Post-Colonial Interpretation of Mark 5:1-20

Post-Colonial Interpretation of Mark 5:1-20 April 1, 2017

In recent times, the account of the Gerasene demoniac has proved to be fertile soil for liberation and post-colonial interpretations.[1] Generally speaking, in post-colonial interpretation, a text is studied with a view to challenging hegemonic western perspectives, exposing its sponsorship of totalizing agendas and imperialist regimes, identifying hidden protests embedded within a text, and hearing the voices of those marginalized either in and/or by a text. The horde of demons possessing the Gentile man are called “legion,” which is the name of a Roman fighting unit comprised of about 6000 soldiers. Interestingly the Roman 10th legion, the Legio X Fretensis, was based in Syro-Palestine and had a wild boar as the insignia on its standards and seal.[2] What is more, Josephus alleges that during the Jewish revolt that Vespasian sent Lucius Annius on a raid against Gerasa where the city and surrounding villages were burned and destroyed (War 4.487-89). Events such as these might be part of Mark’s memory of the Jewish war and constitute an element of the founding narrative of the churches of the Decapolis and Trans-Jordan.[3] However Mark’s story cannot be reduced an allegory of Roman occupation, its demonic nature, and the necessity of expelling it. While there is no doubt that Mark could envisage Roman supremacy as an expression of demonic power, he is also interested in the wider cosmic and eschatological struggle that Jesus is engaged in as the “stronger one” (Mk 1:7) who is able to subdue and ransack the satanic kingdom (Mk 3:27). The story should not be treated as really a veiled narrative protest against Roman power, but neither should we insulate social, political, and theological entities since these were intertwined in the apocalyptic worldview that Mark shares. Adela Collins offers an apt conclusion:

The aim of the story is not – at least not primarily – to make a statement about the Romans, but to show how Jesus rescued the man from his plight and restored him to a normal life. Just as, however, the heavenly armies of Daniel and Revelation are correlated with earthly events, so there may be a secondary political implication to the story of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark. It would be a culturally logical step for the audience to link the kingdom of Satan with Rome and the healing activity of Jesus with the restored kingdom of Israel.[4]

[1] Richard Dormandy, “The Expulsion of Legion: A Political Reading of Mark 5:1-20,”ExpT 111 (2000): 335-37; Richard A. Horsley, Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 141-48; Ched Myers, Binding the Strongman: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (2nd ed.; Marynoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 190-93. On Mark and post-colonial interpretation more generally, see Simon Samuel, A Postcolonial Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (LNTS 340; London: T&T Clark, 2007).

[2] Gerd Theissen, The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition (trans. L. M. Maloney; London: T&T Clark, 2004), 110.

[3] See further, Timothy Wardle “Mark, the Jerusalem Temple and Jewish Sectarianism: Why Geographical Proximity Matters in Determining the Provenance of Mark,” NTS 62 (2016): 60-78.

[4] Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 270.

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