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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)

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Details emerge in suspected Batswana poachers in Namibia

28th June 2022
suspected Motswana poacher arrested

New details about a suspected Motswana poacher arrested in Namibian and his accomplice who is on the run were revealed when the suspect appeared in court this week.

The Motswana Citizen who was shot and wounded by Namibia’s anti poaching unit is facing criminal charges under criminal case number (CR NO 10/06/2022) which was registered at the Divundu Police Station in the Mukwe constituency of the Kavango East Region on 10 June 2022.

It is alleged that a patrol team laid an ambush after discovering a giraffe’s fresh carcass in a snare wire and hanging biltong.  According to the Charge Sheet, the suspect Djeke Dihutu, aged 40 years, is charged with contravening and transgressions of Nature Conservation Ordinance andcontravening Immigration Act 07 in Mahango Wildlife Core Area, Bwabwata National Park. Dihutu’s first court appearance was on the 17th of June 2022, Rundu and it was postponed to the 07 July 2022. He is currently hospitalized in hospital under Police Guards.

Commenting on this latest development, the Namibian Lives Matter Movement National Chairperson Sinvula Mudabeti applauded the Namibian Anti Poaching Unit for its compliance with what it called the universal instrument on the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 34/169.

“We are aware that the duties of the police carry a great deal of risk, but our police has shown that they have a moral calling and obligation to protect even foreigners suspected of serious crimes on Namibian soil,” said Mudabeti.

According to him, whereas the Botswana Police Service, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and Directorate of Intelligence Service (DIS) have “very low moral ethics, integrity, accountability and honesty, the Namibian security agencies has shown very high levels of ethical leadership in the discharge of their duties even under duress.”

He said Namibian’s anti poaching unit has exercised one very important value, that is, the use of force only when it is reasonable and necessary. Mudabeti said this is in harmony with international best practices as enshrined in Article 2 of the UN instrument on law enforcement conduct, “In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.

Our police have protected the life of a Botswana poacher and accorded him dignity, which is very foreign to our Botswana counterparts,” he said. He said article 3 of the same instrument above, calls for Law enforcement officials to use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.

“This provision emphasizes that the use of force by law enforcement officials should be exceptional; while it implies that law enforcement officials may be authorized to use force as is reasonably necessary under the circumstances for the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of suspected offenders, no force going beyond that was used by our Police,” he said.

Furthermore, Mudabeti said, whereas the universally accepted norm of the law of proportionality ordinarily permits the use of force by law enforcement, it is to be understood that such principles of proportionality in no case should be interpreted to authorize the use of force which is disproportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

“Our police have used force proportional to the situation at hand. Great work indeed! Article 6 urges law enforcement officials to ensure the full protection of the health of persons in their custody and, in particular, shall take immediate action to secure medical attention whenever required,” he said.

Mudabeti said the Botswana poacher was immediately taken to hospital whereas the Nchindo brothers who were captured on Namibian soil, beaten, tortured and executed while pleading to be taken to the hospital we left to die.

“The Namibian Doctor gave evidence in court that Sinvula Munyeme’s lungs showed signs of life (during the autopsy) and that he could have survived if he was accorded immediate medical assistance in time but was left to die while BDF soldiers looked and possibly ignored his cry for help,” he said.

Mudabeti said unlike in Botswana where there are no clear separation of powers between the BDF, Botswana Police Service, Department of Intelligence and their Directorate of Public Prosecutions,” we have a system that allows for checks and balances and allows our people and foreigners who are found on the wrong side of the law to be accorded the right to a fair trial.”

He said Botswana citizens are treated with dignity when apprehended in Namibia and not assaulted, tortured and executed. “We are a civilized country that respects international law in dealing with non-Namibian criminals. The Namibian Police have not mistreated the Botswana poacher but have given him the benefit of the doubt by allowing due processes of the law to be followed,” he said.

He added that, “We are a peace loving nation that has not repaid Botswana by the evil that Botswana has done to Namibia by killing more than 37 innocent and unarmed Namibians by the trigger happy BDF.” He concluded that, “Our acts of mercy in arresting Botswana citizens should never be mistaken for cowardice.”

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Gov’t, Unions clash over accommodation

28th June 2022
accomodation

The government has reportedly taken a decision to terminate provision of pool housing and subsidy for civil servants as it attempts to trim the public service wage bill.

This emerges in a dispute that is currently before the Labour Office headquarters lodged by unions representing thousands of civil servants across the country. This publication understands that the decision to cease providing pool housing and rental subsidy for public officers is part of proposals that government put on the table during its negotiations with public service unions in order for it to adjust salaries.

A letter from Labour Office addressed to the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) shows that the directorate is cited as the First Respondent. The letter is titled, “Dispute lodged: Cessation of provision of pool housing and subsidy for pubic officers.”

“This serves as a notification and requirement to a mediation hearing,” the letter informed DPSM. According to the letter, the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Unions (BOSETU) Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) and Botswana Land Board &Local Authorities &Health workers Union (BLLAHW) who lodged the complaint are cited as the Applicant.

“Please come for mediation hearing. The hearing will be conducted by Mr Lebang. The hearing is scheduled for date/time 29th June 2022, 09: 00HOURS at Block 8 District Labour Office, Gaborone. Please bring all relevant documents,” reads the letter in part.

According to a document described as a proposal paper on the negotiations on salaries and other conditions of employment of public officers by the employer (government), the government did not only propose to stop providing accommodation to civil servants but also put a number of proposals on the table.

The proposal papers states that the negotiations (which have since been concluded) cover three government financial years; 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25. The government proposed an across the board salary adjustments as follows; 3% for the financial year 2022/23 effective 1st April 2022, across the board salary adjustment of 3.5% for the financial year 2023/24 effective 1st April 2023 subject to performance of the economy and across the board salary adjustment of 4% for the financial year 2024/25 effective 1st April 2024 subject to performance of the economy.

The government also proposed phasing out of retention and attractive (Scarce Skills) Allowance with a view to migration towards clean pay, renegotiate and set new timelines for all outstanding issues contained in the Collective Labour Agreement, executed by the employer and trade unions on the 27th August 2019, to ensure proper sequencing, alignment and proper implementation.
The government also proposed to freeze public service recruitment for the 2022/23 financial year and withdraw the financial equivalence of P500 million attached to vacancies from Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs).

Another proposal included phasing out of commuted overtime allowance and payment of overtime in accordance with the law and review human resource policies during the financial year 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25.

The government argued that its proposals were premised on affordability and sustainability adding that it was important to underscore that the review of salaries and conditions of service for public officers was taking place at a time when there were uncertainties both in the global and domestic economies.

“Furthermore there is need to ensure that any collective labour agreement that is concluded does not breach the fiscal deficit target of 4% of GDP,” the proposal paper stated. The proposal paper further indicated that beyond salary adjustments, the Government of Botswana is of the view that a more comprehensive consideration “must be taken on the issue of remuneration in the public service by embracing principles such as total rewards compensation which involves taking a fully comprehensive and holistic approach to how our organization compensates employees for the work.”

The proposal paper also noted that, “Clearly, the increase in salaries and changes to other conditions of service which have monetary consequences will further increase the proportion of the budget taken by salaries, allowances and other monetary based conditions of services.”

“The consequential effect would be a reduction of the portion that can be used for other recurrent budget needs (e.g. maintenance of assets, consumable supplies such as medicines and books) and for development projects,” the proposal states.

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BPF NEC probes Serowe squabbles

28th June 2022
BPF

Opposition Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) National Executive Committee will in no time investigate charges party members worked with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) membership to tip the scales in favour of the latter for Serowe Sub-council Chairmanship in exchange for deputy seat in a dramatic 11th hour gentleman’s deal, leaving the ruling party splinter under the political microscope.

In a spectacular Sub-council election membership last Thursday, the ruling BDP’s Lesedi Phuthego beat Atamelang Thaga with 14 votes to 12 for Serowe Sub-council Chairmanship coveted seat and subsequently the ruling party’s councilor Bernard Kenosi withdrew his candidacy in the final hour for the equally admired deputy chair paving the way for Solomon Dikgang of BPF, seen as long sealed ‘I scratch your back and you scratch mine’ gentleman’s agreement between the contenders.

Both parties entered the race with a tie of votes torn between 12 councillors each, translating for election race that will go down to the wire definitely. But that will not be the case as two BPF councilors shifted their allegiance to the ruling party during the first race for Chairmanship held in a secret ballot and no sooner was the election concluded then the ruling party answered back by withdrawing its candidacy for the deputy chair position to give BPF’s Dikgang the post on a silver platter unopposed.

BPF councilor Vuyo Notha confirmed the incident in an interview on Wednesday, insisting the party NEC was determined to “investigate the matter soon”. “During the race for the Chairmanship, two more BPF voted for alongside the ruling party membership. It was clear Dikgang voted alongside the BDP as immediately after the vote for Chairmanship was concluded, Kenosi withdraw his candidacy to render Dikgang unopposed as a payback,” Notha added.

As for the other vote, Makolo ward councilor will not be drawn for the identity preferring instead to say: “BPF NEC will convene all the councilors to investigate the matter soon and we will take from there.” Notha will also not be drawn to conclude may be the culprit councilors could have defected to the ruling party silently.

“If they are no longer part of us they should say so and a by-election be called,” was all he could say. As it stands now, the law forbids sitting Councilors and Parliamentarians from crossing the floor to another party as to do so will immediately invite for a new election as dictated by the law. Incumbent politicians will therefore dare not venture for the unknown with a by-election that could definitely cost their political life and certainly their full benefits.

Notha could also not be dragged to link the culprit councilors actions to BPF Serowe region Chairperson Tebo Thokweng who has silently defected to the ruling party and currently employed by the party businessman and former candidate for Serowe West Moemedi Dijeng as PRO for the highly anticipated cattle abattoir project in Serowe.

“As for Thokweng he has not resigned from the party but from the region’s chairmanship,” he said. WeekendPost investigations suggest Thokweng is the secret snipper behind the recruitment drive of the votes for the elections and is determined to tear the party dominance in Serowe and the neighbouring villages asunder including in Palapye going forward.

This publication’s investigations also show BPF’s Radisele and UDC’s Mokgware/Mogome councilors are under the radar of investigations for the votes-themselves associated with the workings and operations of Thokweng.

“NEC will definitely leave no stone unturned with their investigations to get into the bottom of the matter. Disciplinary actions will follow certainly,” Notha concluded, underscoring the need to toe the party line to set a good precedent. For the youthful councilor, the actions of his peers has set a wrong precedent which has to be dealt with seriously to deter future culprits.

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