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Cracks In The Edifice

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER…

Factions emerge in messianic movement

Reading the New Testament, it strikes one as crystal-clear that the first century was gripped with apocalyptic fever. The nation of Israel expected a seismic change both at the political and theological level.  Paul, for instance, wrote that, “The appointed time has grown very short” (I CORINTHIANS 7:29). Peter said, “The end of all things is at hand” (1 PETER 4:7). James declared, “The Judge is standing at the door” (JAMES 5:9).  All these promulgations were based on the time table of Daniel’s prophecy primarily. And the rallying figure who had set the pace was none other than John the Baptist.


Having decided time was ripe to bring about a messianic awakening, John and Jesus now set to work in 26-27 AD. This was not an ordinary overlapping year: it was what in Hebrew is known as the Shemittah Year but commonly referred to as the Sabbatical Year. The Sabbatical Year was observed once every seven years, from one September to the next, and had been decreed to the nation of Israel by their Anunnaki god Enlil, called Jehovah or Yahweh in the Bible.


In LEVITICUS 25:3-4, this is what Enlil had said: “For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, you shall not prune your vineyard, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth of your harvest.”  That is to say, in the Sabbatical Year, the Israelites had to desist from cultivating their land, allowing it to remain fallow. 

Enlil had also pronounced thus: “At the end of seven years you will make a release. And this is the manner of the release: to release the hand of every creditor from what he lent his friend; he shall not exact from his friend or his brother, because the time of the release for the Lord has arrived” (DEUTERONOMY 15:1-2). In the Sabbatical Year therefore, creditors were under obligation by godly fiat to waive all the debts owed to them by anybody and everybody: it didn’t matter the magnitude of the sum.


Besides giving the people an opportunity to put their faith in God and see it fulfilled, the year-long abstention from farming also allowed them to collectively take a breather and focus on higher, more spiritual pursuits. In the event, therefore, they had occasion to pack the synagogues and study halls. Since thousands of peasants and villagers whose normal life was tied to agricultural cycles were largely free from their normal work, John and Jesus saw this as the perfect opportunity to spark a religious renaissance among the masses.  The prophet Zechariah had talked of “two sons of fresh oil” who he likened to two “olive branches” that stood before the Menorah, the seven-branched oil lamp that symbolised God’s spirit and presence. Doubtless, Jesus and John saw themselves in this light.

THE  BAPTISM OF JOHN
The method the two messiahs of Israel adopted to bring about the new apocalyptical awakening was baptism. This involved immersing somebody in water wholly or partially as symbolic of dying and being born anew. To most Christians, it’s like baptism was invented by John. It was not. It dated back to ancient Egypt where as we saw at one stage Horus, a type of Jesus, was baptised by Anup, a type of John. In the Old Testament, we have one of the prophets asserting, “Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean from all your filthiness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (EZEKIEL 36:25). In the first century, the Jews conducted baptism of some sort though they did not refer to it as such: they called it ritual washing.


The Jews were obsessed with both bodily and spiritual cleanness. If you had a nocturnal seminal discharge, was on menses,  had drawn near a burial site  or came into contact with a corpse or animal carcass, to mention but a few,  you were unclean and so had to undergo a ritual bath within a stipulated period of time, typically seven days. Converts to Judaism, called proselytes, were also required to immerse themselves fully either in “living water” (river, stream, or spring water) or in a mikvah – a specially constructed bath directly connected to a natural source of water. 

This was baptism proper and it was called tevilah. Flavius Josephus, the iconic Jewish historian, also relates that the Essenes, the religious sect to which Jesus and John belonged, practiced immersion in water on a daily basis. People who were newly admitted into their fold were also immersed in water as an initiatory ceremony, which explains why at the Qumran ruins have been found communal stepped pools. Before the initiate was baptised, he first of all had to declare and adopt a pious and repentant attitude towards God. 

To that effect, a text in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls says, “It is by humbling his (that is, an initiate) soul to all God’s statutes that his flesh can be cleansed by sprinkling with waters of purification and by sanctifying himself with waters of purity”. Baptism, thus, was an outward public testimony of a cleansing of the spirit so that one started on a clean slate in terms of his attitude toward God, what is called a remission of sins. Clearly then, John’s baptism was not original but derived from customary Essene practice.


Yet Baptism served another purpose in the case of John.  It also marked a gesture of recruitment into the movement of John. John’s movement was called “The Way”, one of the original names of the Essenes, and its members were called people of The Way. Indeed, the people who would in future become known as Christians began as people of The Way. The Way was a new religious movement collectively begun by Jesus and John. It was not a splinter movement from Judaism or a radical departure from the tenets of Essenehood but was simply a new religious consciousness that alerted people to the imminence of the end times.  Sadly, it was misinterpreted by the powers that be and for that John ended up paying for his life.


What was the process of John’s baptism like? Shimon Gibson, author of The Cave of John The Baptist, combined bits of information taken from the Old Testament, the works of Josephus, and the gospels to outline for us a scenario in the following words: “Crowds of people gathered by the Jordan River to listen to his teachings and exhortations … John then spoke to those gathered there, asking them to lead righteous and pious lives… Subsequently, the souls of the people gathered there were cleansed and there was a remission of sins … This was performed with the sprinkling of some water … Only those who had completed this part of the procedure were then allowed to proceed to the next step … The people then immersed themselves in the river, dipping themselves seven times  in the water  in order to purify the flesh of their bodies from contamination. On emerging from the water, John would have called again on the divine name and asking for the holy spirit (the shekinah) to descend upon the crowd. The ceremony may have ended with doves (symbolic of the special relationship between God and the Chosen People) being let loose from the cages.”

JOHN OUTSHINES JESUS
It was decided that the two messiahs conduct the revival in opposite geographical locations. John was to be based in the north, at the crossroads of the territories of Galileee, Perea, and the Decapolis, and Jesus in the south, into the countryside of Judea, that is, the Qumran area.


Although it was John who gained fame as the “Baptiser”, it wasn’t him alone who baptised. Jesus also baptized, although the gospels tried to downplay this aspect of his ministry by attributing the actual conduct of baptism to “his disciples” when at the time they were mounting the baptism campaign (that is, AD 26-27), Jesus had no disciples of his own. But John became the  more renowned of the two for two reasons. First, he was the leader of the  movement and movements are typically associated with their leader. Secondly, he was a gifted evangelist and bristled with authority. Josephus says he “commanded”, not appealed to the Jewish masses to repent and lead righteous lives both towards each other and God.  The Dead Sea Scrolls say he was gifted with an  “eloquent tongue”.


In the Dead Sea Scrolls, John is fondly referred to as the “Teacher of Righteousness”. On the occasion that he made a tour of duty down south, he attracted enormous throngs to his wilderness pulpit such was his ministerial prowess. The nation of Israel had never seen an evangelist of his caliber.   

SCHISMS EMERGE
All groupings, whether they be political or religious, give rise to factional dynamics. The Essenes always had factions too but under the leadership of John the Baptist, the factional rivalry became intense and practically came to a breaking point.


To begin with, there was the faction called the Hebrews on the one hand and the Hellenists on the other. The Hebrews were  the faction John aligned himself with. Their  other leading lights were Caiaphas, the High Priest of the Jerusalem Temple; Agrippa, the grandson of  Herod the Great; Gamaliel, the greatest rabbi of the day who was also head of the Essene order of Benjamin; and James the brother of Jesus.

It was this faction that would in future produce the fiery apostle Paul. When Paul  said I was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”, he did not mean he was a devout follower of Judaism as Christians wrongly infer: he meant  he was a Jew who had belonged to the Essene faction called the Hebrews. It goes without saying that Paul was an Essene too, a member of the order (not “tribe” as wrongly translated in the Bible) of Benjamin.


The Hebrews were the stricter of the two factions in terms of their moral standpoint and religious observance. They conducted their worship services in the Hebrew language and did not allow women to minister, a stance Paul would  in future advocate. They also  did not permit Gentiles to minister. Even more importantly, they did not recognise Jesus as the Davidic  heir  (owing to the questionable circumstances of his birth) but instead rallied to his brother James, who they had co-opted into their faction.

     
Jesus naturally belonged to the  Hellenist faction, a faction comprising of people who had steadfastly endorsed him as the Davidic messiah from the day he was born. The prominent members of this faction were Theudas Barabbas; Jonathan Annas, better known as Nathaniel in the Bible; Simon Magus, who was best known as Simon the Zealot; and the Essene orders of Ephraim and West Manasseh, who included the Magi and all of whom were Samaritans (hence the parable of the Good Samaritan). The Hellenists were more liberal and tolerant in their application of Judaism.

They accepted women as equals and allowed both they  and Gentiles to minister, an attitude we witness in the ministry of Jesus and the evangelism of the early church. All their worship services were conducted in Greek because it was a cosmopolitan language, the “English” of the day, as opposed to the restrictive Hebrew language.   


While the Hebrews were united in what they stood for, the Hellenists were divided. One sub-group, headed by Simon Magus, advocated the overthrow of the Roman occupiers by violent means. This group called itself the Figtree. The other sub-group, headed by Jonathan Annas, stood for passive resistance towards Rome, and not recourse to arms.

This group called itself the Vineyard. When Jesus “cursed the fig tree” for not bearing fruit, there was no tree involved at all: all he did was condemn the Figtree  faction in the Hellenist group for adopting methods that were at cross-purposes with his pacifist  ways of bringing about political change in Jerusalem. 

NEXT WEEK: WHY DID JESUS HAVE TO BE BAPTISED?

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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