The New Testament story of Jesus, the demoniac, and the herd of hogs is both miraculous and absurd. In Mark 5, this event is carefully detailed from the disciple writer’s viewpoint. Taking a few creative liberties, I recently wrote this story from a different perspective: that of the hog farmer.
I brushed a grimy hand down my tunic and turned toward the sea. A fresh breeze gently swept up the hillside and I joined my herd in straining forward to catch it. The hogs grunted approvingly, letting the wind send the dew on their backs rolling downward.
It was strange. Only hours before, a merciless storm had ripped and crazed the Sea of Galilee. For a coastal herdsman, Galilee’s unpredictable and fierce tempests were nothing new. It was the abruptness of the storm’s ending that startled me with an eerie sense. The strips of clouds parted now, sliced radiantly by the sunrise. In the distance, a humble fishing boat heaved toward the shoreline below. I shrugged off my thoughts for a moment to break up a skirmish between two hogs.
A sudden, mournful howl echoed off the cliffs and caves below, ringing dreadfully, swelling and falling. It pierced my ears and I winced, trying once again to ignore the demonic cry. Silence followed but didn’t last. Again, that enraged beast of a man took up his wailing. The hogs seemed unfazed, only twitching an ear or two in irritation. I was beyond irritated. The demon-possessed man’s howls and groans rattled my bones and sent shivers of angry fear down my spine. I rarely saw him, but always heard. The holes in the cliffs near my hillside rang with his hellish groans, and when he did emerge, only by the dusk’s dim light could I glimpse a skeleton of a creature with strings for hair and blood-encrusted skin.
The howling ceased abruptly, and I let out a sigh. Waves lapping slowly, the fishing vessel now crunched its way up the rocky bank dragged by several men. One of them stepped out of the boat and strode up the shoreline, studying the cliffs and caves intently. I tilted my head, then halted at the sight unfolding below me. With only a yellowed strip of cloth dangling from his waist, the demon-possessed man scrambled from behind a boulder and limped, stumbled, sprinted his way forward. The disembarking fishermen faltered. But the man on shore did not. The distance was far and my eyesight was not keen, but I swore this stranger took a step toward the demoniac. From my perch, I held my breath. Another quick, hollow moan escaped the beastlike man. Then he flung himself onto the pebbled ground.
“What have you to do with me, Jesus of Nazareth?” The cry reverberated threateningly, forcefully. I strained to catch the stranger’s words as he reached an arm toward the demoniac.
“Do not torment me!” The tramp was kneeling now, eyes upward, bony hands clasped. He swayed drunkenly from side to side. The stranger—this “Jesus”— again said something I couldn’t hear.
“Legion,” the maniac responded. “We are many.” With a sudden explosion of energy, he leapt back to his feet and took a staggering step toward Jesus. “Send us, I beg you… send us there.” A bleeding finger pointed in my direction. I stiffened. For the first time, Jesus’ eyes left the demoniac and rose to study my hillside. Instinctively, I stepped back. Was he looking at me? Was it his gaze that caused me to tremble?
“Go.” The word echoed from this Jesus’ lips, clearly audible and powerfully convicting. With a final scream, like nothing I’d heard before, the demoniac convulsed, then sank into obedient silence. Jesus’s gaze never left the hillside. A penetrating, sulfuric wind grabbed at my hair and sent chills to my limbs. Something supernatural was taking place.
Turning to meet eyes with a nearby hog, I flinched and scrambled backwards. Its pupils were crimson, its mouth foaming. An all too familiar wail escaped its lips. Another followed. Then another. Before I could move, a herd of howling, savage hogs surrounded me——demon-possessed hogs. An achingly unforgettable turmoil ensued. Thousands of enraged pigs charged one another, trampled each other, and careened down the hillside toward the sea. Their fleshy bodies tumbled over one another and crashed violently into the waves below. Myriads of demonic, beastly screams were silenced by the water.
I wavered, reaching to steady myself with my staff. My parched lips searched for words, my stunned mind groped for meaning. None came. Two thousand hogs under my care—vanished. It was absurd. It was terrifying. And I felt faint. As if a power far greater than mine had overshadowed and shaken my soul.
I shot my gaze across the acres of empty farmland and clenched trembling fists into hard knots. Beads of sweat sprang to my forehead and I stifled a cry of outrage. Behind me, the lividly hysteric shouts of fellow herdsmen faded as they sprinted toward the city. But something inside forced me to remain. I watched the rocky shoreline yards below where the once-howling maniac knelt, clothed, sane before this Jesus.
Who was he? What kind of authority enabled this man to act so… god-like? And what would I do now? The questions racked my mind.
I heaved out a puff of angry air and turned back toward the sea. Something had to be done. This “Jesus” must go. For the second time in two days, an eerie, unexplainable act had shattered the routine of a coastal hog farmer. First, a storm silenced. Then, a legion of demons.
And I had an unnerving feeling this robed fisherman had a hand in both.