Connect with us
Advertisement

The use and abuse of “History”; religion as an example

In the last fifteen or so years, I have read extensively on the subject of religion, especially the way religion came to be so important to human beings. I have particularly focused on what has been described by historians as “the quest for the Historical Jesus”, and on the origins and evolution of Christianity up to its current state.


What motivated me to go into this subject? It started as an attempt to reconcile what I was learning as a scientist and what religion had taught me as a child. Like many children from Christian families, I had grown up being taught certain things about a transcendent being called “God” and the demands that “he” makes on us- how we are to behave etc. 

I remember in Primary School how we were taught about the various stories of the Old Testament, about creation, about the Israelites as the chosen people of God etc.  and moving on to the New Testament and learning about Jesus, and about how his crucifixion brought salvation to mankind etc. And all this, like the other children, I absorbed with the naivety of childhood, and believed everything that I was taught on the subject to be the only truth.


When I was in secondary school in the early 1960s, I was exposed to two Christian denominations. At home I was Lutheran, as my parents were, and I went through Luther’s catechism and the rites of confirmation. At St. Joseph’s College, I was exposed extensively to Catholic doctrine, because every student there had to go through some religious teaching of the Catholic Church.

All students had to go daily to Mass, irrespective of their denomination, and in the classroom we went through religious studies  based on catholic teaching, including the Catholic catechism, and a book I vaguely remember called “Student’s Catholic Doctrine”. All this I absorbed without critical appraisal.


When I got to University, I studied Natural Sciences and then Medicine. I started to learn that there were other perspectives about what life is and the position of the human being in the whole spectrum of organisms (living things) and in the universe as a whole.

For example, how could one reconcile Genesis and Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species? How could I as a scientist reconcile what I knew or had learnt with the supernatural?  As an example, supernatural stories like the story of creation, the many things that are said to have happened in the Bible such as the sun standing still, the Virgin birth, the ascension and the miracles generally did not make sense to me as a scientist. 

These could not be explained empirically, through our regular senses or through rational thought; they could only be explained as mysteries or supernatural things done by God. It is not only religion that I had a problem with,  I had a problem with all things attributed to the supernatural. I stopped believing in witchcraft- I could not for example see how somebody could send lightening to strike another person, or get him to get ill and die by remote action without poisoning him or touching him. I could not see how divining with bones (ditaola) could diagnose somebody’s illness or identify that somebody is getting bewitched and by whom.


It was in view of all these things that some years ago I decided to read extensively on the subject of religion, especially on Christianity since that is the religion I grew up under. My initial enquiry was into the figure of Jesus, because I realized that for Christians that was the fulcrum of all belief.  After going through quite a number of books I realized that the subject automatically moved into the beginnings of the Christian religion or the Church.

And then I realized one could not really understand Christianity without going into its forebear, namely the Judaism as laid out in the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament. Of course when we talk of the Christian Bible, or Scripture,  the most widely read book in the world, we are talking of the Hebrew scripture, now called the Old Testament,  and the Christian Canon, or the New Testament. The New Testament is made up of 27 books that were selected by Christian fathers from hundreds of books to form what is now the official Canon. They are made up of different genres such as letters, like the letters of Paul, Gospels, and the Apocalypse (Revelation).

There were many other writings which for different reasons were not included in the Canon. There were for example many other Gospels which the Christian fathers decided not to include in the official Canon.


During this literary journey, I came to realize that it all boiled down to one thing; history. I came to learn that from the 18th century, the Bible has been subjected to what is usually called the historical critical study method, as opposed to devotional study. Up to that time, it was just taken for granted that the Bible was written by authors who were divinely inspired, and therefore it was the word of God. In their historical critical analysis  of the Bible, historians used methods such as source criticism, text criticism, form criticism and redaction criticism, and they generally came to the conclusion that the Bible, both Old and New Testament, is not really history in the modern sense of the word.

For example, the Torah or the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), also known as the Law, could not have been written by Moses as it was claimed. At least four different authors or groups of authors could be traced for the Torah, writing over several centuries, and it was evident that it was extensively edited during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE, about eight centuries after the period Moses is purported to have lived. It also turned out that extensive archaeological excavations have shown no evidence of human movement in the Levant of the scale described in Exodus; there is virtually no historical evidence of even the existence of a figure fitting the description of Moses.

A similar analysis of Psalms shows that contrary to belief, they could not have been all authored by King David. Some of the Psalms refer to a time several centuries after David, like Psalm 137 that refers to the Babylonian exile, almost 500 years after David. As for the New Testament, except for the seven genuine letters of Paul, all the other writings are of unknown authorship, including the four Gospels and all the other letters, as well as Revelation.


So it is all a matter of history.  Some historians doubt the very existence of Jesus, although those are a small minority; there are even non-Christian sources that attest to his existence. What is in great dispute is what he was and what he did, or even what he claimed to be. That he was baptized by John the Baptist and that he was executed by the Romans during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate pass the tests of multiple attestation and dissimilarity very well, as well as the fact that he lived and operated most of his life in the Galilee. That he was executed by Romans in the manner reserved for those guilty of subversion (crucifixion), and that his followers were not also executed still interests historians up to now. The titulus on the cross  (INRI), “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews” supports the theory that he was executed for subversion.


This brings me therefore to the matter of “HISTORY”, what it is and what can be achieved by it. I have always been interested in history because I believe one can learn a lot about the past and plan for the future using history. We all know what great men have said about the importance of history in knowing who we are; our first President is quoted often on what he said of a people without a history etc.  My fascination with history goes back to my Secondary School days, where I did South African history in Primary School and Junior Certificate and then European history (1815-1945) and African history for my COSC (Cambridge Overseas School Certificate). I happened to be the first student in Botswana who got a 1 in History in 1966 after the adoption of the COSC a few years before, and this was because of my absolute fascination with the subject, and an inspiring teacher in the name of Themba Vanqa.


“History” is not as straightforward as people believe. My interest in the “Historical Jesus” and in the history of Christianity generally has rekindled my interest in history in general. What actually is history? What can we learn from history? What role does personal interpretation play? How much is it subject to abuse by those who want to use it for their own purposes etc., for example politicians? To answer some of these questions, below are extracts from some very reputable academics and historians on their views about history, particularly as it applies to religion or the “Jesus of history”.


James D.G. Dunn believes that there are two wrong assumptions about history;


“That there is an objectivity in history (the past) which allows history (the discipline) to be treated on the analogy of the natural sciences; that is, historical facts are objects in history which could be uncovered or recovered by scientific method like so many archaeological artefacts (Positivism);


That the historian could be entirely impartial, strictly objective in his/her treatment of the historical facts, and could therefore avoid prejudicial value judgements (Historicism).
Behind these lay the Enlightenment assumption that human reason is sufficient measure of true and false fact. Reason was once understood as God-given, but the increasing secularism of modernity more and more reflected the triumph of autonomous human reason as axiomatic.


Behind this in turn was the assumption, drawn from Isaac Newton’s discovery of the universal laws of motion and gravity, that the cosmos is a single harmonious structure of forces and masses (itself an ancient conviction), and that the world is like an intricate machine following immutable laws, a closed system of cause and effect.

Probability not certainty: The historical ‘event’ belongs to the irretrievable past. All the historian has available are the ‘data’ which have come down through history- personal diaries, reminiscences of eyewitnesses, reports constructed from people who were present, perhaps some archaeological artefacts, as well as circumstantial data about climate, commercial practice, the laws of the time and so forth. From these the historian attempts to reconstruct the ‘facts’.

The facts are not to be identified as data; they are always an interpretation of the data. Nor should the fact be identified with the event itself, though it will always be in some degree of approximation to the event. Where the data are abundant and consistent, the responsible historian may be confident of achieving a reasonably close approximation. Where they are much more fragmentary and often inconsistent, confidence of achieving a close approximation is bound to be much less. In historical scholarship the judgement “probable” is a very positive verdict.


None of this is to deny the importance of the past, or that historical data have a recognizable objectivity. It is, however, to recognize that the movement from data to fact is a good deal more complex than is usually appreciated.”

John Dominic Crossan takes this further.  According to him

“History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse. There are times when we can get only alternative perspectives on the same event. (There are always alternative perspectives, even when we do not hear them). But history as argued public reconstruction is necessary to reconstruct our past in order to project our future.
History is not the same as story. Even if all history is story, not all story is history.”

Paula Fredriksen, another prominent Christian historian gives the following view:

“The ‘backward’ thrust of history also poses intellectual dangers. Again like the reader of the twice-read novel or the viewer of the twice-seen film, we cannot help knowing more than we should. Beyond the moral discipline of allowing for otherness, then, we need to cultivate as well the intellectual discipline of viewing the past as if we knew less than we know.

This is difficult precisely because history in its very nature is retrospective. We start from our vantage point in the present and work ourselves back into an imagined past. But although history is always done backward, life is only lived forward. We all move from our present into the radical unknowability of the future. If in our historical work we wish to reconstruct the lived experience of the ancient people we study, then we must forswear our retrospective knowledge, because it gives us a perspective on their lives that they themselves could not possibly have had. We, looking back now, know how their stories ended; they, living their lives, did not.  

To understand our ancient people from the evidence they left behind, we must affect a willed naiveté. We must pretend to an innocence of the future that echoes their own. Only then can we hope to realistically re-create them in their own historical circumstances. Only by accepting- indeed, respecting and protecting- the otherness of the past, can we hope to glimpse the human faces of those we seek.”

Lastly but not least, these are views from Karen Armstrong, a very reputable author on the history of religion:

“Despite my years as a nun, I do not believe my experience of God is unusual. My ideas about God were formed in childhood and did not keep abreast of my growing knowledge in other disciplines. I had revised simplistic childhood views of Father Christmas; I had come to a more mature understanding of complexities of the human predicament than had been possible in the kindergarten. Yet my early, confused ideas about God had not been modified or developed. People without my peculiarly religious background may also find that their notion of God was formed in infancy. Since those days, we have put away childish things and have discarded the God of our first years.


Yet my study of history of religion has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. Indeed, there is a case for arguing that Homo sapiens is also Homo religious. Men and women started to worship gods as soon as they became recognizably human; they created religions at the same time as they created works of art…………Like art, religion has been an attempt to find meaning and value in life, despite the suffering that flesh is heir to. Like any other human activity, religion can be abused but it seems to have been something that we have always done….. Indeed, our current secularism is an entirely new experiment, unprecedented in human history. We have to see how it will work……Our ethical secular ideal has its own disciplines of mind and heart and gives people the means of finding faith in the ultimate meaning of human life that were once provided by the more conventional religions.”

I wanted to share these views because I have seen a lot of writers and columnists in our newspapers venturing into history. The writings of Jeff Ramsey impress me because they are obviously very professional.  About many others, I don’t know; one can’t help but feel that they are obviously pushing particular agendas. There are of course two columnists who write on the history of Judeo-Christian religion from a very unconventional view point (Leteane and Saili). I take it they are deliberately provoking controversial views.

Early in my readings into the Historical Jesus, I read a book from a Barbara Thiering, a respected academic from Australia, who presented a very unconventional view of Jesus: that he actually did not die on the cross, that he lived to old age, was married and had children. This is a very good illustration of how inexact history can be, as quoted from the above authors, especially James D.G. Dunn, who has become one of my favourite authors on Christian beginnings.

James D.G. Dunn(2003) Christianity in the Making Vol. 1; Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

 John Dominic Crossan (1998) The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (HarperCollins Publishers).

 Paula Fredriksen (1999) Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews, A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (Macmillan)

 Karen Armstrong (1993) A History of God (Vintage)

 Barbara Thiering (1992) Jesus the Man (Corgi Books)

Continue Reading

News

Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

Continue Reading

News

OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

Continue Reading

News

Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

Continue Reading
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!