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As Jesus came near and saw Jerusalem, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”  Luke 19:41–42

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Vespasian (left) and his son Titus (right) both served as Roman generals in the war of AD 66-70 that left Jerusalem in ruins, and both went on to become emperors.

Examine the faces of these two Romans: Vespasian on the left and his son Titus on the right. Together they commanded armies that annihilated Jerusalem a generation after Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knew what they would do, and yearned to head off the catastrophe.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives at the beginning of Passover week. Shortly he would enter the holy city with crowds shouting “hosanna!” But grief welled up because Jesus saw disaster ahead for a misguided and polarized people. Some—such as the Herod dynasty or the Sadducees who ran the temple—unscrupulously collaborated with the occupying Roman power. Others were bent on armed revolt against Rome. If only you recognized the things that make for peace!

Things that make for peace abound in the ministry of Jesus: do good to those who hate, carry a Roman soldier’s pack the extra mile, heal a centurion’s servant, refuse to lord it over others, cross ethnic boundaries to show compassion, forgive enemies, speak truth. Such fruitful peacemaking grows out of deep spiritual roots. Jesus’ first public act after the triumphal entry was to liberate the temple from dishonest money changers, declaring, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). Prayer forms the center; all nations shows the reach of his love.

A generation later, Jewish rebels succeeded in ousting Roman forces—and then the empire struck back. General Vespasian commanded Roman legions seeking to reconquer Palestine. When Vespasian left for Italy to become emperor in AD 69, Titus took over to finish the brutal task. As always, Rome was ruthless against those who challenged its sovereignty.

Judea Capta

For twenty-five years after AD 70, Roman coins portrayed Judea as a dejected woman seated in front of a trophy made from weapons of the defeated Jewish rebels. This coin from AD 70 features Emperor Vespasian on the obverse and  “IVDAEA” (Judea) on the reverse. Image used by kind permission of http://www.cngcoins.com

Jesus saw disaster coming for Jerusalem: “Your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side,” he said. “They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19:43–44). Jesus told his followers not to support the imminent revolt: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then . . . those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it. . .” (Luke 21:20-21). As war started in AD 66, Christians at Jerusalem in fact decamped to Pella in what today is Jordan.

War always is hell, but the final siege of Jerusalem is beyond imagining. Four Roman legions surrounded the city, with the Tenth Legion on the Mount of Olives where Jesus had wept (see more on the Tenth Legion at https://peace-pilgrim.com/2015/03/09/to-hell-with-the-pigs/). Thousands trapped in the city starved, and some turned to cannibalism.

Civil war irrupted within Jerusalem between rebel factions, while delirious revolutionaries predicted apocalyptic deliverance. To demoralize defenders of Jerusalem, General Titus crucified so many Jewish prisoners of war outside the city wall that “space could not be found for the crosses and for the bodies” (Josephus, War 3:341). When the city fell, the temple was in ashes and tens of thousands of Jews either were crucified or sold into slavery.

Violent solutions can seem attractive to aggrieved people, but in the end may lead to greater suffering.

© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************************IMG_0425

I invite you to enter your email address in the designated box at the edge of this webpage (if you have not already subscribed), and click Follow. You’ll get a notice every three weeks when I put up a new blog post.

Join me for a Peace-Pilgrim bible study tour to Jordan, Israel and Palestine this fall! See: Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015. Watch for information on another Jordan, Israel, Palestine tour in the fall of 2016.

See my book on Christians and Jews in the Roman empire at http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Allegiance-Politics-Devotion-Revelation/dp/1587432617/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425912158&sr=8-1&keywords=apocalypse+and+allegiance

To hell with the pigs!

Jesus asked the man possessed, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. They begged Jesus not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. Luke 8:30–32

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On the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, these remains of a fifth-century church and monastery at Kursi mark the traditional location of Gergesa where Jesus cast demons out of Legion. In the distance are hillsides where swineherds cared for pigs.

On first hearing, this story is about Jesus liberating a tormented individual by casting out a Legion of demons from him. But when the early church retold this story—as three Gospel writers do—it may have taken on laughable or even revolutionary political overtones.

The incident happens immediately after Jesus calmed a storm while crossing the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. Having demonstrated sovereignty over nature, Jesus now takes command in the spirit realm. The boat makes landfall in Gentile territory—on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, in a region called the Decapolis. Here farmers raised pigs, something forbidden for Jews.

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This map shows why ancient manuscripts variously say that Jesus healed Legion in the country of the Gerasenes, Gadarenes, or Gergesenes. All three refer to the Gentile region of Decapolis, here shaded with green lines. Red arrow shows the six-mile sea journey to Gergesa (today called Kursi) from Jesus’ base at Capernaum.

First-century listeners to this story must have caught their breath when the demon-possessed man said his name was Legion. That was the term for a unit of the Roman army that included five thousand men and an equal number of auxiliary troops! The army of ten thousand that Rome used to subdue Palestine—and eventually destroy Jerusalem—was the Tenth Legion. The symbol of this hated occupying force was . . . a pig!

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A brick stamp from the Roman era reads LEG X F, meaning LEG[ion] X [“ten”] F[retensis], official name of Roman troops that subdued Palestine. At the bottom of the stamp is the pig that symbolized this army.

Did the story of a demoniac named Legion and the sequel with perishing pigs infer that the Roman empire, with its pig-honoring Tenth Legion, also was demon-possessed? Understood this way, the story takes an anti-imperial edge:

  • Jesus cast demons out of a man named Legion just like countless Jews hoped God would expel the Tenth Legion from Palestine.
  • Confronted by Jesus, demons from a man named Legion entered swine and went pell–mell into the “abyss” (or “hell,” 8:31)In the same way, many people of Palestine hoped that Legions of Rome would go to oblivion.
  • Swineherds and local people by the Sea of Galilee tended to their pigs just like Jewish collaborators schmoozed the occupying forces of Rome.
  • The swineherds were afraid after demons left the possessed man, and they wanted Jesus to leave (8:35, 37). Similarly, Jews who collaborated with Rome were afraid of what would happened if the Roman army left Palestine. Such collaborators were behind the plot to kill Jesus.

It looked like Rome was invincible, and the Tenth Legion stayed in Palestine until the fourth century AD. Whatever political discontent the story of demon-possessed pigs might have stirred among ancient listeners, however, the narrative does not end with hatred. Jesus tells the man who was delivered from a Legion of demons simply to return home and declare how much God has done for you (8:39).

Sometimes non-violent political theater, parody, or satire are good ways to call for change and vent anger against oppressors.

© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************************IMG_0425

Join me for a Peace-Pilgrim bible study tour to Jordan, Israel and Palestine this fall! See: Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015. Watch for information on another Jordan, Israel, Palestine tour in the fall of 2016.

I invite you to enter your email address in the designated box at the edge of this webpage (if you have not already subscribed), and click Follow. You’ll get a notice every three weeks when I put up a new blog post.

See my book on Christians and Jews in the Roman empire at http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Allegiance-Politics-Devotion-Revelation/dp/1587432617/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425912158&sr=8-1&keywords=apocalypse+and+allegiance

The map on this blog was produced by license agreement with biblemapper.com