The Keepers of the Herd of Swine by T. H. Huxley

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A friend of mine, knowing my thesis work in Mark 5… You can find the complete work here.

Anyway, I’m playing with the title of the SBL paper which I intend to propose. I thought, maybe, that I could call it: The Third Quest for the Historical Swine.


The common consent of the synoptic Gospels affirms that the miraculous transference of devils from a man, or men, to sundry pigs, took place somewhere on the eastern shore of the Lake of Tiberias; “on the other side of the sea over against Galilee,” the western shore being, without doubt, included in the latter province. But there is no such concord when we come to the name of the part of the eastern shore, on which, according to the story, Jesus and his disciples landed. In the revised version, Matthew calls it the “country of the Gadarenes:” Luke and Mark have “Gerasenes.” In sundry very ancient manuscripts “Gergesenes” occurs.

The existence of any place called Gergesa, however, is declared by the weightiest authorities whom I have consulted to be very questionable; and no such town is mentioned in the list of the cities of the Decapolis, in the territory of which (as it would seem from Mark v. 20) the transaction was supposed to take place. About Gerasa, on the other hand, there hangs no such doubt. It was a large and important member of the group of the Decapolitan cities. But Gerasa is more than thirty miles distant from the nearest part of the Lake of Tiberias, while the city mentioned in the narrative could not have been very far off the scene of the event. However, as Gerasa was a very important Hellenic city, not much more than a score of miles from Gadara, it is easily imaginable that a locality which was part of Decapolitan territory may have been spoken of as belonging to one of the two cities, when it really appertained to the other. After weighing all the arguments, no doubt remains on my mind that “Gadarene” is the proper reading. At the period under consideration, Gadara appears to have been a good-sized fortified town, about two miles in circumference. It was a place of considerable strategic importance, inasmuch as it lay on a high ridge at the point of intersection of the roads from Tiberias, Scythopolis, Damascus, and Gerasa. Three miles north from it, where the Tiberias road descended into the valley of the Hieromices, lay the famous hot springs and the fashionable baths of Amatha. On the north-east side, the remains of the extensive necropolis of Gadara are still to be seen. Innumerable sepulchral chambers are excavated in the limestone cliffs, and many of them still contain sarcophaguses of basalt; while not a few are converted into dwellings by the inhabitants of the present village of Um Keis. The distance of Gadara from the south-eastern shore of the Lake of Tiberias is less than seven miles. The nearest of the other cities of the Decapolis, to the north, is Hippos, which also lay some seven miles off, in the south-eastern corner of the shore of the lake. In accordance with the ancient Hellenic practice, that each city should be surrounded by a certain amount of territory amenable to its jurisdiction1 and on other grounds, it may be taken for certain that the intermediate country was divided between Gadara and Hippos; and that the citizens of Gadara had free access to a port on the lake. Hence the title of “country of the Gadarenes” applied to the locality of the porcine catastrophe becomes easily intelligible. The swine may well be imagined to have been feeding (as they do now in the adjacent region) on the hillsides, which slope somewhat steeply down to the lake from the northern boundary wall of the valley of the Hieromices (Nahr Yarmuk), about half-way between the city and the shore, and doubtless lay well within the territory of the polis of Gadara.

The proof that Gadara was, to all intents and purposes, a Gentile, and not a Jewish, city is complete. The date and the occasion of its foundation are unknown; but it certainly existed in the third century B.C. Antiochus the Great annexed it to his dominions in B.C. 198. After this, during the brief revival of Jewish autonomy, Alexander Jannæus took it; and for the first time, so far as the records go, it fell under Jewish rule.2 From this it was rescued by Pompey (B.C. 63), who rebuilt the city and incorporated it with the province of Syria. In gratitude to the Romans for the dissolution of a hated union, the Gadarenes adopted the Pompeian era on their coinage. Gadara was a commercial centre of some importance, and therefore, it may be assumed, Jews settled in it, as they settled in almost all considerable Gentile cities. But a wholly mistaken estimate of the magnitude of the Jewish colony has been based upon the notion that Gabinius, proconsul of Syria in 57-55 B.C., seated one of the five sanhedrims in Gadara. Schürer has pointed out that what he really did was to lodge one of them in Gazara, far away on the other side of the Jordan. This is one of the many errors which have arisen out of the confusion of the names Gadara, Gazara, and Gab ara.

Augustus made a present of Gadara to Herod the Great, as an appanage personal to himself; and, upon Herod’s death, recognising it to be a “Grecian city” like Hippos and Gaza3 he transferred it back to its former place in the province of Syria. That Herod made no effort to judaise his temporary possession, but rather the contrary, is obvious from the fact that the coins of Gadara, while under his rule, bear the image of Augustus with the superscription –a flying in the face of Jewish prejudices which, even he, did not dare to venture upon in Judea. And I may remark that, if my co-trustee of the British Museum had taken the trouble to visit the splendid numismatic collection under our charge, he might have seen two coins of Gadara, one of the time of Tiberius and the other of that of Titus, each bearing the effigies of the emperor on the obverse: while the personified genius of the city is on the reverse of the former. Further, the well-known works of De Saulcy and of Ekhel would have supplied the information that, from the time of Augustus to that of Gordian, the Gadarene coinage had the same thoroughly Gentile character. Curious that a city of “Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law” should tolerate such a mint!

Whatever increase in population the Ghetto of Gadara may have undergone, between B.C. 4 and A.D. 66, it nowise affected the gentile and anti-judaic character of the city at the outbreak of the great war; for Josephus tells us that, immediately after the great massacre of Cæsarea, the revolted Jews “laid waste the villages of the Syrians and their neighbouring cities, Philadelphia and Sebonitis and Gerasa and Pella and Scythopolis and after them Gadara and Hippos” (“Wars,” II. xviii. 1). I submit that, if Gadara had been a city of “Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law,” the ravaging of their territory by their brother Jews, in revenge for the massacre of the Cæsarean Jews by the Gentile population of that place, would surely have been a somewhat unaccountable proceeding. But when we proceed a little further, to the fifth section of the chapter in which this statement occurs, the whole affair becomes intelligible enough.

“Besides this murder at Scythopolis, the other cities rose up against the Jews that were among them: those of Askelon slew two thousand five hundred, and those of Ptolemais two thousand, and put not a few into bonds; those of Tyre also put a great number to death, but kept a greater number in prison; more over, of Hippos and those of Gadara did the like, while they put to death the boldest of the Jews, but kept those of whom they were most afraid in custody; as did the rest of the cities of Syria according as they every one either hated them or were afraid of them.”

Josephus is not always trustworthy, but he has no conceivable motive for altering facts here; he speaks of contemporary events, in which he himself took an active part, and he characterises the cities in the way familiar to him. For Josephus, Gadara is just as much a Gentile city as Ptolemais; it was reserved for his latest commentator, either ignoring, or ignorant of, all this, to tell us that Gadara had a Hebrew population, bound by the Mosaic law.

In the face of all this evidence, most of which has been put before serious students, with full reference to the needful authorities and in a thoroughly judicial manner, by Schürer in his classical work,4 one reads with stupefaction the statement which Mr. Gladstone has thought fit to put before the uninstructed public:

“Some commentators have alleged the authority of Josephus for stating that Gadara was a city of Greeks rather than of Jews, from whence it might be inferred that to keep swine was innocent and lawful. This is not quite the place for a critical examination of the matter; but I have examined it, and have satisfied myself that Josephus gives no reason whatever to suppose that the population of Gadara, and still less (if less may be) the population of the neighbourhood, and least of all the swine-herding or lower portion of that population, were other than Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law.” (Pp. 373-4.)

Even “rapid judgment” cannot be pleaded in excuse for this surprising statement, because a “Note on the Gadarene miracle” is added (in a special appendix), in which the references are given to the passages of Josephus, by the improved interpretation of which, Mr. Gladstone has thus contrived to satisfy himself of the thing which is not. One of these is “Antiquities” XVII. xiii. 4, in which section, I regret to say, I can find no mention of Gadara. In “Antiquities,” XVII. xi. 4, however, there is a passage which would appear to be that which Mr. Gladstone means; and I will give it in full although I have already cited part of it:

“There were also certain of the cities which paid tribute to Arehelaus; Strato’s tower, and Sebaste, with Joppa and Jerusalem; for, as to Gaza, Gadara, and Hippos, they were Grecian cities, which Cæsar separated from his government, and added them to the province of Syria.”

That is to say, Augustus simply restored the state of things which existed before he gave Gadara, then certainly a Gentile city, lying outside Judea, to Herod as a mark of great personal favour. Yet Mr. Gladstone can gravely tell those who are not in a position to check his statements:

“The sense seems to be, not that these cities were inhabited by a Greek population, but that they had politically been taken out of Judea and added to Syria, which I presume was classified as simply Hellenic, a portion of the great Greek empire erected by Alexander.” (Pp. 295-6.)

Mr. Gladstone’s next reference is to the “Wars,” III. vii. 1:

“So Vespasian marched to the city Gadara, and took it upon the first onset, because he found it destitute of a considerable number of men grown up fit for war. He then came into it, and slew all the youth, the Romans having no mercy on any age whatsoever; and this was done out of the hatred they bore the nation, and because of the iniquity they had been guilty of in the affair of Cestius.”

Obviously, then, Gadara was an ultra-Jewish city. Q.E.D. But a student trained in the use of weapons of precision, rather than in that of rhetorical tomahawks, has had many and painful warnings to look well about him, before trusting an argument to the mercies of a passage, the context of which he has not carefully considered. If Mr. Gladstone had not been too much in a hurry to turn his imaginary prize to account–if he had paused just to look at the preceding chapter of Josephus–he would have discovered that his much haste meant very little speed. He would have found (“Wars,” III vi. 2) that Vespasian marched from his base, the port of Ptolemais (Acre), on the shores of the Mediterranean, into Galilee; and, having dealt with the so-called “Gadara,” was minded to finish with Jotapata, a strong place about fourteen miles south-east of Ptolemais, into which Josephus, who at first had fled to Tiberias, eventually threw himself–Vespasian arriving before Jotapata “the very next day.” Now, if any one will take a decent map of Ancient Palestine in hand, he will see that Jotapata, as I have said, lies about fourteen miles in a straight line east-south-east of Ptolemais, while a certain town, “Gabara” (which was also held by the Jews), is situated, about the same distance, to the east of that port. Nothing can be more obvious than that Vespasian, wishing to advance from Ptolemais into Galilee, could not afford to leave these strongholds in the possession of the enemy; and, as Gabara would lie on his left flank when he moved to Jotapata, he took that city, whence his communications with his base could easily be threatened, first. It might really have been fair evidence of demoniac possession, if the best general of Rome had marched forty odd miles, as the crow flies, through hostile Galilee, to take a city (which, moreover, had just tried to abolish its Jewish population) on the other side of the Jordan; and then marched back again to a place fourteen miles off his starting-point.5 One would think that the most careless of readers must be startled by this incongruity into inquiring whether there might not be something wrong with the text; and, if he had done so, he would have easily discovered that since the time of Reland, a century and a half ago, careful scholars have read Gab ara for Gad ara.6

Once more, I venture to point out that training in the use of the weapons of precision of science may have its value in historical studies, if only in preventing the occurrence of droll blunders in geography.

In the third citation (“Wars,” IV. vii.) Josephus tells us that Vespasian marched against “Gadara,” which he calls the metropolis of Peræa (it was possibly the seat of a common festival of the Decapolitan cities), and entered it, without opposition, the wealthy and powerful citizens having opened negotiations with him without the knowledge of an opposite party, who, “as being inferior in number to their enemies, who were within the city, and seeing the Romans very near the city,” resolved to fly. Before doing so, however, they, after a fashion unfortunately too common among the Zealots, murdered and shockingly mutilated Dolesus, a man of the first rank, who had promoted the embassy to Vespasian; and then “ran out of the city.” Hereupon, “the people of Gadara” (surely not this time “Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law”) received Vespasian with joyful acclamations, voluntarily pulled down their wall, so that the city could not in future be used as a fortress by the Jews, and accepted a Roman garrison for their future protection. Granting that this Gadara really is the city of the Gadarenes, the reference, without citation, to the passage, in support of Mr. Gladstone’s contention seems rather remarkable. Taken in conjunction with the shortly antecedent ravaging of the Gadarene territory by the Jews, in fact, better proof could hardly be expected of the real state of the case; namely, that the population of Gadara (and notably the wealthy and respectable part of it) was thoroughly Hellenic; though, as in Cæsarea and elsewhere among the Palestinian cities, the rabble contained a considerable body of fanatical Jews, whose reckless ferocity made them, even though a mere minority of the population, a standing danger to the city.

Thus Mr. Gladstone’s conclusion from his study of Josephus, that the population of Gadara were “Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law,” turns out to depend upon nothing better than a marvellously complete misinterpretation of what that author says, combined with equally marvellous geographical misunderstandings, long since exposed and rectified; while the positive evidence that Gadara, like other cities of the Decapolis, was thoroughly Hellenic in organisation, and essentially Gentile in population, is overwhelming.

And, that being the fact of the matter, patent to all who will take the trouble to enquire about what has been said about it, however obscure to those who merely talk of so doing, the thesis that the Gadarene swineherds, or owners, were Jews violating the Mosaic law shows itself to be an empty and most unfortunate guess. But really, whether they that kept the swine were Jews, or whether they were Gentiles, is a consideration which has no relevance whatever to my case. The legal provisions, which alone had authority over an inhabitant of the country of the Gadarenes, were the Gentile laws sanctioned by the Roman suzerain of the province of Syria, just as the only law, which has authority in England, is that recognised by the sovereign Legislature. Jewish communities in England may have their private code, as they doubtless had in Gadara. But an English magistrate, if called upon to enforce their peculiar laws, would dismiss the complainants from the judgment seat, let us hope with more politeness than Gallio did in a like case, but quite as firmly. Moreover, in the matter of keeping pigs, we may be quite certain that Gadarene law left everybody free to do as he pleased indeed encouraged the practice rather than otherwise. Not only was pork one of the commonest and one of the most favourite articles of Roman diet; but, to both Greeks and Romans, the pig was a sacrificial animal of high importance. Sucking pigs played an important part in Hellenic purificatory rites; and everybody knows the significance of the Roman suovetaurilia, depicted on so many bas-reliefs.

Under these circumstances, only the extreme need of a despairing “reconciler” drowning in a sea of adverse facts, can explain the catching at such a poor straw as the reckless guess that the swineherds of the “country of the Gadarenes” were erring Jews, doing a little clandestine business on their own account. The endeavour to justify the asserted destruction of the swine by the analogy of breaking open a cask of smuggled spirits, and wasting their contents on the ground, is curiously unfortunate. Does Mr. Gladstone mean to suggest that a Frenchman landing at Dover, and coming upon a cask of smuggled brandy in the course of a stroll along the cliffs, has the right to break it open and waste its contents on the ground? Yet the party of Galileans who, according to the narrative, landed and took a walk on the Gadarene territory, were as much foreigners in the Decapolis as Frenchmen would be at Dover. Herod Antipas, their sovereign, had no jurisdiction in the Decapolis–they were strangers and aliens, with no more right to interfere with a pig-keeping Hebrew, than I have a right to interfere with an English professor of the Israelitic faith, if I see a slice of ham on his plate. According to the law of the country in which these Galilean foreigners found themselves, men might keep pigs if they pleased. If the men who kept them were Jews, it might be permissible for the strangers to inform the religious authority acknowledged by the Jews of Gadara; but to interfere themselves, in such a matter, was a step devoid of either moral or legal justification.

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