Thomas Henry Huxley

The keepers of the swine

Thomas Henry Huxley THE KEEPERS OF THE HERD OF SWINE [1890]

I had fondly hoped that Mr. Gladstone and I had come to an end of disputation, and that the hatchet of war was finally superseded by the calumet, which, as Mr. Gladstone, I believe, objects to tobacco, I was quite willing to smoke for both. But I have had, once again, to discover that the adage that whoso seeks peace will ensue it, is a somewhat hasty generalization. The renowned warrior with whom it is my misfortune to be opposed in most things has dug up the axe and is on the war-path once more. The weapon has been wielded with all the dexterity which long practice has conferred on a past master in craft, whether of wood or state. And I have reason to believe that the simpler sort of the great tribe which he heads, imagine that my scalp is already on its way to adorn their big chief’s wigwam. I am glad therefore to be able to relieve any anxieties which my friends may entertain without delay. I assure them that my skull retains its normal covering, and that though, naturally, I may have felt alarmed, nothing serious has happened. My doughty adversary has merely performed a war dance, and his blows have for the most part cut the air. I regret to add, however, that by misadventure, and I am afraid I must say carelessness, he has inflicted one or two severe contusions on himself.

When the noise of approaching battle roused me from the dreams of peace which occupy my retirement, I was glad to observe (since I must fight) that the campaign was to be opened upon a new field. When the contest raged over the Pentateuchal myth of the creation, Mr. Gladstone’s manifest want of acquaintance with the facts and principles involved in the discussion, no less than with the best literature on his own side of the subject, gave me the uncomfortable feeling that I had my adversary at a disadvantage. The sun of science, at my back, was in his eyes. But, on the present occasion, we are happily on an equality. History and Biblical criticism are as much, or as little, my vocation as they are that of Mr. Gladstone; the blinding from too much light, or the blindness from too little, may be presumed to be equally shared by both of us.

Mr. Gladstone takes up his new position in the country of the Gadarenes. His strategic sense justly leads him to see that the authority of the teachings of the synoptic Gospels, touching the nature of the spiritual world, turns upon the acceptance, or the rejection, of the Gadarene and other like stories. As we accept, or repudiate, such histories as that of the possessed pigs, so shall we accept, or reject, the witness of the synoptics to such miraculous interventions.

It is exactly because these stories constitute the key-stone of the orthodox arch, that I originally drew attention to them; and, in spite of my longing for peace, I am truly obliged to Mr. Gladstone for compelling me to place my case before the public once more. It may be thought that this is a work of supererogation by those who are aware that my essay is the subject of attack in a work so largely circulated as the “Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture”; and who may possibly, in their simplicity, assume that it must be truthfully set forth in that work. But the warmest admirers of Mr. Gladstone will hardly be prepared to maintain that mathematical accuracy in stating the opinions of an opponent is the most prominent feature of his controversial method. And what follows will show that, in the present case, the desire to be fair and accurate, the existence of which I am bound to assume, has not borne as much fruit as might have been expected.

In referring to the statement of the narrators, that the herd of swine perished in consequence of the entrance into them of the demons by the permission, or order, of Jesus of Nazareth, I said:

“Everything that I know of law and justice convinces me that the wanton destruction of other people’s property is a misdemeanour of evil example” (“Nineteenth Century,” February, 1889, p. 172).

Mr. Gladstone has not found it convenient to cite this passage; and, in view of various considerations, I dare not assume that he would assent to it, without sundry subtle modifications which, for me, might possibly rob it of its argumentative value. But, until the proposition is seriously controverted, I shall assume it to be true, and content myself with warning the reader that neither he nor I have any grounds for assuming Mr. Gladstone’s concurrence. With this caution, I proceed to remark that I think it may be granted that the people whose herd of 2000 swine (more or fewer) was suddenly destroyed suffered great loss and damage. And it is quite certain that the narrators of the Gadarene story do not, in any way, refer to the point of morality and legality thus raised; as I said, they show no inkling of the moral and legal difficulties which arise.

Such being the facts of the case, I submit that for those who admit the principle laid down, the conclusion which I have drawn necessarily follows; though I repeat that, since Mr. Gladstone does not explicitly admit the principle, I am far from suggesting that he is bound by its logical consequences. However, I distinctly reiterate the opinion that any one who acted in the way described in the story would, in my judgment, be guilty of “a misdemeanour of evil example.” About that point I desire to leave no ambiguity whatever; and it follows that, if I believed the story, I should have no hesitation in applying this judgment to the chief actor in it.

But, if any one will do me the favour to turn to the paper in which these passages occur, he will find that a considerable part of it is devoted to the exposure of the familiar trick of the “counsel for creeds,” who, when they wish to profit by the easily stirred odium theologicum, are careful to confuse disbelief in a narrative of a man’s act, or disapproval of the acts as narrated, with disbelieving and vilipending the man himself. If I say that “according to paragraphs in several newspapers, my valued Separatist friend A. B. has roughed a lot of cattle, which he considered to be unlawfully in the possession of an Irish land-grabber; that, in my opinion, any such act is a misdemeanour of evil example; but, that I utterly disbelieve the whole story and have no doubt that it is a mere fabrication:” it really appears to me that, if any one charges me with calling A.B. an immoral misdemeanant I should be justified in using very strong language respecting either his sanity or his veracity. And, if an analogous charge has been brought in reference to the Gadarene story, there is certainly no excuse producible, on account of any lack of plain speech on my part. Surely no language can be more explicit than that which follows:

I can discern no escape from this dilemma; either Jesus said what he is reported to have said, or he did not. In the former case, it is inevitable that his authority on matters connected with the ‘unseen world’ should be roughly shaken; in the latter, the blow falls upon the authority of the synoptic Gospels (p. 173).

The choice then lies between discrediting those who compiled the Gospel biographies and disbelieving the Master, whom they, simple souls, thought to honour by preserving such traditions of the exercise of his authority over Satan’s invisible world (p. 174).

And I leave no shadow of doubt as to my own choice:

After what has been said, I do not think that any sensible man, unless he happen to be angry, will accuse me of ‘contradicting the Lord and his Apostles’ if I reiterate my total disbelief in the whole Gadarene story (p. 178).

I am afraid, therefore, that Mr. Gladstone must have been exceedingly angry when he committed himself to such a statement as follows:

So, then, after eighteen centuries of worship offered to our Lord by the most cultivated, the most developed, and the most progressive portion of the human race, it has been reserved to a scientific inquirer to discover that He was no better than a law-breaker and an evil-doer … How, in such a matter, came the honours of originality to be reserved to our time and to Professor Huxley? (Pp. 269, 270).

Truly, the hatchet is hardly a weapon of precision, but would seem to have rather more the character of the boomerang, which returns to damage the reckless thrower. Doubtless such incidents are somewhat ludicrous. But they have a very serious side; and, if I rated the opinion of those who blindly follow Mr. Gladstone’s leading, but not light, in these matters, much higher than the great Duke of Wellington’s famous standard of minimum value, I think I might fairly beg them to reflect upon the general bearings of this particular example of his controversial method. I imagine it can hardly commend itself to their cool judgment.

After this tragi-comical ending to what an old historian calls a “robustious and rough coming on”; and after some praises of the provisions of the Mosaic law in the matter of not eating pork—in which, as pork disagrees with me and for some other reasons, I am much disposed to concur, though I do not see what they have to do with the matter in hand—comes the serious onslaught.

Mr. Huxley, exercising his rapid judgment on the text, does not appear to have encumbered himself with the labour of inquiring what anybody else had known or said about it. He has thus missed a point which might have been set up in support of his accusation against our Lord. (P. 273.)

Unhappily for my conduct, I have been much exercised in controversy during the past thirty years; and the only compensation for the loss of time and the trials of temper which it has inflicted upon me, is that I have come to regard it as a branch of the fine arts, and to take an impartial and æsthetic interest in the way in which it is conducted, even by those whose efforts are directed against myself. Now, from the purely artistic point of view (which, as we are all being told, has nothing to do with morals), I consider it an axiom, that one should never appear to doubt that the other side has performed the elementary duty of acquiring proper elementary information, unless there is demonstrative evidence to the contrary. And I think, though I admit that this may be a purely subjective appreciation, that (unless you are quite certain) there is a “want of finish,” as a great master of disputation once put it, about the suggestion that your opponent has missed a point on his own side. Because it may happen that he has not missed it at all, but only thought it unworthy of serious notice. And if he proves that, the suggestion looks foolish.

Merely noting the careful repetition of a charge, the absurdity of which has been sufficiently exposed above, I now ask my readers to accompany me on a little voyage of discovery in search of the side on which the rapid judgment and the ignorance of the literature of the subject lie. I think I may promise them very little trouble, and a good deal of entertainment.

Mr. Gladstone is of opinion that the Gadarene swinefolk were “Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law” (p. 274); and he conceives that it has not occurred to me to learn what may be said in favour of and against this view. He tells us that

Some commentators have alleged the authority of Josephus for stating that Gadara was a city of Greeks rather than of Jews, from whence it might be inferred that to keep swine was innocent and lawful. (P. 273.)

Mr. Gladstone then goes on to inform his readers that in his painstaking search after truth he has submitted to the labour of personally examining the writings of Josephus. Moreover, in a note, he positively exhibits an acquaintance, in addition, with the works of Bishop Wordsworth and of Archbishop Trench; and even shows that he has read Hudson’s commentary on Josephus. And yet people say that our Biblical critics do not equal the Germans in research! But Mr. Gladstone’s citation of Cuvier and Sir John Herschel about the Creation myth, and his ignorance of all the best modern writings on his own side, produced a great impression on my mind. I have had the audacity to suspect that his acquaintance with what has been done in Biblical history might stand at no higher level than his information about the natural sciences. However unwillingly, I have felt bound to consider the possibility that Mr. Gladstone’s labours in this matter may have carried him no further than Josephus and the worthy, but somewhat antique, episcopal and other authorities to whom he refers; that even his reading of Josephus may have been of the most cursory nature, directed not to the understanding of his author, but to the discovery of useful controversial matter; and that, in view of the not inconsiderable misrepresentation of my statements to which I have drawn attention, it might be that Mr. Gladstone’s exposition of the evidence of Josephus was not more trustworthy. I proceed to show that my previsions have been fully justified. I doubt if controversial literature contains anything more piquant than the story I have to unfold.

That I should be reproved for rapidity of judgment is very just; however quaint the situation of Mr. Gladstone, as the reprover, may seem to people blessed with a sense of humour. But it is a quality, the defects of which have been painfully obvious to me all my life; and I try to keep my Pegasus—at best, a poor Shetland variety of that species of quadruped—at a respectable jog-trot, by loading him heavily with bales of reading. Those who took the trouble to study my paper in good faith and not for mere controversial purposes, have a right to know, that something more than a hasty glimpse of two or three passages of Josephus (even with as many episcopal works thrown in) lay at the back of the few paragraphs I devoted to the Gadarene story. I proceed to set forth, as briefly as I can, some results of that preparatory work. My artistic principles do not permit me, at present, to express a doubt that Mr. Gladstone was acquainted with the facts I am about to mention when he undertook to write. But, if he did know them, then both what he has said and what he has not said, his assertions and his omissions alike, will require a paragraph to themselves.

The common consent of the synoptic Gospels affirms that the miraculous transference of devils from a man, or men, to sundry pigs, took place somewhere on the eastern shore of the Lake of Tiberias; “on the other side of the sea over against Galilee,” the western shore being, without doubt, included in the latter province. But there is no such concord when we come to the name of the part of the eastern shore, on which, according to the story, Jesus and his disciples landed. In the revised version, Matthew calls it the “country of the Gadarenes:” Luke and Mark have “Gerasenes.” In sundry very ancient manuscripts “Gergesenes” occurs.

The existence of any place called Gergesa, however, is declared by the weightiest authorities whom I have consulted to be very questionable; and no such town is mentioned in the list of the cities of the Decapolis, in the territory of which (as it would seem from Mark v. 20) the transaction was supposed to take place. About Gerasa, on the other hand, there hangs no such doubt. It was a large and important member of the group of the Decapolitan cities. But Gerasa is more than thirty miles distant from the nearest part of the Lake of Tiberias, while the city mentioned in the narrative could not have been very far off the scene of the event. However, as Gerasa was a very important Hellenic city, not much more than a score of miles from Gadara, it is easily imaginable that a locality which was part of Decapolitan territory may have been spoken of as belonging to one of the two cities, when it really appertained to the other. After weighing all the arguments, no doubt remains on my mind that “Gadarene” is the proper reading. At the period under consideration, Gadara appears to have been a good-sized fortified town, about two miles in circumference. It was a place of considerable strategic importance, inasmuch as it lay on a high ridge at the point of intersection of the roads from Tiberias, Scythopolis, Damascus, and Gerasa. Three miles north from it, where the Tiberias road descended into the valley of the Hieromices, lay the famous hot springs and the fashionable baths of Amatha. On the north-east side, the remains of the extensive necropolis of Gadara are still to be seen. Innumerable sepulchral chambers are excavated in the limestone cliffs, and many of them still contain sarcophaguses of basalt; while not a few are converted into dwellings by the inhabitants of the present village of Um Keis. The distance of Gadara from the south-eastern shore of the Lake of Tiberias is less than seven miles. The nearest of the other cities of the Decapolis, to the north, is Hippos, which also lay some seven miles off, in the south-eastern corner of the shore of the lake. In accordance with the ancient Hellenic practice, that each city should be surrounded by a certain amount of territory amenable to its jurisdiction, and on other grounds, it may be taken for certain that the intermediate country was divided between Gadara and Hippos; and that the citizens of Gadara had free access to a port on the lake. Hence the title of “country of the Gadarenes” applied to the locality of the porcine catastrophe becomes easily intelligible. The swine may well be imagined to have been feeding (as they do now in the adjacent region) on the hillsides, which slope somewhat steeply down to the lake from the northern boundary wall of the valley of the Hieromices (Nahr Yarmuk), about half-way between the city and the shore, and doubtless lay well within the territory of the polis of Gadara.

The proof that Gadara was, to all intents and purposes, a Gentile, and not a Jewish, city is complete. The date and the occasion of its foundation are unknown; but it certainly existed in the third century B.C. Antiochus the Great annexed it to his dominions in B.C. 198. After this, during the brief revival of Jewish autonomy, Alexander Jannæus took it; and for the first time, so far as the records go, it fell under Jewish rule. From this it was rescued by Pompey (B.C. 63), who rebuilt the city and incorporated it with the province of Syria. In gratitude to the Romans for the dissolution of a hated union, the Gadarenes adopted the Pompeian era of their coinage. Gadara was a commercial centre of some importance, and therefore, it may be assumed, Jews settled in it, as they settled in almost all considerable Gentile cities. But a wholly mistaken estimate of the magnitude of the Jewish colony has been based upon the notion that Gabinius, proconsul of Syria in 57-55 B.C., seated one of the five sanhedrins in Gadara. SchŬrer has pointed out that what he really did was to lodge one of them in Gadara, far away on the other side of the Jordan. This is one of the many errors which have arisen out of the confusion of the names Gadara, Gazara, and Gabara.

Augustus made a present of Gadara to Herod the Great, as an appanage personal to himself; and, upon Herod’s death, recognising it to be a “Grecian city” like Hippos and Gaza,[103] he transferred it back to its former place in the province of Syria. That Herod made no effort to judaise his temporary possession, but rather the contrary, is obvious from the fact that the coins of Gadara, while under his rule, bear the image of Augustus with the superscription ΣεβαστÓς —a flying in the face of Jewish prejudices which, even he, did not dare to venture upon in Judæa. And I may remark that, if my co-trustee of the British Museum had taken the trouble to visit the splendid numismatic collection under our charge, he might have seen two coins of Gadara, one of the time of Tiberius and the other of that of Titus, each bearing the effigies of the emperor on the obverse: while the personified genius of the city is on the reverse of the former. Further, the well-known works of De Saulcy and of Ekhel would have supplied the information that, from the time of Augustus to that of Gordian, the Gadarene coinage had the same thoroughly Gentile character. Curious that a city of “Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law” should tolerate such a mint!

Whatever increase in population the Ghetto of Gadara may have undergone, between B.C. 4 and A.D. 66, it nowise affected the gentile and anti-judaic character of the city at the outbreak of the great war; for Josephus tells us that, immediately after the great massacre of Cæsarea, the revolted Jews “laid waste the villages of the Syrians and their neighbouring cities, Philadelphia and Sebonitis and Gerasa and Pella and Scythopolis, and after them Gadara and Hippos” (“Wars,” II. xviii. 1). I submit that, if Gadara had been a city of “Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law,” the ravaging of their territory by their brother Jews, in revenge for the massacre of the Cæsarean Jews by the Gentile population of that place, would surely have been a somewhat unaccountable proceeding. But when we proceed a little further, to the fifth section of the chapter in which this statement occurs, the whole affair becomes intelligible enough.

Besides this murder at Scythopolis, the other cities rose up against the Jews that were among them: those of Askelon slew two thousand five hundred, and those of Ptolemais two thousand, and put not a few into bonds; those of Tyre also put a great number to death, but kept a great number in prison; moreover, those of Hippos and those of Gadara did the like, while they put to death the boldest of the Jews, but kept those of whom they were most afraid in custody; as did the rest of the cities of Syria according as they every one either hated them or were afraid of them.

Josephus is not always trustworthy, but he has no conceivable motive for altering facts here; he speaks of contemporary events, in which he himself took an active part, and he characterises the cities in the way familiar to him. For Josephus, Gadara is just as much a Gentile city as Ptolemais; it was reserved for his latest commentator, either ignoring, or ignorant of, all this, to tell us that Gadara had a Hebrew population, bound by the Mosaic law.

In the face of all this evidence, most of which has been put before serious students, with full reference to the needful authorities and in a thoroughly judicial manner, by Schürer in his classical work, one reads with stupefaction the statement which Mr. Gladstone has thought fit to put before the uninstructed public:

Some commentators have alleged the authority of Josephus for stating that Gadara was a city of Greeks rather than of Jews, from whence it might be inferred that to keep swine was innocent and lawful. This is not quite the place for a critical examination of the matter; but I have examined it, and have satisfied myself that Josephus gives no reason whatever to suppose that the population of Gadara, and still less (if less may be) the population of the neighbourhood, and least of all the swine-herding or lower portion of that population, were other than Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law. (Pp. 373-4.)

Even “rapid judgment” cannot be pleaded in excuse for this surprising statement, because a “Note on the Gadarene miracle” is added (in a special appendix), in which the references are given to the passages of Josephus, by the improved interpretation of which, Mr. Gladstone has thus contrived to satisfy himself of the thing which is not. One of these is “Antiquities” XVII. xiii. 4, in which section, I regret to say, I can find no mention of Gadara. In “Antiquities,” XVII. xi. 4, however, there is a passage which would appear to be that Mr. Gladstone means; and I will give it in full, although I have already cited part of it:

There were also certain of the cities which paid tribute to Archelaus; Strato’s tower, and Sebaste, with Joppa and Jerusalem; for, as to Gaza, Gadara, and Hippos, they were Grecian cities, which Cæsar separated from his government, and added them to the province of Syria.

That is to say, Augustus simply restored the state of things which existed before he gave Gadara, then certainly a Gentile city, lying outside Judæa, to Herod as a mark of great personal favour. Yet Mr. Gladstone can gravely tell those who are not in a position to check his statements:

The sense seems to be, not that these cities were inhabited by a Greek population, but that they had politically been taken out of Judæa and added to Syria, which I presume was classified as simply Hellenic, a portion of the great Greek empire erected by Alexander. (Pp. 295-6.)

Mr. Gladstone’s next reference is to the “Wars,” III. vii. 1:

So Vespasian marched to the city Gadara, and took it upon the first onset, because he found it destitute of a considerable number of men grown up for war. He then came into it, and slew all the youth, the Romans having no mercy on any age whatsoever; and this was done out of the hatred they bore the nation, and because of the iniquity they had been guilty of in the affair of Cestius.

Obviously, then, Gadara was an ultra-Jewish city. Q.E.D. But a student trained in the use of weapons of precision, rather than in that of rhetorical tomahawks, has had many and painful warnings to look well about him, before trusting an argument to the mercies of a passage, the context of which he has not carefully considered. If Mr. Gladstone had not been too much in a hurry to turn his imaginary prize to account—if he had paused just to look at the preceding chapter of Josephus—he would have discovered that his much haste meant very little speed. He would have found (“Wars,” III. vi. 2) that Vespasian marched from his base, the port of Ptolemais (Acre), on the shores of the Mediterranean, into Galilee; and, having dealt with the so-called “Gadara,” was minded to finish with Jotapata, a strong place about fourteen miles south-east of Ptolemais, into which Josephus, who at first had fled to Tiberias, eventually threw himself—Vespasian arriving before Jotapata “the very next day.” Now, if any one will take a decent map of Ancient Palestine in hand, he will see that Jotapata, as I have said, lies about fourteen miles in a straight line east-south-east of Ptolemais, while a certain town, “Gabara” (which was also held by the Jews), is situated, about the same distance, to the east of that port. Nothing can be more obvious than that Vespasian, wishing to advance from Ptolemais into Galilee, could not afford to leave these strongholds in the possession of the enemy; and, as Gabara would lie on his left flank when he moved to Jotapata, he took that city, whence his communications with his base could easily be threatened, first. It might really have been fair evidence of demoniac possession, if the best general of Rome had marched forty odd miles, as the crow flies, through hostile Galilee, to take a city (which, moreover, had just tried to abolish its Jewish population) on the other side of the Jordan; and then marched back again to a place fourteen miles off his starting-point. One would think that the most careless of readers must be startled by this incongruity into inquiring whether there might not be something wrong with the text; and, if he had done so, he would have easily discovered that since the time of Reland, a century and a half ago, careful scholars have read Gabara for Gadara.

Once more, I venture to point out that training in the use of the weapons of precision of science may have its value in historical studies, if only in preventing the occurrence of droll blunders in geography.

In the third citation (“Wars,” IV. vii.) Josephus tells us that Vespasian marched against “Gadara,” which he calls the metropolis of Peræa (it was possibly the seat of a common festival of the Decapolitan cities), and entered it, without opposition, the wealthy and powerful citizens having opened negotiations with him without the knowledge of an opposite party, who, “as being inferior in number to their enemies, who were within the city, and seeing the Romans very near the city,” resolved to fly. Before doing so, however, they, after a fashion unfortunately too common among the Zealots, murdered and shockingly mutilated Dolesus, a man of the first rank, who had promoted the embassy to Vespasian; and then “ran out of the city.” Hereupon, “the people of Gadara” (surely not this time “Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law”) received Vespasian with joyful acclamations, voluntarily pulled down their wall, so that the city could not in future be used as a fortress by the Jews, and accepted a Roman garrison for their future protection. Granting that this Gadara really is the city of the Gadarenes, the reference, without citation, to the passage, in support of Mr. Gladstone’s contention seems rather remarkable. Taken in conjunction with the shortly antecedent ravaging of the Gadarene territory by the Jews, in fact, better proof could hardly be expected of the real state of the case; namely, that the population of Gadara (and notably the wealthy and respectable part of it) was thoroughly Hellenic; though, as in Cæsarea and elsewhere among the Palestinian cities, the rabble contained a considerable body of fanatical Jews, whose reckless ferocity made them, even though a mere minority of the population, a standing danger to the city.

Thus Mr. Gladstone’s conclusion from his study of Josephus, that the population of Gadara were “Hebrews bound by the Mosaic law,” turns out to depend upon nothing better than the marvellously complete misinterpretation of what that author says, combined with equally marvellous geographical misunderstandings, long since exposed and rectified; while the positive evidence that Gadara, like other cities of the Decapolis, was thoroughly Hellenic in organisation, and essentially Gentile in population, is overwhelming.

And, that being the fact of the matter, patent to all who will take the trouble to enquire about what has been said about it, however obscure to those who merely talk of so doing, the thesis that the Gadarene swineherds, or owners, were Jews violating the Mosaic law shows itself to be an empty and most unfortunate guess. But really, whether they that kept the swine were Jews, or whether they were Gentiles, is a consideration which has no relevance whatever to my case. The legal provisions, which alone had authority over an inhabitant of the country of the Gadarenes, were the Gentile laws sanctioned by the Roman suzerain of the province of Syria, just as the only law, which has authority in England, is that recognised by the sovereign Legislature. Jewish communities in England may have their private code, as they doubtless had in Gadara. But an English magistrate, if called upon to enforce their peculiar laws, would dismiss the complainants from the judgment seat, let us hope with more politeness than Gallio did in a like case, but quite as firmly. Moreover, in the matter of keeping pigs, we may be quite certain that Gadarene law left everybody free to do as he pleased, indeed encouraged the practice rather than otherwise. Not only was pork one of the commonest and one of the most favourite articles of Roman diet; but, to both Greeks and Romans, the pig was a sacrificial animal of high importance. Sucking pigs played an important part in Hellenic purificatory rites; and everybody knows the significance of the Roman suovetaurilia, depicted on so many bas-reliefs.

Under these circumstances, only the extreme need of a despairing “reconciler” drowning in a sea of adverse facts, can explain the catching at such a poor straw as the reckless guess that the swineherds of the “country of the Gadarenes” were erring Jews, doing a little clandestine business on their own account. The endeavour to justify the asserted destruction of the swine by the analogy of breaking open a cask of smuggled spirits, and wasting their contents on the ground, is curiously unfortunate. Does Mr. Gladstone mean to suggest that a Frenchman landing at Dover, and coming upon a cask of smuggled brandy in the course of a stroll along the cliffs, has the right to break it open and waste its contents on the ground? Yet the party of Galileans who, according to the narrative, landed and took a walk on the Gadarene territory, were as much foreigners in the Decapolis as Frenchmen would be at Dover. Herod Antipas, their sovereign, had no jurisdiction in the Decapolis—they were strangers and aliens, with no more right to interfere with a pig-keeping Hebrew, than I have a right to interfere with an English professor of the Israelitic faith, if I see a slice of ham on his plate. According to the law of the country in which these Galilean foreigners found themselves, men might keep pigs if they pleased. If the men who kept them were Jews, it might be permissible for the strangers to inform the religious authority acknowledged by the Jews of Gadara; but to interfere themselves, in such a matter, was a step devoid of either moral or legal justification.

Suppose a modern English Sabbatarian fanatic, who believes, on the strength of his interpretation of the fourth commandment, that it is a deadly sin to work on the “Lord’s Day,” sees a fellow Puritan yielding to the temptation of getting in his harvest on a fine Sunday morning—is the former justified in setting fire to the latter’s corn? Would not an English court of justice speedily teach him better?

In truth, the government which permits private persons, on any pretext (especially pious and patriotic pretexts), to take the law into their own hands, fails in the performance of the primary duties of all governments; while those who set the example of such acts, or who approve them, or who fail to disapprove them, are doing their best to dissolve civil society; they are compassers of illegality and fautors of immorality.

I fully understand that Mr. Gladstone may not see the matter in this light. He may possibly consider that the union of Gadara with the Decapolis, by Augustus, was a “blackguard” transaction, which deprived Hellenic Gadarene law of all moral force; and that it was quite proper for a Jewish Galilean, going back to the time when the land of the Girgashites was given to his ancestors, some 1500 years before, to act, as if the state of things which ought to obtain, in territory which traditionally, at any rate, belonged to his forefathers, did really exist. And, that being so, I can only say I do not agree with him, but leave the matter to the appreciation of those of our countrymen, happily not yet the minority, who believe that the first condition of enduring liberty is obedience to the law of the land.

The end of the month drawing nigh, I thought it well to send away the manuscript of the foregoing pages yesterday, leaving open, in my own mind, the possibility of adding a succinct characterisation of Mr. Gladstone’s controversial methods as illustrated therein. This morning, however, I had the pleasure of reading a speech which I think must satisfy the requirements of the most fastidious of controversial artists; and there occurs in it so concise, yet so complete, a delineation of Mr. Gladstone’s way of dealing with disputed questions of another kind, that no poor effort of mine could better it as a description of the aspect which his treatment of scientific, historical, and critical questions presents to me.

The smallest examination would have told a man of his capacity and of his experience that he was uttering the grossest exaggerations, that he was basing arguments upon the slightest hypotheses, and that his discussions only had to be critically examined by the most careless critic in order to show their intrinsic hollowness.

Those who have followed me through this paper will hardly dispute the justice of this judgment, severe as it is. But the Chief Secretary for Ireland has science in the blood; and has the advantage of a natural, as well as a highly cultivated, aptitude for the use of methods of precision in investigation, and for the exact enunciation of the results thereby obtained.


MLA Citation

Huxley, Thomas Henry. “The keepers of the swine.” 1890. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 6 Apr 2007. 23 Mar 2017 <>.

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