So I’m re-reading Matthew (once in a while I actually pick up the Bible and read some of it), and I come across the well-known story of the Gaderene swine. So, for absolutely no reason I can see, a thought pops into my head: Why would there be a herd of swine in a country where eating pork is a huge taboo? The parable of the prodigal son raises the same question. When the prodigal son hits bottom, he takes a job as a swineherd, which I assume is pretty much the lowest rung on the social ladder in ancient Israel. So who gave him the job? A pagan or another Jew?
I’ve speculated a bit about this, but I haven’t come up with anything in which I feel any confidence.
I thought maybe there were small populations of pagans in Israel at the time of Jesus, but it seems to me that the Jews weren’t all that tolerant of pagans at the time. The only other option would be that there were Jews who kept herds of swine, and hired down-and-outers to herd them, but that seems even less likely to me than any substantial population of pagans in the Israel of Jesus Christ. After all, the prohibition against eating pork goes back to Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
Even so, why would anyone be keeping a herd of swine in ancient Israel in the first place?
Please understand this is not supposed to be a debate about the reliability or unreliability of the Gospels. The author of Matthew would never have simply made up that detail, as it could be easily refuted if it wasn’t true.
Still, I’m stuck with this awkward anomaly. Who would keep swine in ancient Israel?