The Curmudgeon


Friday, December 30, 2011

The Gadarene Swineherd

A Moral Tale

Contrary to legend, there were not thousands of swine but a couple of dozen at most; and there were not several swineherds but only one, who made his way home in fear and trembling to relate how his family's entire stock had been lost to the sea on the whim of an eccentric rabbi.

His father thrashed him soundly for his carelessness, and later the old man and some of the neighbours went out to see the rabbi and his disciples for themselves. They found nothing very impressive - a straggle of wandering Jews who claimed the end of the world was nigh - and politely requested them to depart. After a little thought, the rabbi proclaimed that the Canaanite dogs might, on this occasion, have their wish; and he and his disciples shook the dust of Gadara from their shoes, with that special consideration which a conquered and oppressed people always has for those whom its forefathers have conquered and oppressed in times gone by.

Yet none of this brought back the lost herd, which had been small enough to begin with; and despite the repeated thrashings and scoldings with which the culprit was tutored in the perils of negligence, matters did not improve. Eventually the swineherd's father was forced to give economic considerations priority over moral ones, and left off tutoring his son so that the boy could keep his looks and be sold into slavery at a reasonable price.

The slavers took the former swineherd to Jerusalem, where he grew to manhood under various masters, some kind and some severe; and where also he heard rumours of the one true God, who had begotten a son on earth for the redemption of the faithful and the consignment of everyone else to a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth. This instrument of divine mercy, it was said, had been a great teacher and miracle worker, and had been persecuted and eventually murdered at the behest of the Jewish authorities. The slave, who had learned to his cost about the attitudes of Jewish holy men toward the livelihood of others, felt a certain sympathy.

At last there came a time when he was sold into the household of one who followed the great man's teachings; and he heard from his master's own lips how the great man had been betrayed, arrested, scourged and crucified, how he had risen from the tomb and ascended to Heaven, and how he would return within the span of an earthly lifetime to proclaim the kingdom of God and to judge the living and the dead. The slave was so impressed by these truths that he allowed himself forthwith to be baptised into the new faith.

It quickly became clear that his conversion was genuine and lasting; and he was often employed in carrying messages around the city, between his master and other believers. It was in the course of one such errand that the slave who had been a swineherd was discreetly but messily hacked to death in an alley by a minion of one Saul, whose personal acquaintance the great teacher was still waiting to make, somewhere on the road to Damascus.


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