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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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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started

and

  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. ..so they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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