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The John Conspiracy

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER…

Was Jesus among the cabal that plotted the death of the Baptist?

Why did Herod Antipas have John the Baptist killed? There are two versions on the subject. One is found in the gospels and the other in the works of Josephus. The Josephus account is recorded in The Jewish Antiquities as follows in part:


“Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late.”


 The gospel version goes as follows:


17 “For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. 21 Finally,  the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you. 23 And he promised her with an oath, ‘Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.’24 She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ ‘The head of John the Baptist,’ she answered. 25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: ‘I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ 26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother” (MARK 6:17-28.  Same event related in MATTHEW 14:1-12).


From the above accounts, we see that whereas Josephus attributes the Baptist’s death to power politics, the gospels attribute it to a scheming queen. Which of the two versions is true?

WHERE GOSPELS GOSSIPY?
Let us begin with the gospel version. Although it does have a core of truth, it contains aspects that smack of naivety.  Why it comes across as such we shall explain shortly.  


The central villain in the gospel version is Herodias, along with her unnamed daughter. Thankfully, Flavius Josephus supplies the name for us: she was Salome. Salome was Herod Antipas’s  stepdaughter. Herodias was first married to her uncle, Herod II, also known as Phillip I (not to be confused with the tetrarch Phillip II, another uncle). In the gospels, Phillip I is also referred to as Thomas, one of the so-called disciples of Jesus.  Thomas was the fourth son of King Herod the Great (37 BC to 4 BC) and was a half-brother to Herod Antipas, the youngest of the Herod scions. It was with Thomas that Herodias had Salome.


Why did Herodias ditch Thomas for Antipas? Thomas had been in line to succeed King Herod but was disinherited in the waning years of King Herod when his mother Mariamne II was implicated in a plot to poison the King.  The gorgeous and deathly ambitious Herodias, however, saw herself as a future Queen and so when Antipas proposed marriage to her, she had no compunctions about tying the knot with him without legally divorcing Thomas. Antipas was at the time already married to Phasaelis, a daughter of Aretas IV, King of neighbouring Nabatea (modern-day Jordan).

This was clearly a politically expedient marriage. Antipas decided to hitch Herodias to again make political capital out of her pedigree: not only was she a Jew but she had Hasmonean blood. The Hasmonean line had ruled Palestine for nearly 100 years and was held in higher esteem than the Herod dynasty. Aware of her marquee value, Herodias insisted to Antipas that he could only take her hand in holy matrimony if he divorced Phasaelis. A hooked Antipas did likewise, a move that led to a  disastrous war with Nabatea, which Antipas nearly lost.


The gospels say it was Herodias who was behind the killing of John the Baptist owing to his unstinting condemnation of her unlawful marriage to Antipas, that Antipas had John beheaded after making an inviolable pledge to little Salome (the Greek word associated with her in the gospel of Mark suggests she was a very young girl, probably aged 12 or thereabouts), whose exquisite dance moves stupefied him out of his senses. Of course the story cannot be taken on its face value: there was no way Herod would have promised little Salome half of his kingdom in honour of her wish, a kingdom which he did not have.

Antipas was Rome’s client king (quarter-king actually), meaning he ruled under the mandate and at the pleasure of the emperor. He had no powers whatsoever to parcel out the territory in which he had jurisdiction to anybody he wished.  Remember, even Herod the Great’s will, whereby he divided Palestine amongst his three sons, had to be ratified, and was even altered, by Caesar Augustus and unlike Antipas, Herod was a King with full stripes but who nonetheless had to defer to Rome.  The gospel account therefore sounds gossipy and borders on fable.     

THE JOSEPHUS VERSION

It is Flavius Josephus who provides a more credible explicit account of the  death of the Baptist. Josephus documents that  Antipas had the Baptist arrested by virtue of his rock-star popularity. John the Baptist was indubitably the most popular figure of his day and to the extent where he had to “command” the Jews to repentance and not appeal to them. Whenever and wherever he held  a crusade, be it in the  village square or some river valley, thousands thronged there. Antipas therefore must have feared that with such a hold on  the masses, John could easily incite them to rebellion against his rule. Such a scenario could only be forestalled if the Baptist was erased from the face of the Earth.


What we see, therefore, is that Josephus did not draw a causal connection between Antipas’s marriage to Herodias and his decision to have the Baptist executed. Now, in  relating the death story of John, Josephus was not simply writing as a historian: he did have near-firsthand knowledge of the circumstances of the Baptist’s death. Josephus was born in 37 AD, six years after the death of John. But as a teenager, Josephus spent time in the wilds with a man called Banus, who to all intents and purposes was  a former disciple of the Baptist to judge by his ascetic and unconventional life style that mirrored that of John. The following is Josephus’s account of his encounter with Banus according to his most famous work, The Jewish Antiquities:


“When I was about sixteen years old, I had a mind to make trim of the several sects that were among us. These sects are three: – The first is that of the Pharisees, the second that of the Sadducees, and the third that of the Essenes, as we have frequently told you; for I thought that by this means I might choose the best, if I were once acquainted with them all; so I contented myself with hard fare, and underwent great difficulties, and went through them all.

Nor did I content myself with these trials only; but when I was informed that one, whose name was Banus, lived in the desert, and used no other clothing than grew upon trees, and had no other food than what grew of its own accord, and bathed himself in cold water frequently, both by night and by day, in order to preserve his chastity, I imitated him in those things, and continued with him three years.”


Banus certainly must have recounted to Josephus the manner of the Baptist’s death, but was Banus fully conversant with the cutthroat politics against whose backdrop John met his fate?

SIMON ZELOTES SUCCEEDS BAPTIST

The gospel version of the Baptist’s death, it turns out, is not as legendary as may be suggested on the surface. It is actually factual. But the factuality is not apparent: it needs discernment with the help of the vital pesher instrument.  Just to recap, pesher is a device whereby the real story is told beneath the surface story using the familiar language but which has a double, underlying meaning only known to the writer and people privy to the secret language.   


In the gospels,  “Daughter of Herodias” does not mean Salome, the stepdaughter of Antipas.  It stands for Helena-Salome, a namesake of Antipas’ stepdaughter, which explains why the evangelists did not name her. Helena-Salome, who is actually the most significant woman in the gospels after Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, was the mistress of Simon Zelotes, Jesus’s lead disciple. Helena-Salome was nicknamed “Daughter of Herodias” because of her scheming with Herodias about  the Baptist. John the Baptist had 30 disciples and of these only one was female – Helena-Salome. Whilst Simon Zelotes belonged to the Jesus party, his mistress stayed with the Baptist as Simon’s mole and agent provocateur. It was Simon Zelotes and Helena-Salome who orchestrated the killing of John.


Helena-Salome (who goes by several names in the Bible and of whom we will talk about in detail at a later stage), was a former priestess of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey.  As a priestess, she performed orgiastic dances to the Anunnaki goddess Artemis. It was these sexually provocative dancing skills that she put on display before a spellbound Herod Antipas at the Fortress of Machaerus in September AD 31. That’s how she wrung a pledge from a literally hypnotised  Antipas  to instantaneously render her a gift of her asking as a reward for her lewd contortions and gyrations. Helena-Salome was rooting for her consort Simon Zelotes to take over from John the Baptist as Pope, as a result of which she and Simon strategically endeared themselves to Antipas and Herodias, having capitalised on the Baptist’s incessant tirades at the illegality of the couple’s marriage.


As such, Helena-Salome’s request for the “head of John” had two meanings. The surface meaning was the execution of John. But the pesher meaning was John’s headship – the papacy, which she wanted conferred on Simon.   Antipas, who had made the promise before a dignified gathering, was cornered and had no option but to make good on it. He would never recover from this grisly deed.  Meanwhile, the Baptist had ceased to be Pope after his incarceration and Nathaniel had become the acting Pope. Whilst Nathaniel was Pope, Simon Zelotes had lobbied Jesus to support him to take over from him in case John permanently forfeited the position and Jesus had agreed. (This story can be deciphered using the pesher code from Jesus’s conversation with the Syro-Phoenician woman (MARK 7:25-30/MATTHEW 15:21-28), who as we shall later demonstrate was actually Helena-Salome).  


Meanwhile, the incarcerated John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to tell him to his face that he (John)  was justified to endorse James (the younger brother of Jesus ) as the Davidic messiah as Jesus had done nothing whatsoever to help set him free. Jesus’s response was that the  messengers should not bother  persuading  him (the Baptist) that he was indeed messianic material but simply relate to him his epic deeds (MATTHEW 11:1-6/LUKE 7:18-23). Jesus’s statement in this regard that “blessed are those who are not offended by me” is as plain as plain can be that he and the Baptist were not on good terms.  


Following the execution of the Baptist at only age 38, Simon Zelotes was elected as Pope, having been supported by Jesus and Antipas himself, and Nathaniel accordingly stepped down. Simon then appointed Judas Iscariot as his No. 2 and Jesus as his No.3. Note that this was in terms of the priestly hierarchy, which was the most prestigious. Politically, Jesus was still head of the 12 so-called disciples, who included Simon Zelotes and Judas Iscariot. As successor to John the Baptist, Simon Zelotes also took the headship of the 30-man apostolate that John had headed.


The fundamentalist Essenes, however, who were diehard loyalist to the Baptist, directed their wrath not at Simon Zelotes but at Jesus. As far as they were concerned, it was he who instigated the death of  their leader. Jesus consequently became a marked man in Judea,   as a result of which he  relocated from there to Galilee, where he enjoyed the protection of Antipas as Galilee was the latter’s jurisdiction.     

NEXT WEEK: THE WOMAN IN THE LORD’S LIFE!

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

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Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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