate! Perhaps I would have liked to add to what I wrote. The passage is the worst piece of anti-Jewish polemic in the NT. The demon-possessed were the priests, some of whom were being starved, and the pigs were the prophets to whom the starving priests went for food. As for Legion, there were in total about 26,000 priests according to Sanders. No doubt the Romans who had been fighting the messianic priests thought they were all demon-possessed. And they knew the pigs (the prophets) were independent agriculuralists who could grow their own stuff.

Phil Smoke said...

Um... it seems to me that instead of a symbolic representation of colonial oppression and indigenous disempowerment (or at least much more essentially than that), the name Legion is simply focused on the fact that there were many demons.

"My name is Legion; for we are many"