Unasked questions: Who owned 2,000 pigs?

The oddest story in the Gospels is surely the one about the Gadarene Swine. It is so odd that many Christians don’t know it, and of those who do, many think is a parable. But it isn’t. Slightly different versions of the story (of course) are found in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8.

Jesus killing 2,000 pigs

Jesus is in the countryside going toward Gadara (east of the River Jordan). A madman comes out of some tombs. He says his name is Legion, because he has many devils in him. Jesus commands the devils to leave him. The devils ask to go into some other being, so as not to go back to the abyss of hell. Jesus kindly sends them into a nearby herd of pigs. The 2,000 pigs rush over a cliff into the sea and are killed while the swineherds run away. The madman is cured. Jesus and whoever was with him carry on to Gadara. People come from Gadara, upset with Jesus, and tell him he isn’t welcome there. Jesus goes somewhere else, telling the healed man to talk about what he has seen.

So who would have owned 2,000 pigs? A Jew? No.

A non-Jewish farmer, maybe a Greek immigrant with a cow and an acre of land? Of course not.

Or is the answer in the madman’s name, Legion? It’s a part of the Roman Legion’s food supply, then.

In “The Gospel According to the Romans” this event is a strike by Jesus against the Romans occupying the Holy Land. A Zealot action against our friends the Legio X Fretensis. I can’t think of a more plausible interpretation.

And we have a deliberately garbled version of the story in the gospels, because the story was too well-known to be ignored. Paul’s pro-Roman revisionism did its best to disguise it.

So forget “Jesus meek and mild”. You may have seen pictures of Jesus tenderly holding a little lamb, but have you ever seen him cuddling a piglet?

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What’s this blog all about, anyway?

This blog is a marmalade – sweet and sour boiled together, both rind and juicy bits.

Jesus was not a pacifist.

  • It’s a blog for the ideas of my novel. The novel looks at Jesus in the context of the constant uprisings against the Roman Occupation that began 100 years before his preaching, and went on for 100 years afterwards… until the Romans finally leveled Jerusalem, and killed or enslaved and deported all the Jews, and banned them from the replacement city of Aelia Capitolina.
  • It lets you read Jesus’ words and actions with the awareness that his “greatest commandment” is to recite the Shema, the fundamental Jewish prayer (“Hear, O Israel,”) – and practicing Jews do it multiple times a day. It’s Judaism 101. Jesus wanted Israel to turn back to the Covenant with God, and get rid of the idolatrous, beard-shaving, pig-eating Westerners who were marching around the country without bothering to learn the language.
  • Yes, it makes comparisons with modern Western invasions and occupations.
  • So it carries all my grudges against the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Blair destruction of Iraq in the hope of oil money and imperial glory. 100 million of us around the world had protested and pointed out that it was going to lead to nothing but death, destruction and economic catastrophe at home and abroad. And here we are.
  • It also carries the ironies of the current Westernized Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the cynical and heavy-handed Israeli destruction of the people who have been indigenous there for the past 2,000 years… a repetition of how the Jews slaughtered all the Canaanites and others who had been living in the area before Moses came along.
  • So I think Moses was a genocidal barbarian (Deuteronomy 20: 16-18).
  • And Jesus was a Jew, and more in tune with Osama bin Laden than anyone else.
  • And St. Paul was an epileptic visionary who created Christianity out of a mishmash of Judaism, Mithraism, and bits of Egyptian and Roman mythologies and practices.
  • And I have no respect for any monotheist who believes the earth was created in the past 10,000 years, or thinks the tribal legends of illiterate herdsmen have relevance for government policy today.
  • Does anyone really believe the first chapter of Genesis, when it says that God created day and night on the first day… and then made the sun and moon on the fourth day? What I believe is that we live in a universe of a billion galaxies, each with a billion suns – and someone who can’t even figure out the relationship between daylight and sunshine is to be treated seriously?
  • As for what the creative force behind a billion galaxies looks like, who knows. Call it God if you want… but where did it come from? Why is there anything at all?
  • And I love polytheist mythologies, and they speak to the soul’s images and poetry and inner health – but they’re not literally true.
  • And I loathe people who use religion as nothing but a way to make money, or to grab power. And I loathe people who use politics in that way, too. So I doubly loathe hypocritical politicians who mouth religious crap.
  • But oh how I love it all, at the same time! What a planet! Unbelievable natural beauty and works of art, and the most appalling destruction and massacres, planet-wide pollution, and greed and ignorance. But what can you expect of a planet of 7 billion heavily-armed apes? Humans are simply mind-boggling, stumbling through the dark like reckless two-year-olds.

By the way, it’s also a blog for the novel itself. With links to the trade paperback and to the Kindle edition. But don’t expect to find all the blog’s ideas in the novel – it’s just a contrarian (realistic, commonsense) retelling of an old story from the point of view of, yes, the Western occupation. And yes, Jesus was crucified. No, he didn’t come back from the dead. So, do you want to see how he did all those miracles?

Unashamed commercialism…

Pantera, a Roman legionary, remains a plausible biological father for Jesus

You have only minutes left to get an interesting gift – a stocking-stuffer for an intelligent, literate, argumentative teen, say.

You could order them a copy of The Gospel According to the Romans for $14.95 here, or from Amazon.com

or you can send it to them as an e-book for 86p in the UK, or 99 cents in the US, or EUR 0,99 at one of Amazon’s main European websites (for example Germany, but you can substitute other country letters for the ‘de’), where you/they can also get a free Kindle app for reading it (look on the right-hand side)

or you can simply point them at this blog, http://robinhl.com, where they can enjoy random religious rants and sniping year-round!

(Discussion of Pantera is at https://robinhl.com/2011/11/06/jesus-son-of-pantera/, fyi. And Merry Christmas!)

Best resources – Christmas, Mithras, and Paul

Merry Christmas! And the question is, if Jesus was born sometime in the spring (when the shepherds were in the fields with the sheep, and the animals’ area with the manger under the house kataluma wasn’t being used), why did Christians create a winter solstice celebration for him instead?

Paul has an epileptic seizure on the road to Damascus

The answer is that Paul caused it. Paul’s intent was to create a Judaism-based religion that would be universally acceptable; he was a Roman citizen, not just a member of a conquered nation, and he wanted his religion to be Roman as well as Jewish. Reputedly epileptic, his seizures gave rise to religious visions, the most famous being of Jesus (who he never met) guiding him along a syncretist path. Paul took popular elements of Roman, Egyptian and Persian religions, and expressed the message of his religion in whatever form was most acceptable to the Empire as a whole.

The most popular religion with the Roman military was Mithraism. It was exclusively male, a mystery cult with seven levels of initiation, and a clear-cut view of the world as the battle-ground between good and evil. It promised eternal life to its believers, and its god was Mithras, the Unconquerable Sun.

For an extensive review of the whole issue, I refer you to Ben Best’s enormous review of the roots of Christmas, from which I quote:

“Mithras was a divine being borne of a human virgin on December 25th (the Winter Solstice by the Roman Julian calendar), his birth watched and worshiped by shepherds. As an adult, Mithras healed the sick, made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Before returning to heaven at the Spring Equinox Mithras had a last supper with 12 disciples (representing the 12 signs of the Zodiac). Mithraism included Zoroastrian beliefs in the struggle between good & evil, symbolized as light & darkness. This militaristic black-and-white morality (including a final judgment affecting an afterlife of heaven or hell) probably accounted for the popularity of Mithraism among Roman soldiers. Mithraism was like an ancient fraternity: a mystery cult open only to men which had seven degrees of initiation — including the ritual of baptism and a sacred meal of bread & wine representing the body & blood of Mithras.”

The original December 25th Virgin Birth

The purple-robed priests, candles, incense, circular wafers and Queen of Heaven motifs were ideas that were familiar and attractive to Egyptians. The winter solstice greeting cards and presents, the greenery of trees and branches and garlands, the pantheon of saints to pray to – those customs were comfortable among Greeks and Romans. But the December 25th Virgin Birth (along with much else) was what would make Paul’s Christianity completely familiar and acceptable to the Roman Legions.

In The Gospel According to the Romans, the Roman military are Mithraists while Jesus and his followers are Jews. There weren’t any Christians yet, of course.

“Jesus, son of Pantera”

About 177 AD the Greek philosopher Celsus, in his book ‘The True Word’, expressed what appears to have been the consensus Jewish opinion about Jesus, that his father was a Roman soldier called Pantera. ‘Pantera’ means Panther and was a fairly common name among Roman soldiers. The rumor is repeated in the Talmud and in medieval Jewish writings where Jesus is referred to as “Yeshu ben Pantera”.

Pantera's gravestone is the one on the left

In 1859 a gravestone surfaced in Germany for a Roman soldier called Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera, whose unit Cohors I Sagittariorum had served in Judea before Germany – romantic historians have hypothesized this to be Jesus’ father, especially as ‘Abdes’ (‘servant of God’) suggests a Jewish background.

Tib(erius) Iul(ius) Abdes Pantera
Sidonia ann(orum) LXII
stipen(diorum) XXXX miles exs(ignifer?)
coh(orte) I sagittariorum
h(ic) s(itus) e(st)
Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera
from Sidon, aged 62 years
served 40 years, former standard bearer (?)
of the First Cohort of Archers
lies here

The gravestone is now in the Römerhalle museum in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.

It appears this First Cohort of Archers moved from Palestine to Dalmatia in 6 AD, and to the Rhine in 9 AD. Pantera came from Sidon, on the coast of Phoenicia just west of Galilee, presumably enlisted locally. He served in the army for 40 years until some time in the reign of Tiberius. On discharge he would have been granted citizenship by the Emperor (and been granted freedom if he had formerly been a slave), and added the Emperor’s name to his own. Tiberius ruled from 14 AD to 37 AD. Pantera’s 40 years of service would therefore have started between 27 BC and 4 BC.

As Pantera would probably have been about 18 when he enlisted, it means he was likely born between 45 BC and 22 BC. He could have been as old as 38 or as young as 15 at the time of Jesus’ conception in the summer of 7 BC.

In 6 AD when Jesus was 12, Judas of Galilee led a popular uprising that captured Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee. The uprising was crushed by the Romans some four miles north of Nazareth. It is possible (and appealing to lovers of historical irony) that Pantera and Joseph fought on opposite sides. As Joseph is never heard of again he may well have been killed in the battle, or have been among the 2,000 Jewish rebels crucified afterwards.

So Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera is indeed a possibility as Jesus’ father. The only thing we know for certain is that Mary’s husband Joseph wasn’t the father, and that Mary was already pregnant when they married. It could have been rape, or Mary may have been a wild young teen who fell for a handsome man in a uniform, even if he was part of an occupying army. It happens.

Best resources – Archaeology and History

Every week David Meadows, aka The Rogue Classicist, assembles links to every archaeology-related story that he comes across for his Explorator mailing list, sorting them into:

  • Early Humans
  • Africa
  • Ancient Near East and Egypt [This is where the Jews are… and the Romans, sometimes]
  • Ancient Greece and Rome (and Classics) [This is where the Romans are… and the Jews, sometimes]
  • Europe and the UK (+ Ireland) [Note: don’t ask me why he calls it that…]
  • Asia and the South Pacific
  • North America
  • Central and South America
  • Other Items of Interest
  • Touristy Things
  • Blogs
  • Audio/Video News
  • Crime Beat
  • Numismatica
  • Exhibitions, Auctions and Museum-Related
  • Performances and Theatre-Related [yes, David’s Canadian, if you’re wondering about the spelling]
  • Obituaries
  • Podcasts

In a good week, a single section may look like this:

EARLY HUMANS

Using ‘foodprints’ to determine the diet of early humans:
http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-hominin-diet-20111022,0,7613706.story

Pondering the short legs of Neanderthals:
http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-10-mysteries-short-legged-neandertals.html
http://www.livescience.com/16623-neanderthal-short-legs.html

We can apparently blame backbone fractures on evolution:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/cwru-bbf101911.php

On the evolutionary roots of ‘culture’ in humans and apes:
http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-10-culture-humans-apes-evolutionary-roots.html

A Neanderthal find from the Netherlands … so far the coverage is only in Dutch:
http://www.nu.nl/wetenschap/2643248/werktuigen-neanderthalers-gevonden-in-limburg.html
http://www.blikopnieuws.nl/bericht/135825/Honderdduizend_jaar_oude_werktuigen_Neanderthaler_gevonden.html
http://www.limburger.nl/article/20111017/REGIONIEUWS06/111019666/1021
http://www.wetenschap24.nl/nieuws/artikelen/2011/oktober/Gereedschappen-Neanderthalers-ontdekt-in-Limburg.html
http://www.hartvannederland.nl/nederland/limburg/2011/bijzondere-archeologische-vondst/

Feature on figuring out where the various ‘ape men’ fit on the family tree:
http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/hominids/2011/10/how-africa-became-the-cradle-of-humankind/

… and the mutation which may have led to the genus homo:
http://www.nctimes.com/news/science/article_cf0b51dc-531b-5a9a-9ef1-b2cb9fbeb21a.html

More on the blades (and their implications) found in that Qesem Cave ‘production line’:
http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-10-archaeologists-blade-production-earlier-thought.html
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I strongly recommend it. It ranks right at the top of my favorite reading for the week.

Legio X Fretensis

Legio X Fretensis (Tenth Legion of the Sea Straits) was formed around 40 BC by Octavian to fight in the civil wars after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Octavian called it “The Tenth” in honor of Caesar’s famed Tenth Legion, and it earned its nickname “of the Sea Straits” after an early battle near the Straits of Messina.

The Naval Battle of Actium, 31 BC

The Tenth Legion Fretensis fought across the ships at Actium

It consolidated this name in the naval Battle of Actium in 31 BC, when Octavian’s ships grappled the ships of Antony and Cleopatra, and the Tenth Legion was able to fight across from ship to ship. Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Octavian became Caesar Augustus.

Roman Standards of Wolf and Boar

The Tenth Fretensis was stationed in and around Judea for over 400 years, at Damascus, Caesarea and latterly Aqaba. It was involved in the suppression of the ongoing Jewish insurrection against the Roman occupation, including:

  • the defeat of Judas of Galilee and the crucifixion of 2,000 rebels at Sepphoris (Zippori), four miles from Nazareth, in 6 AD
  • the siege of Jerusalem in the Great Revolt of 66-73 AD, the looting and destruction of the Temple, and the capture of Masada
  • the suppression of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132-135 AD, with the destruction of Jerusalem, and the enslavement, deportation and banishment of all Jews from Judea.

That other minor (but well-known) incident in the mid-30s, ending with the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and two Zealot ringleaders, was trivial compared with what the Legion had to deal with a lot of the time. But that incident, of course, is the focal point of my novel “The Gospel According to the Romans”.

Roman detachment with Standards

The Tenth’s symbols were the Bull, the Ship and the Boar. The Bull, Taurus, may be from its being created sometime between April 20 and May 20 – but it certainly made an easy connection with the Mithraic religion that was spreading into the Empire from the East. The Boar was, in itself, a source of conflict with the Jewish inhabitants throughout the region – they didn’t like to see foreign troops in any case, but for them to parade around under the graven image of a pig was an extreme insult.