On a literal reading, perhaps not. But Christian animal rights advocates have come up with other ways of reading the Gerasene demoniac narrative than that of Augustine and Aquinas (who both cited it as evidence for the supposed moral insignificance of animals).
For example, the Swedish Lutherans Annika Spalde and Pelle Strindlund argue for what they call “the Anti-Imperial Reading of Mark 5:1–20”:
Against a literal reading of this story stands a more nuanced and careful reading: this is a coded political tale that grew out of anti-Roman sentiment. The demon tells Jesus that its name is “Legion”—the name for the largest Roman military unit. Nobody who heard this at the time Mark’s Gospel was written could have failed to recognize that this name referred to Roman troops. New Testament scholar Hans Leander maintains that “once the name Legion has been revealed several other military allusions are displayed.”
Here are some examples:
• the Greek term behind “to send them” (apostellō) can also mean “dispatch,” as when an officer dispatches a soldier (5:10);
• the Greek word used for “herd” (agelē) was also a local term for a band of trainees (5:11);
• “He gave them permission” (epetrepsen autois) can also denote that a military command has been given (5:13); and
• the Greek term behind the English “rushed” (hormaō) connotes a troop rushing into battle (5:13).
The spirits beg Jesus not to “send them out of the country.” The pigs, considered unclean animals, can be interpreted as symbols of the “unclean” conquerors that had occupied Jewish lands. The self-destruction of the possessed swine, then, is a symbol of the end of the occupation, when the Roman soldiers have been sent “out of the country.”
Moreover, this passage echoes the exodus drama, as the possessed pigs “rush” headlong into the water and drown, just as Pharaoh’s army had done at the Red Sea. Moving beyond the text itself to the historical context, the Tenth Roman Legion that was stationed in Decapolis (the region where the story takes place) at the time Mark wrote his Gospel had a boar as their ensign, and the number two thousand corresponds to the size of a Roman legion that had been detached to fight against the Jewish insurgents.
In an occupied country, “Mark’s depiction of ‘Legion’ as inferior to Jesus evidently has subversive potential,” writes Leander. Maybe, as Leander suggests, the story was written down and spread as a way for an oppressed people to resist the occupying forces without actually risking their lives; the story then tells us that “the Romans are not as powerful as they think.”
Doesn’t Jesus Treat Animals as Property?