Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Cross-Gendered Romans and Mark's Jesus: Legion Enters the Pigs (Mark 5:1-20)

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Cross-Gendered Romans and Mark's Jesus: Legion Enters the Pigs (Mark 5:1-20)

Article excerpt

This article engages two matters of significance for reading Mark's "exorcismof-Legion" scene (5:1-20). The first concerns the contribution of the nomenclature of "Legion." Is the term about numbers,1 or a largely nonintegrated or secondary military detail,2 or is it a military reference that is, along with others, central to the scene?3 This reading develops the third approach.

The second matter concerns how we read the unusual request of the demon named Legion to enter into the pigs (Mark 5:12). Earlier twentieth-century interpreters regularly offered theological explanations for this request:4 God defeats Satan and Jesus tricks the demons-at least partially though not yet fully; or, much less commonly, the demons trick Jesus; or the drowned pigs display Jesus's miraculous exorcistic powers. More recent twentieth- and twenty-first-century studies- even those with more historical-critical interests-tend to take the request in their narrative stride, seeing it as a win-win bargaining situation for exorcist and demons, though claims of Jesus's victory do not seem far away.5

This article builds on this narrative turn but finds the frequent spiritualized/ theological approaches neglectful of important dimensions of the scene. Seeking to integrate the name "Legion" with an explanation for the demon's request to enter the pigs, I attend to the scene's polyvalent gendered and military-imperial language. My argument is that the scene inscribes Jesus's hegemonic masculinity even while it mocks Roman power as an out-of-control, demonic, militaristic, and (self-) destructive masculinity and fantasizes Rome's defeat as womanly weakness at Jesus's superior, commanding, masculine hands. Attention to the scene's crossgendering, which draws from imperial-critical and gendered perspectives, has been ignored in previous work.6

Important to this reading are the scene's military language and motifs, which have received little attention in interpretations of the scene. In a sometime-quoted but rarely engaged 1979 article, J. Duncan M. Derrett briefly asserted the "military overtones" of several terms,7 though they played little part in his analysis, and his support for several items, notably ?γ?λη (5:11) and ?πιτρ?π[varepsilon]ιν (5:13), was dubious. Graham Twelftree certainly does not find Derrett convincing, dismissing any military significance for "Legion" and finding Derrett's other claims "of little consequence for ?ποστ?λλω, ?πιτρ?πω, ?ρμ?ω, and ?γ?λη have wide varieties of meanings that do not, of themselves, suggest a military motif."8 Twelftree is correct to notice that language has multiple uses, yet, as I will demonstrate, his dismissal of this multivalence seems unsustainable when the scene's cluster of military motifs and vocabulary is given attention.

Accordingly, this reading employs imperial-military, gender (especially masculinity), and sociopolitical-narrative approaches. Imperial (critical) approaches foreground the interactions of NT texts with the diverse structures, personnel, practices, and ideologies of Roman power; military dimensions are to the fore in this reading. Gender approaches employ interrelated notions of gender, sex, and hegemonic masculinity (explicated in the next section), here with a focus on gender performance that involves the genitals.9 A sociopolitical-narrative approach concerns itself with the Gospel's narrative as "rhetorical in character" involving "discursive or communicative interactions between the author of a text and its readers, both past and present."10 It does not claim any representation of an actual event but recognizes that the narrative is embedded in, assumes, and inscribes cultural, ideological, social, and political structures from the world in which it originates.


My starting point is to observe the presentation of Jesus in the chapters preceding 5:1-20. I employ R. W. Connell's notion of "hegemonic masculinity" to identify what forms the basis for Jesus's gendered roles in this scene. …

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