Zeus And The Pigs

Q. With the incident in the Gospels involving the demoniac in Gadera, I heard it taught once that there was a temple to Zeus near by that would have pigs sacrificed in it. It was said that, beside the fact that swine were unclean animals and they really shouldn’t have been raising them regardless of whether or not they ate them, Jesus was eliminating the sacrifice to Zeus. Do you know if this is so?

A. You’re referring to Mark 5:1-20 where Jesus sent a bunch of demonic spirits who were possessing a man into a herd of pigs, after which they drowned themselves in the Sea of Galilee.

I’m aware of some traditions calling for the sacrifice of suckling piglets to Zeus during the much earlier Hittite times, but not at the time of Jesus. The Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes did require Jews to sacrifice pigs and other unclean animals on the Temple altar but that was to offend them, not to appease Zeus. It worked a little too well because it led to the Maccabean revolt in which the Greeks were defeated (about 165 BC).

The best explanation for the presence of the pigs is that in the Lord’s time the Eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee were home to several communities of Gentiles for whom the eating of pork was not forbidden.

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